Monday, September 22, 2008

Pause the Book

I was reading to Bella before she went to sleep and she wanted to get a different blanket. She then said to me "pause the book" I started laughing and said, “Sure. I’ll pause the book.”

As she went to get her other blanket from the other room I thought about how technologically advanced our lives had become. Since she is used to DVDs and DVRs, and knows you can pause live television and movies. “Pause the show. Pause the movie.” She used the same term for our “low tech” devices like books.

All the words my three year old is saying are things that didn’t exist when we were children. I know that’s making me sound like I’m a hundred years old. Like the old grandpa joke “We used to walk to school uphill in the snow, both ways….” Of course we live in LA so Bella asked “What’s snow?”

“Cell Phone”, “E-mail”, “Wii Fit”, and “Variable Rate Mortgage” are all words that are new to our language, and our kids pick them up like they were always here.

The good news is that to a child, there is no difference in a video game or an old wooden puzzle. If they are engaged and enjoying it, they don’t care if there is a screen or not. But here’s where the parent comes in. Where do you put the emphasis? We try (most of the time) to put the emphasis on books and playing outside old skool and turn the tech off. And when you do that, something very interesting happens. Your children will be more interested in what is seems to be you’re interested in. Imagine that. If you praise the magic of books and make them magical presents and rewards, your kids will love books. If you do that with ice cream, well then in 20 years they are going to be calling Jenny Craig and blaming you.

So turn off the tech, and explain why books and going outside and riding a bike are still better than watching The Wiggles. Actually, anything is better than watching the Wiggles. Man, do they suck. So in other words, “unpause the book.”

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Willy Wonka and Parenting

My daughter has discovered Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Her favorite part is the “blue girl.” “Violet, you’re turning violet, Violet!”

It's always been one of my favorite movies. But watching it now with children adds to the experience. The movie takes on meaning on a whole other level.

I just watched the featurette and it was fascinating. The film was funded by Quaker Oats to promote a candy bar, the Wonka Bar, that had, get this, a design flaw. It melted before it got to store shelves and had to be pulled. So a movie came out to promote a chocolate bar, but there was no chocolate bar. Holy product tie-in fiasco, Batman!

The movie was a bomb when it came out. Parents didn’t like it and found it to be cruel and mean. All those horrible things happening to those kids! They were disappearing, shrinking, being made into giant blueberries! But kids, however, loved it. Here’s the crux of it and this is something the director Mel Stuart and author Roald Dahl knew all along. Kids didn’t find the movie cruel at all. Kids really want boundaries and limits. They don’t really want to do whatever they want. They want to be shown boundaries and they are very much aware of bad behavior and good behavior, regardless of whether they are watching it or engaging in it.

Not only do children want boundaries, they admire the person who gives them to them. That’s why kids never found Willy Wonka scary, while parents did. He’s a big kid himself, but he is also a surrogate parent who tells children where the boundaries are, and what the consequences are for crossing them. And he does it all with candy and a creepy orange skinned rather short workforce. Gene Wilder was simply astonishing in this role, if you go back and really watch him. A sugar coated anarchist with a child’s soul.

Although I will say no one talks about the nightmarish boat scene on the featurette which still is the most disturbing sequence on film in any children’s movie. How Rob Zombie was able to travel back through time and direct that sequence I’ll never know. But I will say I do fast forward through that part and won’t let Bella watch it. I remember it giving me nightmares as a kid. Worms crawling on the face, a chicken getting its head cut off, etc. Someone should have checked the editor’s backpack for his own “candy” before he went into the bay every night.

The book came out in 1964, the movie 1971. And it taught all about the perils of gluttony, being spoiled rotten, too much television and the virtues of reading books and being honest. A timeless tale with timeless lessons. You owe it to your child to put both the book and movie in his or her library. I wonder if Quaker Oats still gets royalties from the movie. “I said Good Day!”

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