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.