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Friday, July 30, 2021

What Children’s Programming Should Parents Trust?

            Strong communities and strong nations are built upon strong families. The job of a parent has always required time and effort, but the job of today’s parent may be the most difficult of all.

Once upon a time, parents could depend on the children’s television program Sesame Street to “babysit” their children for a few minutes.

This program allowed a mother to grab a quick shower without any children in the bathroom with her, or it allowed a parent to prepare dinner without children getting into mischief. Today’s parents can no longer trust Sesame Street to teach their children the alphabet, numbers, colors, or how to get along with a friend.

            Bethany Mandel has fond memories of watching Sesame Street as a child. She “remembers the letters and numbers of the day, the celebrity guest stars, and the cantankerous Cookie Monster stealing my heart.” However, she did not plan to set her children in front of the television set and let them watch the modern-day Sesame Street. In fact, she added “a DVD player and seasons of all the old shows” to her baby registry.  Mandel and her husband had “witnessed a shift in the purpose and direction of contemporary children’s media over the past decade” and did not want to take their children on that journey. 

But the shifts keep coming. Last month, “Sesame Street” marked Pride Month by showing a type of family that has never been seen in the 51-year history of the iconic children’s television show. According to TODAY:

The show shared an episode last week called “Family Day” that features a married gay couple of two dads with their daughter. A dad named Frank, played by Alex Weisman, and a dad name Dave, played by Chris Costa, along with their daughter Mia, played by Olivia Perez, join the neighborhood family that surprises Big Bird at a party.

A character in the episode observes that “all of our families are so different.”

“There’s all kinds of different families,” Frank says. “But what makes us a family is that we love each other.” …

“Sesame Street” has addressed a range of social issues in recent years, including addiction, incarceration, race, homelessness and autism.

            Parents may not be opposed to such an episode under certain circumstances. However, this episode -- and other children’s media following the same type of trend – assumes that parents do not mind television programs teaching values to their children. Mandel wrote about her opposition to this teaching.

I don’t particularly care if “Sesame Street” features episodes with two dads; we have discussed with our children the different family makeups around us. What makes this episode – and the entire trend in children’s media – troublesome is the assumption that it is up to a media company to introduce topics ranging from addiction to same-sex marriage on their terms and that these topics should be presented to toddler-aged children watching programming like “Sesame Street.”

When played out in this way, the presentation isn’t just designed to be educational and informative; it’s meant as a symbol of virtue. The intention with episodes of this nature, especially launched during Pride Month, isn’t merely inclusion – it’s promotion.

Mandel continues her explanation for why she is concerned about children’s programming today. She ends with the following warning:

Parents should take note: The aim of children’s media is no longer just to provide free, education-minded babysitting while you get ready for work. Parents who want to remain the guiding force in their kids’ moral upbringing should opt-out of kids’ media produced in the last decade or so and invest in some vintage “Sesame Street.” The screen may not be in HD and the latest celebrity guest stars may be dated, but at least you know you can walk out of the room for a quick shower.

            Parents can no longer trust children’s programming to be strictly educational because too many are trying to teach morals. Parents must be aware of what children are learning from media to keep their family strong and to strengthen their community and nation.

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