Will watching telenovelas harm my 2 year old?

Michael RichMedia expert Michael Rich, MD, MPH, director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Children’s Hospital Boston, answers your questions about media use. Last week, he discussed graphic violent and sexual content in the media.

Here’s this week’s question:

Q: My husband and I immigrated to the United States from the Philippines in 2003, and since then, we had a son, who is now 2. We have The Filipino Channel at home, and my husband and I watch telenovelas and variety shows on that channel all the time. Should we let our son watch with us?  I know some telenovelas can be emotional and disturbing. How will I know if they affect him negatively?
Telenovelas at Two in Lubbock, TX

A: Dear Telenovelas,

It can be challenging for families—including those like yours that have recently moved to the United States—to stay in touch with their culture of origin. The Filipino Channel and other screen media can really help maintain that important connection. As you imply, however, the content that kids are exposed to really matters.  Your son may not understand disturbing content yet, but he will understand the tone of anger or the sound of distress which may cause fear as he gets older.  >>See related question: My 2 year old was scared by a Disney movie, what do I do?

Unless what is on screen is well-designed educational material for his developmental stage, he’s almost always better off doing something other than watching TV.  That’s not only true because the content might be disturbing, though. In addition, your son’s developing brain needs certain environments in order to grow as healthy and strong as possible. And even though The Filipino Channel may seem to help him connect with his culture, a screen isn’t an ideal learning environment for children his age—it doesn’t respond to or interact with him. Therefore, if you’d like to help your son connect with his culture, have him engage with it in the real world—by eating your favorite foods from home, for example, or reading books in your first language.

Watching telenovelas for yourself can be entertaining and may provide a connection you crave, so I recommend that you enjoy them after your son has gone to sleep.
>>See other questions and answers about media and toddlers

Enjoy your media and use them wisely,
The Mediatrician

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