The Worst Lessons Ever Taught by Preschool Television

There are a lot of great lessons that kids learn on the television shows on Nick Junior, Disney Junior, and PBS Kids. Kids learn manners, how to share with friends, how to recognize and understand feelings, and a host of other helpful things by watching their favorite characters. But there are also some really horrible lessons some of these shows are trying to teach them. Here are some of the worst.

You Don’t Need to Respect Your Friends’ Boundaries

Tolee from Ni Hao, Kai-lanNi-hao, Kai-lan tries to teach kids about feelings and social skills. In one particular episode, all of the kids want to play with Pandy. Pandy is the stuffed panda that belongs to Tolee, the koala. For those who watch the show, Pandy is Tolee’s absolute favorite toy. He carries it with him everywhere as if it was a real person. It’s like Linus’s blanket. So all of Tolee’s friends want to play with Pandy, and Tolee doesn’t want to share. What lesson do we learn?

If your friends pressure you enough, you should give in. It’s not acceptable to say no to your friends.

Tolee is told that he should share Pandy with his friends because sharing is good. Nevermind how Tolee feels about it. It’s not like this is some random toy. This is Pandy. I can’t wait until these kids grow up and try saying no when Rintoo finds a joint and starts passing it around. “It’s good to share! Don’t say no! Your friends want you to do it!” Nevermind that teaching kids they can’t say no is another way of making them vulnerable to sexual predators. What a terrible message to send children.

Negative Emotions Make Other People Feel Uncomfortable, So Force a Smile

Widget gets the blooey bluesWow Wow Wubbzy is normally pretty harmless fun for the kids. They get into and out of trouble together. In one episode, one of Widget’s crazy Rube Goldberg contraptions doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to, and she gets depressed…although the show calls it the “blooey-blues.” The actual storyline isn’t too bad… Wubbzy and Walden spend the episode trying to figure out how to cheer Widget up. They realize the machine wasn’t turned on, which is why it didn’t work, but it goes haywire, and Walden has to get Widget out of bed to save Wubbzy from the out of control machine. She realizes she can be helpful after all, and she gets over her blooey-blues. But the musical number that comes afterward? “When you’ve got the blues and you’re feeling kind of bad / If you’re down in the dumps and super-duper sad / Be Happy! Be Happy! Be Happy-Happy-Happy-Happy!” It goes on from there, but you get the general idea. The lesson we learn?

It’s not okay to feel sad. Suck it up and choose to be happy. That’s all there is to it.

As someone who struggles with depression and anxiety, this angers me. Something I’ve learned in therapy is that part of my problem is that I have such a problem expressing my negative emotions. I love my parents, and they did a pretty good job raising me. I wasn’t abused, and I never knew that we were struggling financially. But we know a lot more about child psychology and development now than our parents did. When I was a kid, I was very sensitive, and I cried a lot. My mom was constantly telling me to stop crying or I’d get ruts in my face from the tears. And then I’d be horrified at the thought of having ruts in my face, so I’d try to dry up the waterworks and pretend to be happy. I also got the empty threat, “Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about.” I was only ever spanked two or three times throughout my entire childhood, but I took the threat seriously, and I had the idea that crying was bad ingrained in me. It’s not really my parents’ fault…they didn’t know any better. But when I get depressed, I have a hard time accepting it, because I feel guilty that I’m not in a good mood. And that makes the depression worse. I’ve vowed to teach TJ that it’s okay to feel sad (or mad or whatever) – it’s just learning healthy ways to express those negative feelings. I’m not going to let a show like Wow Wow Wubbzy undo that, but it’s probably something most parents don’t even think about.

If You Have Something to Say, Say it Loudly. And Repeatedly.

Go Diego GoAs parents, we’re already fighting an uphill battle when we try to teach our kids how to behave properly in public. The use of “indoor voices” can be a struggle. So why do so many kids shows tell our kids to shout…and shout the same thing over and over again? There are so many offenders, but the worst two are certainly Dora the Explorer and Go, Diego, Go. The song they always sing at the end of Diego tells kids, “Say it louder!” “Everybody scream!” What lesson does this teach us?

Your voice isn’t important, so you have to shout to make yourself heard. And then, just keep shouting.

Aside from being horrible as far as basic social skills – and giving adults a headache – teaching kids that they have to scream is like telling them what they have to say isn’t as important as how loudly they say it. Sadly, that’s often how things work in today’s world… the people who make the most fuss get the most attention. But I’d like to think we can raise our kids to be better than that, to think about what you’re saying before you say it, and to actually listen when someone is talking to you. And before you should something out just because someone else told you to, maybe you should think about what’s being said. Does it need to be heard? Is it right? Would people be more willing to listen if you talked quietly to them instead of screaming in their face?

I know that TV shouldn’t be parenting our kids, but TV does parent some kids. It is up to parents to teach their kids important life lessons, but repetition from their favorite television shows could instill some of the wrong messages.

Are there any other lessons you’ve seen on young children’s programming that you’d like your kids to unlearn?

Christina Gleason (975 Posts)

That’s me: Christina Gleason. I’m a professional copywriter, editor, and blogger. My company is called Phenomenal Content. (Hire me!) I'm a multiply disabled autistic woman doing my best in this world built for abled people. I’m a geek for grammar, fantasy, and select types of gaming, including Twitch Sings and Plants vs Zombies 2. I hate vegetables. I have an intense phone phobia, so I’ll happily conduct business over email or IM instead.


  1. I generally like Diego and Wonder Pets because my kids get to learn about wildlife. However, as a proponent of wildlife, it bugs me that these characters feel they have to save the animals. Many times in real life, the animal’s parents do just fine protecting and saving their young and when people interfere and try to help, it can actually do more harm to the animal. Not always, but many times. In one episode, Diego saves a penguin chick floating by himself on an iceberg — something the parents could probably handle themselves just fine (and unlikely to happen in the first place that a chick would wander off). Then at the end of the shows about baby animals, the parents usually say, “Oh thank you, Diego, for saving my baby!”

    One episode of the Little Einsteins had a joey kangaroo jumping all the way to the planet Jupiter. Right. And on the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, the gang floated up into space and I think one of them landed on a cloud. And people wonder why kids don’t do well in science. I like these shows, but I don’t agree with showing kids far-fetched situations as reality.
    Holly recently posted..I say blah blah blahMy Profile

    • Yes! Not to mention that it’s a bit dangerous to allow kids to think that wild animals are there to befriend. A real baby jaguar is not a pet. “Saving” a baby carnivore is more likely to get you maimed or killed than anything.

  2. marieljackson says

    Yes I agree, negative emotions can make the people around you less comfortable. So I make it to the point not to bring outside my room the bad mood I feel at times to avoid my companions getting affected with it.
    marieljackson recently posted..Bodybuilding Nutritional Supplement ExplainedMy Profile

    • But with kids, it’s important to teach them healthy ways to express their emotions – including socially acceptable ways of doing so in public – without teaching them to repress their feelings. That only leads to an unhealthy mind and body.

  3. Las Vegas Sushi Guy says

    Very interesting blog. Kids’ TV can really affect young children.

  4. Not entirely on topic, but close: I was in kindergarten, 1965-66. I told on a classmate who was misbehaving and was told not to be a “tattle-tale.” I took that to mean “Don’t ever tell on anyone, ever, for any reason.” The problem was, I had become friends with a pushy classmate who wouldn’t let me make friends or even talk to anyone else. The teacher didn’t notice it for some time. When she finally did, she asked me why I didn’t say anything. I replied, “You told me not to be a tattle-tale.” Fortunately, nothing worse was happening to me that I might have kept secret because of her admonition.

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