I Hate That My Kids Hate 'Dora the Explorer'
As the iconic Dora the Explorer celebrates its 10th year on the air this week, I began to reflect on my own children's relationship with the spunky Latina adventurer -- and how it morphed from utter adoration into hyperbolic hatred.
From the moment my daughter was old enough to recognize television characters -- about 18 months or so -- Dora was her hero. Dora posters lined her walls, Dora sheets adorned her bed and Dora dolls filled in the space around her. It felt like a Dora song was always being sung somewhere around our house and our DVR's "Now Playing" list quickly became one long litany of Dora episodes. This obsession lasted all through her preschool years and on past kindergarten.
Then, somewhere around age 7, she decided Dora was too babyish for her. And now as she prepares to enter third grade, she despises the mere mention of the spunky Latina adventurer, reacting with tween-ish eye rolls and fake retching. This makes me incredibly sad.
Back when she first became a Dora fan, I was just happy that the show she chose to glom onto was neither too sweet nor too coarse. There was nothing to offend her small ears, as there would be on, say, "SpongeBob"; and there was nothing to offend my adult ears, as there would be on, say, "Barney." But when she was old enough to articulate why she liked Dora, I was blown away.
She complained that there were too many shows in which girls were relegated to sidekick status; she praised Dora the Explorer because a smart, brave, fun-loving girl was its hero. I'd never realized that something like gender inequity on television shows would register with a 3-year-old, but once I knew that it could, I was not only proud of my daughter, but also grateful that a show like Dora existed for her. Here was a television program that was not only centered on a girl, but focused on none of her stereotypically "girlish" qualities. It was never important that Dora be cute or fashionable (even when she was); her boundless curiosity, intrepid sense of adventure and enthusiasm for life were the traits that mattered. Dora was a near-ideal role model.
That my daughter has outgrown "Dora the Explorer" doesn't surprise me -- it is a show geared toward very young kids. And when I'd hear cries of "Ugh! Change the channel!" if a Dora ad happened to come on, I'd chalk it up to an 8-year-old girl trying to appear older by shunning anything she associated with her own babyhood. Kids are hyperbolic -- no shock there. It started to bother my wife and me, though, when our daughter would see some other little Dora fan and start offering jeering asides like, "Ewww, yuck! Look at that girl with the Dora backpack!" And when our 3-year-old son, who is right in Dora's prime demographic, started mimicking his sister's anti-Dora stance, we felt we needed to address it.
When asked, our daughter couldn't really offer a real reason as to why she seemed to revile Dora so much. It was just a silly show for babies. Dora was, like, always singing dumb baby songs and stuff. I mean, come on, the show has a purple squirrel. And look at the way she dresses. BAM! That's when our hearts break.
So we reminded our daughter why she'd come to love Dora in the first place. She seemed surprised, as if in her haste to grow up, she had genuinely forgotten. And she had a very quick turnaround on the matter. She suddenly understood that, while she may have outgrown Dora, the character was an important one for younger girls to be exposed to. And younger boys, too. Like her little brother.
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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.