Niko’s been sick lately and doing his best impersonation of a couch barnacle, so we’ve been watching a lot of tv including “Despicable Me” on repeat. We usually watch maybe an hour of tv a day, after school, while he and I both decompress, and I’m pretty picky about what he’s allowed to watch. One of my not very secret wishes is the ability to black list stuff on Netflix so that certain shows just don’t show up. Anyway, I’m going to make a little list here of the shows I allow Niko to watch, and the ones I’d rather he not watch. I’d love to hear your opinion on these shows, and on what you let your kids watch.
We’ll start with shows I approve of and let Niko watch pretty much without objection.
You’ll probably recognize that some things I find valuable in kid programming include:
A cast that isn’t all white dudes/centered around only a white dude
Shows that have involved fathers/father figures
Shows that are legit educational, not just ~~THE MOR U NO~~
Shows that portray women/minorities in positive light and as fully developed characters
Shows that emphasize emotional/social growth/skills, and working together/problem solving
Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood is an animated update of Mr Rogers’ Neighborhood, produced in part by the Fred Rogers’ Foundation. It’s set in The Land Of Make-Believe and follows grown-up versions of his original puppet characters and their adorable children. When I was a kid, I wanted to grow up to be Lady Elaine Fairchilde. Well, she grew up to marry a super hot musician and have a super cute little girl. Anyway, the show focuses on emotional and social development and growth and offers helpful scripts for challenging times. If you’re not aware of what scripting is, it’s when you prepare for a negative thing ahead of time, rehearsing how you’ll deal with it. Some of the things the show has dealt with include starting school for the first time; being nervous about parents/guardians going away; waiting patiently; dealing with anger/tantrums; working together/sharing; trying new food; visiting the doctor; and the like. The cast includes a mixed marriage and mixed-race child, a single mom raising her kid, and an uncle who is the guardian of his nephew, so there’s a variety of families represented. There’s a lot of emphasis on kindness and working together and supporting each other, and the fathers who are present in their kids’ lives are very present and are equal parents.
Dinosaur Train sounds like a marketing-driven dream, a mash up of two things little kids (stereotypically boys) love: Dinosaurs, and Trains. Also there’s time travel involved. I scoffed at the show initially, but if you overlook the talking dinosaurs riding around in improbable trains through time, there’s a high level of actual factual information going on. Additionally, there’s an emphasis on social skills and friendship and kindness. Both parents are very involved in raising the kids, and the dad does emotional heavy lifting. One of the dinosaurs protagonists is obviously adopted, and this is discussed in various ways. There’s emphasis on critical thinking and problem solving. While the main character is a male, there are many supporting female characters who are fully developed and exist in their own right.
Doc McStuffins follows a Black American girl who is a toy doctor, following in her medical doctor mom’s footsteps. Her dad is a stay at home or work at home parent who cooks and cleans while her mom pulls down a professional income. It’s mostly a light and fluffy show, with Doc trying to solve the little mysteries of why various toys and stuffed animals are broken, and figuring out how to fix them. Niko bounces between wanting to be Doc McStuffins and wanting to “be her boyfriend,” although when I ask him what he means when he says that he can’t give me an answer. He’s a white boy who identifies hard with a Black girl, though.
The Magic Schoolbus is a tv show based on a series of Scholastic Books which most people I know grew up watching. I didn’t. If you’re not familiar with it, an elementary school teacher named Ms Frizzle has a magic school bus, and she takes her (incredibly small, mixed race and gender) class on field trips to outer space, dinosaur times, inside the human body, etc. Like a lot of television of its time, the cast is very diverse. What happened there? Why, in general, has kids television moved back to the primarily-white-or-non-human mode? Anyway, there’s a lot of sciencing going on and other than Ms Frizzle there’s no single POV character, which I think makes it easier for kids to relate to the entire cast. Niko goes through Magic Schoolbus phases. We watch it on netflix. The picture quality isn’t very high and the clothing etc are fairly dated, as is some of the science. But it’s still a pretty solid show.
Peep and the Big Wide World is a kid show that explores and discusses science concepts both via utterly adorable animated shorts starring Peep, Chirp, and Quack (a baby chick, fledgeling, and sassy duck) and live action bits featuring human children doing experiments and discussing what they’re learning. It’s a great introduction to basic science concepts and ideas, but it’s also fun to watch, witty, and very cute. Also. Megan Mullally has a guest voice appearance for two hilarious episodes. Every time I watch them, I pretend she’s Karen from “Will And Grace” but in duck form.
Pingu is stop motion animation from Switzerland and follows the adventures of Pingu (a penguin), his family, and his friends. The characters all speak a kind of universal gibberish, designed to make it easy to export the film to various countries without having to rewrite and rerecord dialogue, and the body language and facial expressions are very expressive as a result. Pingu and his baby sister Pinga are sometimes at odds with or jealous of each other, but generally are united and loving. Their dad knits, and is a fully involved parent. The show’s an interesting look at life in a different country.
Sid The Science Kid is yet another science concepts show following Sid (who has a Black American mom who works with computers (designing video games? designing web sites? something like that) and a Jewish dad who is a construction worker. Like most of the shows I’ve touched on, both parents are fully involved in the kids’ lives, and Sid’s dad is a very hands on parent who cooks and cleans and does emotional care. Sid’s friends are diverse in a pretty fleshed out way, and both male and female adults work in various science related fields. The show heavily pushes the idea that kids are natural, innate scientists because they are eager in investigating the world and asking questions and provides examples of how kids can do hands on science experiments at home and in school.
Signing Time is a show that’s existed in many different incarnations (many of them with really bad graphics) and a solid basic premise: that American Sign Language is something that kids and adults can learn and use to communicate with each other. The show is geared mostly toward the hearing, in part because there are benefits to providing a means of communication to pre-verbal kids, and in part because hearing kids (and adults) can and do have Deaf and hard of hearing family members. Unlike a lot of “baby signs” books and material, the focus and emphasis is on actual ASL and provides a groundwork for actual communication. There’s animated bits, live action bits, and lots of songs.
And now for a list of shows I’d really rather he not watch, and why. It’s a shorter list because I don’t let him watch a lot of tv period, so he’s been exposed to less shows than a lot of kids.
Babar (warning: autoplay video at the link) is an absolute no at our house. It’s a colonialists dream, with the jungle savages (Babar et al) being rescued from the wilds of the jungle after the violent murder of parents, brought to “civilization” by a nice white woman, and taught to wear pants and eat with a fork. Then they bring that back to the jungle and walk around on their hind legs wearing expensive, restrictive clothing. If the show were just animals wearing clothes, that’d be one thing, but the actual back story is hugely gross so I’ve pre-emptively banned it, and flick past it quickly when we’re looking through netflix.
Chuck And Friends is an old-school commercial disguised as entertainment. Every character in the show is available as a toy, and the “lessons” are tacked on and awkward. Every character (except for Chuck’s mom) is coded male. There’s a lot of in-fighting in the show and a lot of violent play and general meanness with the “be nice” lesson feeling like an afterthought. It’s pretty irritating in general.
Jake and the Neverland Pirates picks up after Disney’s racist, sexist “Peter Pan” leaves off. The main characters are two white boys and a faintly olive skinned, dark but straight haired girl who exists as a kind of literal manic pixie dream girl (she can fly and sprinkle pixie dust around). The show is tedious and, like Dora the Explorer, is non-interactive but set up as interactive… you know, inane questions with long pauses for an answer, multiple choice “puzzles” that the characters solve, side scrolling type adventures. It’s like watching someone play a computer game aimed at little kids. The kids have smug expressions and all do ‘extreme’ sports like BMX biking and skateboarding and snowboarding and roller blading and outwitting the incredibly unintelligent Captain Hook.
Sofia the First is about to be “accidentally” erased from our DVR. You know what background radiation is? “Sofia the First” is full of all kinds of low level background racism, including OMG MYSTIKAL GYPSIES and white people being dressed in Edwardian/Psuedo Victorian clothing while POC characters are dressed almost entirely in “ethnic” clothing. King Roland the First has a huge castle and grounds, and virtually everyone who lives/works there is white unless they are visiting from another Magical Ethnic Kingdom. Disney made sure to mention that Sofia is half-Latina-analogue (with her mom being full Latina-analogue and her dad being, I don’t know, Germanish or something) but there is nothing in the show to support the claim at all. The writing in general is lackluster, and Sofia generally is triumphant in the end because of her naive sweetness, or because someone else solves the problem for her, or because of her magical amulet. Like “Chuck and Friends,” it seems to exist mostly to move toys and keep the Disney Princess line relevant.
There’s other shows he watches that I don’t really feel strongly one way or another about (hello there “Chuggington” and “The Backyardigans,” among others) or that I hate with an abiding passion but he isn’t interested in watching (“Caillou”).
I might do a rundown of movies next, I’m not sure. He’s been on a big “Despicable Me” kick.