I know that what television programs my children watch is not the only influence on how they behave, and that, as a parent, my behavior is a much more significant influence. And that even allowing my children to watch television programs is a decision with consequences. I accept that responsibility. When I heard my daughter make a snarky comment to another child of mine, (something like, “Wow. Do you even know how ridiculous you look in that outfit?”) and then acted proud of herself for her creative, biting remark, it made my stomach turn. I first thought about ways that I had (intentionally or not) modeled such communication, and vowed to watch my tongue. When I watched a few episodes of a favorite teen-aimed show, I concluded (as the author of the article did, and as I think any reasonable person would) that these shows were rife with this culture of self-congratulating put-downs. It literally made me sick.
When we created Olive Us
we were mindful of the current teen-aimed options. And we knew we didn’t want to just add to the noise. We wanted to be on the constructive end, the solution end; if only to provide a model of a better culture for our own kids. But it wasn’t until we had created and produced several episodes that we became aware of how totally unnecessary the default culture of snarkiness, etc. was for programs aimed at kids and teens, and how infinite the possibilities were on the other side.
With Olive Us, we created a portrait of kids (siblings) who interacted in constructive, supportive, non-snarky, non-sarcastic, loving, realistic, non-sappy, tenable ways. We wanted a portrait of children tackling big projects, meaningfully working together, exploring new places and practices, and trying new things. And I think we succeeded. Though our episodes vary widely (from gardening
, to stacking wood
, to rock climbing
to having a picnic
to going on a pilgrimage
) we are very conscientious about the culture we are promoting. And it has become a running joke how easily we could make these into typical teen shows by simply inserting lots of contention, competition, and snarkiness.
It seems really odd that such a positive portrait would be hard to find in tv media targeting teens and younger children. There is no reason that the default position has to be snarky, sarcastic, and scheming to one-up others. But based on the shows on Disney and Nickelodeon, I think it’s hard to make the case that that is not the default. It’s not that the shows don’t show supportive or constructive relationships, but the supportive, constructive, non-snarky, loving scenes are typically a token appendage at the end of an episode. They certainly aren’t the driving force. I’m a big fan of many shows aimed at younger children on Nick Jr. and Playhouse Disney, and there are a thousand ways to build along that culture (with shows celebrating activities like cooperating, exploring nature, working, learning about art, music, and other cultures, etc.), but aim at teens, but currently it’s as if there is no continuity between those earlier-childhood programs and the teen-aimed programs. We go from a supportive, constructive, loving culture to snarky and sarcastic. I know Disney and Nickelodeon have the resources to make more of the kind of programming I could get behind, and they are uniquely positioned to do so in a big way. And I hope they do, and anticipate that they will.
In the meantime, we love making Olive Us. We love watching it, and feel that with our little show, we have carved out and modeled an alternative portrait. We wish there were 1000 other shows like Olive Us. We would watch them and promote them. That’s the thing also: Olive Us is just as entertaining as the Disney and Nick shows. (I’m sure we’re biased, but we have an enthusiastic and growing audience.) So, if the argument is that only snarky, sarcastic shows are entertaining, we’ve proven that wrong. Or that people will only watch snarky, sarcastic shows, that has been proven wrong. Well, Kid President
proved that wrong a while ago.
If you’re looking for an alternative to the Disney and Nick teen show line-up, that is just as entertaining, and promotes the types of qualities we should value, like hard work, cooperation, constructive, and supportive communication, etc. I know just the show for you. It’s Olive Us