When you think of co-viewing, what comes to mind? Family shows that reach out across generations, perhaps – Doctor Who and Christmas specials, popcorn-fuelled movie nights. Or maybe it’s that iconic image of all five Simpsons, crammed onto a three-seater couch pointed towards a boxy, aerial-bearing television set.
With a growing number of SVOD services and mobile video platforms, options for consuming video content are more varied than ever before. Younger generations are watching far less traditional linear television than their predecessors, with Netflix, Prime Video, and YouTube rushing in to fill the gap. New services and devices make it easy for video consumption to be a solitary experience, where headphones are plugged in, tablets taken up to bedrooms, and Netflix accounts split so that everybody gets to watch what they want to watch, when they want to watch it. In theory, perfect. Right?
Earlier this year, new research conducted by Nielson showed the impact of TV connected devices on co-viewing. They revealed that rates of co-viewing with TV connected devices – such as Apple TV and Google Chromecast, but also Smart TVs and consoles – were lower (34%) than in traditional linear television (48%). Although TV connected devices should enable easy co-viewing, lending themselves to a ‘leanback environment’, their focus on personalised and ‘anytime’ content might be why we’re seeing these statistics lag behind.
The Nielson research also demonstrated that these percentages didn’t vary much across genres – sports or drama, for example – but that there was a significant variance when it came to children’s content; they found 60% co-viewing with children’s content on linear television, with a significant drop to 34% with TV connected devices. So logic sits, as we shift towards TV connected devices and app-based video and away from linear television programming, we’re likely to see an overall decline in the amount of households where parents or caregivers are co-viewing with their children.
According to Lauren J. Myers in her article ‘Eyes in the room trump eyes on the screen’, research suggests that ‘children depend primarily on their live social partners to make sense of their media experiences.’ While caregivers are limited in their abilities to control and censor everything a child will see, what they can do is help them learn to process that information. And the great thing about co-viewing is that is doesn’t have to be every time. With every instance of productive co-viewing – that is, co-viewing in which parental mediation occurs – a child becomes increasingly competent in finding healthy ways to process their independent media experiences.
Social learning theory dictates that children and teenagers learn by observing and then imitating what they see on screen, especially when particular behaviours or characteristics are rewarded, or portrayed realistically. With this in mind, parent/child co-viewing might occur to shape the way that potentially harmful representations are internalised – including inappropriate language, drug and alcohol consumption, and instances of violence. But aside from the more obvious opportunities for interception, parental mediation and co-viewing can also help influence the worldviews and ideals that young children might acquire through media. In this way, co-viewing could help prevent the reinforcement of racial or gender-based stereotypes, encourage a child to think more critically about their own environment and social relations, and deliver a clear distinction between the world on the screen and the world around them.
What can you do to make the most of that precious co-viewing time? We have a few ideas.
1. ASK QUESTIONS
Asking questions in a co-viewing environment is a great way to open up conversations around the media you consume. Open ended questions (How did you feel about that? What did you think when that happened?) give children a chance to process information and express their thoughts, which can then be mediated through further discussion. More focussed questions (Did you think that character was being fair? Who do you think was in the wrong?) can help guide a child towards a particular idea, affirming a positive consideration that can be applied to future TV time and real life. Taking a leaf out of the kid’s book and challenging every answer with a ‘Why?’ could also help them to think more critically about why they feel the way they do.
2. ENCOURAGE (AND ANSWER!) QUESTIONS
Being there to answer any questions a child might have about their media experiences is just as important as asking them. Creating a co-viewing environment that encourages discussion should give a child the confidence to ask a question if they’re unsure on how to process anything they’ve seen during TV time.
3. OFFER PERSPECTIVE
Find ways to bring the situations and topics addressed on the television into the real world. If a show presents a character having difficulty sharing, you might ask how they feel about sharing, or if they’d be willing to share something with a sibling or a friend. By relating the events you watch on TV together back to situations the child may encounter in their own life, you can put things into perspective, helping them to understand the difference between media and the real world.
As important as co-viewing may be, children’s television forms only one small part of their media intake. There are all other kinds of video – interactive, YouTube content, advertising – to consider when thinking about co-viewing and opportunities for parental mediation. It doesn’t stop at video, either. Video games, audio content, and even traditional story books can be just as impactful, and present further opportunities for parents and caregivers to get involved with their children’s media experiences.
While television and video games are often used as tools with which caregivers can preoccupy children, it’s important that this doesn’t become their sole function. In recognising the impact of media experiences, particularly on a child’s early development, an open dialogue can become a key part of their media interaction. Ultimately, this has the potential to reduce the impact of misrepresentation or miscommunication and shape a positive worldview, helping children develop a healthy relationship with media and fuelling their critical thought.
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