What are Oscar the Grouch, Squidward, and Binky Barnes doing in kids’ shows?
Most children’s shows contain a negative character who seems to dislike people. Besides assisting in plot development, these characters prepare kids for real-life; where good people can appear anti-social. It takes time and effort to understand the true intention of someone who acts like a misanthrope. That is why so many of us don’t bother to try.
Taking a deeper look at complex people may result in a valuable friendship. For my family, that person was a grumpy, old man who lived next door. Over time, we slowly melted his icy exterior to discover Ted’s true character and warmth.
We did this by respecting his privacy while looking for ways to be friendly. In the winter, we secretly shoveled his sidewalk before dawn. One year I “dropped” a few flower seeds in the empty dirt that had once been his garden. If we baked cookies, we would deliver a few to Ted. In the summer, a bunch of home-grown flowers from our garden would occasionally be placed at his door.
Over the years we discovered that Ted was actually kind. The first conversation he initiated was a compliment on my family’s work ethic. Ted built his own house in 1947. He shared interesting stories about our neighborhood’s history. He encouraged me to get our daughter a puppy when I was unsure by saying, “Maureen, kids and dogs just seem to go together.” Ted even surprised us by giving our daughter a necklace that had belonged to his wife.
We learned that Ted and his wife wanted (but were unable to have) children. They loved to garden. We also learned that Ted’s wife discovered that she had cancer on a trip to visit her sister. Ted was unable to get to her before she died. We ended up connecting more with Ted than our friendlier neighbors.
Well-rounded children learn to show compassion and grace to multi-dimensional people. These people can enrich life and teach us valuable lessons. The best way for kids to learn is through the guidance and example of watchful, involved parents. Otherwise, the teacher will default to a few grumpy (but lovable) characters on television.