The Fun of Empowering Girls

For over 20 years, I worked in public broadcasting making shows for young people. We made television and digital content and even hosted events in communities across the country. As a public broadcaster, I was keenly aware of what we needed to work hard on, including empowering children…especially girls. We knew from research that if girls saw positive role models on screen, it could have an incredible impact. But no matter how hard we worked, we couldn’t control what happened after they saw a program. We knew that the impact would be higher if the ideas in the shows were talked about at home. And even higher if a parent watched with them.

As a parent, I want great role models too. Like most parents,  I feel a lot of pressure to try to make all the right choices. It can be a lot. So, I think it’s time to make a switch and take the pressure off.

I say let’s have fun with empowering the girls (and boys!) in our lives. Instead of trying to find all the right everything to introduce them to, let’s make it an adventure together.

With your own kids, try to think outside of the box to find awesome role models on your screen, and in your own neighbourhood or town. Make it a quest. A Mission. Make a chart. Or just do it for fun. Find what works with your family dynamic but make the goal finding awesome women near where you live. Here are some suggestions:

1/ Make it a challenge to see who can find the coolest girl character in a tv show. And then watch it together.

2/ Go to the library and see if any women authors are speaking. Or reading from their picture or chapter books.

3/ Check out cool women running for office where you live and go and hear them speak. Even if your kids are too young to understand the issues, all the clapping and sign waiving will make it fun. And they get to see women being supported by other women and men.

4/ In your play- whether it’s with stuffed animals, dolls or action characters- make the role playing about inventing or leading (hey let’s find a way to invent a colour changing t-shirt or create a cardboard starship to fly us to the stars!). Remember that young kids imaginations are way better than ours as adults, so let them run with it.

5/ Celebrate the women in your extended family who have interesting jobs- in science, architecture, a small startup- and have them tell your kids about it

6/ Go old school. Kids still love to play board games. Print off pictures of powerful women- from politicians to pilots- that you can glue to cardboard and use as pieces in any of your favourite family games instead of the regular pieces.

And remember moms, research shows that this isn’t just about our kids. A study in the journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that working women who viewed images of powerful women succeeded in stressful leadership tasks. So have fun with it!

Kim Wilson, Co-Director, Center for Scholars and Storytellers

Disclosure: This blog post was written independently and reflects the author’s own views. It was written in support of the Dream Gap project and was paid for by Barbie.

Creating an App that is both entertaining and educational!

Young Children Can Learn Social-Emotional Skills from an App!

Daniel Tiger Feelings

I consider myself a pretty good parent. I don’t let my kids eat dirt. They know how to call 911. And due to the nature of my job as a media researcher, I think I’m pretty well-attuned to what my kids should and shouldn’t do with media. But that doesn’t seem to keep my kids from finding and playing with app games that I’ve never heard of.

In discussions with researchers around the country and with those here at Texas Tech University, it became apparent that far too little research looks at the value of “educational” apps that our kids sometimes get their hands on. If we, as media researchers, can’t identify a worthwhile app for our kids, how are parents supposed to do so? So, we did what researchers do—we designed a study to test the educational value of a popular children’s app.

Together with researchers at Texas Tech University, University of South Dakota, and Vanderbilt University, and in cooperation with Fred Rogers Productions, we invited 121 children ages 3-6 to play with the “Daniel Tiger’s Grr-ific Feelings” app (or with a ‘control’ app) for about two weeks.

In the study, published in the Journal of Media Psychology, we found that children who played with the “Daniel Tiger’s Grr-ific Feelings” app were significantly better at managing negative emotions, such as feeling mad, sad, and disappointed (a skill that scholars call “emotion regulation”) than those who didn’t play with the app. For example, kids who played with the Daniel Tiger app were more likely to take a deep breath and count to four when they felt mad, just as Daniel Tiger instructs. This was also true for kids who played with the app and watched episodes of “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.”

Alone, these results are pretty astounding—kids can learn to manage their emotions by playing with an app! But our research team was even more amazed by what we found next. We met with families about a month after the conclusion of the study and found that the skills kids had learned had persisted. Finding short-term effects of media use is pretty common in media research, but such long-term effects are much more rare. In other words, there is something about playing with the Daniel Tiger app that teaches emotional skills to children that sticks with them long-term.

As a parent myself, the implications for this study are clear—it’s okay to let my kids play with the “Daniel Tiger’s Grr-ific Feelings” app. Among the thousands of apps that claim to be “educational,” we now have an option that research shows is truly educational.

I encourage content creators to take a close look at the ways in which the intended lesson was incorporated into the app and its features. While this study did not look at specific components of the app or its content, we know from past research that educational content for kids tends to have better results when it includes features such as:

  • The inclusion of relatable (and known) characters: Daniel Tiger is the age of the kids for whom the app is intended.

  • Memorable songs: Once you hear Daniel Tiger jingles, they’re hard to get out of your head—just ask any parent of a child who spends time with Daniel Tiger content.

  • Simple & repetitive: Kids both crave and learn well from repetition!

  • Tightly-designed games: Kids learn better when the task or plot is highly intertwined with the lesson being taught.

I work hard at being a good researcher. I work even harder at being a good parent. Being a parent is tough, and in today’s world, I’ll use anything that helps me teach my kids the skills they’ll need as they grow up. And if an app my kids want to play with will do just that, I’ll take it.

Eric Rasmussen, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Media and Communication at Texas Tech University

Collaborator of the Center for Scholars and Storytellers

Citation: Rasmussen, E. E., Strouse, G. A., Colwell, M. J., Russo Johnson, C., Holiday, S., Brady, K., … & Norman, M. S. (2018). Promoting preschoolers’ emotional competence through prosocial TV and mobile app use. Media Psychology, 1-22.

Led by Dr. Eric Rasmussen, this research, was conducted at Texas Tech University, Vanderbilt University, and University of South Dakota, and the research team included CCS’ co-director Dr. Colleen Russo Johnson as well as CSS collaborators Dr. Gabrielle Strouse and Dr. Georgene Troseth.

(Photo courtesy of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood ©2012, The Fred Rogers Company)