Daniel Tiger, Disciple Maker
My child loves Daniel Tiger.
It’s my fault that my daughter loves Daniel Tiger. She is at an age where she will love whatever I put in front of her.
It happened innocently enough. We were at a relative’s house and someone suggested she watch Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, a preschool-targeted spinoff of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. I want to be familiar with whatever my young child watches, so I thought this would be a good time to expand my scope of familiarity. I learned that each episode ties two different scenarios together by a common theme epitomized in a catchy jingle. The theme might be sharing, teamwork, or fear, but the goal seems to be to get the jingle stuck in your head so that you remember it the next time you are in a similar situation. If so, let me tell you: it works.
My child’s language is now laced with Daniel Tiger’s jingles. When Daddy leaves for work, I have heard her mutter, “When something seems bad, turn it around…and find something good.” When we celebrate her obedience in helping pick up, we might hear, “Friends help each other, yes they do, it’s true.” Or when a sibling conflict arises she might stop and say, “When you feel so mad that you want to roar, take a deep breath…and count to four.”
Are you seeing what has happened here? The Daniel Tiger tv show is discipling my child.
What Your Child Watches Disciples Them
A “disciple” is simply a “learner” or a “follower.” It is one who studies and imitates another. Jesus epitomizes this relationship in John 13. First, he washes the disciples’ feet. Then, he tells them to imitate his example. If they are truly his disciples, they will act in humility and service toward one another. In doing so, they will reflect the character of their master (John 13:35).
In the same way, our hope and prayer is that our children, by God’s grace and through his Spirit, will bear the unmistakable mark of their master Jesus. But if we are passive in our parenting, then our children will bear the unmistakable mark of whatever we put in front of them. I can see that if I am not diligent in taking every opportunity to help my child think biblically about the world, then a friendly, four-year-old cartoon tiger will exert far more influence over my child than I ever will.
Maybe your family is equally familiar with Daniel Tiger’s jingles—or that of another children’s character. Regardless, my goal is not to encourage or discourage watching Daniel Tiger, or any other children’s show for that matter. Rather, I want to help us recognize that whatever we put in front of our child is discipling them.
As parents, however, we have the God-given responsibility to be the primary disciplers of our children. That means we need to actively help our children engage with the world they live in and the media they consume. And that involves being intimately knowledgeable about what they are consuming (especially when they are young) so that we can help them learn to filter the messaging through a biblical lens.
We Can Disciple While They Watch
Why am I picking on Daniel Tiger? I’m not, really. I am simply more familiar with it than other children’s shows, so it makes for a helpful example. In truth, I actually like the show. It is wholesome, moral, and has some helpful themes that can aid in producing well-adjusted children.
So, what’s the issue? Even the best Daniel Tiger jingles don’t go far enough. And they can’t because the show is not written from a biblical perspective. There is no evidence that Scripture saturates the characters’ outlook on life or solution to problems. While I certainly believe that non-Christians can make real, helpful observations about the world, without a biblical worldview those observations will not result in the right conclusions.
Navigating Anger: A Daniel Tiger Case Study
Let’s look at an example. In one episode, Katerina Kittycat wants to try a certain instrument at Music Man Stan’s music shop. But Miss Elaina, who is in front of Katerina in line, decides that she wants that instrument. Katerina gets very angry, so Music Man Stan teaches her this jingle to help her deal with her angry feelings: “When you feel so mad that you want to roar, take a deep breath…and count to four.” By the time Katerina reaches “four,” she is calmer. She and Miss Elaina then work out a plan to share the instrument.
What do this situation and jingle teach? They teach that when we are angry, the primary problem is our feelings. We simply need to manage them, and then there is an implication that we will get what we wanted all along. But here is a question we might ask Katerina: What were you wanting so badly that you were willing to fight with Miss Elaina to get it? James 4:1-2 teaches that we fight because we covet. Katerina wanted the instrument more than she wanted Miss Elaina’s happiness, and certainly more than she wanted to be godly. The Bible calls this idolatry.
If I fail to help my child think biblically, then she will do what Daniel Tiger has discipled her to do next time she is angry about something not going her way. It is up to me to show her that the real issue is not the negative emotions she is feeling (though it would not be wrong to give her tools to manage these emotions).
Instead, the real issue is that her heart wants what she wants more than she wants someone else’s happiness. What’s more, this “four-second rule” isn’t effective. What happens when my daughter grows up, doesn’t get what she wants, counts to four… and then still doesn’t get what she wants?
I need to disciple my child to understand that her joy does not depend on whether or not she gets what she wants, but whether or not she is glorifying the Lord in all she does.
Take Every Opportunity
Let me reiterate: Daniel Tiger is not evil. But as a parent, it is your responsibility to be biblically-discerning enough to help your child wade through a Daniel Tiger jingle to determine what the Bible teaches. If you simply plop your child in front of media with blind faith—even the kind that claims to be Christian—your child will be discipled by their favorite character. But if you have your eyes open to use every media opportunity to point your child towards Christ, you can use even Daniel Tiger to speak to issues of the heart.
I’m going to tell you a secret: sometimes, when emotions are running high in our house, we start to sing, “When you feel so mad that you want to ROAR, take a deep breath…and count to four.”
But then, after we have counted and calmed down, my wife will add: “And remember, in your anger, do not sin.”