Why we’re sticking to NickJr

A little while ago, I was visiting with a friend and we started laughing about how we feel like occasional failures as Montessori parents.  We sometimes allow our children to consume products with high-fructose corn syrup.  Our homes contain a few toys manufactured from plastic, a select few of which operate on batteries.  (They were gifts!  I swear!)  I may have, once or twice, said “Because I said so!” as a reason for a parental directive, rather than calmly helping my son make his own best choices.  Etc.  We plan to start a Facebook support group for others like us.  (At our son’s year-end school picnic a couple of weeks ago, I was greatly relieved to see that many other parents were similarly prone to exasperation.  I felt less alone in the world.)

One of the ways in which I fear I have qualified for #MontessoriparentingFAIL is that we let The Critter watch a limited amount of television.  I tell myself that this is OK because we restrict his viewing to age-appropriate shows, he doesn’t watch all that much, and I try to watch along with him and engage with him about what he’s watching.  (He tends to ignore that last.)  We keep things tuned to NickJr, which has a nice selection of good shows (“Blue’s Clues, “Dora the Explorer”) and no commercials.  I’ve even found I enjoy watching a few with him.  (I like “Little Bill.”  Let us not speak of “Yo Gabba Gabba!”)

Anyhow, the other afternoon I had turned on the television for him and was flipping through the stations when I noticed that “Spongebob Squarepants” was on.  Over the years I’ve caught snippets here and there, and I must admit I found it amusing.  I don’t have any illusion that it’s good for kids, but it’s fun and absurd in a way I enjoy.  So, “what the hell?” I thought and sat down to watch some Spongebob with my kid.  On regular Nickelodeon!  Which meant commercials.

My esteemed co-blogger has already written about the morality of advertising to children, and on the merits I agreed with her that it is immoral to do so.  But I had kind of filed it away as an abstraction, and one I had survived as a child to boot.  That is, until the commercial for Cocoa Puffs came on.

“I’m cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs!” shrieked Sonny the Cuckoo Bird.

“Daddy, what’s ‘cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs’?” inquired my son.

All night.

“What’s ‘cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs’?”  “What’s Cocoa Puffs?”  When Cocoa Puffs were explained as “something for breakfast, but Daddy thinks they’re yucky” (which is true), “Can I have Cocoa Puffs?”  “What’s ‘cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs’?”  Ad nauseum.  Daddy’s increasingly obvious irritation at the question only gave repetition added savor.

This after having watched a single 30-second spot only once.  The commercial was like an especially hardy streptococcus on the agar of my child’s brain.  I have to hand it to the folks on Madison Avenue, they clearly know their business.

With that, my child’s brief exposure to television commercials came to an end.  My own little study, with a convenience sample n of 1, has driven home the point Rose already argued so well.  It is clearly not in my child’s interest to gorge himself on chocolate-flavored puffed grain, but if he’d had his druthers that’s what he would have done.  If for no reason other than preserving my own sanity, we are sticking to advertisement-free television for the foreseeable future, and as he gets older I hope I’ll be able to teach my son to resist the manipulation of marketing as much as anyone can.

Russell Saunders

Russell Saunders is the ridiculously flimsy pseudonym of a pediatrician in New England. He has a husband, three sons, daughter, cat and dog, though not in that order. He enjoys reading, running and cooking. He can be contacted at blindeddoc using his Gmail account. Twitter types can follow him @russellsaunder1.


  1. When my kids were little and asked for explanations of things like this, I’d tell them something simple that amused me, e.g.

    “What’s ‘cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs’?”
    “Ir means he’s voting for Romney.”

    As thy got a bit older, they realized it means “Daddy’s making a joke.” I’ve never seen this recommended in a parenting book, but they seem to have turned out OK.

    • I tried that once, but I had to give it up when the kid told a pregnant lady on the bus that the baby would explode out of her stomach and we’d have to stick her back together with duct tape.

      • I’m surprised you didn’t go for the Alien xenomorph route and tell your kid that after birsting out of her stomach, the alien would go on to implant an embryo in someone’s esophagus

      • Yeah, it wouldn’t work with what amuses you.

  2. Obviously, I agree.

    But on a side note, where does this idea come that you should engage with your children while they watch TV? I’ve heard it, too. But it doesn’t make sense to me. Why shouldn’t they watch by themselves? We’d be fine with it if they played or read by themselves (at least, I hope so). It’s annoying as all hell to them (as it is annoying to me when someone talks excessively while I watch TV). And when I let my kid watch TV, it’s usually because I need to be doing something without interruption. Let them absorb and ruminate on what they’re watching.

    • As with so much of what I do as a parent (and, probably more often than I’d like to admit, what I recommend as a pediatrician), the reason I try to engage with The Critter as he watches TV is “something something I heard it somewhere authoritative-sounding once something something.”

      Considering that he ignores me anyway, most attempts have been halfhearted, at best.

    • I don’t think it’s a must, but generally I’m a fan of “TV as a social activity.” It’s one of the things that TV generally goes better than the almighty book. There’s nothing wrong with letting them do it on their own (especially when you’re letting them watch while you are elsewise engaged), but in the ideal world you get to experience it together, at least some of the time.

      The really good news is that children’s TV has gotten so much better. I don’t know if I could watch the original He-Man with my future kids. But a lot of what I see is actually pretty decent.

    • Rose et al.

      Disclaimer: I’m not a parent.

      The extent to which I’d advocate “engaging with a child while watching TV” would revolve around the idea of making them a critical consumer of media. However, I wouldn’t limit it to just TV. So, yea, I’d let my unconceived child watch TV alone sometimes just like I’d let them read books alone sometimes. But I’d also want to watch some TV with them, and read some books with them, and take part in whatever other media consumption they are engaging in, so I have an idea of what they are being exposed to and can help them make sense of it all.

      I’m generally not big on most “always” or “nevers” when it comes to kids. A TV show here and there isn’t going to kill them. Nor is an occasional cookie. However, these things are more likely to harm them if they aren’t capable of making informed choices. And they are probably going to be better prepared to make informed choices if I, or some other responsible adult(s), are at least somewhat involved in their interactions with these various stimuli.

  3. One of the advantages of having a DVR is that my boys are as quick to skip commercials as I am. They still get exposure, but they’re more likely to skip them than to watch them. Plus, we’ve done our best to make sure the boys know that the people on the television are trying to sell them something, which is to be considered “a bad thing.” Works better with the oldest than it does with the youngest.

  4. I feel like Andy Warhol when I say that I prefer the commercials of my childhood to the television shows.

    • Or a pale, crappy version of Andy Warhol anyway.

      Take, for example, Pac Man Cereal. This was yet another sugar cereal made from puffed corn (the little pellets that Pac Man ate) with Pac Man marshmallows and ghost marshmallows. *FEARING* that the cereal would be categorized as a “boy’s cereal” (CEREALS WERE GENDERED IN THE 80’s, KIDS!) they added a Ms. Pac Man marshmallow to the cereal and released commercials with wigs, specialized hairdos (pink bows!), costume changes, and choreography (including dance moved intended to evoke bows in one’s hair) telling the world that THIS CEREAL HAS A NEW KIND OF MARSHMALLOW. Not only that, this new kind of marshmallow opens up the market to make this a cereal that girls will want to eat as well as boys.

      All packed into a snappy, jazzy 30 seconds.

  5. The world is a ver commercialized place, and my view is that it’s as we’ll to desensitize kids early on. Daughter number two, for quite a long time responded to every commercial with, “I want a X!”. She never got X, but she did get a lot of “You can have X or we can go to California to visit Oma and Opa this Christmas.” It’s been years now since she paid much attention to commercials.

  6. We haven’t had cable for several years now. So our TV watching is all via Netflix and Hulu streaming. Netflix is great for kid’s TV! Really good selection and NO ADS!! Cuts down on the whining and begging a bit, but we can’t always control what she sees at friend’s houses.

  7. Tangentially related:

    When our oldest boy was born, ww made a decision to do no TV, occasionally slipping into the almost-no-TV route. We kept this up for several years as he was going through those formative toddler years. By the time our second came along we were happy to have the TV provide any brief respite it might offer to our weary, weary adult minds and bodies. We has zero TV restrictions at that time.

    You now have to pry our older kid away from a TV with a crowbar. Our youngest will watch for a while, but get bored.

    Also, FWIW: When I first read the post title, my mind stuck an “it” between the words “stick” and “to.” So I was expecting a different kind of story.

  8. We’ve just discovered the Netflix has Nick Jr. on it. (We don’t get cable, after a round of drastic budget cuts a few months ago.) Now, Alice has a huge array of options to choose from instead of only the physical DVDs we happen to own. All last week the family was out sick with hand, foot and mouth disease. (Yes, Jason and I got it, too, strangely. So did my mother. I think Alice is, like, a cyclotron of infection.) It was a great chance to explore other shows and characters with her. Yo Gabba Gabba has come out the frontrunner, and fortunately, Jason and I both like it well enough to sit with her. For us, the sitting is because she can get into far too much trouble in the basement, where the TV is. Also, if a show has violent content of any kind, one of us needs to be there to reinforce her or she will end up crying (“She kick him! No fank you!”). I’m learning that Nick Jr. has little violence, but, for example, Spongebob is usually too violent for her to watch alone, so I’m still watchful.

    Anyway, my break is only fifteen minutes, and since I’ve got more to say (and didn’t even touch on the topic of your post), maybe I’ll post something non-alcoholic at Slow Tuesday Night this weekend.

  9. My biggest challenge has been the DVR/On Demand. I fear I may be pushing them to expect that they can have instant gratification, but it’s incredible to be able to skip commercials.

    And disparaging “Yo Gabba Gabba” will lead us to have words, sir. (incidentally, I’ve seen more good music on that show than the last 15 years of MTV)

    • Oh, dear. Sorry, old friend. For once the Venn diagram of our tastes doesn’t overlap. (Well, that and your not being gay and all.)

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