Television. For Kids?

February 19, 2010

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Kill Your Television
Image by Poldavo (Alex) via Flickr

It’s been a rough February over here at Casa Carrigg Cancel, for one of us in particular: the small one. Caralena started off the month with the usual winter-in-New-England cold’n’cough combo. That got super-sized into a double ear-infection with fever, and it was all capped off by the appearance of the annual Vomit Comet — which, at that point, was really adding insult to injury.

Along with school absences, midnight laundry sessions, and trips to the store for more popsicles, there’s been another big side effect of illness: We have watched more kids’ TV in the past few weeks than we usually watch in many months.

And when I say “we,” I do mean both of us; when my kid is sick, she does not want me out of her sight. Together, we watched the good, the bad, and the ugly — everything from “WordGirl” and “Martha Speaks,” to “Dora the Explorer” and “Go, Diego, Go!,” to “The Fresh Beat Band,” a show that on a never-ending loop could possibly be an alternative to waterboarding.

As the days went by in a blur, I found myself wondering things like: Did Laurie Berkner specifically choose those phenomenally dorky back-up singers so that she would seem vaguely cool? Does anyone else think that a character named Handy Manny sounds like he needs to register with the local police department? Where are Max and Ruby’s parents? And, did the sloth from “It’s a Big, Big World” just smoke a big, big fatty?

More importantly, though, I observed that while there are some really good shows for kids in the say, under-six-or-seven-year-old range, there seems to be nothing of value for kids as they get older. Why do we go from truly quality options for younger kids (“Little Bear” is a sweet show, and I haven’t even mentioned “Sesame Street!”) to All Sponge Bob, all the time?

Maybe you’re shaking your heads, thinking, “You pathetic excuse for a parent! Get rid of that idiot box! Don’t let your kid watch all that crap!” Well, for the record, I don’t plan to let her watch those yucky Disney shows where slack-jawed girls look horrified as they say things like, “Wait — you mean I just signed up for a book group?!” (I now make a point of pausing on the Disney channel if I am flipping through the channels and I swear it is always a joke like this. I also heard one girl say something like, “No wonder smart people are so grumpy!”)

But if you’ve read any of my previous posts you must know me at least a little by now. Dig it: I am an “Everything in moderation” kind of girl. So, I have got to believe that there’s a middle ground, somewhere between a Hannah Montana marathon and killing my television.

And furthermore, I like my television; it’s where I watch shows like “Top Chef,” “Modern Family,” and, lately, the Olympics. I have no problem with Caralena watching some TV at the end of a day that’s been filled with school and friends and learning and fun.

I know that as kids get older there is homework and after-school activities and less time for TV anyway, but even if you only allow your child to watch a show on Saturday evenings, it’s still an issue if there is nothing but total crap to watch.

So, I ask those of you with older children, is there really nothing out there? There is PBS Kids and Noggin’ for the younger set; how can there not be a station for the slightly older kids? (Please don’t say Disney — are we really okay with that being the only option?) Why does PBS not have shows for the slightly older kids and tweens?

Am I being grossly naive; is the answer that there is no station because, without commercial advertisers, it could not exist? Has anyone ever experimented with a model that would charge for quality kids’ programming without commercials? Am I the only one who would pay for that? Or do your older kids just watch movies?

Or did you get disgusted and actually get rid of your television? Who knows, maybe I’ll end up doing the same. For now, it’s back to our regularly scheduled February. I hope it will be illness-free from here on out. I can’t take any more of “The Fresh Beat Band.”

  • floreena

    We just recently landed on Discovery Kids after being Wow Wow Wubzied one to many times. I think it hits that sweet spot between fun & educational. So far, so good! Give it a whirl.

  • Once Harry was old enough to read, he started recording his own shows! I know, pathetic. But that's what happens when you have a TV in almost every room, I guess. Rosie is obsessed with “Tom and Jerry,” and Harry likes it too, which is a rare convergence. They both like “Phineas and Ferb,” which I also think is a funny show — but it's on Disney Channel, which has led Harry to start recording the hideous “Wizards of Waverly Place” and the reviled “Hannah Montana.” Sadly, Rosie doesn't watch “Little Bear” anymore, but she loves “Sesame Street” every once in a while, and I'm going to start recording “The Electric Company” because Darla sent me some clips of it, and it looks awesome. “The Backyardigans” has also had some staying power in this house, as has “Blue's Clues.”

  • Andrea

    Interesting. We are still watching the young stuff (right now it's Olivia, Backyardagains, and Max & Ruby) so I can't help you but that makes me sad about the “jokes” about how lame it is to be smart on those other shows. SIGH. My friend has no cable but lets her kid watch movies, so that's an option. There are obviously plenty of good kid movies out there. I'll ask my other friend, who is (I believe) working on an animated pilot for tweens that is supposed to be appealing to both girls & boys and report back. The Fresh Beat Band has become short-hand for horrible TV. So funny.

  • lcarrigg

    Right now we are on a really good kick with the PBS shows like Fetch with Ruff Ruffman, WordGirl and Martha Speaks but we still have some Olivia and Max and Ruby mixed in on a pretty regular basis. We have the same problem as Clare with the Disney channel — Caralena will watch something like Little Einsteins and then next time we turn on the TV it is still on that channel and she sees the “big kids” and immediately starts in with “I want to watch that show!”

    Flo, Discovery Kids is a great suggestion. I will check it out pronto. I have many friends who only let their kids watch movies but it just doesn't seem like a realistic option for me — we often just need a little half hour diversion and I can't see telling Caralena that I am going to turn off her movie just as it's getting good! Plus, I LIKE WATCHING TV. And it doesn't seem fair to have a big TV and then to tell her that she can't watch it.

    You ladies are so nice to read and reply to my blog. Thank you. :)

  • Animal Planet is the bridge to live action programming for the 7-10 set, or at least it was a few years ago. Our kids are now on to American Idol, Project Runway and Glee.

    Disney sucks ass, and I thank my lucky stars my kids never got into those creepy blonde twins or the JoBros. It's really amazing to me how bad the Disney programming is, even for the tiny tots. Mickey Mouse Clubhouse? That weird version of Winnie the Pooh? Hideous.

    We've considered the Backyardigans to be members of the family for years. I keep the guest bed made in case any of them pops in.

  • darla

    1. It helps to be poor. We have basic cable only, so all that Disney crap is a “treat” to be enjoyed at the grandparents' houses. (Those tween shows you complain about remind me of the Barbie that claimed “Math is hard.” Oy.)

    2. Fortunately, my 5- and 7-year-olds still enjoys the usual PBS offerings. We love Fetch, Arthur, Dinosaur Train, WordGirl, etc. but as he gets older, I don't know – maybe just dvd's or he'll be addicted to worthless video games by then.

    3. We do let them watch Sat. am cartoons – Sonic X, Chaotic, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – which just seems like silly violent anime, but I enjoyed me some Speed Racer when I was a wee lass.

    4. As in so many areas, moderation is key. And like you and yours, we watch a lot more when sick or during really yucky weather. I remind myself I watched LOTS of tv growing up and me not too stoopid.

    5. What gets to me is parents allowing tv's in children's bedrooms (not to mention computers, especially as they get older) and violence and scary images that kids are exposed to. It really pisses me off when watching a seemingly benign sporting event and a commercial for something frightening pops up out of nowhere. Sheesh!

    6. Having said all that, I sound like a real stick-in-the-mud over-protector but I am really super-cool. I just wish people would keep the phrase “age-appropriate” in mind when dealing with their children and deciding what they should be allowed to see/do/watch. Oh god – don't get me started on movies.

  • darla

    oops – just read Clare's comment. I hope her kids don't have tv's in their rooms. Of course I didn't mean GOOD parents like her, but ones who don't monitor what the kids are watching.
    I want so badly to be able to choose which cable stations to get so I could have Animal Planet, the WWII channel, etc. without the rest.

  • lcarrigg

    Darla, I also often remind myself that when I was little our babysitter basically encouraged us to watch TV all day (she did this by turning on the TV and then ignoring us). I can almost remember the line-up, it was something like Wheel of Fortune, the Price Is Right, then we had to suffer through her soaps to get back on track in the late afternoon with The Brady Bunch. And, like you, me not too stupid either. The funny thing is, we would get so sick of watching TV that we would go find stuff to do outside, so I guess it worked out okay.

    As a PS to this whole thing, I took Caralena to Disney on Ice last weekend. Why? Because she saw the commercial on the Disney channel and kept bugging me about it until I relented. (Since she goes to a daycare/preschool they do not have any scheduled school vacations so I felt kinda guilty and figured we would do one typical school vacation-type activity.) It was AWFUL. I mean, she liked it fine but I wouldn't say she loved it. I don't know what I expected but the production values were awful — the sound was all muffled and the whole thing (okay, with the exception of a cute and fun Hawaiian dance number inspired by Lilo and Stitch) was so incredibly stupid. The worst part was the merchandising. They charged $22 for a crappy, plastic, light-up wand that probably cost .20 to make in China. I was irate. Really, Disney?! It's not enough that I paid a ridiculous amount for these tickets but now you want $22 US dollars on top of that?! I felt so disgusting after, knowing that she would have had just as much (more?) fun if we'd invited a friend over and made Play Dough. Lesson learned.

  • Ugh- marketing aimed at children, the commercials so much louder than the show, … A whole 'nother rant.

  • jeffreytill

    Two years ago I purchased the URL to create a site for parents to rant about what annoying shit “Lazytown' is, how Dora sucks, etc. Haven't gotten it up yet. When I do, this can be a feature if you don't mind.

  • Jeffrey Till

    Two years ago I purchased the URL to create a site for parents to rant about what annoying shit “Lazytown' is, how Dora sucks, etc. Haven't gotten it up yet. When I do, this can be a feature if you don't mind.

  • lcarrigg

    Sorry it took me so long to see this! Yes, I definitely have more to say and feel free to use this post.

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