By Gus Bouchard
They say if your children are watching TV, you’d better be watching with them.
Ain’t that the truth.
Yesterday I sat down with my six-year-old for an episode of “Sid the Science Kid” on PBS. Wow. Not since Wile E. Coyote was able to pull articulate signage out from behind his back during free-falls (but not a parachute, for some reason) have I seen more psychologically damaging animation broadcast for children.
“Sid” is an intellectually curious child with supportive parents. He is always asking questions about the world. I have no problem with that. All kids do that, especially when they’re young. It’s healthy.
But in the show, the adults around Sid actually take his questions seriously and try to help him discover the answers. This bizarre development I feared would give my daughter a warped sense of reality, so I had to pause the show and help her to understand that is not how the world really works.
It got worse.
Sid’s mom drops him off at school. He immediately meets his friends and they sing and dance around the playground. No bullying, no wedgies, no fights.
Then they go inside and Sid’s class has four students in it. It’s not a special ed room, either, because all the kids are high-functioning, able to synthesize diverse facts and experiences into independent insights better than most college freshmen. And the room is the size of an Olympic hockey rink.
The teacher, far from being stressed out and overwhelmed by the various needs of her many students, orients the days activities — including a hands-on lab, readings, and music — around the children’s curiosities. I again had to pause the video and explain to my daughter that this is not how real classrooms work, and that is why she is home-schooled.
But she loved the show, anyway, so she talked me into watching another episode. This time, Sid and his best friend go camping in the backyard with their dad, who wears suspenders and flannel but, strangely, does not drink beer.
The dad, rather than being wrapped up in some football game on the radio the whole time, prepares a journaling and wildlife activity for the boys, and keeps them inspired and fed the whole time without needing help from Sid’s mom.
I kept waiting for Sid’s dad to set the tent on fire or make some boneheaded insensitive remark, but it never happened. I don’t know what kind of bizarre Twilight Zone alternate reality PBS is trying to push on our kids, but I don’t like it one bit.
This time, I didn’t have to tell my daughter anything. She knows that in real life, dads are basically helpless when it comes to kids, and on the rare occasions when they must assume responsibility for their care, their humorous incompetence can carry nearly half the plot of your average 30-minute family sitcom.
That’s what makes a show like “Modern Family” so good. It is a rare program that actually includes kids as an integral part of the comedy. I used to love “Everybody Loves Raymond,” except that they apparently had three kids who slept 22 hours a day, because you never saw them on screen.
I would let my kid watch “Modern Family” before “Sid the Science Kid” any day of the week and twice on Sundays. Everybody on that show has issues, and there are no phony happy endings – people have crazy dysfunctional conflicts with no closure, and they still love each other.
That’s social training we can believe in.