I can’t believe I am even writing something about this topic, but this is what is in my heart– alas, the song of the heart sings. And sing it will, for today’s song is dedicated to the YouTube channel Cocomelon.
Whether the topic of today’s discussion is some sort of objective, smug blanketed observation of Cocomelon or this is simply my experience with this loud-singing YouTube channel in my home as it affects my children, I won’t know. But please– if any of this applies to your house, I would love to know. Solidarity.
So, for the uninitiated– what in the world is Cocomelon? Cocomelon is a YouTube channel that focuses on original preschool content. When my son was born, it was called ABC Kid TV and all that was on it were cheap ‘Made in India’ animations that at the time, could not compete with Little Baby Bum and Mother Goose Club. While the animation is still very clearly (to the trained eye) ‘Made in India’, it is now ‘Made in India’ under U.S. directive with the skin of a bootleg Dreamworks/Boss Baby flavor of aesthetic.
The Cocomelon channel is made up of dozens upon dozens of songs, some original and some new renditions of familiar childhood songs. The content follows J.J., the blond baby and the rest of his saccharine sweet wholesome loving family. Together, the family learns about going to school, feeling nervous, losing teeth, playing sports, working out, loving your parents, appreciating your siblings, having pets, celebrating holidays, and everything in between. Stating that there is a narrative arc that ties the videos together is an overstatement, but viewers often jump around the Cocomelon world, visiting the playground, hanging out with J.J. and his effortlessly diverse classmates/teacher Miss Appleberry at his day care (this kid is like, 1.5 years old– saying preschool is a reach), and so on with the etceteras of daily childhood life.
At eight and six years old, my kids are arguably too old for Cocomelon. Sure, you can say that no one is too old for family content and engaging songs, but Cocomelon really drives their dad crazy. I personally don’t mind it as much as other YouTube content. My rage is saved for Blippi– to hell with that man, he is not welcome into my home. I think that Little Baby Bum is ugly with terrible animation and I prefer my kids not watch it. Maybe it’s because Cocomelon looks like standard low-budget Netflix animation, but there’s something about the humanoid characters and their harmless adventures that doesn’t grate at me on a visceral level like it does with my husband. But then one day, this video happened, and that’s where the entire motivation for this write up came from:
The long and short of this story: our perfect Cocomelon family is camping and it starts raining. This simple occurrence of water from the sky just unravels these three kids (TomTom, YoYo, and J.J.) into a yawning mess of intense over-exaggerated boredom that only listening to ::insert the title of the longest and most boring book you can think of:: read aloud on half speed can accomplish.
So, I’m watching this ridiculous display of full-body boredom these animated children are experiencing on their spontaneously rainy camping trip that my own real-life kids are glued to. And I’m just getting offended. Like cartoonish levels of triggering are happening here. Because seriously, the parents in Cocomelon are trying so many things to try to make their kids happy while this rainfall is happening. Like from board games, to imaginary play, shadow puppets, like everything they can pull out their tuchases to make these three ungrateful snots happy during the momentary inconvenience that is the flippin’ rain.
These parents took their kids on vacation. Like, they already made an effort. My parents didn’t take me and my sisters anywhere except the Fallbrook Mall and the Northridge Mall and sometimes Pic n’ Save. Only my Granddaddy would take me to the library and my Grandparents together would take me out to garage sales, instilling a love of antiques, treasures, and hunting for collectibles. Parenting is hard and involved, now moreso than ever, and Cocomelon (while fictional, duh, not arguing that) I feel is reinforcing the idea that your parents are completely responsible for your entertainment and constant mental stimulation.
Even when one of the kids has a loose tooth in Cocomelon, it becomes a family affair– it’s weird. TomTom, the Tim Templeton ripoff, has a wiggly tooth in one of their little singalong short stories that is the YouTube music video format. (oh god, is this like wholesome MTV for kids? There are no music videos but an entire generation of kids will have nostalgia for the preschool music videos of the 20-teens? Let’s come back to that one day). In typical childhood fashion, TomTom is wiggling his tooth with his tongue, showing it off to any eyes that will look. And that’s when his entire family, visiting grandparents included, all begin singing “Wiggle, wiggle, is it ready?” celebrating the tooth that is on its impending departure.
I’ll speak for myself and my generation– sometimes one of your parents would be goodly enough to take a tissue and pull out your tooth. Sometimes, you’d have that parent or sibling who would try the string and door trick. That’s as much realistic attention a loose tooth gets. Otherwise, it was nothing more than “Take that disgusting bloody mouth to your room and spend the day alone with your tooth until you’re ready to pull it out or lose it in your Big Mac because Mom is too tired to cook dinner tonight and Dad is too tired to do anything.”
Look– I get it. This is a stupid ramble tangent. Cocomelon isn’t real. It’s a storybook world created to entertain kids with video clicks and short form songs with a few characters they can latch onto, which has rocketed the channel into being (what might now be) the most viewed/subbed to channel on YouTube. Cocomelon even has toy deals now– which my kids haven’t noticed yet in the Walmart toy aisles, but I know that day is coming soon. I know it’s only a matter of time before they want a J.J. doll to come home with us and I buy it for them, much to my husband’s chagrin. I’ll just have to guilty shrug and give the “Play is play” speech I’ve concocted for such times when I indulge my children with toys that are age inappropriate simply because I love to see their little minds create new universes.
And at the end of it, Cocomelon is trying to convey the idea that children deserve and need to feel happy, safe, and loved in their small little worlds. By showing these utopias filled with constant stimulations and fun, it attempts to communicate that. But by having these parents and adults so doting, so attentive, so willing to drop everything at the whim of these kids and be hyper present in every single facet of their world, I think it gives children false expectations of parental roles versus the roles of their friends and the role of other authority figures such as coaches and teachers. One of the things I have learned throughout my son’s time in ABA Behavior Therapy to help with coping mechanisms brought on by his Autism Spectrum Disorder is that children believe they are The Sun and the world revolves around them. Cocomelon reinforces this idea every time the parents and adults in its stories drop everything they are doing to serve the children. I’m sure it’s supposed to be some wink and nod to the adults who happen to be watching alongside their kids to be like “Oh, you’re trying to get your romance on, but those kids won’t stop getting out of bed!” or “Man, wouldn’t you like to relax on this camping trip you took three freakin’ kids on, but instead you have to dance like a monkey for them because they’re incurably BORED?!”
Because of my own…I guess I’ll call it mild neglect as a kid, or perhaps my sisters and I were just left to “figure it out on our own”, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m very involved with my kids. I take them out constantly. I drop everything to take them to the park. To the swimming pool. To figure out playdates. To initiate make believe games. To set up the slip and slide in the yard. To bake with them. Because I want them to feel loved. But perhaps this is unrealistic and I am not setting strong enough boundaries and giving my kids enough time to “figure it out” on their own as well. In Cocomelon, there are clearly zero boundaries between the kids and the adults. And that’s what makes it so frustrating to watch– I feel like when my kids watch this stuff they will be influenced to think a parents’ role is to serve their children, when maybe just being present and letting them know they are loved is enough. I’m not sure the “Parent as the Best Friend” trope is a very healthy one, and with Cocomelon becoming wildly more popular and its viewers getting older, I wonder if this enslavement parenting utopia is setting expectations too high and all of us are doomed to fail.
Perhaps I should repeat to myself “It’s just a show, I should really just relax.”
Thanks for reading, fellow parents. Happy content farming with your babes.