Should I correct Thanksgiving stereotypes my kids see on TV?

Michael Rich, MD, MPH, is Children’s Hospital Boston’s media expert and director of Children’s Center on Media and Child Health. Take a look at his blog archive or follow him on Twitter @CMCH_Boston. Last week he addressed whether or not video games were OK for well-adjusted kids, this week he talks about stereotyping often found in media portrayal of Thanksgiving.

Michael Rich, MD, MPH

Q: I know I’m probably making a big deal out of this, but it really bugs me when my school-age kids watch shows and movies in class or on TV that show inaccurate stereotypes of the first Thanksgiving—grateful Pilgrims and wild “Indians” and lots of peace and harmony. I don’t want to ostracize my kids for what they think is true, but isn’t it my place to correct them?

-Stereotype Stickler in Scottsdale, AZ

A: Dear Stickler,

As a parent, it’s your job to raise your children to think and behave in ways that will make them successful throughout their lives, in various realms. That means impressing upon them not only cultural and perhaps religious values but also those gained through history. So if what your kids are learning isn’t in line with your understanding of the actual story of Thanksgiving, start a discussion about what they’ve heard, and consider guiding them through concepts that add nuance and accuracy to their understanding:

  • Immigrant experiences. Those aboard the Mayflower were escaping religious persecution. What does it mean to your children that these early Anglo-Americans were as much immigrants as are today’s newcomers to this country? What does the U.S. offer that makes so many people uproot their lives to move here?
  • Conflict of world views. The Pilgrims’ friendship with members of the Wampanoag tribe was centered around learning how to survive in their new environment: Problems erupted when they imposed European cultural values, like property ownership, on people who believed that land could not belong to anyone. Discuss the fact that different cultures have different ways of seeing the world. How can we find ways of acknowledging and living with our differences in a way that benefits everyone?
  • How stories change over time. Explain to your kids that many of the tales that endure are often the ones that a select few people—usually those in power—have worked hard to publicize. And sometimes, those are the stories we wish had happened but that don’t really line up with the truth. It’s up to us—kids, included—to learn about and from our actual experiences.
  • History has lots to teach us. Discuss how when we’re conscious of and diligent about how we treat one another and honor our past, we can prevent history from repeating in the ways we don’t want and make important changes to our world in the way that we do.

Sure, these concepts are much heavier than the ones in Turkey-Day cartoons, but kids may benefit from them for seasons to come. Here are some more great resources on this topic:

Enjoy your media and use them wisely,

The Mediatrician®

One thought on “Should I correct Thanksgiving stereotypes my kids see on TV?

  1. There is a reference at the base of this article that moves the user to the National Geographic Kids (Understanding the 1st Real Thanksgiving). The re-writing of history to satisfy modern sensibilities and the tendency to reduce the importance of the Pilgrims and their inherent religious beliefs never ceases to amaze me.

    The NatGeo Kids site is factually incorrect on several fronts, not the least of which is their claim that the Thanksgiving holiday was not officially acknowledged by the United States until the adminstration of Abraham Lincoln. The following is an excerpt from George Washington’s declaration on Thanksgiving from 1789, which I believe predates the presidency of Abraham Lincoln. But maybe we should check with NatGeo Kids to make sure.

    “Thanksgiving Proclamation

    [New York, 3 October 1789]

    By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.

    Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor– and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.

    Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be– That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks–for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation–for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war–for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed–for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted–for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

    and also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions– to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually–to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed–to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord–To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us–and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

    Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

    Go: Washington

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