Children's Exposure to Prosocial Media

Television can provide many different educational opportunities for children. In just the realm of language, studies show children learn vocabulary from Sesame Street [1] and foreign words from Dora the Explorer [2]. Television might also teach children about skills valued in society, such as sharing and kindness. These behaviors are prosocial—intended to help others. Viewing television shows in which characters engage in prosocial behaviors might lead children to behave more empathically and prosocially themselves [3].

How prosocial is the television that children are currently watching? To find out, we created a list of 96 popular television shows based on recent Nielsen ratings and a media survey completed by families in the Charlottesville area who participate in our research studies. For each of the shows on the list, we watched two randomly-selected episodes from the most recent complete season. After watching each episode, we rated it for prosociality on a scale from 1 (Poor Exemplar of Prosocial Behavior) to 5 (Excellent Exemplar of Prosocial Behavior). The two individual episode ratings per show were then averaged together to create a prosocial rating for each show. A second rater judged 12% of the shows and the two raters were in high agreement on how prosocial the shows were (r = .88).

Children's shows varied widely in prosociality, but overall were not very prosocial. The average rating for the 49 shows was 1.78 out of 5—what we would consider bordering on Fair. The most common rating (mode) for these shows was 1—Poor. Only 13 shows (about 14%) received a rating of Good (3) or better. Two shows in particular were highly prosocial: Special Agent Oso (Prosocial Rating = 5) and Sesame Street (Prosocial Rating = 4.5).

Of course, this list of children's television shows is by no means exhaustive; it only reflects the most popular shows as listed by Nielsen and parent reports. Parents who are interested in having their children watch more prosocial television might be interested in these ratings. Please let us know by writing to if you found this information helpful, and if it changes what your child watches!

TV Show Prosocial Rating
Special Agent Oso 5
Sesame Street 4.5
Team Umizoomi 3.75
Miles from Tomorrowland 3.75
Barney and Friends 3.75
PJ Masks 3.75
The Little Mermaid 3.75
Sofia the First 3.5
Mickey Mouse Clubhouse 3.5
Wallykazam! 3.25
Strawberry Shortcake: Berry Bitty Adventures 3.25
Sheriff Callie's Wild West 3
Dora the Explorer 3
Caillou 2.75
Nature Cat 2.75
Peztronauta 3.75
The Magic School Bus 2.5
Stuck in the Middle 2.5
Justin Time 2.5
Ready Jet Go! 2.5
Paw Patrol 2.25
Max and Ruby 2.25
Avatar the Last Airbender 2.25
The Garfield Show 2.25
Transformers: Rescue Bots 2
Peppa Pig 2
My Little Pony 2
Lego Ninjago 2
Octonauts 2
El Mundo de Rosie 2
Elena of Avalor 2
Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness 1.75
Transformers: Prime 1.75
Doki 1.75
Chopped 1.75
Word Party 1.75
Curious George 1.5
Dinosaur Train 1.5
Blaze and the Monster Machines 1.5
Arthur 1.5
Doc McStuffins 1.5
SpongeBob SquarePants 1.5
Jake and the Neverland Pirates 1.5
Geronimo Stilton 1.5
Phineas and Ferb 1.5
Martha Speaks 1.5
Little Einsteins 1.5
Care Bears: Welcome to Care-a-Lot 1.5
Ben and Holly's Little Kingdom 1.5
Lego Legends of Chima 1.5
The Lion Guard 1.5
The Adventures of Puss in Boots 1.5
The Little Bus Tayo 1.5
Sonic Boom 1.25
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1.25
The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That! 1.25
Clarence 1.25
Mia and Me 1.25
Amigazazo 1.25
Lego Star Wars 1.25
K.C. Undercover 1.25
100 Things to Do Before High School 1.25
Doctor Who 1.25
Iron Man: Armored Adventures 1.25
Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood 1
Wild Kratts 1
Bubble Guppies 1
Peg + Cat 1
Odd Squad 1
Game Shakers 1
Peep and the Big Wide World 1
Inspector Gadget 1
Cyberchase 1
The Amazing World of Gumball 1
Teen Titans Go! 1
Thomas and Friends 1
Super Why! 1
Mister Roger's Neighborhood 1
Lab Rats 1
El Mundo de Luna 1
Wheel of Fortune 1
Mythbusters 1
Guy's Grocery Games 1
How It's Made 1
Cutthroat Kitchen 1
A.N.T. Farm 1
MasterChef Junior 1
Mr. Bean 1
This Old House 1
Power Rangers 1
Blue's Clues 1
Word Girl 1
Sonic Underground 1

We thank all of the families who participated in our studies and helped us to compile these lists. Our research would not be possible without your support! This research was supported by grant 56225 from the Sir John Templeton Foundation to Angeline S. Lillard.

  1. Rice, M., L., & Woodsmall, L. (1988). Lessons from television: Children's word learning when viewing. Child Development, 59(2), 420-429.
  2. Linebarger, D., & Walker, D. (2005). Infants' and toddlers' television viewing and language outcomes. American Behavioral Scientist, 48, 624-645.
  3. Mares, M. L., & Woodard, E. (2005). Positive effects of television on children's social interactions: A meta-analysis. Media Psychology, 7, 301-322.