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The Creator of ‘Daniel Tiger’ on Screen Time, YouTube and Writing Jokes for 4 Year-Olds
PBS

No matter your child’s age, screen time (and how to manage it) is a complicated conversation. That’s why Hilaria Baldwin and Daphne Oz, co-hosts of Mom Brain, the hit podcast about parenting, couldn’t wait to chat with Angela Santomero, the 30-time Emmy-nominated producer and creator behind kid favorites like Blue’s Clues and Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. Here, excerpts from their chat, including the value of co-viewing and the trick to knowing what your child should and shouldn’t watch.

1. YouTube Is Useful…Sometimes

Daphne Oz: Let’s talk about YouTube. There are unboxing videos for kids or videos where kids watch another child play with a new toy. It’s certainly not as creative as the stories you’ve worked on, but what [do you think about] that type of content?

Angela Santomero: It’s fascinating and all depends on the age group that we’re talking about. I love to look at what’s popular, what’s going on, why is it working and then look at the pros and cons of it.

Those unboxing videos for little ones makes me think of [content] as a variety of food that we have to offer our kids. [Ask yourself]: What is it that they’re getting and why?

I am a believer in the storytelling and fostering a longer attention span. There’s definitely a way to write [for television] so that little ones can watch something for 22 minutes and comprehend it, while making up their own opinions and their minds about it. Their critical thinking is being developed. And that’s not what you’re getting when you’re watching these short videos.

So, what can we do? I always talk about using media versus letting it use you. For example, owl content. There are a million YouTube videos you could watch about owls. If you want to learn something particular, you have to go for that and zero in.

2. Co-Viewing is Important, But Children’s TV Should Never Go Above Kids’ Heads

Hilaria Baldwin: How do you guide your kids when they move out of the age bracket for shows which you know are good and wholesome and educational?

Santomero: That’s where co-viewing really comes into play. With my kids, we went right into the Disney shows and the live action Disney stuff, so I wanted to watch with them. It’s also my business, so I was doing research at the same time. At a certain age, I remember thinking: ‘What can I put on?’ And we ended up watching Gilmore Girls together. It was from the mom point of view and the kid point of view, plus I love it.

Oz: Are you thinking about co-viewing when you’re creating your shows?

Santomero: We always want co-viewing. We also want to be sure you’re not annoying parents and that they can actually lean in and they can feel good about the content when they join in to watch. But we’re also never doing jokes that are for the parents only. We always include the kids and I’m always the person at the table saying: ‘Yeah, you all laughed, but let’s see what the four-year-olds have to say.’

But you also can’t be too perfect. When we first did Daniel Tiger, Mom Tiger used the mad strategy for herself because she was freaking out about something Daniel Tiger did and it was so important to show that. Daniel was like: ‘Mom, you’re getting red in the face. Mom, you’re raising your voice.’ There’s a responsibility to showcase some of that modeling for the parents, too.

3. Most Importantly, Look For Characters Who Model Good Behavior

Hilaria Baldwin: One of the great parts about the shows you’ve created is that I know the kids will come away with really good lessons. Especially right now, it’s nice to be able to allow your child to watch something while you take a moment to step away without having to think, ‘Wait, do I need to stop this?’ ‘Do I need to fast forward that?’ ‘Do I need to discuss exactly what happened here?’ You can really just give yourself a break.

Santomero: I’ve been saying that since I started this career—you do not have to feel guilty about letting your kids watch TV when you’re choosing high-quality content. We believe so much in peer modeling and it’s all research-based—kids are literally going to model what they see on TV, similarly to what they would do with friends.

If Daniel Tiger eats broccoli, they’re more likely to eat broccoli than if we try to get them to eat broccoli. There’s such a strong affinity for these characters, and we want to make sure that you would want the characters to come into your living room. That respectful language and dialog is part of that and something we take really seriously. As a result, there’s always a kindness curriculum that runs through every show. It’s in the background and it’s something that we do all the time.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. For more from Angela Santomero, listen to her recent appearance on the Mom Brain podcast with Hilaria Baldwin and Daphne Oz. Subscribe now or follow us on Instagram @mombrain.

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