Choosing the ways of Sesame Street over Sodor Island.

Most parents of young children who’ve turned on PBS or have Netflix have had their kids watch the show Thomas and Friends. Thomas and his friends are steam trains that are selfish, prideful, and immature. They just want to have fun, yet are constantly concerned about pleasing their master, Sir Topham Hatt. Most of Sir Topham Hatt’s interactions with his trains are of disappointment. After some sort of escapade from one of his engines, he often shows up “very cross” and upset that they have “caused confusion and delay.”

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The ultimate goal and the greatest compliment from Sir Topham Hatt a train can receive is to be considered a “really useful engine.” The trains only find their value in being “really useful.” It’s all about productivity. It’s all about what they are doing, and not how they are doing it. And these trains never really seem to learn their lesson, either. However, if they get stuff done efficiently, that’s what matters. That’s when they get commended and praised. How they do it isn’t really as important. Their value is simply defined by whether they get stuff done, not by how they got it done.

Thomas is never commended for his friendliness, his loyalty, his selflessness, or his determination. It’s all about results for Sir Topham Hatt. On Sodor Island, the ends almost always justify the means.

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On top of this, Thomas and the other “steamies” are rarely encouraged for being nice to the diesel engines. (The “other” on this show.) Because everyone knows that diesels and steam trains don’t and shouldn’t really get along with each other. They are segregated for a reason. Steamies are good, and diesels are devious. Diesels are rarely productive and useful. In fact, if a diesel engine is found to be really useful and praised by Sir Topham Hatt, it’s usually to the shame of the steamies.

Yet, my youngest son LOVES this show. He’s all about trains. It’s hard to know how he interprets it as a two year old, though. Some may think I’m overthinking this, but these are the sorts of messages that sneak into our mindset as both kids and parents. And I think it’s worth the time to think through the messages that we are are exposing our children to.


Then there is Sesame Street’s Super Grover 2.0

His introduction on the show goes like this:

“He observes.
He questions.
He investigates.
Super Grover 2.0.
He. Shows. Up.”

Super Grover is not a useful engine. The people he tries to help always end up being the ones solving the problem themselves, despite his help. The greatest thing he does, is simply show up.

Despite the predicaments Grover creates, his methods are the things I want to highlight with my children. To observe. To question. To investigate. Ultimately, just show up.

I am a recovering know-it-all who instead of observing, likes to show.
Instead if questioning, likes to give answers.
Instead of investigating, likes to assume that I know better.

Super Grover is not that way. At all.

Super Grover’s way creates messes and it gives room for mistakes. Questions are encouraged and he fails constantly.

Super Grover’s worth isn’t found in being “really useful.” If it was, he’d be doomed. But the problems do eventually get solved, and his worth was never in question.

Super Grover may not be all that useful, but he’s the one that’s the superhero.

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And I want the focus for the success and value of my children not to be focused on what they do, but how they do it. Not on how useful they were, but on their approach to the tasks and challenges of life. I want them to observe, question, and investigate. I want them to show up.

I don’t want them to be afraid of disappointing me because they didn’t achieve something. I want them to know that their value is found in their being, not their doing. We are human beings not human doings. How we do things is what builds character and integrity.

It’s a lesson I’m still learning myself. But in the end, I want my kids to be more like Super Grover, in all his stumbling and bumbling, rather than being like Sir Topham Hatt’s engines, constantly focused on being really useful.

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