television as a teacher

I suppose the first kids show to really act as a “teacher” was Sesame Street, way back in the day.  While that show continues to exist today, it is definitely not the only TV teacher out there anymore.  Before I hop up on my soapbox, let me clarify a few things:

1.  What is a “television teacher”.  What I am referring to are cartoons, geared mostly for preschool and younger aged children, that teach a variety of concepts ranging from counting, to alphabet, to manners.

2.  Some of the more common “television teachers” out there today (from what I have personally seen) are:  Sesame Street, Dora the Explorer, Go Diego Go, Yo Gabba Gabba, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse… and these are just a few that I have actually seen.  I know there are more out there than just this short list.

So, what’s the big deal?  I mean, if anything, shouldn’t I be glad that cartoons are not just your basic Tom and Jerry beating the crud out of each other anymore???  In some ways, I agree, it is nice to know that if I have something that reeeeally needs to get accomplished, or if something just pops up in my day that needs to be dealt with, there are cartoons that don’t just promote idiocy and violence, but that actually teach my children some sort of valuable lesson.  And, don’t get me wrong, I like the numbers, the counting, the alphabet, the sequencing, etc…  What I’m starting to recognize and not particularly care for are what I call the “life lessons”.  The things about behavior, or manners… these sort of things I kind of wish cartoons didn’t address?  Is that weird?  It sounds a little weird to put in writing, so let me explain why I think this.

Easy:  I think it’s the job of the parent to teach those lessons!!!  I started thinking about it today.  My two children, ages (almost) 3 and (almost) 21 months, were watching Yo Gabba Gabba on Noggin before their naps.  I don’t let them watch every Noggin show… I quickly discovered that Rachel’s habit of blurting out “oh my gosh” was a direct result of the show Oswald that is on that channel.  However, I really hadn’t seen any problems with Yo Gabba Gabba, so they were free to watch.  So, I’m cleaning up from lunch, and realize that all of the funky characters are singing a song about not biting your friends.  I didn’t run to turn it off, but it did start the wheels turning… First of all, my children currently are not biters… would this put suggestions into their heads I didn’t want there?  Second, even if they were biters, shouldn’t I be the one to teach them to not bite, rather than some weirdly costumed person?  Hmmm… 

I think a lot of people would respond to the point that it’s not a bad thing to teach children to not bite.  And, I agree!  It’s just the “where it’s coming from” that gets me!  I believe that even at the tender age of 21 months, or 3 years, that my children should have developed enough respect for me to obey what I ask them to do, or not do!  And they have!  How did that happen?  Repetition, and doing what I say I’ll do!  If I tell my child, “no more juice today”, I mean it, and there is no more juice.  If I say, “clean up your toys, or no dessert after lunch”, it’s understood that’s what I mean!  On the flip side, positive things are done as I say them too.  If I tell my daughter I’ll play puzzles with her after I load the dishwasher, I follow through.  Even at a young age, kids are smart enough to know when their parents mean what they say. 

I think part of the problem with parenting these days is that parents think that there are so many other people out there that contribute to their parenting.  And, I don’t disagree with that.  I think that the roles of teachers, Sunday School teachers, pastors, family members, etc… are all important when raising a child… it is, after all , not an easy task!  However, the problem comes when parents expect these other contributers to pick up their slack.  And, in some small way, these new, improved, cartoons are doing just that, picking up the slack of parents by teaching things that should be taught by parents.


I realize that this could potentially be controversial, but I wish it wasn’t!  I’m not a controversial person by nature… I tend to avoid it like the plague… but the way I see it, by giving parents an “out” when it comes to teaching values and manners, it’s doing more harm than good.  What’s going to happen when the preschoolers gets older, is in school, and starts acting out with negative behavior?  Is the teacher supposed to remind them that on Yo Gabba Gabba, “Plex” says, “be nice to your friends”???  Seriously???  If a child hasn’t learned in the formative, early years to respect and obey the adults in their lives, why should they know how to do that when they’re older???  They don’t!  I’ve seen it as a former teacher to 13/14 year old kids!!!  Oh, the parents who would ask me, “what should I do?”!!!  In my head, I’m thinking, “you should have done something a looooong time ago”!!!

Soapbox rant over.

Seriously, give it some thought.  If you let your kids watch television, the LEAST you can do is watch the show with them, or be within earshot to hear what’s going on.  Don’t ever think that because it’s on a “safe” channel, that it’s an okay show for your child, or your family.  And, be an active participant in your child’s behavioral development!  Don’t resort to “you shouldn’t do this because so-and-so said not to”… let your child understand that you love them, and because you love them you are teaching them these skills… obedience, self-control, patience, etc…

Lastly, this is not meant to be an anti-Yo Gabba Gabba tirade!  That just happened to be the show that was on that got this thought process rolling.  I’m sure there are many others out there that do the same thing.  It’s not the show itself that is bad, it’s the fact that parents let the television become the teacher for lessons that should be theirs. 

Have a happy Thursday!

3 Comments on “television as a teacher”

  1. I am SO with you. Before my son was born, I decided that tv would not play a role in his development. When Carter turned a year old, he had never watched tv — except for the random relative who refused to do as requested. But, he is 20 months now and I’ve started letting him watch tv while I make dinner each night (since a 1 year-old and knives/hot surfaces don’t mix well). I had to put serious thought into what I’d let him see, and I came up with Mister Rogers (love him!), Between the Lions (pretty much animated children’s literature) and Sesame Street. So far, those 3 haven’t thrown any red flags at me and I like the fact that there are NO COMMERCIALS in them. That’s another soap box altogether: branding and marketing to young children.

    Thanks for writing!

  2. I have started to cut back more on tv with ours as well. It was easy habit to fall into when the 2nd came along and I needed something for a 15 month old to do all of the hours I was nursing! But, now that summer is here, I figure it’s a good time to re-evaluate and cut back… for good! 🙂

  3. It’s a thoughtful post, Whitney.

    My children are tv free, now. When the first three were little, I would allow the educational programs our commercial free station aired. I would watch some of them with the children, but Playschool was rock solid: you just didn’t find anything shoddy there.

    That is, until they showed an episode where a little girl’s “two mummies” took her to a theme park.. 😯

    That, quite definitively, finished Playschool in our house! When I began to wean the children off tv watching, it took time and creative effort. We did lots of craft! That’s what my girls all loved to do, and if they could do craft, or go for a walk, they didn’t mind missing the shows they had become used to.

    After a while I found that they not only didn’t miss the shows, but they played a lot more independently. They were not relying on me to come up with ideas of things for them to do, and they were happy about it. (yay! probably not as happy as me 😉 )

    It’s been a liberating thing for us to learn to fill our time without it. Although I don’t think that all children’s programs are bad and should be avoided, one of the things that influenced me to go cold turkey was that whatever I build an appetite for now, is not going to magically disappear in 10 years time. The problem with that is that while I may not object to some of the programs for pre-schoolers, I very much object to just about all the programs we have aimed at teenagers and pre-teens.

    Even as an adult, I had to ask myself each time I sat down, “Would I invite my child to watch this with me?” Even though I could sometimes answer yes, many of the things we watched contained at least one thing to make me flinch, often more.

    But what ramble I am inflicting on you! It was interesting to read your thoughts on this subject, and I think you have done a good thing to weigh the issue of who should take responsibility to teach children life lessons.

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