Sometimes, if I want Felix to do something I tell him that I did it as a kid too.
This weekend, for example, I waxed on about how much I loved swimming as a little boy. Soon enough, Felix shook off his nervousness and waded out till the water came up to his neck. When his mom said she was proud of him, he announced “Dada liked swimming when he was four years old too.” Like, duh, mom. If dad did it then so can I.
Of course, this tactic doesn’t always work. No matter how much I sing the praises of Sesame Street — The songs! The stories! Oscar the Grouch! — Felix can’t stand it.
I even drag Elmo into my argument. What little kid doesn’t like Elmo? Mine, apparently. (I shouldn’t be proud of this, and yet part of me is. Elmo does not rank high on my list of favorite muppets.)
Sesame Street is, in Felix’s words, boring. Especially when compared to frenetic, violent-spiked fare like The Woody Woodpecker Show, which right now he loves. (Dammit, I can’t write those words without thinking of the redheaded bird’s famous laugh. You know the one I’m talking about! It makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, and ranks up there with Elmo’s high-pitched voice in my book of pet peeves.)
On average, American preschoolers spend between two and four hours a day watching television. (By the time most American children hit eighteen, they’ve spent more time watching television than they have in school, or with their parents.) TV can have a positive impact, depending on the programs your child watches, and (despite previous promises of not reading expert advice) researchers find five-year-olds who have watched Sesame Street have higher vocabularies than those who do not. Sesame Street stimulates not only language, but cognition in general, and also aids in social development, what with all those skits with kids working out their conflicts and processing feelings using words, songs, and hugs. (This research came to me via Growing Child newsletter.)
Woody Woodpecker, on the other hand, gets the upper hand by out-tricking the tricksters, turning their booby traps — which often involve guns, explosives, and knives — against them. He also extolls the virtues of laziness, greed, and being an all-around jerk. I wouldn’t mind an episode of the bad bird a week, but Felix likes to binge on a few each day. Studies have found that more acts of violence occur in one half-hour of children’s cartoons like The Woody Woodpecker Show than in adult shows, even action-adventure ones. And of course scientists see a correlation between kids watching violent programs and then engaging in rough behavior and being insensitive to seeing others suffering and in pain.
Now, I like a dash of violence when I watch television (Game of Thrones, anyone?). I’m also old enough, and like to think that I have a sufficiently sophisticated moral compass, to recognize the difference between fictional violence and real violence. With Felix, I’m not so sure. Especially because I, like many parents, only watch television with him some of the time. When I’m home alone with him during the day, he’s allowed to watch about an hour of TV in relative solitude while I prepare lunch, take care of work, or do chores.
While Felix has no access to cable TV and has seen relatively few commercials in his life, he does know how to navigate Netflix, which we stream through our television. What I want to know is: why doesn’t Netflix have parental controls that would enable me to block certain programs — I’m looking at you, Woodpecker —and highlight others, like Sesame Street? This would go a long way in soothing my worries about his television watching, which, honestly, both him and I need during the day. We both require some space, and some spacing out.
A little bit of television is not going to hurt him, and if he watches certain programs, will actually be beneficial. If only Felix couldn’t suss out the whiff of education and morality behind Sesame Street! The show is like televised broccoli, broccoli that’s been smothered in entertaining cheese sauce, but broccoli none-the-less, while Woody Woodpecker presents a sugary, salty, junk food rush. It’s no contest, at least not for my little boy, especially when he senses that I approve of Big Bird, and don’t care for the Woodpecker.
What’s a parent to do?