Wed
Nov 10 2010 4:54pm

Spec-Fic Parenting: Dora or Avatar?

Spec Fic Parenting: Dora vs. Avatar

One of the great worries of being a parent is not only deciding how much television you will let your children watch, but what they can watch when. Of course, being as I am dead set on having my children be children of the 80s two decades displaced, I have an extra large volume of material to consider. But, that aside, there is even just the consideration of this generation’s material. Little Einsteins, Dora the Explorer, Spongebob Squarepants, and Avatar: The Last Airbender are all major contenders. So, what to pick?

Well, the first three are all just fine. From being educational and attention grabbing it their own way (Einsteins, Dora), to having plenty of humor at both the child’s level and the adults (Spongebob), but there is just something missing in all of these, and that, in my opinion, is their treatment of spec-fic material.

See, for all the Nick Jr., Nickelodeon, and Disney I have watched, very few of them really treat spec-fic with anything outside of childish fancy. Does that make sense? Yeah, I’m accusing a kid’s show of being childish. As a counterpoint, I hold up Avatar and Phineas and Ferb.

The first is an honest to goodness fantasy that, while written for a younger audience, obviously has the good, strong themes that can even resonate with an adult, as can be seen by the Tor.com Avatar: The Last Airbender Re-watch. Phineas and Ferb is far more slap-stick, yet there is just something about Dr. Doofenshmirtz as the hapless evil inventor that I just can’t place on transcending childishness and striking true genius. And a secret agent platypus. I mean, come on! It’s awesome.

But the true test was letting my three- and four-year-old boys watch the shows. Now, don’t get me wrong, they love Dora, et al, but if I hold up a Nick Jr. DVD or an Avatar DVD, they pick Avatar every time. They know the characters by heart, they express worry when someone is hurt, and they re-enact the bending fights on a regular basis. My four-year-old even hums the Avatar music when he is playing.

And the final way I know the more “adult” show is the better? My children already are coming to understand death, war, love, and respect. It seems so many children’s shows want to shy away from these poignant, real, world-wide themes, as if a child cannot understand them. And when they do, it is with a heavy-handed lecturing tone.

Yet, a show that is technically marketed for pre-teens has quickly become two preschoolers’ favorite thing to watch, and they understand it. Perhaps children are a little more sly than we give them credit for, eh? And perhaps this is why I still want to tend to the late 80s and early 90s for things to let my kids watch, like the Saturday Morning Sonic the Hedgehog and X-Men: The Animated Series. Shows like that had no issues showing their themes without having to directly sing about sharing and caring. And it is because there are still people out there willing to make shows like this that I can say, without reservation, that both my children and I eagerly await Avatar: Legend of Korra. And in the meantime.


Richard Fife is a writer, blogger, and according to his older son, a Water Bender. You can read more of his ramblings and some of his short fiction on his website, and you can also follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

16 comments
Ezzie
1. Ezzie
I could have written your whole post word for word, except I have a 2 year old and 5 year old boy. They choose Avatar every time over Nick Jr. Both of them.
Ezzie
2. Elmindreda
I, too, allowed my young children to watch Avatar: The Last Air Bender. Our whole family loved it! The animation was good, the story telling was great, and the "morality" made my kids think and ask questions - which of course enabled them to actually retain the morals of the story.

Phineas and Ferb are awesome because their group of friends is diverse, their family is blended yet loving, there is teen-angst and childhood fantasy. A. maz. ing.

For older children "Tower Prep" is pretty cool. Good action scenes, superpowers, and fighting against an unseen power. Of course, as with Avatar: the Last Airbender and Phineas and Ferb, the central focus is on a close knit diverse group of friends.
Ezzie
3. Fenric25
My 4-year old son unfortunately has autism and doesn't seem to really understand much around him (he can barely talk as well.) However, he is the same as all the kids mentioned above-he will gleefully watch Avatar and shows like it and tends to find the shows that Nick Jr. and their ilk have out to be unworthy of viewing. (Which is a relief as his mother and I rather enjoy Avatar ourselves.) The only downside to this is that if we're watching any of our favorite anime-Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Baccano, Death Note, etc, all of which are rather violent-he tends to get rather excited due to the similarities in drawing style between Avatar and anime. Naturally, anime's only on after he's asleep now...here's hoping my son'll be able to truly grasp how good these kinds of shows are one day and appreciate them on more than one level.
René Walling
4. cybernetic_nomad
Kids are open to a lot more than most people think. One of my daughter's favourite films when she was 3 was an abstract National Film Board short titled A Square Dance (coloured squares and triangles moving around to music).

She is now on her third Avatar rewatch (she turned 10 last summer), watches anime both subbed (Card Captor Sakura), and dubbed (the inevitable Sailor Moon). More recently, she totally impressed me with her choices when voting for the public's prize at the Ottawa International Animation Festival, which be both attended.

Rather than focus on her watching what I like, I try to instill in her some critical thinking so she can make her own choices (I do make recommendations). I started with simple statements like "Some movies/books/TV shows are better than others" and built from there.
Nadine Pedersen
5. Alyssum
My family (including the 7-year old son) only recently watched Avatar. Starting at 3 we were watching Batman, Justice League, Justice League Unlimited, Teen Titans and Batman Beyond.
John Fitzingo
6. Xandar01
Dora and Diego are fun distractions for them. Avatar is good family watching material. I suggest getting Samuri Jack. It is chock full of pop culture references, has a good helping others theme, and it's just pretty good to watch. Evil and good are clearly defined, but when they are small that is ok.
Daniel Abraham
7. DanielAbraham
We've only done one watch through on Avatar, but the Darling Child (4.5 years old) was pretending to be a waterbender for weeks. I'm expecting we'll watch it again a couple times through, and I expect it's going to be a different story for her every time. (Which makes it a different one for me too.)

ch
Cait Glasson
8. CaitieCat
A recent visit by friends from the UK found the young man (10) to be so interested in the Avatar shows I had around that he was disappointed when we told him we'd be going to see Niagara Falls that day. :)

Well, until we got to the Falls, of course. It has a way of asserting itself.
Joseph Blaidd
9. SteelBlaidd
I remember falling in love with Anime at eh tender age of 5 when I descovred "Robotech." My favorite thing? unlike with G.I. Joe, and He-Man, and Transformers people died when the got shot.
Beth Mitcham
10. bethmitcham
I learned about Avatar from my kids, back when they were so young that I had problems understanding the word "Avatar" as the two-year old said it. Now we are all fans.
John Massey
11. subwoofer
Hang on now- you forgot about Sponge Bob. That series is full of goodness and has many lessons on the values of friendship over greed, honest hard work, and being a good person... er... not that I watch that show or anything.

Woof™.
S Cooper
12. SPC
My husband and I are big fans of Avatar and can't wait to share it with our kids, but right now it upsets my 3-year-old. The PBS shows are still about his speed (Dinosaur Train, particularly - it has time travel, so does it count?) Phineas and Ferb, on the other hand, is a BIG hit. Genius was the right word for Phineas and Ferb - I was introduced to it by my parents (and I'm 30!). We all love it for different reasons.
Jason Henninger
13. jasonhenninger
my daughter spent a little time watching Dora and such when she was younger (she's six) but couldn't care less about them now. She loves Avatar. She was Katara for halloween. She's getting into Star Trek and Sarah Jane Adventures now.
Jason Deshaies
14. darxbane
Avatar, while indirectly teaching social values, is still more for entertainment than education, in my opinion. I have no issue with kids using their imagination or learning about morality, but I also want my kids (who are also 4 and 3) to enjoy learning to count, read, spell, and most importantly, think. Believe me, I would love to never have to watch Dora, Go diego Go, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, or the Wonderpets ever, ever, ever, EVER again. But the annoyance is worth it if it provides even the slightest boost to their education.
Ty Margheim
15. alSeen
My 5 1/2 year old daughter loves the 90s X-Men show. She's been watching it for probably 2 years now. It is her favorite world to pretend in and is constantly making my wife pretend to be Wolverine, Storm, or others while she pretends to be Rogue or Jubilee.

This was filmed when she was 4.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mb13_8LJL-E
Ezzie
16. Dora birthday invitations
The kids love to watch avatar, but they do like Dora the Explorer as well. I think if they would have to choose which is their favorite, I think they'll choose Dora against avatar.

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