Yo Gabba Who? My toddler lives under a rock

My toddler was climbing on the playground the other day when another boy started pointing at him. “Plex! Plex!” the boy cried excitedly. His mom turned to me and said, “Oh, your son’s wearing ‘Plex’! That’s my son’s favorite character on Yo Gabba Gabba.” At that point I remembered that LO was wearing a Yo Gabba Gabba t-shirt that he got as a gift, and that the character on it must be named Plex. “Oh, right! Uh… Plex!” I responded, trying to act cool like I was in the know.

My toddler has no idea who Plex is or that there’s a show called Yo Gabba Gabba. He doesn’t even know there are TV shows or cartoons. He also doesn’t know about Mickey Mouse, Sponge Bob, or Ronald McDonald. He has a Scout toy that he calls “Dog,” and he refers to Big Bird simply as “Bird.”

In today’s world of Nickelodeon and Disney, my toddler might as well be from Mars.

This probably seems a bit extreme, considering how most kids his age would know most of those characters and more. Even among adults, almost all of us has a favorite Disney movie or two (um, I not only watched The Little Mermaid every day for a whole summer, I memorized the entire movie which my sister and I then stayed up late one night to recite to each other in the dark). It seems like everyone but my toddler has a favorite character. One time at the park, I was talking to a dad who asked me what LO was into these days. “Oh, he’s really into puzzles right now,” I responded. “How about yours?” He said, “He’s really into Sid the Science Kid.”

My husband and I never sat down and said, “We will avoid mainstream characters as much as possible,” but somehow this is what we’ve been doing for the past two years. We tend to buy the toddler T-shirt that features generic graphics like an elephant instead of one with Batman. Or we’ll deck out our toddler’s bedding with monkeys instead of Winnie-the-Pooh. And for his past two birthday parties, we stuck to general themes (monkeys for his first, bright colors for his second) as opposed to Diego.

Because he doesn’t know the “story lines” behind these characters, he can make up his own. He has a generic toy bunny, so he’s able to make up his own characteristics: is it a boy bunny or girl bunny? Where does the bunny live? What does the bunny do all day? What’s its name? Even if he has a Bugs Bunny toy but didn’t know who Bugs Bunny was, he’s more likely to create his own characteristics about the toy. But the more familiar he is with Looney Tunes, the less likely he is to invent his own storyline and instead accept that the toy bunny is male, loves carrots, and can be quite the trickster!

I still wonder how this will affect my toddler as he starts making friends at school. Will kids make fun of him for not being in the know? I’d like to think that they won’t. From what I’ve read about kids, having many good friends doesn’t have much to do with how familiar they are with pop culture, but instead on how well they can empathize with their peers. So it’s a bigger priority to me that LO knows how to place himself in another person’s shoes and be kind than to own the latest toy and eat at McDonald’s. I also hope that LO will have enough self-confidence to thwart any type of bullying. Yet at the same time, peer pressure is very real, and this is probably the time that LO will be exposed to mainstream characters and start wondering why he has no idea who or what these brands are.

After all that is said and done, our toddler isn’t completely set apart from all things mainstream. He uses many items that feature famous characters: he has a Sesame Street toothbrush, an Elmo t-shirt and a Blues Clues book, for example. While he plays with open-ended toys, many of them are still big name companies like Lego, Crayola, and Melissa and Doug products. Even Dr. Seuss—whose books we love—has movies, shows, toys, products and clothing.

Eventually my toddler’s world will continue to expand and we’re likely going to watch TV and movies with him. I just don’t feel like I need to introduce it to him right at this moment. It’s not like I would consider watching Sponge Bob or going to Chuck E. Cheese if I weren’t a mom. Considering that he’s not clamoring to watch Yo Gabba Gabba, I’m not too inclined to turn on the show. On the other hand, I can’t wait until he’s five so that we can take him to see Broadway musicals, including The Lion King and Mary Poppins (both Disney productions).

When my kiddo does start watching TV (if we can ever get our cable hooked up!), we’ll sit right next to him so we can talk about what’s going on. We’ll enjoy the show, but we can also question stereotypes that are rampant in movies and TV and analyze the advertising in commercials (“Why do you think they used a pink and purple background for the My Little Pony commercial?”). He can question and observe with purpose rather than sit passively and accept what’s told to him.

And maybe once he climbs out of the rock he’s been living under, he can ask, “Who the heck is this Plex guy?”

What are the pros and cons of kids recognizing brand names and characters?


10 thoughts on “Yo Gabba Who? My toddler lives under a rock

  1. I love that LO doesn’t know the characters. I think by age 2, Emilia knew all the Sesame Street characters. That was the one show she watched then. However, someone gave her a pair of Dora the Explorer shoes (a show we don’t even get), so she knows the name Dora. It seems like you just can’t keep kids away from all that stuff (although I wasn’t trying very much, but like you, no character bedspreads or anything).

    Now that Emilia is four, she has seen a lot more of the world. I suppose that is normal. She has watched some Scooby Doo episodes we have found in our box of Stuff We Don’t Use Anymore, and she loved watching them. She has watched them approximately 3907869838475 times. She wants a Scooby Doo birthday party. I am pretty sure most of her friends do not know who Scooby Doo is.

    Similarly, we had a playdate this past weekend and one of the little girls (it was sisters, ages 3 and 5, and the older one this is about) asked Emilia who her Oscar the Grouch stuffed animal was. Emilia looked slightly shocked that the girl did not know, and she said, “It’s Oscar the Grouch.” And there was some laughter about Grouchy. The girls’ mother said they have never watched Sesame Street! They only know who Elmo is because he is everywhere.

    I think I was a lot more surprised. I thought everybody knew Oscar the Grouch. I know Dora, and I have never seen it.

    It’s interesting how some kids gravitate toward characters and other kids gravitate towards more abstract ideas like “princesses.” Emilia has never been into princesses or faeries or whatever. She has never seen the Disney movies. But as she gets older, I’m sure she will.

    Man, this was long. I’m sorry. It was such a cool topic!

    • Oh man I’m totally going to be that mom whose kid has never seen Sesame Street haha. So did the little girl who asked about Oscar the Grouch feel bad or embarrassed? That’s the kind of situation I’d hate for LO to get into and get his feelings hurt.

      LO also knows Elmo and a bunch of other characters for the reason you gave: people gave him gifts so he just started noticing Elmo more often without having to watch the show.

      • No, the girl was not sad or embarrassed. They thought Grouchie was a funny character and his can was a bit hard, so they decided he wouldn’t be one of the stuffed animals they used to bury each other. (Fun games at our house!)

  2. I only see the bad side of my child when we let her watch movies. The attention span goes way down as does her listening to us. Good on ya for doing so.

    • Thanks, Nate! My kiddo thankfully doesn’t seem to notice or care for the TV when he sees it on in other people’s homes or in restaurants, but I’ve seen him on iPhones and iPads and man he can get addicted. I guess because they’re more “interactive” than TVs, so he loves making things move. But I’ve seen him zone out and it’s kinda scary how like you said they stop listening.

  3. Love Love Love this! Children do much better using their imagination if they stay away from screen time! Play is very interrupted when the TV is on! Your child will do just fine not being involved with the current TV characters, would rather have him involved with current book characters! Free play is most important, and learning how to form relationships with real people!

  4. We used to have the TV on even on silent until I read an article that said screen time, even on silent, disrupts the child’s attention span by 50%! That means if he was playing with a toy for 10 minutes without the TV on, he would only play with it for 5 minutes if it were.

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