I know that Sesame Street’s loveable blue furry critter, Cookie Monster, has been a vegetable convert for a while. Gone are the days of day- long cookie benders ( I wish someone would have told me that yesterday while I chipped away at a massive piece of chocolate cake all day in the grips of PMS…). The fact that cookies are a “sometimes food” should have had time to sink in by now. But you know what? I don’t think he’s really comfortable with it. And you know what else? Neither am I.
When I first heard that this switch was happening it was years ago, and I hadn’t even begun to think about becoming a parent yet. But it really annoyed me. Maybe it’s because I grew up in the late ‘70’s, early ‘80’s and cookie monster was such a big part of my childhood (I was just as annoyed, if not more, when everyone on Sesame Street could see Snuffleupagus as of 1985. Way to kill the excitement Sesame Street…)
My son has just started to watch Sesame Street in the morning, so I was reminded of Cookie’s change all over again. I asked myself why I was so annoyed. The answer has a few parts to it:
First, as a society we constantly tell parents not to let children watch too much T.V.. Yet, often times it seems we rely on television and media alone to convey important messages, like eating healthy, to our children. Many experts will tell you that the problem is not television itself; it is the vapid, blank, non-interactive-ness that children get after staring at it all day. If you watch a show now and then with your children, and help them understand the messages they are seeing, it becomes an interactive activity that can actually be educational.
Here’s where Cookie Monster comes in: I don’t believe it is PBS’s responsibility to teach my child healthy eating. That is my responsibility. As a society, we have fallen into a trap of ‘yes-ing’ our children to a point of detriment. Why are we afraid to tell our children ‘no?’ Or, even better than no, offer a healthier option. I don’t need cookie monster to help me out here.
I, as the parent, want to be the one who helps my children learn and understand how to make choices, and make sense of the world around him. This is why I need Cookie to be a cookie monster who over-indulges. Why? Because this fictional character becomes a learning tool that I can use. Imaginary creatures who do all kinds of crazy things are not there to set examples for children for every little thing. They are there as a tool to help parents explain things to children and to give parents an opportunity to teach their children the difference between fantasy and reality. Classic fairytales are often not examples of what children should do, quite the opposite. Most provide examples of what not to do.
Now here comes the second part of the answer to the question I asked myself: Research shows that many young children are having an increasingly difficult time telling the difference between fantasy and reality. This comes down to interaction again. The age appropriate media we expose our children to is only damaging (for the most part) if we plop them in front of it and they are left to interpret it completely on their own. The more media children are exposed to, the more time parents have to take to explain everything they are seeing. I don’t know about you but I’m not looking for any extra work here in this department.
Don’t get me wrong. I have enlisted Curious George and that good old Cat in The Hat many a time to act as a distraction while I scramble to get something done. This is not a no T.V. household. It’s just limited. Mostly, it is limited by my son. He only asks or it here and there and there is no way he would sit all day in front of it of his own accord.
So, to conclude my protest of this “cookies are a sometimes food” situation (it even sounds ridiculous), I will leave you with this. What about the imagination and fun of being a kid? What about just teaching our kids moderation?
I miss the times when a kid could get an ice cream cone and it didn’t have to become a topic of a national discussion about whether or not he would know that he couldn’t eat ice cream for every meal. I miss the days when kids played outside and had to be told at least three times to get in this house!
Slowly I am watching as these fond memories of childhood livin’ are being replaced by a world devoid of the occasional ice cream cone and filled with cartoons that have to tell children how to exercise.
I know I can’t turn back time and make Cookie Monster the way he used to be. But, I can try to remember that one of the most important things I will teach my son is moderation. It’s my job to teach him this so that he can do his job of being a silly toddler who loves to laugh at imaginary puppets as they call upon sock fairies to solve the latest laundry mystery , play in blanket forts, and even eat the occasional cookie…after he finishes his vegetables, of course .
We Love ya Little Buddy, stay strong.