An “Ingredients Label” for Kid’s TV?

8 Sep

A few weeks ago, David Kleeman, the President of the American Center for Children and Media, wrote an interesting piece for the Huffington Post.  In it, he suggested a new idea that could benefit parents who monitor their kids’ TV-viewing behaviors: A kind of “ingredients label” for children’s television programs, making the philosophies, creative approach and curriculum available to all.  I’ve been wrapping my head around the idea, trying to figure out my own opinion.

What Kleeman is suggesting is very different from TV Ratings already in place. That is, we are already given things like “TV-Y” for content directed to all children, or “TV-MA” for mature audiences only, etc.  These ratings are given by a separate monitoring board than the producers.  He is also not talking about the kind of ratings determined by Common Sense Media, an organization that both rates programming based by age-appropriateness but also allows parents to weigh in with their own reviews.  In essence, he is calling upon the Creators and the Producers of children’s television to create guidelines, or “nutritional content” of their shows.


Nutrition label

Sort of like this... except on your TV?


Having been fortunate enough to work on the production side of some great children’s television, I can tell you that everything he says in that post is correct.  There are some extremely thoughtful producers out there, carefully crafting their product to have the best impact on kids.  Some of them even go out into the world to pilot-test some of the learning ideas with small groups of children.  Many of them use Developmental Psychologists to read the scripts and give their notes.  Most of them have a curriculum. However, not all of them do all these things.  Others do some of those things, but in a half-hearted way, knowing that it gives them better credibility with parents.  It is sometimes difficult to tell that, however, because all shows seem to have websites that will gladly tell you their intentions.

I like the idea of an “ingredients label” for children’s television, but would insist upon a standard one, much like the FDA uses.  In fact, such a label should be overseen by an outside monitoring agency much like the FDA who could limit what those ingredients would be and monitor if they are truthful.  (Perhaps the American Center for Children and Media could fill this role?  Are you listening, David Kleeman?)  I fear that children’s TV programs out there who do NOT carefully craft their product would not want to comply, however.  Any idea about what should be done about that?

Certainly, this label would make picking and choosing TV shows for our kids much easier.  We would co-view not simply to monitor the content but to enhance the learning.  How would a label on TV shows change the way you watch? Would you want one?  I’m curious to hear what you have to think; let’s get the conversation started.

2 Responses to “An “Ingredients Label” for Kid’s TV?”

  1. David Kleeman 09/08/2010 at 4:10 pm #

    I’m listening (well, reading, actually)!

    I’ve resisted the idea of a standardized set of terms or label for children’s media because when you come down to it, producing is an art and not a science. While industry and activists argue over details, we have a fairly good sense of healthy, balanced food values, and we can scientifically measure the exact ingredients. That’s not really true even for curriculum-based children’s media (“this program contains 20% of your RDA for critical thinking, and is part of a balanced media breakfast”).

    I’ve seen some very poor content analyses in the past that create a box for defining either “educational” or “quality” media, and then slam excellent shows for not fitting into their particular box.

    I would love, however, to develop a set of terms or glossary of useful ways to describe children’s media content, that could be germane both for creators describing their intent and process, and for parents seeking to choose media that meets their needs, goals and values.

    (I believe that Common Sense Media has come up with a very good framework for helping parents make choices, by providing a balance of age-based assessment and content description. I’m not sure if it would be as good a tool for producers, but it could be a start.)

    Thanks for planting the idea, and I’ll give it thought! I look forward to reading others’ comments here and, Melissa, I’d love it if you’d post your link in the comments section on the HuffPo site. Traffic to the article has mostly died out, but even if one person sees it and reads your thoughts, it’s a plus!

    • Covert Coviewer 09/09/2010 at 8:59 pm #

      Thanks so much for leaving a comment, David. It’s interesting, but I just assumed from your commentary that you were inferring a kind of FDA-type “label,” but from your reaction to this post, I can see that you were thinking of something less restrictive. I, too, like the idea of a glossary of terms, but somehow don’t think that’s enough. (Perhaps I just “read into” your commentary to envision something I prefer.)

      This debate – here and elsewhere – is making me think a lot about how NickJr (the former Noggin channel) has been marketing their shows these days. They have been providing icons for parents before each show, to indicate the kind of learning each show emphasizes. (See more here: While I find these icons to be not very accurate as to the DEPTH of each of these content areas, it is a good start. (For an example of how this is lacking depth: “Team Umizoomi” is a show which goes into great depth about math concepts, where several other shows on Nick Jr. – which i will not name here – simply gloss over some counting. All those shows still receive the “Count with Us” icon.) Perhaps this might be a good stepping-off point for developing standards?

      Great debate! Let’s keep it going.

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