Although there certainly isn't any shortage of wildlife and nature programs on television these days, I have begun to worry that many of these programs aren't sending the right message out to viewers. It particularly concerns me that many children get most, if not all, of their knowledge about the natural world from this sensationalist programming.
In February of 2008, Animal Planet revealed their new brand-image that moved away from traditional natural history programming to a more campy-fare; one that involved 'Monsters of the Deep' or 'I was swallowed by a Bloodthirsty Croc and lived to tell about it in all the glorious gory details and bad re-enactments that a person could ever dream of." As Marjorie Kaplan, the president of Discovery Communications said in an interview with Broadcasting & Cable, "We feel a little too human, a little too soft, a little too all-family and not powerful enough," "We're being more aggressive and tapping into the instinctual nature of compelling animal content." WOOF!
Those of us who are parents and share a concern for the natural world really must take the time to allow our children to explore woods, fjord streams, catch insects, raise tadpoles and generally just have fun in a natural environment. With two boys of my own, I understand just how difficult it can be not to panic when your child climbs to the highest branches of a tree or gets a really bad bee-sting. However, the confidence that they will gain, no doubt, from experiencing freedom in nature transfers over to other areas of their lives as well. Recently, I heard that my oldest son is the 'go-to' person among all of his friends whenever someone finds a spider or snake. Not only is he able to share his knowledge with others, but he is also learning how to become a leader.
T.V. is fine – we love all of Sir David Attenborough's programs – but nothing will ever take the place of just letting kids run wild and discover The Life in the Undergrowth of their own backyards. Don't let Animal Planet, and other stations with similar shows, taint your children's view of what the outdoors are really all about.