While no one generally is more influential in a child’s moral development and attitude than their parents, others can have significant influence on a child’s behavior or beliefs. Even for adults, celebrity is an intriguing topic and guilty pleasure for many. For children, idol worship is reinforced not only through television, but also through toys, McDonald’s happy meals, books, and music. The experience is heightened, also, because the younger the child, the stronger the instinct to imitate, as opposed to just observe, any role models.
A recent article on this site discussed the perhaps negative influences of Disney’s more recent programming, with parents appalled at the selfish, diva-like, and occasionally downright cruel behavior displayed by the leading characters of popular shows. Of course, Disney is not the only culprit going for the easy laughs, and still other parents are quick to point out that it is the parents’ responsibility, not the program’s, to ensure children are exposed to entertainment sources beneficial to moral development.
After all, a healthy role model can do wonders for a child’s interest in activities and daily behaviors, and if taken advantage of, could even spur unwilling children into actions they may not have previously taken. A favorite movie character could influence a child to read stories centered on that star, or a beloved show can become an easy reward for good behavior, completing homework, and other admirable traits. Effective fictional role models can also encourage kids to act against bullying, work together, consider other’s feelings, and so much more.
So how does a parent decide which programs and films are the most beneficial, and contain the least negative aspects? The same way as our own parents and grandparents did, which means communication with other parents, investigation into the shows, and careful monitoring of the channels and movies available to young kids when the adults aren’t around.
Disney’s most recent transgressions aside, there are plenty of materials that moms and dads have long given their stamp of approval, many of which are films or shows based on popular books. The added text version gives kids an enticing work to read, while the film or show can be left for a rainy day. Here are just a few iconic characters whose influence is nothing to shy away from:
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: Besides being a whimsical bit of fun, both film versions follow the book’s major moral lesson: that there is no reward for children who are spoiled and cruel. Charlie, though not flawless, is the most selfless of the group and the least self-indulgent. There are many discussions and lessons to be learned from Dahl’s darker-than-usual tale. Unlike others (but similar to Pacha’s Pajamas), Dahl believed that many children could handle, and fully comprehend difficult real-world issues, such as poverty, cruel children, and even adults that may not always be right. The newer film version directed by Tim Burton is easy to find on-demand (see website), and so is Mel Stewart’s classic version from the seventies.
Charlotte’s Web: A classic story which has managed to be adapted across multiple mediums. While the original tale began as a children’s book, it has since become a much loved film, and even musical. E.B. White’s novel is, at it’s core, a story of friendship and loyalty. Both Fern and Charlotte are incredibly loyal to Wilbur, and work hard to save him from slaughter. Even when Charlotte is weak and nearing the end of her life, she still dedicates time and energy to saving Wilbur.
Where the Wild Things Are: Both the children’s book and film have been commended for the accurate portrayal of a young boy’s anger, acceptance, and reconciliation with his family. More than being a children’s movie, this is also a movie about childhood. Unlike many other children’s tales, Maurice Sendak’s classic story does not shy away from the concept of tantrums and fleeting anger, making it an excellent preface to a discussion about how people everyday must cope with frustrations.
The Wizard of Oz: Dorothy’s classic journey is great for many reasons, and even after its recent 75th birthday it still stands as possibly the greatest family film of all time. The Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion each have an admirable wish: to have a brain, a heart, and courage – and isn’t that all we really need? Which makes it all the more moving when, surprise, they were found to have these traits inside all along!
Pacha’s Pajamas will also soon follow the path of these multi-media hits with its own animated book! And with the help of Pacha’s supporters, especially those through Kickstarter, there’s no telling where Pacha could possibly go next.
These are the empowering characters parents should search for when looking to feed children’s desire for role models. Disney or not, if the core message is right, a fictional character can become more than momentary entertainment or distraction in children’s lives!