TV for Toddlers: Disney vs. Nick Jr.

Dear Reader,

Another article from the Wall Street Journal tells us the battle between Disney and Nick Jr. for the youngest TV viewers. It is crazy. Disney is trying to break Nick Jr.’s hold on the little tykes minds (and their parents’). Disney’s approach is apparently going to be to try to be less educational then Nick. The craziest part to me is that I like Disney’s argument. They claim that parents want their little ones to be happy and that they can get educational content anywhere. They want to focus instead in good stories that teach children social and life skills (like sharing). In principle, I am with Disney. Yes, kids need good stories and they learn from them. And I do think we tend to shove ABCs and 123s down kids’ throats. Baby and toddler toys these days make me wonder who kids ever learned their alphabet without electronic voices squawking at them all day (very loudly too). Disney’s argument almost gels with my new Charlotte Mason-y approach to homeschool. The only problem is tha I don’t trust the “good” stories Disney claims it is going to offer. So much of what they already have out there is, as Miss Mason would say, twaddle. And that is being charitable.

When my kids were littler, we had a set of board books based on popular Disney movies. Each tried to tell the plot of the movie in about four short sentences. The amazing thing was how truly bad the stories were once you boiled them down to their bare bones. Take the Little Mermaid: Girl falls in love. Girl disobeys loving father, abandons loyal friends, pursues handsome man. Let’s hope Disney’s made for toddler TV stories are better.

Of course, even if Disney offered wonderful stories, there is still something vaguely wrong with all this. Because it is about TV. Now my kids have watched TV since they were 2 or so (really earlier for the younger ones though they never seemed to pay any attention to the box earlier than that). But what they watch and how long they watch has been limited (these days it is almost entirely PBS shows and I suppose it is very educational; they often learn things I don’t know from it). I don’t think TV in kids’ lives needs to be completely done away with. But if we are looking to it to provide vital social skills aren’t we doing something wrong? How can you even learn social skills through a medium that by its very nature replaces actual human interaction?



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