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March 17, 2010

What SpongeBob Can't Deliver to Your Kids

VeggieTales co-founder Mike Nawrocki and his kids enjoy mainstream TV, but it's lacking

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My kids watch SpongeBob SquarePants every morning at breakfast. First my daughter, 11, as she’s munching on Special K with berries before being driven to middle school, and then an hour later my son with his Honey Nut Cheerios as he’s preparing for his day in the third grade. I suppose if I were a really good parent they would be reading Ezekiel 4:9 while they were eating, but Ally and Michael seem to be turning out okay despite their current routine. I also enjoy the show and watch it right along with them; for the most part SpongeBob is brilliantly written with great characters.

I understand it may be shocking to learn that the children of Larry the Cucumber do not always watch VeggieTales. But it’s true. When they were younger, the TV was at times tuned to Arthur, Dora the Explorer, and Zaboomafoo.

Broadcast TV for kids has come a long way over the past couple of decades. When we started VeggieTales 17 years ago, I didn’t have kids. But I remember thinking if I did, the only thing I’d let them watch was Sesame Street or Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, because that’s what I watched when I was a kid and they were still pretty much the same. Everything else seemed too violent, too sarcastic, or too crude. Fast forward to 2010 and it’s not hard to find well-produced, age-appropriate content that teaches kids math, reasoning, spelling or manners. A fair amount of stuff I don’t mind my kids watching.

So what’s the problem?

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What’s missing, from my perspective as a Christian parent, and will likely always be missing from kids’ networks like PBS, Disney, Nick and Cartoon Network is a biblical worldview — the assumption that there is a God who made us, loves us, and wants a relationship with us set against the backdrop of creation, fall and redemption. For Christians, nothing could be more basic to our understanding of how the world works. But for children’s broadcast and cable channels, nothing can get you off the air faster.

What’s missing is that much of the worldview our kids are exposed to each day is completely modernist. While SpongeBob can model friendship toward Patrick, the show will never tell a child we can love because God first loved us. While Arthur can show it’s nice to do good and to share, he’ll never add that these are the sacrifices that please God. While Zaboomafoo can show kids the wonder of nature, kids won’t hear that God chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word. And, we, out of all creation, became his prized possession.

There is a much deeper well we go to as Christian parents when we hope to instill our values in our children. With VeggieTales, we have sought to be a resource for parents in providing high quality kids entertainment with a biblical worldview.

Story is such a powerful worldview vehicle. I think that’s why Jesus told so many parables. In a media-saturated culture such as ours, we need to make it a point of telling as many good stories to our kids as we can—stories that assume we are living within the greatest story of all, the Kingdom of God. That way, they can watch SpongeBob and have a good laugh—but not forget that God made them special and he loves them very much.

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Guest blogger Mike Nawrocki is co-founder of Big Idea, where he is VP of Creative Development, and VeggieTales, where he provides the voice of Larry the Cucumber. The latest VeggieTales installment, "Pistachio, the Little Boy That Woodn't," is now available on DVD.

Comments

This is an excellent article, and a great thing to keep in mind when seeing the difference between children's programming these days.

Bugs Bunny doesn't discuss God's love, either, but I don't judge him for it, seeing as how he doesn't exist. And what do you do with Tom and Jerry, who are evidently too lukewarm in their faith to even speak? I'm not so sure my kids need their cartoon characters spouting faith messages like these any more than I need movie characters spouting faith messages. That's what the church (and parents!) are for.

By the way, how much did Mike Nawrocki pay to write what is essentially an advertisement for VeggieTales? I expect better from CT.

All I can say is THANK YOU, MIKE AND PHIL, FOR VEGGIE TALES!!!! They are awesome...keep up the super work!

Veggie Tales is great and children do need daily reminder of God's love and plan for their lives... however, they need to learn that they'll have to grow up in the real world, too. Not every TV show out there can be "Christian". In our world, not everyone is a believer. There are great kids programs that are innocent and they teach Godly values without quoting Bible verses and trying to convert people. I think instilling Godly principles should be left to parents, church, the Bible, etc.

Are there any recent childrens' books which teach this love?

How might Christian filmmakers & TV people fill this gap?

My kids have grown up watching VeggieTales and I am so thankful that they have been available for our family. My oldest is 13 and he still gets excited when a new video is released. It is the job of the church and parents to teach Christian values to their children, and I am so grateful that there are funny, well-made videos like VeggieTales to help me out!

Wow, I think some of the folks who commented didn't actually read the whole article. No where did I see Mike say that all cartoons should be replaced, but rather that VeggieTales is a tool for parents to use in teaching their children a Christian world view. He even said he lets his children watch other programs. However, what's wrong with faith messages and quoting Bible scriptures. The world is certainly going to use "free speech" to put it's views out there, why can't Christians do the same? If you don't ever want to hear them, and don't want your children to hear them you have a more important concern to deal with than cartoons.

Wow...I am just wondering if all of the previous people that commented read the same blog as me...I didn't see anywhere where Mr. Nawrocki said that all kids programming should be changed to reflect Christian views...hmmm, maybe I missed something.

Anyway, our family has been fans of Big Idea for years...my older daughter was first exposed to Bob & Larry when she was 4 months old - her baby sitter would put a video on for the older kids & it was the only time my daughter would be riveted to the screen! Subsequently, we have purchased many "VeggieTales" & "3 2 1 Penguins" videos & DVD s over the years for both her and her sister. And, even at 13 & 10 - yes, you read the ages correctly - they still love them! In fact, they had me get "The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: A VeggieTales Movie" last weekend! Now, we just can't wait to see "Pistachio: The Little Boy That Woodn't"!

So, even though our kids like SpongeBob & several other programs on kids' networks, I love that Mike & Phil & the rest of their crew have given us Christian parents a Christian alternative - and, if some other parents choose not to have their children view Big Idea programs, they can change the channel!

Yeah, it sure seems like a few readers here were all too anxious to attack Mr. Nawrocki for saying things he didn't even say. I also think it's interesting that some would say that we shouldn't expect TV to endorse a Christian worldview because "not everyone is a believer", yet having secular TV espouse a secular worldview - and not all of us believe in that, either - is just fine. It's always amazing to me how many people will advocate being "open-minded" until faith enters the equation; then, it seems, being closed-minded is OK. You can't reject anything except the truth, I suppose. And, if anyone can point out a VeggieTales episode which had the objective of "convert(ing) people,", I'd be curious to see it. I don't disagree that teaching faith is best left in the hands of family and friends, but why is something like VeggieTales (which is about as far from heavy-handed as I can imagine) a problem? It doesn't teach one offshoot of Christianity over another; for goodness' sake, it rarely mentions Christ at all. All I know is it's not crude, it's clever and witty and intellectually nuanced, and it teaches moral lessons based on the greatest book ever written. (And the Silly Songs are usually great.) So what's the problem?

I think Spongebob is incredibly crude and there is no way I'd let my child watch it. It's supposed to be for teenagers, why people let their children watch it, esoecially young children, is beyond me. My daughter watches programs that Jesus would approve of. Life is too short to out anything bad into your child's life that could negatively affect them or hinder their walk with God. Too many Christians these days are so secular. We aren't supposed to follow the ways of the world. It's sad, Jesus shouldn't wouldn't be doing that, and its Jesus we are supposed to be living like, not the mainstream.

great blog!
our kids use to watch nick everything. my husband introduced us to veggietales. now our collection is almost full.
thanks for creating it. i am glad that my children understand b/c of the DVDs that God loves them and the qualities God desires for us to have.
i know none of the stuff we use to watch compares.

Mike,

Way to roll! Great article. As dad's we have to take the lead in what our kids watch. It is us, through God's love and wisdom that help us help our childrn navigate the rough waters in this world.

Hang in there, my brother!

My 15 (almost 16 year old), 12 year old, 2.5 year old LOVE the veggie tales... LOVE LOVE LOVE them! We monitor some other cartoons and don't limit our kids to JUST the veggie movies, but we are seed planting! When your 2.5 year old sings the veggie tales theme song walking through the grocery store, everyone thinks its cute! We join him! ;)
Great article!

Mike, we love you! Thanks for all that Larry the Cucumber has meant to our little boys. And thanks for all the laughs you've pried out of me, too while we're at it! We're also excited about your buddy Phil Visher (Bob the Tomato)'s new project for school-age kids, the new video series called “what’s In the Bible?”. http://www.whatsinthebible.com

I've not watched Veggie Tails, but have watched Spongebob. Although I find it kind of silly I've not seen anything that particularly offended me or that I considered "un-Christian". (For the record I am a conservative, Reformed, Christian.) I'm actually more concerned about people who think they can answer the question, "What would Jesus do/watch/wear/drive/eat/drink/etc." The Gospel's clearly show that Jesus very often acted quite counter-intuitively. Be very careful when you assert, "I know that Jesus wouldn't approve this-or-that." unless there is CLEAR scripture about it (i.e., lying, stealing, blasphemy). Well-intentioned folks often imagine things that really aren't there. For example, doesn't Spongebob hold hands with the Starfish sometimes? Homosexuality? Then we'd better not tell little kids to hold each other's hand when crossing the street.


Over examining things can be ridiculous at times. We all live in the same world. We can't all cater to one belief system, or mode of thinking. Cartoons are cartoons, it's the responsibility of the parent to make an impact on their children and teach them. I'm religious and I enjoy a number of things some extreme-ists might call crude. I agree with Anon.And if we sensor everything for ridiculous and super-sensitive reasons then we're restricting the very gifts God's given us.

Back in 1975, I submitted a story book to my 12th grade creative writing teacher. It was about Alfred the Avocado, Lawrence the Lemon and Lucy Lime and their various adventures. My teacher liked it although she said she wasn't sure if people would fall for the idea of talking fruit and vegetables. I sent it off to a publisher who promptly rejected it for the same reason. I love VeggieTales and like to think just maybe if I had pursued my big idea, too...
Keep up the good work in delivering the Message through Larry and Bob and all the veggies. We need more stories like these that tell the Christian worldview.

Great post!Mike, good analysis about children programs today. We should lead in what the kids are watching that is the really important thing and not easy to do all the time.

I don't think that this show is for kids. Its adult show. And its my favorite show. I Watch SpongeBob SquarePants Episodes online.

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