How much TV is too much TV for kids?

Talk about a lightning rod of a topic, especially in today’s era of countless channels and options — every parent has a different answer. For official guidelines, the American Academy of Pediatrics discourages children ages 2 and younger from watching television. As for older kids, the AAP recommends no more than one to two hours of nonviolent educational programming per day, supervised by an adult.

We talked to Dimitri Christakis — a member of the executive committee of the AAP Council on Communications and Media, and a director at Seattle Children’s Research Institute — about the best way for parents to utilize the small screen.

Can TV actually be good for kids that young?

“I often say, ‘All television is educational,’ ” Christakis said. “The real question is: What is it teaching?” For children in the 2-5 age range, certain shows can teach kindergarten readiness skills: patience, being kind to others, learning to share. Kids love to imitate what they see, so as long as parents are selective and choose high-quality programs, they shouldn’t be too concerned about the “ill effects” of television. And, Christakis says, it can have a positive impact.

So what are some of these “high-quality” shows?

Christakis says he gets this question all the time but is hesitant to single out programs. “The 2-5, that’s really kind of the sweet spot of television for children,” he says. “It’s an age range where there’s an enormous number of quality programs, more all the time.” He encourages parents to do their research about what constitutes a high-quality show for their family because all children are different. Especially in terms of developmental stage, needs, interests — parents will know what works for them.

Seriously? Not even one?

Okay, he did name drop a couple: “Dora the Explorer” on Nick Jr. promotes pro-social development, and “Blues Clues,” another Nick Jr. program, helps provide abstract reasoning tests, and quizzes are built into the show. And PBS’s “Sesame Street” offers an exceptionally clear curriculum. But, Christakis says, parents should take into account what is best for their individual children and “shop around” to see what they like and what shows have messages they enjoy.

What’s one surefire way to make sure kids get the most out of TV?

Watch it with them — one of the best things parents can do is to engage their child during and after the show to see whether he or she is absorbing the salient points, Christakis says. So just accept the fact that the theme music is going to be stuck in your head for weeks, and get ready to ask questions about what the kids learned.

Read more: A New Boomlet in TV for Preschoolers

Emily Yahr