I know it’s hard to keep track of all the executive orders and proposals coming out of the White House lately, but here’s one to take note of if you have small children: The New York Times recently reported that the Trump administration plans to cut funding to the Corporations for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities, which, according to the CPB’s website, provides the largest source of funding for public radio and television.
So why should parents care about this? Two words: Daniel Tiger.
If you’re unfamiliar with “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood,” it’s an updated, animated spinoff of “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood,” which features Daniel Tiger and other offspring of the original puppet characters. It airs on PBS stations. I have two toddlers, so I know quite a lot about Daniel Tiger, and all the other kids’ programming on PBS.
I’m also a developmental psychologist, which gives me an additional perspective on those shows. So why do I love Daniel Tiger and other PBS programs? Well, as a mother, they provide me with an endless supply of upbeat jingles to encourage good toddler behavior (“If you gotta go potty, stop and go right away…”). And as a developmental psychologist, I know that they are some of the only shows that actually support not only good behavior, but various cognitive skills necessary for school-readiness.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends limiting the amount of TV preschool children watch to one hour per day of high quality programming. As parents, we all appreciate that TV can be an invaluable tool for distracting your children long enough to cook dinner, and we’d all probably like it if those programs were what the AAP would consider high quality.
From a psychologist’s perspective, PBS is practically the only station that ticks off all the check marks for high quality programs. First of all, many of the shows, like “Sesame Street” (now owned by HBO, but still airing on PBS), “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood” (yes, it’s still on), and “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” have been designed to foster cognitive and socioemotional skills.
And they actually do! “Sesame Street” has been the topic of many scientific evaluations for years and really does promote school readiness. Both Mr. Rogers and Daniel Tiger can help with socioemotional development. For example, in a 2016 study, children who regularly watched Daniel Tiger (especially with their parents) demonstrated higher levels of empathy, self-efficacy and emotion recognition.
Secondly, PBS lacks the commercials found on many other children’s networks. Even if the programs themselves are decent, the commercials that interrupt them every few minutes are generally not. Who among us parents has not been horrified that our 3-year-old has inadvertently watched a preview for “Psycho Axe-Murderer 4?”
Yes, there are other stations, like HBO, that may not have commercials, but they’re not cheap. Because PBS is a public station, paid for, in part, by a tiny portion of our tax dollars, that means that anyone who can afford a TV, can have access to this programming. For low-income families, that’s huge.
So please, Mr. Trump, don’t take away Daniel Tiger. The parents of this nation need him.
Cristina Reitz-Krueger, PhD, is a Professor of Developmental and Community Psychology at Warren Wilson College in Asheville, North Carolina.