Like most parents, I worry about whether my three year-old is watching too much TV, or whether she is watching too passively. Will it stunt her development? Shouldn’t she be outside playing?
Yakuza Baby (we gave her that nickname because she was born while we were watching a Japanese gangster movie) is addicted to the Powerpuff Girls (remember them?) – both the American version and the Japanese version. She is such a fan that she was horrified when her Grandma inadvertently called them the Powderpuff Girls. She likes to watch them so much that she tells me that when she’s not watching, she has to blink to get the Powerpuff Girls out of her eyes. Yesterday, she asked if she could go into the TV (“Like in Blue’s Clues!”) to fight with Mojo Jojo.
I am one of those parents who has no real rules on TV watching, except that in the evenings, we have to share the TV… so I can passively watch Usain Bolt break the 100 meters record, yet again!
Especially before we go to bed, our family chats a lot about what she’s watching on TV, and we create re-enactments and re-write the TV situations, in English (and sometimes in pretend-Japanese), before we have an argument about which Powerpuff Girl is allowed to go to sleep with us in our bed (yes, Daddy got her the plush toys off eBay), together with her Hello Kitties (that’s a whole other story).
She’s been picking up a few Japanese words from the Japanese Powerpuff Girls – like ‘clever’ and ‘power’ – so it can’t be all that bad…
A couple of nights ago, she asked, “How come the Amoeba Boys in the English Powerpuff Girls are all boys, but the Amoeba Boys in the Japanese Powerpuff Girls has a girl?” (The woman amoeba in the Japanese Powerpuff Girls is, in fact, the leader.) The educator in me perked up. Aha! A teachable moment!
So, I responded, “Yeah, that’s true… which one do you like better?”
Yakuza Baby: “I like the Japanese one, with the girl amoeba.”
Yakuza Baby: “Because I like to see girls better.”
Even at a very young age, kids are capable of critical thinking, and it often involves comparing situations and thinking about what seems fair or unfair, as well as being sensitive to unfamiliar situations and questioning that unfamiliarity, eg., “Why do you think it’s strange that the princess has short hair or black hair?” Popular culture (especially in comparing popular depictions across eastern and western pop culture) can often provide these teachable moments in terms that are not threatening and in terms that kids understand. For one of the best books on using popular culture for education, see Donna Alvermann’s “Popular Culture in the Classroom: Teaching and Researching Critical Media Literacy“.
So far, my favorite line from the Powerpuff Girls is one that will take some time for me to explain to Yakuza Baby – it’s Blossom explaining how to defeat the Rowdyruff Boys: “Every time their masculinity gets threatened, they shrink in size!”
-Yen Yen Woo is Associate Professor of Education, Long Island University, C.W.Post in New York and also creator of the bilingual comic book iPad app, Dim Sum Warriors