Banning Sesame Street

Have you seen Elmo’s Christmas Countdown? It’s a mostly adorable hour-long special starring all of the Sesame Street favs, plus Ben Stiller as “Stiller the Elf”.

It’s a nice seasonal show with lots of celebrities singing Christmas songs; my personal favorite it Anne Hathaway’s rendition of “I Want A Snuffleupagus for Christmas” co-starring Big Bird.

So have you seen it? My kids have seen it a few times. In the first song, Stiller begins by singing a verse in which he invites Oscar to “Count DOWN Christmas!” Oscar replies in song, with a grouchy verse culminating in “I HATE Christmas!” Naturally.

And as proof that toddlers learn through repetition, after several verses, my three-year-old, AJ, showed off his new vocabulary word, “Mom, I want to watch something else. I hate this show.”

As a matter of fact, to show me how well he’d learned, several hours later (at bedtime), he informed me that he didn’t want to brush his teeth, “I hate brushing!”

Oh boy.

Three-and-a-half has been an interesting age. It is a time of greater comprehension, increased awareness, new fears and bigger concepts. My husband and I have noticed the importance of censoring our conversation topics lately. We’ve turned off the news when they talk of murder and violence. Common sense kinds of things.

Of course, no one thinks of everything; for instance, I think I may have traumatized him by telling the story of the three little pigs; I made the mistake of saying they needed strong houses so the Big Bad Wolf wouldn’t eat them up!

My usually exuberant little boy responded in this tiny, sad little voice, “The piggies are…(gulp)…food?”

Oh, crap. Back pedal, back pedal, turn it into a joke…

I know what you’re going to say, they have to learn eventually, right? I agree, eventually he’ll figure out that the chicken on his plate and the chickens on the farm down the road have the same name for a reason.

Of course, this kind of learning and increased understanding is an important sign of intellectual growth. I certainly don’t want to shelter my child and keep him insulated from reality.

So why am I so upset by his use of the word “hate“?

Maybe it’s the writer in me, turned off by the unnecessary use of hyperbole.

I suppose it could be that he’s so young – I would hope there is nothing in his life, yet, that inspires such an incredibly strong negative emotion.

Maybe it’s family history – as the grandchild of Holocaust survivors, I was raised to understand the destructive power, the pain that can be caused when people hate. In our family, “hate” is considered a 4-letter word.

In retrospect, I can see that to him, “hating” means “not wanting.” Just as Oscar did not want to “count down Christmas,” AJ did not want to continue watching the special, or later to brush his teeth. This was not an expression of intense emotion, nor a warning signal of toddler distress.

So where does this leave me? Do I ban Sesame Street? Does Oscar’s frequent, casual use of words such as “hate” warrant such an action? How do you explain to a three-year-old that Oscar is intended as an example of how not to behave?

Obviously the months ahead will bring many questions like this, and in order to be honest with him, and not overly protective, I’m going to have to carefully consider my responses.

For now, I think we’ll put Elmo’s Christmas Countdown away for later, and maybe have a discussion about words other than “hate” that he can use to describe his feelings.

I know my child is safe, healthy and loved. What could he possibly have to “hate“? And realistic or not, I hope the time when I say to him, “This is ‘hate’, this is what it feels like to ‘hate’,” is a time that never comes.


How about you? What children’s shows have you banned and why?

Posted on December 16, 2013, in Family, Musings, Parenting, Rant, Toddlers, Writing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Lesley Kesselman

    Ari You are amazing as a mom and a writer. I’m so proud of you!


  2. One of our twins (age 2) recently started saying something that sounds an awful lot like “I hate it.” We’re 90% sure that’s what she’s saying, but it’s hard to tell because she’s only 2. For the life of us, we can’t figure out WHERE she picked it up (no daycare, minimal TV). We don’t use the H word in our vocabulary (although we’ve quite liberally used every other word in the book). We shrugged off her repeat of our “oh sh*t” and “g%dd#mn it,” taking note that now is obviously the time for us to clean up our language…but the “hate” word REALLY gets under our skin!

    We haven’t banned any children’s shows yet, because they really don’t watch TV yet, but it has made us think twice about the music we have on…they can repeat songs word-for-word now with startling accuracy!

    • Yeah, it was funny the FIRST time AJ repeated my expression of “Oh CRAP” but when he wouldn’t stop…i’ve rally had to tone it down. As far as music, we have a lovely local radio station with songs that the lyrics won’t embarrass you in front of your children….or something. Nice, mellow music. Which is great if you’re trying to fall asleep while driving.

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