Posted by: Admin | May 17, 2011

My thoughts on TV watching and role models

Children learn by modeling and by role play. They reproduce what we do. In their games and with the help of toys, they reenact what they see. Little boys usually reenact what their culture shows to be appropriate male behavior and little girls, culturally appropriate female behavior. Their first influence is their home culture (what happens at home). It is their first world, as I like to say. The influence of their home is very strong from birth all through their early childhood, but as soon as they start to open to the outside world, they receive influence from many other types of “cultures”: daycare, school, friends’ homes, books, movies, TV shows, etc. They will receive positive and negative influence from all these different “cultures”. They will learn values that are often different and even in conflict with the ones presented at home.

When a child is confronted with a value contradictory to the one he is taught at home, he needs to sort it out. Ideally, this will be done with his parents or someone from his family, like his Gookum or Joonsum (grandma or grandpa in Cree). We hope the child will ask questions so we will be able to explain values and help him choose that which is best to abide by according to his family values.

Breastfeeding is a family value. When a pregnant woman is asked why she wants to breastfeed, she usually answers that it is something she has always believed in. If we dig deeper, we usually find out that many women in the family have breastfed. In some cases, the woman has been influenced by the behavior of another woman, a friend, a prominent figure in her community, or a media celebrity.  Often, women cannot identify the reason they want to breastfeed. They simply say that they want what is best for their baby. The intention to breastfeed often has deep roots in a woman’s life – reaching all the way back to her own childhood. Research has shown that women know how they want to feed their babies before their first visit to the clinic. In terms of factors influencing the decision to breastfeed, personal motivation comes in first place, the partner in second, and the grandmother in third. Health professionals take fourth place. This confirms what we know about children: they learn by observing. They are sponges that absorb all that their environment provides. They gather information from the people and the world around them. They learn from all the different “cultures” they come into contact with.

TV is probably the culture that has the most negative impact on our children as they often watch it alone, without an adult present to explain to them what is right or wrong. Also, they are bombarded with commercials every couple of minutes and in between shows. Actually, over the course of 10 hours of TV, you will watch 3 hours of advertising. We can even do a division for a half-hour show: 18 minutes of show and 12 of advertisements. Children learn to be unwise consumers. (Remember when tobacco ads were allowed? And beer drinking is still portrayed as necessary for having a good time with friends. Maybe one day we will learn that these ads encourage alcoholism.)

For a few years now, channels dedicated to children’s shows have not presented any commercials. If you need your children to watch TV without you, have them watch these channels. But this does not ensure your children will see values you believe important to their lives. For example, as Cree people, you may have a nomadic way of life, as many Cree go into the bush for a few weeks eahc year. This is not something that will be portrayed on TV. What your children are more likely to see is a reflection of the “dominant” society. I am sorry to give it that name, but remember that “dominant” does not mean “better” or “more important”. It is simply a way to designate a bigger mass of people. Most of the time TV shows will portray nuclear families (father, mother and kids, without extended family). Their activities will not include goose and moose hunting or community feasts. And babies will be bottle-fed! In fact, child care is rarely portrayed in TV shows. We will hear about the birth and the sex of a new baby, but then the family seems to go about its daily life without any special regard to their new addition. If we do see young babies on TV, there will be a bottle involved or they will be sleeping in their crib in some room, by themselves.

Some children’s shows have talked about breastfeeding and some have tried to present Native traditions. The examples I like the best are two episodes of Sesame Street with Buffy Sainte-Marie. In one she  breastfeeds her baby and explains to Big Bird why she likes it.

This other clip shows Buffy singing a beautiful native ballad. This is a rare example of native culture being represented on a children’s show.

As a Certified Lactation Consultant living amongst the people of Eeyou Itschee, I see the influence of the “dominant” culture daily. Many Eeyou ways are being lost to it, just as the art of breastfeeding is slowly being replaced by bottle-feeding. Some changes in the Cree people’s way of life do not seriously impact their health. For example, wanting your hair to be styled in a certain way or wearing clothes that we see TV role models wear will not affect your health. Other changes are drastically making the Cree people sick: eating poutine every day does not make for a healthy diet. There is a law of nature that says we will be healthy if we eat a variety of foods gathered from that which our land provides. I do not think Cree land provides poutine… and potatoes do not grow easily on Cree land! I do know the Cree people have two different views on this. Some say that the old ways are the solution to the Crees’ health problems, but others say that we cannot stop change from happening and that the technology that is available will not go away. Naturally, it is not for me to provide a solution. The Cree people own their destiny and they will find a way, I am sure! But as an outsider looking in, I cannot help but to make observations. As an expert called in by the Cree to give my advice, I can assure you that the art of breastfeeding needs to be passed on because it holds a key to a healthy future for all Cree people. There are good and bad role models in all the different cultures your children will encounter, children must be guided towards positive influences, and parents must be there to explain to them when something is not in accordance with Cree values.

I used the example of the TV culture to demonstrate that children will be influenced by what they see and hear, but the most important influence on your children is yourself.

Be a positive role model and show them how to be healthy: live a healthy lifestyle and encourage breastfeeding!




  1. I love this Sesame Street video, and I think all breastfeeding supporters will find it really intriguing. I’ll be linking to this blog post on Milk for Thought’s blog … Milk for Thought is a new website that’s bringing together the energy from all different parts of the breastfeeding community — connecting advocates, experts and parents, providing the very best and most trustworthy breastfeeding information, and offering the support new moms need. This summer, we’re starting off with a cross-country bus trip to help promote breastfeeding and the Surgeon General’s Call to Action.

    Thanks for this great blog!

    • Thank you Milk for Thought!

      I’ll be sure to go see what your blog is all about and will linking to your blog whenever I need to. The idea of a cross-country bus trip is wonderful. I hope you will be reporting about it on your blog. I will be following you.


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