Why Are Kids So Sassy These Days? Bring Back Little House on the Prairie

by Bill Sardi

Recently by Bill Sardi: ‘2016’

I can recall a program to teach manners when I was in grade school. Every student in every grade was taught to say "please" when making a request and not to interrupt adults when they were speaking and if walking in front of someone to say "excuse me."

Well, today, there seems to be a declining interest in teaching manners to kids. But more troubling, there also seems to be a growing problem of kids talking back to their teachers and parents. I see this in the school my son attends, and by no means is he isn't removed from the problem.

I can't recall kids in grade school ever talking back to teachers. Where did all this sassiness and bossiness come from? God only knows.

I was mentioning this to Mark Joseph, father of five young girls who happens to be in the multi-media business as film producer, talk show host, columnist, author and media strategist. I shared with him the question of whether TV is creating all this talk-back culture we observe with kids these days.

Well, Teletubbies and Barney may not be a bad example, but part of the problem seems to be, in those TV programs, there aren't any parents or teachers interacting with children. There are no authority figures in most modern TV and film programs for kids.

Maybe that is part of the problem, I wondered.

Mark Joseph called me back on the phone the next day to say that he wrote a short article for a family publication called Discovery Years some time back. It had to do with this very same challenge, of teaching children to hold their tongue. He forwarded the article to me by e-mail.

Here is what Mr. Joseph wrote (referring to his children):

I’ve never been very impressed with sitcom families especially the weak fathers that so often populated them. While the Cosby Show was enjoyable, I never understood why such a smart man couldn’t have crafted a role that was more respectful and more respected. Let’s face it: Claire Huxtable had the brains and she called all the shots as Dr. Huxtable yukked it up.

Family Ties was somewhat of an improvement but not much. Alex Keaton’s mother seemed to have more respect for his father than Claire Huxtable did for Dr. Huxtable, but Mr. Keaton didn’t have much of a spine either. Roseanne was a different story. Though annoying herself, her hubby was somewhat of a leader and authority figure and in some sense commanded respect. Home Improvement and Everybody Loves Raymond had strong but lovable wives, but their husbands still didn’t command respect. And then there was Married With Children, the worst offender of all.

I wanted my girls to have a window on a healthy relationship and skipping over the aforementioned, stumbled across it in Little House On The Prairie and the changes in their behavior stunned my wife and I.

Shortly after they began to watch it, we noticed that they began to refer to us as Pa and Ma and the tone in their voices grew increasingly respectful. That’s when I began watching with them and

Noticed, that though the girls on this TV show loved their parents and felt secure, and there was also a respect for their parents that I had never found in modern sitcoms.

Michael Landon had somehow managed to inject his character Charles Ingalls with the perfect balance of kindness and authority.

Columnist Terry Mattingly makes the case that the power of TV is not about single and powerful messages that change lives, but about thousands of little messages that over time impact our lives. My children’s young lives have been changed for the better by turning off contemporary TV families and reaching back 30 years to a series created by a man who understood the dynamic that contributed to healthy families. Of course, I still hold out hope that Hollywood will create a new series that will reflect a healthy family, with children who respect their parents and parents who are good, kind and strong. But until that happens or my kids tire of it, we’ll travel back to the Little House with the strong and kind Dad, loving and respected Mother, and the children who learned both how to be respectful and to have fun.

Little House On The Prairie can be brought back to every American home with DVDs that will re-air all nine seasons of this popular series based on Laura Ingalls Wilder's books. Little House On The Prairie, which ran on NBC from 1974 to 1983, gets high ratings for family viewing.

Nearly thirty years after its last segment, it may be difficult for kids today to imagine the hard life on the prairie in the late 1800s, which Ingalls' books portrayed. The setting is Walnut Grove, Minnesota where Charles Ingalls (Michael Landon) and his wife, Caroline (Karen Grassle) rely on their devotion to each other and their family to see them through the daily trials of early settlement life. All nine TV seasons and three TV movies can be purchased as a package. Here is a short segment entitled The Troublemaker where one of Charles Ingalls daughters, Laura, adjusts to a new teacher in the country schoolhouse.