Sunday, February 07, 2010

On friends and friction

There’s no easy way to say this, so I’ll just come right out with it: I don’t like Olivia.

She’s got some very nice qualities, but aside from being inquisitive, intelligent and assertive, she’s also smug, self-centered and greedy. And just because she’s a pig doesn’t mean she gets a pass.

Yet, saying “I don’t like her” — or Caillou or Junie B. or Baby Bear for that matter — feels akin to saying the unspeakable: that I don’t like one of Ittybit’s real-life friends.

We all have our pet peeves. Mine, when it comes to fictional children, are bratty behavior, whining and speech impediments.

Many educators think children’s programming that focuses on how real kids feel, and that depicts adults taking a child’s feelings seriously, helps kids handle real-life situations by teaching empathy, tolerance, coping methods as well as basic social skills.

But I can’t help but think there’s something wrong with a kid (I mean pig) who, night after night, is tucked into bed with an “I love you anyway.”

It just seems as if these characters never break character. Olivia hates her “Little Bother;” Caillou whines whether he’s happy or sad; Junie B. never apologizes for being mean … and no one is helping Baby Bear pronounce his Rs.

So that’s my dilemma.

As a parent, I know all kids have moments of bratty-ness. I know they have tons of difficult emotions from anger and fear to jealousy and disappointment. I’ve even learned, to my great chagrin, that happiness — in any number of over-exuberant presentations — can have an annoyance factor that is off the charts.

And as a parent I would never restrict my child’s access to someone with speech impairment, but Baby Bear is a television character geared toward preschoolers, a set that I would assume is more needing of accurate pronunciation than tolerance training.

I’ve known my alphabet for ages, yet by the end of the little bruin’s segment, I’m even asking the kids to “Pwease tuwn off Seasame Stweet and come in for wunch.”

The idea that we’re educating our children through bedtime reading and “quality television,” though, seems to make those otherwise unspeakable decisions a moral imperative.

And that’s the rub. WE are educating our children, not the books or television programs. When we read we intone how we feel. We ask how it makes them feel. Sometimes we lead our kids and sometimes they lead us.

I don’t want my child to speak in whine. I don’t want her to strong-arm her friends or treat every new situation with resistance and scorn. Each word I read at bedtime about the “Stupid Smelly Bus” or “that May,” has me fearful that I might be kissing Ittybit goodnight for the last time, and that Junie B. will be joining us for breakfast.

I’m choosing to hope for the best. Junie B. is likely to join us from time to time. When she does I’ll be ready for her. At least I know the ending.

Write to Siobhan Connally at or read more online at, click on “Blogs.”


jasi said...

there are lots of qualities i'm glad my child doesn't have and i'm sure there are plenty she does have that would annoy another mother. but i guess i want to impart with her two things, tolerance of others personalities (maybe a little understanding) and confidence and self possession to be herself, despite what others may think of her. i think maybe i could use olivia and these other characters to illustrate this to her. i'll hope for the best.

christy said...

The influence of fictional characters is something I think about, and I know my mother thought about, because she wouldn't let us watch the Simpsons since they "weren't people she'd invite over for dinner."

My favorite show for the pre-school set is Charlie & Lola on Disney Channel. Lola gets whiny and stubborn but always grows from her experiences, etc. Plus, the style of the show is nice, and the British accents don't hurt, either.