First Posted: 2/10/2015
Since baby Sarah joined our family just three years ago, appreciating PBS television has once again become a part of my daily life.
When we had our first set of babies over a decade ago, they watched PBS programming due to a lack of options. Money was very tight back then and we subscribed only to the most basic channels. The three major networks and PBS were all that streamed into our house. My older children were raised on Sesame Street, Barney, Caillou and Clifford, and they loved every minute of it.
By the time they hit the end of elementary school, we had given in to our phone company’s offer to “bundle,” to add satellite television. I still wish we hadn’t. Life was so much simpler then. The loud overacting and bold behavior of cable television’s young stars gave me a head ache and did nothing positive for my children’s tween attitudes. For a time, their favorite shows were “iCarly,” “Wizards of Waverly Place” and “Zack & Cody.” I felt assaulted by other shows that came on by default including the crass “Fairly Odd Parents,” “Phineas & Ferb” and SpongeBob.
When Sarah was old enough to watch television for the first time, I turned it on and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse came screaming into the living room. The bright, bold colors and screeching noise may be what our attention-deficit society ordered for its little ones, but was not for me. If it wasn’t the look of shock and awe on Sarah’s little face that made me turn the channel, it would have been the commercials. The worst that PBS-watchers have to put up with is the Clubhouse Mom pleading for donations a couple of times a year during the pledge drive. There’s no Barbie, My Little Pony or Monster High Zombie dolls being aggressively marketed to toddlers.
Before I knew it, my older tweens transitioned from Disney and Nickelodeon to TLC and A&E. That seemed like a good thing when I was enjoying a little quality time watching “Cake Boss” and “Say Yes to the Dress” with my big girls. But I soon realized what many parents don’t consider about their children’s favorite channels. Their “go-to” channels start to become more and more of a presence in the home. For example, if I let them watch a half hour show to decompress after school and then turned it off so that homework and chores could be completed, the television was still set to that channel when it was turned on later. The television no longer even needs to be turned on to go to their favorite channels. When they set the DVR to record their favorite shows, the television is still set there when it is turned on later.
Do you know what comes on those channels later on? “Sister Wives,” “Sex Sent Me to the ER” and “My Strange Addiction” made brief and unwelcome appearances in my home. These gratuitous looks at some of the worst factions of our culture are not what I consider constructive entertainment. They prey on people’s weaknesses, their inability to divert their eyes from a train wreck.
So Sarah started off with the beloved Barney. Some people can’t stand the big purple dinosaur, but they might not realize he has been revamped and updated recently. His cast sing and act better than a decade ago and his messages are always sweet and kind.
Her latest favorites include Caillou and Daniel Tiger. Caillou, that bald-headed four year old who lives in Canada. His creators use the gift of subtlety to calmly engross toddlers in his learning stories of daily life.
Daniel Tiger is a precious animated show based on the characters from Mister Rogers’ neighborhood. There is Prince Wednesday, Lady Elaine and Katerina Kittykat. The sweet messages are accomplished through easy to learn ditties that we all find ourselves singing. Favorite songs and messages have included “When You Feel So Mad That You Want to Roar, Take a Deep Breath and Count to Four” and “In Some Ways We are Different and In So Many Ways We are the Same.” The episode that taught the song, “Saying I’m Sorry is the First Step, Then How Can I Help?” was enlightening because children all seem to struggle with what to do when they accidently hurt someone. It provides such a simple, clear message.
The best part about having PBS being watched and recorded for our little one? The impact is has on the rest of us. We make every effort to sit down together for an hour each evening after all the chores, activities and work have been done. We switch on the television and try to find something we all can enjoy together, not an easy task for such a broad interest and age range. Historically that has meant fun watching like “Survivor,” “America’s Funniest Home Videos” and “The Biggest Loser.”
Lately though, we have had a few meaningful hours where we all became engrossed in something educational and enlightening, just because the television was set to PBS. My older girls sat riveted as we watched a documentary on the Liberation of Auschwitz, told through a walking tour by a survivor. We were all moved and discussed it for days afterwards.
“Finding Your Roots,” a journey that tracked the ancestry of celebrities has led us back in time through the experiences of the pioneers of the Wild West and the horrors of slavery. Our DVR is set after seeing previews for the new episode of “Genealogy Roadshow” focusing on Laura Ingalls Wilder. “NOVA” has amazed my family with recent episodes like “Sunken Ship Rescue and Sinkholes: Buried Alive.” Intriguing local stories about the Knox Mine Disaster and The Globe Store have brought our area’s history to life. Exposing the kids to “Last Days in Vietnam,” filmmaker Rory Kennedy’s Oscar-nominated documentary promises to be another interesting and discussion-provoking night.
So thank you, PBS, for providing our babies with precious shows to grow up with, devoid of over-commercialism; and for enlightening, educating and broadening the horizons of the whole family.