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I have a bone to pick with ‘Dino Dan’

Before I rip into Dino Dan, a show on Nick Jr. about an elementary- aged paleontologist with a terrific imagination, some disclaimers are in order.
First, my five year old loves the show and I enjoy watching it with him. The dinosaurs that come to life through Dan’s imagination are life-like and impressive. Second, my son has learned a lot about dinosaurs by watching the show, including the names of dozens of dinosaurs that I can’t begin to pronounce.
The fact is that Dan, the title character in the show, is a terrific model of manners, intelligence, and curiosity. He shows great respect for his mom and his teachers and strives to treat other children well; all characteristics I want for my son. Outside of some minor conflicts with his annoying little brother, Trek, Dan is a great role model for any child.
Given what I think of the show, I was saddened by the realization (after watching more than a few episodes, I might add) that Dino Dan is perpetuating one of the most destructive myths in western culture. On full display in each episode is the myth that fathers are unnecessary when it comes to raising children. The fact that Dan apparently has a very busy paleontologist father is little consolation since he is virtually absent from the child’s life.
Granted, the Canadian culture that produces Dino Dan must deal with the reality that in provinces like Quebec, most kids are being born to single mothers. Given that fact and to cater to the politically correct, maybe showing that a single mom can raise a well-adjusted child is warranted. However, my objection to the show’s portrayal of Dan’s fatherless home is not based on the desire to have single-parent homes unrepresented in the world of children’s television.
My primary objection to Dino Dan is in how thoroughly the show’s creators have scrubbed it of any meaningful reference to Dan’s globe-trotting father. And they’ve gone about it in a way that, I’m sure, they consider balanced for the 21st Century.
In place of his father, the writers of the show have given Dan a mother with (surprisingly) stereotypical masculine traits. She’s a police officer, a martial arts expert, and a disciplinarian. What’s conveyed is the message that all it really takes to effectively replace a father is to take a mom and give her a black belt and a gun.
Unfortunately for the creators of Dino Dan, the sociological evidence says otherwise. Social scientists are beginning to confirm what we knew from experience all along: fathers are just as important to raising well-adjusted, emotionally secure, and happy children as are mothers. And they matter to boys and girls in equally important, but different, ways.
For both, self-worth and confidence are largely learned at the hands of fathers. For girls, good fathers bestow the knowledge that they are seen as beautiful and loved unconditionally by at least one man on earth – with no strings attached. For boys, good fathers provide an example of how a man ought to care for his family and community, and – importantly – how men should treat the women in their lives.
Strong mothers, like Dan’s, can do a lot to mitigate the loss or the absence of a father – I know because my mother did a good job of that for me - but they can never fully replace the father who isn’t there. And it doesn’t help for shows like Dino Dan to perpetuate the myth that they can. Just as many TV shows and advertising wrongfully portray men (and especially fathers) as alternatively clueless and bungling, Dino Dan wrongfully promotes the view that fathers simply don’t matter to a child’s well-being.
My hope is that in some future edition of Dino Dan, the importance of fathers will be acknowledged – not just because fathers do matter but because I fear that there are children seeing the show who may be learning that father absence is an acceptable norm - and an inconsequential one at that.

Eric Cochling is the vice president of public policyfor the Georgia Family Council, which is a non-profit research and education organization committed to fostering conditions in which individuals, families and communities thrive. For more information, go to www.georgiafamily.org, (770) 242-0001, stephen.daniels@georgiafamily.org.