My toddler son has a new obsession: "Paw Patrol." In case you missed the memo, "Paw Patrol" is a wildly popular cartoon about a team of plucky talking dogs that uses technology and teamwork to help people. Doesn't sound too awful, right? Yet where "Sesame Street" seems designed to educate children and teach them to be good people, "Paw Patrol" seems to exist, like the vast majority of children’s entertainment, to sell commercials and merchandise.
Oh sure, "Sesame Street" is also a marketing bonanza—Elmo, anyone?—but because it's a non-profit, educational endeavor, it doesn't seem anywhere near as commercial. Nick Jr., where "Paw Patrol" airs, isn’t even included in our cable package so we need to pay additional money to watch a show with loud, abrasive commercials that is itself something of a glorified ad for the Paw Patrol merchandise my son has already started salivating over.
I feel like my son’s love of this show is pushing him in the direction of becoming a consumer, which makes me very uneasy. I know it's completely hypocritical considering that I don't mind when his eyes light up over Spiderman or Iron Man toys, but I suppose I want him to love the tacky, commercial crap I loved when I was his age and not the tacky, commercial crap of today.
As with so much of parenting, it comes down to finding a balance. To deprive him of "Paw Patrol" at this age would be unnecessarily cruel, but I also want him to know that there’s more to life than the pack of pups with a sadistically catchy theme song. I want him to know and experience the many pleasures of consumer society, but within reason and with appropriate limits.
I don’t want junk TV to be forbidden fruit for my son. That would only make it more appealing.
To me, "Paw Patrol" is junk food, and as a man who drinks seven Mountain Dews a day, I can’t condemn junk food, but I also know that he needs health food as well. When I was a kid, my stepmother was very strict in limiting our access to junk food and junk TV so when my parents divorced and my dad got custody all I did was binge on junk food and junk TV.
I don’t want junk TV to be forbidden fruit for my son. That would only make it more appealing. But I want my son to know that "Paw Patrol" is just part of an exciting entertainment and educational universe that includes things like reading bedtime stories and playing at the playground everyday and using his imagination and learning and growing at school.
Thankfully, he loves doing that as well, but considering that last night when he kissed me goodnight he said, “I love you Mommy! I love you Daddy! I love you Paw Patrol!” keeping it from becoming an unhealthy obsession may already be a bit of a challenge.