BOSTON (CBS) – If you have raised a child or even just read to one anytime over the past half-century, chances are you’re familiar with the Berenstain Bears books, a series of children’s stories about a momma bear and poppa bear dealing with the issues that come up while raising their two cubs.
Listen to Jon’s commentary:
Reading through the obits yesterday for Jan Berenstain, half of the husband-and-wife team that wrote the Berenstain Bears books, I was surprised to learn how much heat they took from critics of their very popular series.
According to the Associated Press: the series “has been called …’hokey’ and ‘little more than stern lectures dressed up as children’s stories.’”
When Jan’s husband and collaborator died in 2005, the Washington Post wrote: “Is this what we really want from children’s books…a world filled with scares and neuroses and problems to be toughed out and solved? And if it is, aren’t the Berenstain Bears simply teaching to the test, providing a lesson to be spit back, rather than one lived and understood and embraced?”
Judging from the news out of Lynn yesterday, where 27 high school students were suspended for cheering on and taking videos of an ugly fight between two girls, it seems that the Berenstain Bears, however inartfully, have been filling a void when it comes to kids learning values, manners, and how to deal with real-life issues.
Those hokey bear parents appeared to spend a lot of time trying to teach their cubs good judgment, and adjusting their own behavior to serve as good role models.
These simple lessons may have lacked the nuance or sophistication craved by critics, most of whom, I’m willing to bet, had never raised a kid.
But given their huge popularity with children, it seems they’re hitting a nerve.
Kids crave guidance about how to behave and what the limits are.
Too often, as we see in the Lynn incident, they’re not getting it.
Maybe what we need is more hokey lectures that teach to the test, not fewer.
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