Children’s Programming Under The Magnifying Glass: How Parents Can Tell Where TV Offers Good Entertainment Today

Children love it, educators warn against it: Television for children is extremely controversial. However, a life completely without a screen has long since become unrealistic. That makes it all the more important for parents to know what TV offers today and to make the right choice for their children.

Children’s TV Programming Today And In The Past

It is hard to imagine everyday life without television. In almost every household, there is a flicker box in at least one room. So the children of our time grow up with television as a fixed part of their lives from day one.

As early as around 1880, the technology was ready to bring the first moving pictures into private households. It was not until the 1920s, however, that entertainment technology was sufficiently advanced to build televisions. Television programming in the early hours was still far from children’s entertainment. News programs were the first formats to go on the air, and from 1935, the National Socialists also knew how to use television for propagandistic broadcasts.

A lot has happened since then, and television has developed into a mass medium with a wide range of offerings for all age groups. Children, too, love moving pictures, and today they get a lot on offer in the flicker box. The first children’s program regularly broadcast by ARD was “Kinderstunde mit Dr. Ilse Obrig” (Children’s Hour with Dr. Ilse Obrig ) in 1951, in which ideas for games and handicrafts were presented with an educational slant. The format became a regular program item from 4:00 to 5:00 p.m., as a continuation of a program that had already been successfully broadcast on radio since 1945. Later, puppet shows on television became real entertainment classics. The “Augsburger Puppenkiste” still enjoys cult status today and is also repeated in modern children’s programming.

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Admittedly, the children’s program from the fifties would hardly be able to captivate our dear little ones in front of the screen today. In fact, TV today has little to do with the programs of that first television generation. Parents and grandparents often remember the good old days somewhat wistfully, when they themselves were allowed to watch their first favorite shows. Children’s programs such as Sesame Street, Die Sendung mit der Maus and Löwenzahn have also survived to some extent into the present day in a rejuvenated form and offer educationally valuable children’s programming. Since 2007, for example, “Die Sendung mit dem Elefanten” has been reviving the high-quality children’s entertainment that was conveyed for many years in the “Sendung mit der Maus”.

However, educators are less enthusiastic about much of what TV sends on the air for children today. Many formats that are advertised as children’s programs are far too hectic, too visual and too lacking in content. So would it be better for the little ones to do without the flickers altogether? Pedagogues and even some parents would be quite happy with that, because the television consumption of children and adolescents is repeatedly criticized in our time.

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Television Is Okay. It All Depends On The Quality

Even if many people in charge would like it to be quite okay, it is hardly possible to completely ban television in childhood today. Of course, children should spend as little time as possible in front of the TV, especially in their younger years, but an upbringing without any media influence at all is considered unrealistic today. Today’s generation is growing up with a hitherto unknown level of media competence, which can open many doors for them in the increasingly networked world of later life.

In addition to the numerous international public and private TV channels broadcast on TV today, there are streaming services, video on demand and other Internet-based providers available via pay TV. As a result, children and young people today have access to entertainment programming that rivals that of adults.

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In its educational brochure “Geflimmer im Zimmer,” the German Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth informs:

Every German household owns a television set on average. In addition, there is a TV set in almost every second child’s room and in slightly more than half of the teenagers’ rooms today. Although computers and the Internet are becoming increasingly important, television is still the number one medium for children and remains very important for most young people.” (Source: )

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Parents should therefore no longer ban television in principle. However, a healthy restriction of consumption and, above all, a very careful selection of television programming is even more important today than it was 50 years ago.

What Makes Good Entertainment On TV Today?

The length of time spent watching TV is just as crucial as the quality of the program consumed. Parents are confronted with such a wide range of entertainment programs for children on TV today that it is difficult to choose. Nevertheless, guardians should take the time to carefully examine what their offspring are watching.

To say that public broadcasters offer higher quality children’s programming than private broadcasters would certainly be too general and inaccurate a statement. Parents should take a closer look here and examine the quality of children’s television from format to format in detail.

Siegmund Grewenig, who has been head of the children’s and daytime television program group at Westdeutscher Rundfunk in Cologne since 2000, formulated 10 quality criteria for good children’s television in an editorial.

Good Children’s Television Should:

  1. Appeal to children in their lifeworld.
  2. Be fun for children.
  3. Offer children identification.
  4. Show children the world and make them wonder.
  5. Inform children.
  6. Teach children something.
  7. Appeal to children aesthetically.
  8. Children need events.
  9. Be accessible to children.
  10. Motivate and mobilize children.

(The full article is available at

As somewhat more tangible, but not to be used without reflection, evaluation criteria are available in the form of age ratings, which today attempt to divide TV into age groups. Via the Voluntary Self-Regulation Body of the Film Industry (Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle der Filmwirtschaft, FSK), films, videos and other carrier media are divided into five age categories in uniform test procedures. However, the FSK expressly states that “the age rating does not imply any pedagogical recommendation or aesthetic evaluation. There cannot be a fixed catalog of criteria for assessing the possible effects, but there can be standards that require expert interpretation.

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Last but not least, parents should therefore train their children from the very beginning in a critical approach to the television program on offer and also trust the young viewers with a certain independent media competence as they grow older. In this regard, we would like to quote once again from the BMFSJF’s educational brochure:

Children are capable of finding their way in the media world if they receive appropriate support. This means that they can benefit from the programs, learn more and improve their quality of life. It’scrucial that parents model positivity and consciously choose programs themselves, talk about what they’ve seen with their kids, and turn off the TV after a show.”

In this way, our children grow up from the very beginning to be responsible young people who, with a healthy media literacy, can master the challenges of our highly technological age.

Image source
:Figure 1: @ lighthouse81 (CCO license) / pixabay.comFigure
@ mojzagrebinfo (CCO license) /

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