Thursday, September 9, 2010

My Love/Hate Relationship with the Berenstein Bears

Are you familiar with the Berenstein Bears? The books were popular during my childhood years and my mother-in-law saved all of her boys' Berenstein Bears books. For those in the dark, it is a storyline created by Jan and Stan Berenstein about a family of bears who live in a tree house in Bear Country. Papa Bear, Mama Bear, Brother Bear and Sister Bear (and I think there was a baby born into the family in later years).

Now, from what I remember of the books when I was younger, the stories all had a good message about life, family, etc. Brother and Sister learn to share, going to the dentist isn't scary, going to school is fun, and so on.

Recently my kids have discovered my mother-in-law's stash of books and subsequently we've discovered there is a cartoon series too. Here is where the love/hate part enters. I do love the lessons they insert into most of their episodes, just like in the books. My kids love watching the Berenstein Bears so this is added-value in my opinion, as I've found that children do pick up on the subtleties presented in what they watch. However, the message that the Berenstein Bears videos presents is somewhat erratic and varied.

In my experience of these videos, Papa Bear is the wise head-of-the-family figure one moment and in the next episode, he's a complete idiot. In one episode he's teaching the cubs an important lesson on taking care of responsibility first so that you can enjoy the rewards afterward. The next episode he's obsessed with growing the biggest pumpkin in the country (and acting embarrassingly stupid about it) and when the cubs teach him a lesson in humility, he doesn't even get it.

Now, I know that we as parents are not infallible and in reality we sometimes act like good parents one moment and the like complete idiots the next but I really don't need a cartoon to drive this fact home to my own children, thank you very much. It makes teaching my kids to respect their father that much harder (for we all have an in-born tendency to push against authority, do we not?) when the show they love to watch sets the father up for ridicule and contempt. What is worse, is that he isn't contemptible all the time, so you can't write him off as an undesirable character or a joke. Since the series does present him in a serious light as a wise figure in some episodes, it frustrates me because inevitably the children watching are going to be confused in how to view him. Is he a role model or a dunce? Should they take what he says seriously or ignore it as silliness? I give young children enough credit for them to tell the difference between these two, for my kids know that VeggieTales  stories are based on real stories from the Bible but that Spongebob Squarepants is just plain silliness. However, if the ridiculous (and indeed, duncelike) behavior and the upstanding and admirable behavior are presented by one and the same character, how are they to tell what to take to heart and what to slough off as so much nonsense?

So I've found myself trying to wean my kids off the series, because seeing Papa Bear go from wise and instructional to a bumbling idiot is just too painful for me to watch and I find myself cringing inside. I wonder if Jan and Stan Berenstein are cringing inside too.

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