My 4 year old is obsessed with the Disney Channel, what should I do?

My 4 year old is obsessed with the Disney Channel, what should I do? 150 150 Mediatrics

Q: Recently my 4 year old daughter has found a new, almost obsessive interest in the Disney Channel shows (Hannah Montana, Wizards of Waverly Place, etc). TV was never a problem before, but now she would rather watch these shows than do anything else. I also think that these shows may be too big-kid for her. What do you think, and how can I get her away from the TV without fuss?
-Hung-up on Hannah in New York, NY

A: Dear Hung-up on Hannah,

Kudos to you for being so attentive to your daughter and for paying attention to what she watches and how she responds to it. You report an obsessive quality in her watching, and that observation can help direct you toward a good approach for dealing with it.

First of all, your instinct that these shows are too old for her is right on target—their themes of pre-teen romance often make them too advanced even for their "tween" target audience. Part of what’s tricky here is that the very fact that these shows are too “big-kid” for her may be part of the reason she's attracted to them. Your daughter wants to be
a big kid and do big-kid things, and sometimes using media that’s too advanced seems to satisfy that desire.

Therein lies the key to addressing this issue: finding out what exactly it is that your daughter likes about these shows. To do that, just ask her. In her response, listen for the ways she's telling you what she’s getting from the shows, and then you can find more age-optimal ways to fill that need. If she’s attracted to the sparkly clothes, have her play dress up. If it’s the music or dancing she likes, look for shows that include those elements, but are more geared toward kids her own age, or better yet, encourage her to make up her own dances with her friends and sing along using wooden spoons for microphones. 

Remember that, at this age, kids want to be with their parents more than almost anything else, so the more involved you can be in these activities, the easier the shift away from TV will be. But do know that separating her from these shows or from the TV in general without any fuss isn’t a realistic goal. Kids are always going to fuss about things like this—it’s part of figuring out where your boundaries are. To make this shift go as smoothly as it can, though, I recommend trying to find alternative activities that are as attractive as or more attractive than TV. Then she will be drawn toward these activities instead of away from the TV.  If she does watch, watch with her or talk with her about it so you can make sure it’s a positive experience.

Enjoy your media and use them wisely,
The Mediatrician