Watching cartoons constitutes an essential part of our daily routine. Peppa Pig and Pimpa the dog teach my son Italian, Mickey Mouse and Trotro help him with his French and Simon’s Cat is my best ally when it comes to clipping fingernails, cleaning ears or cutting hair. Yes, I let my toddler watch cartoons and no, I don’t feel guilty about it. In fact, I enjoy them a lot, with one exception…
I don’t like cartoons that involve super powers. Whether in the archaic form of a magic wand, or in the modern “super-anything” interpretation, I think they teach children wrong values: that being normal isn’t cool enough, that it takes a superhero to solve a problem, that things can be made to happen by the snapping of one’s fingers… Wrong, wrong, wrong! Being normal is… well, normal. Solving problems takes a lot of thinking and hard work, not the ability to walk through the walls or talk bird language. And the only result you obtain by snapping your fingers is a “snap!” sound (and a couple of scornful looks from the waiters if you happen to practice this skill at a restaurant).
The Universe is full of magic. Soap bubbles. Rainbows. Higg’s boson… Anything we don’t quite understand is a miracle, and even more so once we’ve figured out how it works. So why not teach our kids this kind of magic? The one that involves thinking and participating rather than sitting and waiting for a miracle solution. Because kids will become adults and in the adult world you can’t rely on Superman to do the dirty job for you.
Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy a good fantasy or science fiction as much as you do. What I dislike is the early emphasis on all things magical. I believe that kids should first learn about things that exist, rather than those that don’t. Remember that young children take everything they see for granted and introducing the magical too early can only result in a big confusion. If every little girl you know wants to be a princess, and every little boy – a superhero, there must be a flaw somewhere in the way our children understand the world and it’s entirely our fault.
What do I suggest? As long as you control what information your children are exposed to, choose books and cartoons that will teach them true values and relationships. The immensely popular Peppa Pig is a good example of how everyday situations can be made amusing, with good manners and mild humour thrown into the mix. (Yes, I’m aware that it includes anthropomorphic animals!) Stella and Sam (my favourite) is another great cartoon featuring, for once, human protagonists. So as Charlie and Lola, Le Petit Nicholas and Joe and Jack, to name a couple more (although in the last one Jack is a talking cat). By the way, did you notice how few cartoons have humans as protagonists? There are plenty of animals, magical creatures and even mechanisms that feel and act like humans – but where are all the people gone? (But I am digressing: this topic deserves a full-blown research of its own.) What makes all of the above mentioned films different is the absence of the paranormal. No fairies, no superheroes, just “real” protagonists facing real situations and finding solutions the “hard” way, on their own or with a little help from their friends. Isn’t this exactly what we want our kids to do?
And what about magic? Should it be banned from our children’s lives forever? Of course, not: fairy tales being part of our common heritage, one cannot (and needn’t) avoid them. But one can teach the kids to analyse, introducing them to the magical in a safe, guided way. There is no reason to deprive them of the most beautiful part of the world’s literature, once they are ready to understand it. After all, who doesn’t love a happy ending?