Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Suitable for All Ages

We could put on serious faces and explain that the reason our children don't watch television is out of concern for their morals or mental development or the health of their eyes.

The real truth, though, is that we just hate children's television. If Dante had known about it, he probably would have peopled one of the less-serious levels of hell with images of singing, dancing, oversincere hosts spouting babble about Being Nice.

Unfortunately, from what I've read, it is exactly the programming that is most tedious for adults that actually has marginal benefit for children. The slow, boring, repetitive kind, not the kind with amusing in-jokes.

So we've simply operated on the assumption that we will let the children watch television when they are old enough to enjoy the kind of things we want to watch. This is tricky, since preschoolers don't process things as adults do. This was driven home to me when we got to the climactic scenes in Little House on the Prairie and D2 didn't want to read anymore. The realistic emotional strain of the tension between the settlers and the natives was too much for him, even though no actual harm ensued or was even directly threatened.

On the other hand, give him a story with tigers threatening to eat people up, poisoned apples, or sword-wielding knights, and he'll listen with glowing eyes. It's not about the degree of violence, it's about the safety of the delivery package.

We've discussed letting them watch a Christmas movie with us, but it was obvious that some "family favorites" would just not be suitable: It's a Wonderful Life, for instance, would be terrifying to small children. (We might settle on White Christmas; bombs falling is not such a big deal.)

But the other night we had promised D1 that she could sleep in the living room, and we also wanted to watch a dvd ourselves. And then we realized we had struck upon the perfect balance of suitability. The series we wanted to watch contained nothing frightening, no disturbing images or bad language or examples of children misbehaving.

Which is why D1 is now watching Jeeves and Wooster with us. Well, sure, technically there is all the lying, stealing, drinking, gambling, and skirt-chasing, but Wodehouse's ability to turn all that into eminently wholesome entertainment is one of the wonders of English literature. Mostly D1 appreciates the people falling into ponds and hiding under the furniture.

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