My kids do almost all their TV watching on our computer, in the car, or in a hotel room TV when we travel. Which means that I hear everything they watch, and I have to say I love the shows they choose. My six-year-old’s favorite shows are iCarly and Jessie. He watches each episode ten times, which means I hear each episode ten times.

And you know what? I rarely get sick of the episodes. I’m fascinated by how much he learns about how the world works from these shows.

First of all, we live on a farm, isolated from a lot of what city kids take for granted, like running into each other at a store. Also, since we homeschool, my son doesn’t know the basics of school life, like that everyone has a locker. So a lot of what he learns is how to understand the experience that most kids his age are having that he is not. And he’s very curious.

He hears tons of new words and asks me. He said, “What does crotchety mean?” I told him. Then I realized, listening to an episode one day, that a character in iCarly was using it as a pun.

I said, “Do you know why they think that’s funny?”

He said, “No. Why?”

I said, “Because crotch is a word for the area where your genitals are.”

He rewound to that part again, listened, and then laughed really hard.

The show iCarly is about making videos, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that after my son started watching iCarly, he started making his own videos on our computer and uploading them to his YouTube channel.

The show Jessie is about kids who stay home all week with a nanny (Jessie) and a butler while their parents are off working. I like that my son sees that kids live this way. It’s how really rich kids live. I think he should have a frame of reference for rich NYC kids and just-getting-by farm kids. It’s having a broad understanding of the world.

There’s a great article on Prevent Disease titled, The Most Empowered Kids will be Deprogrammed and Deschooled. Of course, I loved the article. But something that struck me was the statement that IQ accounts for only 20% of our success in life. The rest is emotional intelligence. I think these shows are providing great opportunities for my son to understand how other people live.


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27 replies
  1. christy
    christy says:

    Penelope, given that you’re someone who (because of the Aspergers) says she never gets jokes, I’m impressed and smiling happily for you that you could explain the crotchety pun to your son.

    I’m not a big fan of television. At least not American television. (I have a thing for British comedy and sci-fi … meaning mostly Doctor Who). You’re causing me to re-think my position. If only for some cultural (maybe cross-cultural?) education.


  2. David
    David says:

    I’m not a TV show watcher myself, so I don’t like the shows for children.
    I also dislike the ideal of kids living vicariously through these TV characters as you describe. And, another thing I don’t like about these shows is the whole “being rude/mean to others” that I see/hear going on in all of these shows. This encourages bullying and snobbish behavior. Not cool.
    Sure, kids learn behavior from parents/home life, but I still think they can be influenced by these shows a little?
    However, kids will be kids, and will like these shows. So I let my kids be kids and watch in moderation.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Are you able to find any Newbery Award-winning books that do not include
      a. bullying behavior
      b. snobbish behavior

      I think I’ve read just about every Newbery winner, and I can’t think of a single one that you would have to dislike for the same reason you dislike TV.

      Additionally, you would have to add to the list all the Hans Cristian Anderson Fairy Tales, all of Winnie the Pooh, etd.

      My point is that kids like conflict that seems real to them, and bullying and snobbery are real, and resonate with kids (and adults!) that’s what good story telling is.


      • David
        David says:

        Newberry, schnewberry, doesn’t make it right.
        And yes, there are newberry books that don’t have those…… No time to list….

        thanks for the good reply/insight!!

        great blog!

      • Zellie
        Zellie says:

        There’s a difference in impact between a story and a TV show with disrespectful behavior that’s modeled day after day with parents and children as adversaries.

  3. Kate
    Kate says:

    You have a weird fixation with “rich New York kids”

    I know many rich NY kids and none of them have butlers. They have very involved parents. Maybe even too involved. Im sorry, but you sound completely out of touch.

    I liked the Facts of Life when I was a kid but I knew wasn’t an accurate picture of life in boarding schools .

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Yeah, I do have that weird fascination. Probably because I grew up as a rich kid in Chicago and then lived among rich kids of NYC. And I’m raising my kids on a farm now and I worry about what I’m giving up.

      By the same token, people in NY, LA and Chicago have weird fascinations with farming. The local food movement, the chickens in backyards, etc.

      I think curious people are fascinated with what we don’t have in our lives. And, when you have kids, that’s amplified because we want our kids to have a solid understanding of the world beyond their own world.


  4. David
    David says:

    We’ve been getting “Little House On the Prairie” and my boys love this old TV series. And it sure covers a lot of serious topics, and gets very emotional (I’ve weeped over a couple episodes). And yes, there is bullying, that nelly… :)

  5. Mark K
    Mark K says:

    TV is pretty controversial, but there are some things that are definitely well worth it.

    One is intelligent cartoons; cartoons good enough that you watch them with your children and laugh along with them. It gives you a common frame of reference for in-jokes and references. It’s probably been a decade since we watched angry beavers with any regularity, but we still laugh about things we remember from it. The same is true of spongebob, and of course we watched every bugs bunny cartoon ever made.

    These days we don’t watch cartoons but we watch stand up comedy and skit shows, especially british ones like Mitchell and Webb, but we also recently watched every episode of Louie in a few nights. So the tradition of all of us laughing together continues. At some point my son watched every monty python, along with a half dozen documentaries on the troupe and the show, and most of the movies–so he gets every obscure reference made to those in media.

    The other thing well worth it on tv is documentaries. At some point the cartoons gave way to documentaries and we’ve been hooked on them ever since. These include things most people wouldn’t consider documentaries, like Anthony Bourdain–but he travels around the world and it is an incredible introduction to different cultures through their food. You see the things that unite people, and see something about different cultures that makes you want to experience them for yourself. History Channel produces so many wonderful things that you can watch with your kids and talk about during and after.

    We gave up cable for netflix streaming many years ago and never looked back. It’s like picking your tv off a menu and it makes for a lot less wasted time where you’re watching something because it is what’s on.

    I think watching tv with your kids, as time consuming as it may seem, shows them how to be discriminating in what they watch. And it adds to the shared knowledge base and experience base you have with your kids. For those of us who had as a major motivation in homeschooling to spend time with our kids, it gives us a break from the more active phases of doing things, making things, and exploring–and a chance to just hang out and be together.

  6. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    My kids walked into the kitchen as I listened to classical music on NPR. They exclaimed, “Hey! This is the ice skating one on Tom & Jerry! I love that one!”

    It was Tchaikovsky.

    So *this* is how we’re cultured. It’s enough they know the song, isn’t it?

    We also found Myth Busters on Netflix. They request watching science experiments…for fun.

    How would they respond with a requirement to “appreciate” classical music and the scientific method? (Rhetorical question. Answer: not well. They’d hate it and rush through just to be done).

    • Stef
      Stef says:

      I still can’t hear Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” without singing, “Kill the wabbit! Kill the wabbit!” (Elmer Fudd)

  7. karelys
    karelys says:

    I was about to post this and then I read P’s response to the content in shows (second comment). I think it’s the same but instead of reading kids are watching it.

    Also, it’s a compressed story. It’s not as complicated. But there is something in there.

    My brothers used to watch The Suite Life of Zach and Cory and they showed a blonde girl who was smart and caring. A rich spoiled girl who was also smart but manipulating, caring, interesting, etc.

    Most of the main characters were more than just 2D. And there are lessons to be learned in saying “I’m sorry,” “sacrifice for those who you love” etc.

    For a kid these are important lessons to learn. They might learn it better when they are watching kids their own age act it out.

    And as for the Butler comment, I was a nanny/tutor for a kid (who wasn’t even that rich) here in town. I think having hired help is so much more common. Also, kids need to see that hired help doesn’t equal uninterested parents that don’t care.

  8. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    The ‘Prevent Disease’ article (linked to above) in which the elementary school student said –
    “I don’t like school because they take everything I’m good at and tell me I can’t do it anymore. I just want to once be able to do the things I’m good at like drawing and writing stories. I want to do it all day because I can think better than when I do stuff like math. Shouldn’t I be able to really like or even love what I do when I come here. They should help kids do what they know how to do best and I think the rest…I mean all the other subjects will just work out, and if they don’t, well…then they’re just not that important.”
    I keep thinking about what she said. I think if she’s saying what a lot of children are thinking then we’re really failing them. I’m thinking if they were the consumer and could make the decision for themselves on their method of education, they’d chose something other than the current “standard” model. They really don’t have a say though because they’re “just” children. If they were given the power of the consumer then the business (school in this case) would have to meet their needs somehow. What it boils down to is control. Who’s controlling who. So kids will be kids and they need to be controlled, right? Not really. Kids will for the most part listen to me because I’ve got something to say to which they will pay attention. I’ll take the time to listen to them and reason with them. And surprise, surprise I will even sometimes learn from them … and tell them so they know education is a two way street.

    • redrock
      redrock says:

      I honestly believe that the pleasure-principle, where we only study and work on things and topics we like from the beginning, is not the best way for kids as well as for adults. It happens so often that one has no interest in a topic and is then forced for some time to think more deeply about it. Once the initial negative feeling is overcome we either realize that this knowledge is very useful or we might discover that we even like or enjoy it. Should we really think of education as only consumer driven enterprise? I am holding onto the idea that it is more: the learning is not consuming knowledge but an interaction between teacher and student. That sometimes the teacher has to push the student down a path he/she does not want to take. Can a 10 year old kid really be the best guide as what he/she will need in the future, rather what triggers her/his interest at a given moment? I guess I would like to promote the “middle path” here: enough time to explore and discover, but also time to build essential foundations in math, reading and science.

      • Mark Kenski
        Mark Kenski says:

        Redrock, you’re logic is crystal clear. If the teacher you speak of is a parent, I basically agree with your premise–though it is not a matter of force but persuasion and negotiation. And I maintain that following such a middle path is what homeschooling and unschooling parents naturally tend to do.

        So why does it make a difference who the teacher is?

        The teacher in a government school, teaching the curriculum dictated by the government does not have the natural rights that a parent-child dyad has–despite the constant efforts of every government to usurp these rights.

        Perhaps there are things I think you would benefit by being forced to learn? And perhaps there are things you think it would be in my best interest to be forced to learn? Shall we use the coercion of state power to bring that to pass? Is that a world you want to live in?

        The real question underneath your argument is: why are children in a special class of human being, entitled to less civil rights than anyone else in society? Why do we causally accept what amounts to universal indentured servitude to the state, for our children?

        The pleasure principle, hedonism, you cite is an element in human nature. It is a short lived one, though, because after a short period of enjoying freedom with meaningless pleasures, people naturally pursue meaning on their own. Meaning comes from achievement and achievement comes from work. Unless a distorted incentive system is created that rewards sloth more than work and the achievement that comes from it, this will be found to be human nature. It applies to children as much as to adults.

        The point at issue is whether people do better work when they are permitted to choose what they will work toward, or when they are forced? I argue it is the former.

        Your argument sounds very reasonable. But any argument that supports the use of state power to compel individuals to do what the state decides is best for them (children or not) is suspect to me. Even a perfectly sound argument is insufficient to me to counter what is essentially an a priori: it is none of the state’s business what I am fascinated with, what gives me meaning, what I choose to become an expert in, and what I pursue as an avenue to providing the value to society that will earn my living.

        I will argue for, and defend, that right equally for myself, you, and my children.

      • Mark W.
        Mark W. says:

        Redrock, I agree with Mark Kenski’s sentiments.
        I’m thinking that I believed to some extent what you have said about a year ago. However, not the push or forced concept but rather persuasion, negotiation, and anything else I could imagine along those lines.
        I wonder why a 10 year old can’t be the best guide for his/her future. The future is an unknown. It’s changing faster than ever before. The same can be said about careers. So what subjects are the schools teaching if they don’t know the future? If a 10 year old homeschooler doesn’t learn what a 10 year old schooled kid learns until they’re 13, so what? Does it mean that 10 year old homeschooler should have been held back and forced to repeat a grade or get bad grades and be made to think they’re not good in a certain subject area?
        I read about homeschooling because it’s an idea that makes me think about how we learn and education in general without rigid rules being set by the government. If I were only thinking about myself, I would say what’s wrong with school. I never had any problem going through school. I was on the dean’s list many times and tests were no problem. I studied, learned, and did well. So why should I care about anybody else? If I could do well in school, then anybody else should be able to do it if they really applied themselves. I don’t live in a vacuum, though, and it’s hard to see kids made to learn in a certain way if they’re able to flourish by changing the way they’re educated. I often hear how math and science are so hard and I want to scream. Those subjects interest and fascinate me so much so I don’t need anybody pushing or telling me how important they are. I’m tired of it to be honest with you. My father was an engineer and his three sons (including myself) became engineers. Sometimes I become too obsessed with math, science, and engineering so I have to remind myself there’s more to life if I’m going to enjoy it with a broad brush.

        • redrock
          redrock says:

          I think what I would like to do is step back from absolutes: many parents are good for their kids, and guide them gently along their way. Wonderful. But, many parents are not good at this, they either fall into the category of drill-master or are just not good at teaching their kids in the way we all imagine would be great. They might lack the patience, like my father did when I was learning how to read- after 5 minutes of working with me he started yelling as to how stupid I am that I have not yet mastered the art of reading. So, no, parents are not always the best teachers, much like many public school teachers are not really great teachers. I am advocating a case-by-case approach.

          But I also think there are things to be learned which have stayed constant for a long time: reading and writing skills, math, some appreciation of art and music, basic physics and chemistry. More often then not the math-physics-science aspects fall by the wayside in homeschooling, but certainly not always. However, the composition of these subject as a great basis for the learning pyramid is pretty much immutable, and will allow to build on with all the new stuff coming along.

          And, no it is not the states business to decide what you are fascinated with. But it is the states business to work for the welfare of their citizens, and while the ideal solution is the individual learning and happy childhood for all kids, the solution we all dream about, it is not reality. So if the state would entirely step back from education and schooling, I am sure that many kids would loose out. The world you are living with your kids is great, but it is unfortunately also not the life of the majority of kids (I wish it could be….).

          • Mark Kenski
            Mark Kenski says:

            Redrock, I can’t tell you what a pleasure it is to discuss this with someone like you, who brings such calm and well-reasoned arguments to the table.

            When one pushes for change, it is very easy to become polarized and end up being pretty extreme. My view tends to be in line with John Taylor Gatto’s: that schools are designed and structured to thwart kids, at least as much as to help them. Schools are not just failing, they are succeeding too well. That’s why reform of the existing system is not an answer.

            But I realize our position is an extreme one, just one of many viewpoints that contribute to improvement, not the only right one. And I realize that no single solution will serve everyone’s interests best.

            What I would like to see is for free enterprise to gradually take over education. Perhaps over the next ten to twenty years. Where there ends up being a mix of homeschooling, unschooling, private schools and a lot of things we don’t have yet–hybrids and new approaches that make more use of the technology that has only appeared in the last decade or so–all competing. But where the state gets our of the business.

            Will these educational businesses compete to be the most fun for kids? The easiest? Some will misunderstand or pervert the effort, sadly true. Most will start innovating again. Given time, kids will discover and parents will see what works and what does not. At least no one will be just stuck on a path that they can see leads nowhere.

            To survive, schools will have to compete with homeschoolers and that alone is going to be a hell of a challenge. For those for whom it is an option, I’d say homeschooling will generally be the best option. Nevertheless it is not for everyone, so there will be plenty of opportunities for education-entrepreneurs (perhaps many of this generation’s homeschooled) to remake the landscape.

            Schools will have to compete with each other as well. We’ll get a lot of much smaller schools probably. Let state government regulate as they regulate other areas of free enterprise, so they can protect the welfare of the citizens. And government is in a great position to handle dispersing funds to the schools in accordance with attendance. And then let government stop there.

            I don’t think we get to engineer, top-down, a single system that will be best. We have to create the space for the best to emerge from competition and realize that some of the worst will emerge too, because in competition, some lose. That’s what comes from freedom. We won’t get perfection. I trust we’ll get something that works better than the government monopoly we have now.

        • Mark W.
          Mark W. says:

          Redrock, I definitely agree with the case-by-case approach. School is not, in and of itself, a bad institution. It works well for some families. However, I think we can both agree it could do much better … especially with some kids. Personally, what I’d like to see is a more integrated approach to subject areas where science, math, reading, writing, art, logic, critical reasoning, etc. can all come together by way of projects. Different projects will require various levels of understanding in different subject areas to be completed. I think some of those subject areas would probably have to be taught separately and then integrated into the project. I try to look at school from a kid’s perspective and then ask, among other things, are they engaged, energized, and want to be there. If not, why not? Should schools consist of a sequence of 50 minute lectures in different subject areas where kids are shuffled from one disparate class to another? There must be a better way to educate these kids. I can separate out reality and dreams but I’m not really sure to what extent a state should be involved in a kids education. Currently it seems to me to be too much so I like the competition I see in the form of homeschooling and private schooling. The more options the better … and that includes a better conventional school as well. Different states and localities should have options to either improve their existing educational opportunities for the kids or wholesale it and “start over”. New Orleans, LA wasn’t given an option with Hurricane Katrina. Schools were wiped out so new laws were passed to encourage charter schools to be built. Parents are saying they like the new schools better. The educational process need not be set in a given format or process. As for the state’s business – the “welfare for their citizens” – only to the extent that education is available and their citizens meet certain requirements.

          • redrock
            redrock says:

            I personally don’t have such an extreme view of governments role in schooling, academia and the rest of our lives. Likely that this is due to my European background, and I realize that traditions and history in the US are different. I also feel strongly that a citizen is part of government, maybe not as directly as we would like. But, opinions and experiences differ, so I don’t see this as a primary issue of the debate in improving quality of education. Unfortunately I don’t think that the education as business approach works too well – and while competition will be great, competition only for the sake of making more money is likely not productive. Competition for the selfless purpose to improve education would be highly desirable on the other hand. My reservation towards education as a business only driven by market forces and monetary gain (as a thought model I am talking the extreme case here) mostly stem from university and college level education. Some colleges/universities were restructured a decade ago to follow an entirely market-business driven model and it did not go very well, and generally did not lead to better education, but undermined teaching quality. Let’s be honest: teaching is time consuming, good teaching even more so, and it will not compute well in terms of making money. So, faculty turned to working on their research and entrepreneurship to make money so they could actually pay their salaries and such, and teaching fell by the wayside. And rising tuition costs at most institutions are mostly due to the reduction in federal funding, and this is counterproductive in terms of improving education. However, intellectual competition is great, and will certainly push as to go further and aim higher.

          • Mark W.
            Mark W. says:

            I will echo what Mark K. said previously – thanks for the discourse!
            I do believe in citizenship and supporting the government. I just don’t believe it as much as I did in the past. I think the government is getting in the way more than it is facilitating positive growth and change. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve become more aware as I get older, if it’s the times we live in with a more complex and “distracting society” with less values and personal responsibility, the role that government is currently playing in our lives (overbearing comes to mind) or something else. The government is “we the people” and the elected officials were elected to serve us … not the other way around. Sometimes it gets really confusing for me to try and understand what’s really happening. I’m not there and I don’t have all the facts but I do have a lot of them so I wonder if we’ve lost our way somehow. So many special interest groups, etc. with tons of money. I’ve digressed.
            I’ve seen big increases in educational spending over the past decade with results that have pretty much stayed level. Now, school districts are having to cut back on the number of administrators and teachers because the money isn’t available. The current model isn’t working and parents are taking matters in their own hands to the extent they are able. The educational programs offered by many public schools doesn’t seem to be sufficient as far as many parents are concerned so parents are pushing back. They’re homeschooling, sending kids to private schools, and getting involved with their kid’s programs in public schools to the extent they are able. The last option is a help but appears to be the least effective in the short run. I think every kid and family needs to assess their situation and make the choice for what’s best for them. I don’t have the answers. I just think we should have more and better choices.

          • redrock
            redrock says:

            well, ideally a strong government should not mean that one does not take responsibility for ones life… I know it does not necessarily work that way, but I am not giving up just yet.

            I have to admit that the testing craze at US schools is pretty extreme. Maybe there is hope that the pendulum will swing in another direction soon? Pressing a person into a set of numbers from a standardized test never works…. and we should know that it also does not represent abilities, not even the ones apparently tested.

  9. Karen
    Karen says:

    I jump back and forth on the TV bandwagon. Sometimes I hate the mindlessness of it all. I hate that we spend time watching it for hours instead of doing anything else.

    I am a single mom of a 12 year old daughter. We homeschool. She has grown up with TV, and there has been SO many times that she tells me something and I say, “How did you know that” and she replies, “iCarly”, or “Zack and Cody” or whatever. Strange but the older she gets the less I want her to watch some things. We have always had a very open relationship but there are a few things I really don’t want to have to explain to her.

    Really enjoyed this and so glad to have found your site.

  10. Kimberly
    Kimberly says:

    If you don’t think kids emulate the majority of what they see on TV, you’ve probably not met one. My dad still does this and he’s almost 60. He lives his life vicariously through Al Pacino and Jerry Seinfeld.

    There’s so much good stuff out there in the way of audio visual media. Documentaries, travel videos and even how-to videos are just as entertaining.

    There’s quite a lot of sociopaths of characters on most Disney shows or shows meant for kids. Seems like every time you turn on a cable program it has someone being hit, ridiculed or yelled at, while the background laugh goes on.

    Also, regarding the books that feature violence, I think it’s foolish to say that you wouldn’t use the same discretion as you would when choosing what TV programs to watch.

    I wouldn’t say I’m a zealot in regard to this but just don’t be surprised when your child starts asking for things they see in commercials, emulating bad behavior from TV programs and being less interested in education, overall. It happens.

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