Elmo’s Empty Encouragement
August 20, 2008
Our three-year-old, Bridget, likes Elmo. I recently explored the “new and improved” Sesame Street website and found an online coloring game featuring Elmo’s voice. As the child moves the mouse around, colors appear on the picture. Bridget enjoyed doing this for awhile, and I stood behind her, watching her. I always feel a bit conflicted allowing her to spend much time on the computer while marveling that such a small child can have fairly adept computer skills. On this program, Elmo keeps up a steady stream of encouragement, saying “You’re really good at this!” “Look at all those colors!” “You’re good at this!” After a few moments, Bridget stopped the mouse, looked up at me with her brows furrowed, and said, “Why does he keep saying that?”
Why, indeed? I have more in-depth thoughts about technology and childhood, praise and encouragement. But I think Bridget’s question really sums up the emptiness of Elmo’s encouragement. Even to a three-year-old, an automated voice repeating “You’re really good at this!” doesn’t ring very true. It was also kind of a funny moment where Bridget revealed (once again) a shrewd assessment of the world.