Muppet Babies and the Do No Harm Theory of Children’s Television Viewing

This week, we are talking about watching TV with our kids. You will find that Jen and I are rather unabashedly pro-TV. Read on for Muppets, Dora, Kipper and more.

Lauren: I’m here and ready whenever you are.

Dude, 3 more hits and today ties our busiest day so far!

Jennifer: My kids are watching Dora the Explorer, and Tyler has pledged to supervise toothbrushing. I’m in!

8:12 PM Lauren: Sweet!

What time is it where you live??

Jennifer: It’s 9:15. Normally they are in bed by now, but dinner was late so we pushed bedtime back rather than fight over changing the routine.

8:13 PM Lauren: WOW

If my kids aren’t in bed by 8:15 I’m like WTF YOU PEOPLE ARE CRAZY

Summer is definitely bumping everything back for us.

Jennifer: But yours get up early. Mine will sleep till 9 tomorrow morning.

Lauren: I was watching Dora the ‘Plowah with Holly at 5:15 today.

8:14 PM In the MORNING, I mean.

Jennifer: I do not know how you do it. Usually Margeaux wakes up around then, and I just bring her back to bed with me.

Lauren: She won’t accept ANY substitute! And she won’t stay in bed or stay asleep. She just starts whining “wanna get uuuuuup”

8:15 PM Jennifer: Yikes. we have had our share of sleep struggles, but I feel like that would have pushed me over the edge.

8:16 PM Although for a while around age 2 D was having nightmares and would demand to watch Wonder Pets in the middle of the night.

Lauren: I’m inured to it. It’s debilitating at times for sure, but Robin sleeps pretty well at 4, so I have hope that things will settle down, you know, in a few years.



Our fave show for toddlers is a British show called Kipper

8:17 PM It’s completely lowkey and not remotely annoying. Robin was OBSESSED with it, but Holly has zero interest (she is all about Dora).


Jennifer: I’ve never seen Kipper!

Lauren: Oh, dude. It’s so good.

Jennifer: We still love Wonder Pets. Also this new show, Doc McStuffins.

Lauren: My kids did not get Wonder Pets. They’re like, wtf.

I do not know of this Doc McStuffins.

8:18 PM We only watch tv streaming on Netflix so we are always about 5 years behind any tv trend and completely dependent on their selection (hence the absence of Disney in our lives).

Jennifer: Doc McStuffins is a 6 year old Af. Am. girl. Her mom is a doctor, and she cures her dolls/toys/stuffed animals of various ailments that she makes up funny names for.

8:19 PM Lauren: Oh dude, that sounds awesome!

Jennifer: My girls have started saying, “What’s the diagnosis?” when they play with their dolls.

Lauren: Robin is OBSESSED with anatomy right now, she would love a show about doctor stuff.

Jennifer: Disney Channel.

Lauren: Fuckin’ Disney.

8:20 PM Jennifer: Maybe you could get it on DVD?

She has a stay at home dad, which is also cool.

Lauren: That is really great.

Maybe someday it will trickle down to Netflix availability.

Jennifer: Someday… and in the meantime you have Kipper.

8:21 PM So what are your tv rules?

Lauren: The rules I wish I enforced, you mean?

Jennifer: HA!


Lauren: If I’m following the rules, they can watch one show in the morning and one show when they get home from daycare while I cook dinner.

8:22 PM The rules we always stick to is, no TV during meals, and no TV after dinner.

Any day Holly wakes up at 5 am I pretty much will allow anything if she just lets me sit and zone out.

Jennifer: That all seems very reasonable.

8:23 PM We almost always do tv as part of the evening routine- tv, brush teeth, go potty, stories, songs, bed.

Lauren: I read in a sleep book that TV right before bed makes their brains all crazy

And since sleep is the holy grail in this house, I banned TV after dinner time.

8:24 PM Jennifer: Yeah, it’s probably bad for their brains.

Lauren: We typically play for 15-30 min with Brian when he gets home, which is typically during dinner

So it’s dinner, play, bath, stories, tooth brush, bed.

8:25 PM But TV is def part of our morning routine.

8:26 PM Jennifer: It’s just such an easy way to fill those little gaps of time when I need to be productive and I need them to not destroy anything.

Lauren: Yep

Jennifer: Because free play and art make messes. And that’s fine, but there are limits to when I can deal with messes.

Lauren: For me it’s essential if dishes are to be done or dinner to be made when we get home in the afternoon.

8:27 PM Jennifer: And honestly? I don’t feel as guilty as I think I’m supposed to. They have definitely learned stuff from watching tv.

Lauren: Otherwise I’m interrupted every 5 minutes with needs for shoes, toys, coats, a drink of water, etc etc

Jennifer: Mine do things like play “shirt store” and take all the shirst out of all the drawers.

8:28 PM Lauren: HA!

In moderation, I don’t sweat it.

But, I don’t like the way it dominates our home time

Jennifer: Do they ask for it?

Lauren: And I worry that my kids will be unmotivated blobs like I was as a kid, and I really don’t want to encourage that.

Jennifer: Or is that you find yourself offering it more than you want to?

Lauren: Which is why I really WANT to enforce those rules.

Oh yes.

8:29 PM I find myself saying yes a lot.

I find myself offering out of desperation more than I’d like to.

8:30 PM Jennifer: Dorothy didn’t watch tv (except what we were watching) until I lost my job and unexpectedly became a stay at home mom.

Lauren: The amount of TV we watch is inversely proportional to the amount of sleep I’m getting, let me put it that way.

And I don’t get much sleep.

8:31 PM Jennifer: She was about 1, and I was pregnant, and until that shift to being home I didn’t realize how many hours there are in a day spent entirely at home. And so I began to fill a couple of those hours with Elmo, and we haven’t looked back.

Lauren: Yeah

Jennifer: Yes– I feel you on the more tv when I’m tired.

Lauren: That’s almost exactly the same thing that happened with us.

We didn’t watch kid shows until Robin hit about 14 months and I was pregnant with Holly and then it was all Kipper and Yo Gabba Gabba and Curious George.

8:32 PM Jennifer: Maybe their brains are fried on the inside from all my lax parenting.

But from what I can see, they are doing just fine.

8:33 PM Wonder Pets at 2 am and all.

Lauren: I worry about it when school comes around.

My kids will never be watching whatever shows are cool.

8:34 PM PLUS it seems like gender becomes a real issue as you move into school-age/tween shows.

So I start getting all lecturey and annoyed.

Jennifer: What do you think about gender in the preschool age shows? I know you hate Angelina Ballerina.

8:35 PM Lauren: I hate Angelina for reasons that go beyond gender.

I hate Angelina because the entire construct is completely idiotic, and I find her whiny and annoying, and the more I watch it the more problems I find with it, so it makes me grumpy.

8:36 PM As far as gender goes, Angelina does feature boys who dance, and girls who enjoy dance other than pretty ballerina dancing.

And technically the mice represent different races, so that’s good (I GUESS).

Jennifer: I’m fascinated by the way kids tv shows make the animals different races.

8:37 PM I can’t decide if I think it’s useful or ridiculous.

Lauren: Yes, it’s pretty interesting to parse. Angelina attends some absurd dance school with only five students and each student is from a different country.

It feels tokenish?

I mean, take a really flat show concept with no real narrative

Add stock characters

8:38 PM Does it really matter if Marco is a South American mouse?

Wouldn’t it be just as meh if he was a white mouse with no accent?

Jennifer: Dorothy sometimes makes up nonsense words and claims she’s speaking Chinese, like Kai-Lan.

8:39 PM Lauren: Robin insists that the word “crotch” is Spanish.

I definitely attribute Dora and other shows for my girls’ awesome counting and Spanish speaking.

Jennifer: Ha!


8:40 PM Lauren: Often, Robin and Holly play a game where they have to say abre or cierra to get through.

That’s all Dora.

8:41 PM Jennifer: My girls definitely incorporate the basic Spanish into their games. Although I think the Spanish is easier to understand on Handy Manny. And I like that the voice is Fez from that 70s Show. But alas, my girls will. not. watch Handy Manny.

8:42 PM Lauren: We don’t allow Phineas and Ferb anymore because of the sexism.

It’s a shame, because otherwise we enjoy that show as a family. But we can’t get past how sucky Candace is.

8:43 PM Jennifer: We have never watched it- the girls havent really shown an interest.

Lauren: That show would be great if you were raising boys.

It’s all about intelligence and seizing the day, some of the guys are nerdy and some aren’t, it’s based on cooperation and not competition, etc.

But their older sister is this vapid idiot who obsesses over either catching her brothers breaking the rules, or what her boyfriend thinks about her.

8:44 PM She has no interests, identity, or purpose beyond those things. She’s completely uninteresting.

Jennifer: Ugh.

Lauren: The music is awesome and it’s really funny. And it’s sexist so we can’t watch it.

So now we watch Spongebob, which only has ONE female character, a Texan squirrel.

8:45 PM Jennifer: Sandy!

Lauren: Sandy’s kinda hardcore

Jennifer: My sister used to watch SpongeBob when the show first started– she was in college.

Lauren: It really has a universal appeal.

8:46 PM Jennifer: My personal favorite Spongebob episode is the one where the jellyfish are having that crazy party at his house and they’re blasting the music and he can’t sleep.

Lauren: HAha

Our favorite is the Krusty Krab Pizza episode.

8:47 PM Jennifer: My girls aren’t really into Spongebob yet.

They like Cat in the Hat.

Lauren: Holly calls him Spongebob Snowpants.

We did Cat in the Hat for a long time.

It’s okay

I mean, I don’t think it’s brilliant, but I like it. Seems like they air the same eps over and over again so we got bored with it.

8:48 PM Jennifer: Yes- and it borders on too factual/educational for Lucy, who prefers Dora and UmiZoomi above all others.

8:49 PM Lauren: We have played Umizoomi games but we have not seen the show. This is the magical skirt show, right?

Jennifer: Yes. Geo uses his shape belt to build things, and Milli can measure things with her ponytails and change the pattern on her dress to fill in missing parts of patterns.

8:50 PM Lauren: NO. Her ponytail??

Jennifer: Yes. They turn into measuring tapes.

Lauren: Speaking of hair, how do you feel about the final episode of Dora, where she goes from being our androgynous explorer to a fairy princess?

8:51 PM Jennifer: It drives me nuts.

And really, I blame Diego.

Because until the Diego spin off, Dora was not explicitly a girls show.

Lauren: I think Diego was intended to be for older kids, but it ended up being the boy show.

8:52 PM Which is irritating, because S1 and S2 — even S3! — Dora is so gender neutral and friendly to all little ones.

8:54 PM Jennifer: My girls will watch Diego too. But with both Dora and Diego the shouting makes me crazy. WHY DO THEY HAVE TO SHOUT ALL THE TIME?

I know some people are really freaked out that Dora has no parents, but it doesn’t bother me.

Lauren: Yeah, the volume and repitition is a little rough.

8:55 PM I think it’s FANTASTIC that Dora goes out on her own with a map to solve problems.

Oh my God, if my girls can do that, I will succeed as a mother.

I mean she’s basically a Girl Scout!

Jennifer: I feel the same way.

8:56 PM Lauren: Here, you’ll love this:

Jennifer: and honestly, even though my kids are constantly supervised, they are so much more invested in each other and their games and pretend worlds that I think sometimes they see me as sort of a distant, supervisory, non-entity.

In that sense, shows like Max and Ruby and Dora, where the parents aren’t around, probably feel truer to how they exeprience their world.

Lauren: When I was a kid, my Mom kicked us out of the house and was like “see you at dinner”

8:57 PM We wandered all over our neighborhood, within the established parameters.

And that was that. She didn’t even keep the door open to hear us.

Jennifer: HA! (cereal guy)

Lauren: Right: I mean, I agree some of the scenarios are far-fetched/odd, but I think it’s probably right to acknowledge that kids are the center of their own world

8:58 PM And parents move in and out of that world. We don’t have to be the focus or the bosses all the time.

8:59 PM Jennifer: Definitely. I don’t want to play shirt store. And I’m sort of glad they don’t need me to.

Lauren: Right.

I guess I think it’s interesting that we expect shows to pass on messages to our kids, and in some ways reflect reality, but also be wildly interesting and entertaining.

9:00 PM AND educational.

Jennifer: It’s a lot to ask. Definitely more than I ask of the tv shows I watch.

Dancing with the Stars is definitely not meeting all those criteria.

9:01 PM Lauren: Right. I remember one of the folks discussing this with us on facebook said that if a show didn’t have a “purpose” then her kids probably shouldn’t be watching it.

Jennifer: Maybe Project Runway does?

Lauren: Creativity! Sewing! Bitchiness!!

Jennifer: Although, I’m not sure I agree that all kids tv needs purpose.

9:02 PM It can’t be harmful. But it’s okay with me if it’s not super educational.

Barbie Mermaid movie falls into that category.

Or Fresh Beat Band.

Lauren: Right, I remember several people agreeing with you that “do no harm” is ok.

9:03 PM I think this is where I tend to push certain shows and discourage others (ANGELINA) — because I think ok, fine, if you want to watch a show because it’s fun, which is fine, a least make it one with a decent narrative, or decent music, or humor, or something.

9:04 PM How about The Princess and the Frog or Gabba or Spongebob, and NOT the skinny new My Little Ponies?

Jennifer: Have you heard about the bros who like My Little Ponies?

Lauren: No

9:05 PM Jennifer: Let me see if I can find a link. They’re guys who are obsessed with MLP.

Lauren: I do find that, as a Mom, I am surprised at how much I enjoy watching my children enjoy something like a TV show.

9:06 PM We went a little wild with the Dora swag for Holly’s birthday because she just gets SO EXCITED to wear anything with Dora.


9:07 PM Lauren: Wow, that’s really interesting. I’ve watched it and I don’t find it that riveting.

Jennifer: Me either.

We watched the Muppet movie last weekend, and we were thrilled that Dorothy loved it so much.

Lauren: Nice!

9:08 PM Jennifer: Maybe partly because we have childhood connections to it.

Lauren: We had a phase where Robin was into Muppets Take Manhattan: that was awesome.

My girls love the Chipmunk movies.

Jennifer: And partly because it was so hilarious to watch her encounter the Muppets for the first time and try and make sense of them. When Beaker came on, she actually said “Why does that skinny oval keep saying MEEP MEEP MEEP?”

Lauren: (Which I also have some gender problems with, esp. the newer one, but that’s a battle for another time.)

9:09 PM Jennifer: We haven’t seen the Chipmunks.

Lauren: I spent last summer showing my girls episodes of Muppet Babies on youtube while I made lunch

That was pretty great. Muppet Babies is awesome.

9:10 PM Chipmunks are def. a “do no harm” kind of show. The music is pretty good, though!

9:11 PM Jennifer: I think the honest truth is that I like tv, T likes tv, our kids like tv, and I’m more invested in raising media savvy kids than kids who aren’t exposed to tv.

Lauren: To be fair, I should hate Muppet Babies because Piggy is such a psycho. Damn you, nostalgia!!

We live TV, too.

9:12 PM Jennifer: I haven’t watched Muppet Babies since childhood, but I’m totally going to watch it with the girls tomorrow now that I’m thinking about it.

Lauren: And, I do use shows as opportunities to have actual conversations with my kids about choices, bodies, stereotypes, feelings, etc.

(It’s as good as you remember it.)

9:13 PM In fact, the other day, Brian and I were saying that we need to start talking to the girls about commercials. We never see them, which we think is AWESOME and IDEAL, but we want them to know what they are before they start encountering them later on.

Jennifer: This was the first Christmas where the girls realized that the things they see in commercials are actually real things in the world.

Lauren: We plan on telling them that commercials are lies/tricks. It sounds extreme but it’s also kinda true.

9:14 PM Jennifer: My mom definitely told me that Magic Shell and the Easy Bake Oven were lies. Why she chose those products I’ll never know.

9:15 PM Lauren: HAha

That’s interesting

Jennifer: The girls got Stompeez for Chirstmas. Because they were obsessed with the commercial.

Lauren: My parents never talked to us about commercials. I was a total dupe for that stuff.

I want my kids to have robust skepticism when it comes to consumerism.

Are those the weird slippers?

Jennifer: Yup. We have a rabbit pair and a cat pair.

They were definitely overpriced. But kind of adorable.

9:16 PM Lauren: We saw that commercial while visiting my inlaws at Thanksgiving and Robin was really interested.

Jennifer: I felt like they fell into a sort of Do No Harm category.

9:17 PM Lauren: Sure. Animal slippers? Do not harm.

Barbie I’m not sure about.

Jennifer: Better than Bratz dolls.

Lauren: Bratz I’m adamantly opposed to

Haha — great minds.

Jennifer: Ha!

Lauren: Robin got a My Little Pony doll in a kid’s meal last week

9:18 PM And every time I see it I’m like “wow, that pony doesn’t look like a real horse, look how thin and unhealthy this body is, look at the way the nose is too small for her to eat” etc etc etc

Jennifer: We have some My Little Ponies, and some Barbies, and some princess dolls, and some Groovy Girls.

Lauren: Robin’s all EYEROLL on me.

Jennifer: I told Dorothy that Bratz wore too much make up.,

9:19 PM In general, my toy policy is like my tv policy: moderation in all things.

Lauren: I just don’t get the appeal of Barbies. I had ONE Barbie as a kid, and I ended up giving it to the boy next door, who LOVED Barbies.

I got bored brushing her hair.

Jennifer: Ours have snarly hair.

Lauren: I will definitely allow my kids to get the Katniss Barbie!

My friend Steph and her sister did amazing stories with Barbie. So did Pamie at If my kids did that, I’d be cool with Barbie.

9:20 PM Jennifer: My girls mostly use them in pretend games which typically involve someone being stranded and someone else rescuing them. Or someone being hurt and someone else being the doctor.

And they put on dance shows.

But our dinosaurs put on dance shows too.

9:21 PM And honestly, all of that is part of why I feel like tv hasn’t fried their brains. They pretend avidly. ‘

Lauren: Right

9:22 PM I think that if we use TV to start conversations and ask a lot of questions, then it can be ok.

I never want them to accept it at face value. But otherwise, I can be ok with it.

9:23 PM Jennifer: I have actually banned some pretend games (fork people and crayon people). I think tv can be good in lots of ways: to start conversations, to ask questions, to relax when we need our bodies and minds to wind down after a long day.

9:24 PM I like to snuggle up on the couch with popcorn and chocolate milk.

Lauren: Definitely: and I look forward to sharing certain shows with the girls when I’m older.

Mystery series, like I watched with my sister and Mom. Buffy.

9:25 PM Jennifer: Project Runway. Amazing Race. Possibly The Cosby Show.


9:26 PM Lauren: When we visited my inlaws at Thanksgiving, we all enjoyed watching Dancing With the Stars together

I thought that was pretty cool!


9:27 PM Jennifer: Right? I want my girls to at least consider growing up to be Scully.

Lauren: She’s a skeptic

I like that

And Mulder, so cute.

Jennifer: I KNOW.

Lauren: Scully’s cute, too, for that matter.

Jennifer: Yup.

9:28 PM So: I think we are definitely pro-tv. People might hate on us for this.

Lauren: Yeah, I can imagine some people I really admire being like OMGBADMOMMY.

9:30 PM Jennifer: Me too.

Lauren: I don’t know; I keep reading about Moms hating on each other on the internet and I’m just not sure how to avoid that.

I mean, there may be no way to avoid controversy.

9:31 PM Jennifer: Let’s get Ashley Judd to say something about it.

She’s freaking amazing.

Lauren: Totally! And hey, she’s on TV.

Jennifer: Perfect.

9:32 PM Lauren: From our facebook convo, we know that this is something a lot of parents are thinking about

9:33 PM Jennifer: But I think a lot of this comes back to your most recent post: I am not a perfect mom. But I am trying very hard to be the best mom I can be, in the way that is specific to my own pleasures and quirks.

Lauren: And people have divided opinions about what’s appropriate, etc.

I neither think watching TV will ruin my children, nor do I think NOT watching TV will automatically make them good people/better people.

9:34 PM Jennifer: Right.

9:35 PM Plus, the Muppet Babies is just too awesome to deny.

Lauren: I’m sure there are lots of kids who do not watch TV or watch limited TV, and still suck.

Muppet Babies is so. Good.

9:36 PM So when you post this, you’ll have to find lots of Muppet Babies pictures

Because MB worship is what this has boiled down to. 😉

Jennifer: I see nothing wrong with that.

9:37 PM Lauren: Well, it’s my bedtime, since I get up at the asscrack of dawn.

Jennifer: May you dream sweet, muppety dreams.

9:38 PM Lauren: That would be awesome.

Have fun revisiting M. Babies tomorrow!

Jennifer: Can’t wait! TTYL!

Lauren: TTYL!

What do you think about kids watching TV? What are your house rules? Anything we missed when it comes to feminist shows, especially for little ones?

If these issues interest you, definitely check out Peggy Orenstein’s awesome blog and books, as well as the essential resource Pigtail Pals.

Feist on Sesame Street was an early, televised ray of hope when Dorothy was a baby.

Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood does good advocacy work on these issues, though I don’t think Lauren and I are signing up for screen free week.

Geena Davis has run the numbers on girls and women being underrepresented in the media.

10 responses to “Muppet Babies and the Do No Harm Theory of Children’s Television Viewing

  1. Wow, I was clearly really tired last night, because it’s TYPOS GALORE in this chat!

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  4. Nice discussion!

    I actually like the redesigned “My Little Pony”. I think it looks much cuter than the old design. I don’t see them as skinny, though. In the show, whenever the Ponies are standing up, they have a visible belly that makes it look cute.

    Is it wrong that my favorite character in the show, out of dozen, is the lone boy character, Spike?

    • Maybe I’m too quick to judge; their slim bodies and cat eyes remind me a lot of Bratz and the weird changes that they made to the Carebear figures (I always liked how roly poly Carebears were).

  5. I’m not really a fan of the look of the new Strawberry Shortcake either. To my eye, all the remakes look less childlike, though I’m struggling to articulate why exactly that would be. Maybe the eyes?

  6. Pingback: My Little Ponies: Teaching My Kids How to be Good Little White American Girls (Ugh.) | mama nervosa

  7. Pingback: Then M. in his plane was just on his way | mama nervosa

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