Thursday, June 11, 2009

Debating kid's shows/stories

I've been having a mental debate about the kind of stories I read to my three year old and the kind of DVDs I let him watch. I've been noticing that a lot of the shows and books that try to teach "moral lessons" go about it in a way that I'm not sure is such a great way to teach a three year old. Generally, it seems that the way these lessons are conveyed is a character acts in a way that is mean, or selfish, and then another character steps in and points out the error of their ways. Basic, and I'm not sure there is another way to do this, but my problem with this is that it nicely illustrates bad behavior to my three year old. Before it teaches him to be good, it teaches him to be bad. For instance, a character in a Sesame Street story calls someone stupid. Eventually, they learn the lesson that it's not kind to call anyone stupid. But I doubt my three year old has ever heard anyone be called stupid or called anyone stupid himself (outside of stories), and now Sesame Street has showed him how.

This mostly just applies to shows, because with books, so far I've only taken issue with the crappy ones - the ones that sell just because they have Elmo on the cover, you know the type. I haven't noticed this kind of writing in any of our favorite books, and besides, I can always change the words!

I might be making a mountain out of a molehill here, but I know my son is deeply affected by stories, whether written or watched. Every day he speaks 'in story' - combining phrases from different stories we've read into strange sentences that sometimes make sense and sometimes don't. Every day I hear him repeating something we've read, or saying a phrase from Thomas Train. He thinks 'in story', because he will apply phrases he's learned to what he is doing at any given moment.

I checked out the first movie he's ever watched, Cars, from the library this week. I wouldn't have even considered it, but an older boy that befriended my son in the children's room started pulling DVDs off the shelf for him and came to me, saying, 'please, please?' Then of course, booga really wanted to bring one home, and I gave in. Partly because every child seems to have seen this movie, and I was curious. And it turns out Lightning McQueen is a pretty distasteful character until he reforms in the end. He's the cool hero of the movie, and he's a jerk. I think my son is still too young to process that heroes who act like jerks are doing something they shouldn't. I'm pretty certain he is not watching Lightning McQueen thinking, 'boy, he sure is selfish' -- he's just absorbing what he sees.

Since I don't really want him to absorb bad behavior until he can identify it as bad behavior, I'm going to be careful about the stories that get brought into our house. I'm glad we don't watch any TV (I used to let booga watch Sesame Street, but we don't get the channel anymore), and I think I will try to hold off on movies for the most part for another year at least. I'm okay with Thomas Train and Elmo DVDs (although his one-dimensionality gets to me).There's just an intensity difference between the trains on Thomas being quarrelsome, and loud flashy movie characters being bad.


Melanie B said...

I know exactly what you mean. I've become more and more sensitive to characters who act badly in an attempt to teach good behavior. I think perhaps those kinds of books and stories are fine to seek out if you already have a problem behavior on your hands and want some help in resolving it, otherwise they seem to introduce bad behaviors Bella would never have thought of. For the most part we don't get these in our books. There are a couple that we have Lllama Llama Red Pajama and Lllama, Llama Mad at Mama, that do and I initially thought they were very cute, now I'm a bit more cautious because the llama character throws outrageous temper tantrums and I don't want Bella to emulate that.

Like you, I've opted to avoid television. And we also avoid DVDs altogether except for long car trips. Mainly because I don't like having to fight battles about why she can't watch it right now. I don't like setting limits easier to avoid the confrontation altogether Just about all we let the kids watch are short YouTube music videos and those already I have to fight to limit.

Andrea said...


We are in the same boat. Cars was also the first full length movie that Elijah saw, and of course he loved it. But I was surprised even by the use of the words "stupid" and "moron." I was so naive that I thought those would be reserved for a PG flick ;-) Even Thomas Train gets to me sometimes and we've tried to cut back on that. The trains are not always nice, as you mentioned. Although we're probably reading too much into it, Ryan and I have always been disturbed by how on certain episodes and stories the trains are so concerned about being "really useful" and worried if they're not that they'll be "scrapped."

So, it's a bit of a struggle, but I've found that Elijah does best with shows that are more informational like the "Hard Hat Harry" series which we've found at the library. He does still watch some Thomas, a little Bob the Builder (which I actually prefer to Thomas) and Veggie Tales.

Also, I've recently started a membership to, which has all sorts of Catholic shows. I did that for 2 reasons. One, with the baby coming I didn't want to keep track of due dates and end up paying late fees for library shows that we can only keep 3 days at a time. And I also thought that while he's watching videos, why not let them be Catholic. Veggie Tales are pretty good and they have those at the library, but there's so much more the kids could absorb from the shows, even just the few times a week or so that we let them watch. Since we don't have cable, PiusMedia is nice because they have stuff from EWTN. We just got a show recently that the series is called "We Are Catholic" and we got the one on "Our Lady." It was a little cheesy, but had good solid information and an interesting little story line. They also have different kid shows about saints, JP II, etc. Hopefully they will be good, but the nice thing is the kids really don't care about the "quality" of animation, dialogue, etc.

So, this is getting long, but the topic of media influence on our children is certainly a big one. And we're just getting started... :-)