My daughter recently turned three, and for those unaware, that’s plenty old enough to want to be entertained with electronic devices like iPad, iPhones, and TVs/DVDs. The toddler years. Her vocabulary is developing, she’s learning to potty train, and doing daily tasks like brushing your teeth and washing your hands needs to be reinforced.
So, who caters to entertaining this age group? What’s available to them? It’s a lot different than when I was her age, of course, but it’s interesting from a parent’s perspective to think about.
For a very long time, Cecelia and I were into Peppa Pig. And the same group that produces PP has another show, which I like the best of any of them: Ben & Holly’s Little Kingdom. The characters’ relationships are better developed and the plots are awesome. They’re both well-written, and not overmarketed. Same voices as Peppa Pig. Peppa is around a lot, but it’s not like she’s at McDonald’s, checkout lines, all clothing, room decor and everywhere you turn like Disney’s strategy.
But I figured out why I prefer them to every other type of show out there. They actually have plots and have fun and are funny and creative. Others try it, but and there are some very creative shows out there like Storybots and some with interesting art direction like Calliou, but they all MUST teach something. There’s never any plain old fun; every single show and episode is about learning something, from ABCs, 123s, brushing teeth, using the potty, how to control anger, how to share, or whatever. It’s waaaaay overdone.
Parents should be quite capable of teaching, preferably via routine demonstration and positive reinforcement, how to do any of these things. But the people who produce these shows never skip an opportunity to create lesson after lesson. And when they pile up, like they tend to, on YouTube, it becomes brainwashing propaganda that isn’t too removed from a Clockwork Orange. I’m up to my yarbles in too many monkeys jumping on the bed.
I’ve also come to realize, as I’m sure all parents eventually do, that there are only about 8 toddler age songs, and they’re repurposed over and over. Ba-Ba-Black Sheep is the same as Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. And some shows have no shame. They’ll just make up some melody and “sing” the lesson over it, in a way that resembles improvised freestyle rap, that doesn’t rhyme. The only way rap could actually become worse.
On top of that, there are some decently-produced shows, like Calliou, but the writers have decided to have the kid whine, complain, and act pretty much the opposite of how children should act. And don’t think my daughter doesn’t notice and try things she sees. She is VERY attentive, and absorbs everything going on around her, and files it away to replicate at a later time. The strongest learning force seems to be by example, which will certainly make a parent with good intentions stay on his toes. He unnecessarily complains about everything, which I make sure to point out when I watch these shows with my daughter, which I make sure to do.
What about the standards, like Disney, Sesame Street, and PBS you ask? Well, they’ve decided to make some changes since we were younger. Disney repurposes everything that can be merchandised in every possible way, and charges for everything. Disney’s about money. Their offerings for toddlers isn’t anything to even mention. They have more PG-rated material than anything. Sesame Street has become some sort of weird idealist-run subliminal propaganda machine and my daughter isn’t interested in it anyway. PBS has Daniel Tiger, but again, it’s about how to cope with feelings and how everything revolves around feelings. If there were a show that was the polar opposite, it would be a show about nothing but computer-coding. Which would appeal to me, but hardly is interesting to a 3-year-old. She tries to be into it because it looks like it should be interesting but just isn’t. Daniel Tiger’s guilty of the rhyme and melody-free songwriting mentioned above.
And the political correctness. It’s run amok. However, the person most noticeably absent in most shows is — you guessed it — the father. Don’t think I’m going to miss that. It’s actually RARE to find a toddler-age show with a married white Christian mother and father with natural children. There’s always got to be a twist, or the producers just said “screw it” and made the characters muppets or fruits or something that absolves them of having to choose a race, gender, religion, or even in some cases, species. Some shows are subtle about it, like Peppa Pig. The doofus who always oversleeps and loses things, and otherwise screws up is Pedro Pony, who is the metaphor for America. Dauphin Donkey, the jackass, is France. There’s one show, “Dave & Ava” which is two small children that always wear animals-themed jammies and are Swedish they’re so Aryan. Of course, they have a black mother, which isn’t even explained. There’s also a cartoon aimed at Mexicans, and every character is unhealthily overweight and borderline diabetic. Just to normalize it in children’s’ minds. But can you name a show that portrays the father/husband as a strong role model?
Remember when parents only had to worry about commercials? All media produced for toddler-age children is a form of marketing, or else it doesn’t get made. ALL of it.
Also published on Medium.