Thursday, December 9, 2010

Rick Warren: The Purpose of Life


You will enjoy the new insights that Rick Warren has, with his wife now having cancer and him having 'wealth' from the book sales. This is an absolutely incredible short interview with Rick Warren, 'Purpose Driven Life ' author and pastor of Saddleback Church in California .

In the interview by Paul Bradshaw with Rick Warren, Rick said: People ask me, What is the purpose of life?

And I respond: In a nutshell, life is preparation for eternity. We were not made to last forever, and God wants us to be with Him in Heaven.

One day my heart is going to stop, and that will be the end of my body-- but not the end of me.

I may live 60 to 100 years on earth, but I am going to spend trillions of years in eternity. This is the warm-up act - the dress rehearsal. God wants us to practice on earth what we will do forever in eternity...
We were made by God and for God, and until you figure that out, life isn't going to make sense.

Life is a series of problems: Either you are in one now, you're just coming out of one, or you're getting ready to go into another one.

The reason for this is that God is more interested in your character than your comfort; God is more interested in making your life holy than He is in making your life happy.

We can be reasonably happy here on earth, but that's not the goal of life. The goal is to grow in character, in Christ likeness.

This past year has been the greatest year of my life but also the toughest, with my wife, Kay, getting cancer.  I used to think that life was hills and valleys - you go through a dark time, then you go to the mountaintop, back and forth. I don't believe that anymore.

Rather than life being hills and valleys, I believe that it's kind of like two rails on a railroad track, and at all times you have something good and something bad in your life...

No matter how good things are in your life, there is always something bad that needs to be worked on and no matter how bad things are in your life, there is always something good you can thank God for. You can focus on your purposes, or you can focus on your problems:

If you focus on your problems, you're going into self-centeredness, which is my problem, my issues, my pain.' But one of the easiest ways to get rid of pain is to get your focus off yourself and onto God and others.

We discovered quickly that in spite of the prayers of hundreds of thousands of people, God was not going to heal Kay or make it easy for her- It has been very difficult for her, and yet God has strengthened her character, given her a ministry of helping other people, given her a testimony, drawn her closer to Him and to people.

You have to learn to deal with both the good and the bad of life.

Actually, sometimes learning to deal with the good is harder. For instance, this past year, all of a sudden, when the book sold 15 million copies, it made me instantly very wealthy.

It also brought a lot of notoriety that I had never had to deal with before. I don't think God gives you money or notoriety for your own ego or for you to live a life of ease. So I began to ask God what He wanted me to do with this money, notoriety and influence. He gave me two different passages that helped me decide what to do, II Corinthians 9 and Psalm 72.

First, in spite of all the money coming in, we would not change our lifestyle one bit.. We made no major purchases.

Second, about midway through last year, I stopped taking a salary from the church.

Third, we set up foundations to fund an initiative we call The Peace Plan to plant churches, equip leaders, assist the poor, care for the sick, and educate the next generation.

Fourth, I added up all that the church had paid me in the 24 years since I started the church, and I gave it all back. It was liberating to be able to serve God for free.

We need to ask ourselves: Am I going to live for possessions? Popularity? Am I going to be driven by pressures? Guilt? Bitterness? Materialism? Or am I going to be driven by God's purposes (for my life)?

When I get up in the morning, I sit on the side of my bed and say, God, if I don't get anything else done today, I want to know You more and love You better. God didn't put me on earth just to fulfill a to-do list. He's more interested in what I am than what I do.

That's why we're called human beings, not human doings.
Happy moments, PRAISE GOD.
Difficult moments, SEEK GOD.
Quiet moments, WORSHIP GOD.
Painful moments, TRUST GOD.
Every moment, THANK GOD



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A Sobering Peek into a High School Dance

An article from Jonathan McKee at TheSource4YM.com 10/11/2010


The 16-year-old girl stepped out of the limo, careful to keep her dress from riding up any higher than it already rested on her upper thighs. Clasping her date’s hand, she stepped into the decorated school gym—an ocean theme.

The music pulsated so loudly that even her heartbeat soon surrendered to the rhythm, pumping in sync with the deafening subs. It took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the darkness. An instant later she found two of her friends in the crowd dancing with their boyfriends. The girls ran to greet each other.

Hugs. Smiles. Then a new song began.

Her friends grabbed the hands of their boyfriends, but didn’t turn to face them—instead they heard the lyrics insist “back it up, back it up,” and that’s just what her friends did. Their boyfriends smiled as they thrust against the girls from behind. Aside from the clothes, it was clear what was going on.

Following the lead of her friends, she did the same. Her date wrapped his arms around her front and she backed up, pushing herself against him, moving in a motion that would have made her blush in any other context, but the darkness and the safety of this crowd covered any embarrassment. Tonight this dark room was no place for second thoughts.

This is what he wants, she thought to herself. He’ll like me if I do this. He’ll notice me when I wear this. After all, if I don’t do this for him, there are a hundred other girls who are willing to.

Blame it on the music or the company she keeps or a dad who didn’t give his little daughter enough hugs. Regardless of the cause, another young girl has given up her innocence in exchange for a lie.It’s the norm to give your date a lap dance. 

Sexualized
I’ve read dozens of articles and studies about the "sexualization" of today’s young girls. I’ve written about it and cited it in the media. But Saturday night I was surrounded by it. Literally hundreds of girls played the part our culture has written for them: Be a sex object.

I’ve always thought I had a pretty good finger on the pulse of youth culture. I know what goes on at school dances. After all the articles I've read on the subject, as well as the ones we've written on our own site, not to mention the plethora of MTV Video Music Award shows I’ve reviewed... I really didn’t think I could be shocked. But last night I was flabbergasted. It was sobering to see the effect ofsexualization first hand— young girls with dresses so short that their underwear often peaked out from underneath, and literally hundreds of girls “backing up” into guys and rubbing up against them throughout the evening.

I’m getting ahead of myself.

A week ago a student from my kids’ high school called and asked if my wife Lori and I would chaperone the homecoming dance. “Sure,” I replied, intrigued with the opportunity to catch a glimpse inside a public school dance. Even though I volunteer with the junior high ministry at my church and frequently speak at camps and youth events, how often do I get to go on a public high school campus other than for my kids’ sports events? Probably only a few times a year.

I love opportunities like this—when all the research I’ve done actually takes a back seat in favor of a first-hand view from the front lines. It’s one thing to read the studies about what kids are listening to…it’s quite another to see them dancing to those songs.

In an interesting turn of events, the weekend before Lori and I chaperoned this dance, my daughter was invited to another public high school dance with some friends from our church. This group of friends was full of solid, responsible kids, so we said, “yes.”

Last week many of you read my blog about that “rite of passage” my daughter went through. The “warnings” printed on the dance ticket revealed volumes as to what goes on at these dances. Here are just a few or those warnings:

Students:Are expected to face their partner at all times (no back to front motion) Must maintain a 4 – 6 inch space from their partner May not engage in ‘leg wrapping’ With the exception of feet, may not place body parts on floor 
After the dance I asked my daughter and her friends what they experienced. All of them were surprised how many kids were “getting low” and “grinding.” (It’s funny... I’m trying to choose my terms wisely. How exactly do you say, “Sex with your clothes on”? Okay, I just said it.) 

Being curious, I asked three of them— individually—what percentage of teenagers they saw dancing like that. Was this just a few friends, or a majority? Separately they each responded “over 50 percent.” One of my daughter’s friends said that a classmate even came up behind her and started “grinding” against her. She turned around and backed away, not sure what the protocol was for rejecting a boy trying to hump you from the rear.

My wife and I tried to prepare ourselves mentally for what we would see firsthand.

It didn’t work.

The Dance
Saturday night finally arrived. My own kids each left with different plans with church friends while Lori and I got dressed for homecoming.

When we arrived at the school, we learned we’d be the only parents patrolling the dance floor. It would be Lori, me, and three teachers. The vice principal instructed us that if we saw kids dancing too risqué, just shine a flashlight on them, and they’ll usually quit. If they don’t, then we should take their wristbands (as an official warning). If you warn a kid a second time (a kid with no wristband), we were to kick them out of the dance.

After receiving the instructions, Lori and I were confused about exactly what behaviors we weren’t supposed to allow. This school wasn’t as specific with instructions as the homecoming dance my daughter visited. How close was too close? Were we supposed to allow that “front to back” thing? I wondered if the “over 50 percent” calculation would play out tonight at this school.

Thirty minutes later we had our answers. The majority of today’s kids don’t even face each other at a dance. The girl simply turns around and backs into the guy, the guy puts his hands on the girl, and the grinding begins. Sometimes two girls will face each other, almost pressing against one another, then a guy will appear on each side from behind, sandwiching the girls in the middle.

There was no flashlight that would stop what was going on in that gymnasium. The only thing that would have stopped the “grinding” at that dance was turning off the music and turning on the lights.

And that was really the key: Turn off the music.

Mixed Messages
I don’t want to come off as shallow, so please hear me out on this: The music is much of the problem.The administration opened the door for this kind of activity when they allowed music with that kind of content. The exact thing the administration claimed to object to was being pumped through the speakers and projected on the wall (the DJ had the videos of the songs being projected for all to see).

Here’s how it worked. The school tells the DJ, “Don’t play any explicit music.” I went back and watched the DJ’s computer screen throughout the night. Almost every song he played had parentheses next to the song title, “(Clean Version).” Think about this. That means that every song he played has an “other than clean” version. And it didn’t take more than 30 seconds to realize that the kids knew the “other” version of the song.

For example, the DJ put on the “clean version” of “Get Low” by Lil’ Jon & the Eastside Boyz. It starts like this:Get low, Get low… To the window, to the wall (to dat wall) To the sweat drop down and fall (fall) To all these females crawl (crawl) To all skit skit skit skit skit skit …But the kids are all singing this:Get low, Get low… To the window, to the wall (to dat wall) To the sweat drop down my balls (my balls) To all these b*tches crawl (crawl) To all skeet skeet motherf***er (motherf***er!) all skeet skeet got dam (got dam)…By the way, if you’re offended by those lyrics…good. You should be. And I’m posting them because most of our kids hear this music, or at least encounter other kids singing content like this. I know, because my junior high daughter came home from soccer practice asking me about this very song. The girls on her team were singing it when the coach wasn’t around. (What does that tell you about our world today- when girls would sing these lyrics?)

Now forget the dirty version of this song for a moment. Instead, allow me to introduce you to a snippet of “the clean version”—the version played at the dance last night.She getting crunk in the club I mine she workin’ Then I like to see the female twerking taking the clothes off OOH she naked ATL. sorry don’t disrespect it Pa pop yo thang like this cause ying yang twin in this B I Lil Jon and the Eastside boyz wit me and we all like to see tig ole bitties Now bring yo’self over here girl and let me see you get low if you want this Thug Now take it to the floor (to the floor) and if yo wanta act you can keep yo self where you atBefore I go in and interpret, I have a quick question:

“How stupid are we?” 

Seriously, how stupid are adults? Think about this for a minute. The school administration has a rule:No explicit versions of songs. So we cut out the F-word, b*tch, and p**sy. But we don’t care about content or meaning.

So the music industry (brilliant, really) has come up with “clean versions” of all these songs. And foul, demeaning songs like “Get Low”—songs that sexualize young girls—are deemed “okay” as long as they don’t have cuss words. Perhaps school administrators need to start reading some reports like this one from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Musical content consists of much more than merely language.

I won’t spend too much time with the meaning of this one song. But if you look at the lyrics, it’s about a girl who’s doing some sexy moves on the dance floor, getting naked, and moving her body (which in the clean version is “her thang”; in the original version it’s “p**sy”). Then they mention how much they like to see “tig ole bitties”—basically a slang version of “big ol’ t**ties”—and instruct her to “take it to the floor” (a dance move where you get real low).

Now let’s bring it back to the dance floor on Saturday night. Picture this song playing and teachers walking around with flashlights saying, “Stop getting low” while the song (titled, “Get Low”) is instructing them to “get low.” Then “the clean version” says this:Drop dat body ya shake it fast ya Pop dat ass to the left and the right ya Now back, back, back it up (repeat 4x) Now stop (O) den wiggle wit ya (repeat 4 x)I probably don’t have to tell you what the girls did when the lyrics encouraged them to “back it up” and “den wiggle with ya.”

This is just one song. The whole night was filled with chaperones saying, “Don’t do that.” “Do what?”“Don’t do what the song and video being projected on the wall are telling you to do!”

One kid was kicked out for drinking that night. But they played songs like these:“Like a G6,” Far East Movement …Ladies love my style, at my table getting’ wild Get them bottles poppin’, we get that drip and that drop Now give me 2 more bottles cuz you know it don’t stop Hell yeaa Drink it up, drink-drink it up… “Tick Tock,” Kesha…Before I leave, brush my teeth with a bottle of Jack Cause when I leave for the night, I ain’t coming back… …Pulling up to the parties Trying to get a little bit tipsy…“But don’t drink, kids!”

How clueless are we? Or more accurately, “How naïve do we think our kids are?”

For those who are curious, the following is but a handful of some of the other “clean” versions that were played that night: “I Got a Feeling” “Dynamite” “Salt Shaker” “Teach Me How to Dougie” “Carry Out” “In Da Club” “Check It Out” “OMG” 
I told Lori when I walked into the gym, “I’m not kicking anyone out tonight. I’m just here to observe.” Maybe that was irresponsible of me, but I had a hunch. I really wanted to see if these teachers were going to kick anyone out for “grinding” each other.

I didn’t see a single person kicked out.

I saw teachers take wristbands, I saw them ask boys to put their shirts back on, I saw them ask girls to pull the bottoms of their dresses down to cover up their underwear…but no kids were removed.

Let me be clear: I don’t blame the teachers. I believe they felt as though their hands were tied. They literally would’ve had to send home the majority of the crowd.

Who is going to take that initiative?

So the dance went on. The girls kept “backing it up” and the guys kept “grinding.”

When Lori and I came home from the dance, she walked into our bedroom and just paused for a moment. Setting her purse down, she turned to me. “I’ve never seen so many trampy girls in all my life!”

Can We Blame Them?
It’s an interesting time we live in. I can’t really blame many of these teenagers. No, I’m not trying to defend them in any way, but our culture has taught them that this kind of behavior is okay. Adults produce this music and shoot the videos. Parents allow their kids to watch it, listen to it, and they even pony up the cash so their kids can buy it.

“But please don’t do what the lyrics are telling you to do.”

This kind of dancing is the norm in every music video. Celebrities model it. We even give awards to the adults who pimp this content to our kids. A few months ago I was watching the Regis and Kelly Show, when Kelly Ripa threw up her arms and began dancing like that with rapper Ludacris.

Our young girls are only copying what they see practiced by adult “role models” in every video and on every channel.

Some of the world was shocked when Miley Cyrus was caught dancing like this with movie director Adam Shankman (which, if you’re curious about what this kind of dancing looks like, in that candid video, Miley dances exactly like every girl at the school dance I chaperoned). Then Miley’s father, Billy Ray, responds with, “It’s what people her age do.”

Sadly, he has his facts straight (even though his response is far from it).

A Parents Response
So how are parents supposed to react to this? Should we respond like Billy Ray—“It’s what people her age do”?

Here’s a few thoughts: Start with your own kid. What would your kids do at their school dance? What have they been taught and modeled? Do they listen to all this music and watch these videos? (which would answer the previous question about what’s been modeled for them)

If you don’t know the answers to these questions, there’s only one way to find out. No, the answer isn’t, over-reacting and probing them for answers. The answer is, a relationship. How can we know what our kids are up to if we don’t even know them? This all starts with building relationships with them, having conversations, asking questions, and listening. The more we connect with our kids and listen to them, the more they’ll share. If you have a relationship with your kids, ask them their opinion about this kind of music, those videos, and that type of dancing. Do they think it’s wrong? Have they ever been taught otherwise? Which brings up another thought… Get into the Word. How can they know to “flee sexual immorality” unless someone has told them? How do they know what’s appropriate to download unless someone has had that conversation with them?

Parents need to find time to read the Bible with their kids and talk about truth. (Our new website www.TheSource4Parents.com will provide some great Biblical discussion starters- launching very soon!) This world is full of enough lies. Home should be one place where they can count on hearing truth. Don’t underestimate the power of influence from the home.

Youth workers should also be about teaching the truth of the word. Don’t let fun and games trump good teaching, mentoring, and discipleship. Use free resources like TheSource4YM.comand books like Connect to help you build truth into the lives of kids. Don’t be afraid to apply boundaries. As a parent, will I let my youngest daughter go to one of these dances in the future? Probably not. Yes, I already confessed that I let my daughter go a week prior with 5 other friends from our church. But you heard what they experienced.

It’s up to you as a parent to decide. If your son or daughter has a strong faith and you’ve had multiple conversations about music, lyrics and the temptations that come along with dancing, then you might feel comfortable sending them with a group of other strong believers. That’s your call as a parent.

But there is no way I’d send them alone! (Eccl. 4)

And let’s be real. If your kid isn’t really making wise decisions in his/her life right now, if they are dating someone who doesn’t have the same values and they surround themselves with people that listen to this kind of music all the time… don’t send them to the dance.

These are hard decisions to enforce as a parent. But I promise you, the more you invest in your kid relationally (regularly investing in them and listening to them), the easier these rules will be to enforce. Rules without a relationship lead to rebellion. Check it out for yourself. Chaperone the dance at your local high school and see what you observe. You might find some different trends in your area. Just because I saw this in a high school in California, that doesn’t mean that it’s the same in Oskaloosa, Iowa or in Intercourse, Pennsylvania… well… maybe… I digress.

When I blogged about this particular dance, a youth worker from a U.S. military base in Korea emailed me, commenting: “My wife and I chaperoned our homecoming dance and we experienced the EXACT thing you are talking about in this blog. We were truly saddened by it. So many very pretty ladies that dressed like total street girls looking like they were selling it. The grinding was crazy and to stop it was so hard. The lights were off so it was dark…WOW what a shock.”
You might find the same trends in your area. I encourage you to check it out. Watch how many teachers actually stop the “grinding.” Maybe even take notes of the songs played, then go home and look up the lyrics. What messages were being communicated to those kids?

Don’t over-react with what you discover. Go home, pray about it, and then come up with a logical and wise solution. If you want to confront the administration, do so in a calm, strategic manner with the evidence you collected. You're not alone in your opinions. Other school administrations are taking action to prevent this kind of dancing. 
This is our culture today.

Pray how you will respond.


[Image]Jonathan McKee, president of The Source for Youth Ministry, is the author of numerous youth ministry books including the brand new Connect: Real Relationships in a World of Isolation, and the award winning books Do They Run When They See You Coming? and Getting Students to Show Up. He speaks andtrains at camps, conferences, and events across North America, and provides free resources for youth workers internationally on his website, TheSource4YM.com.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Turf War for Tots

In TV's battle for the hearts and minds of preschoolers, it's Mandarin and math vs. stories and sparkle
Amy Chozick in WSJ.com Nov 5, 2010
They're just learning how to tie their shoes and use the bathroom, and yet they represent one of the most important demographics in television. Preschoolers aged 2 to 5 spend an average of more than 32 hours in front of a TV screen each week, according to Nielsen.
The big media companies chasing this audience, armed with studies and statistics, are gearing up for the next major battle. As they jockey for competitive position, two starkly different points of view about toddlers and television are emerging.
Executives at Walt Disney Co., preparing their latest push for this audience, say that some TV for tots favors curriculum over storytelling. They argue that it's sometimes too much work, not enough play.
They're offering themselves as an alternative to Nickelodeon's Nick Jr. channel, which emphasizes learning. Disney says that today's parents are ready for a change. In an age of video games and iPads, kids can learn their ABCs anywhere. What's missing are good, old-fashioned stories that kids can repeat to others, pretend to be the characters, and watch again and again.
At stake is much more than the more than $276 million marketers spent last year to advertise during children's TV shows. Fast food and movie studios topped the list of biggest spenders, according to Kantar Media. The sale of toys, books and DVDs for Nick Jr.'s "Dora the Explorer" has generated more than $11 billion in sales globally since 2002, Nickelodeon says. The value of future brand loyalty is incalculable.
Nickelodeon, a unit of Viacom that took older children by storm in the early 1990s, began winning preschoolers a few years later. In the monthly period ending Oct. 17, nine of the top 10 most-watched cable shows among viewers aged 2 to 5 were on Nickelodeon or Nick Jr., available in 77 million homes. "Dora" and spinoff "Go Diego, Go" teach kids Spanish. "Team Umizoomi" follows doe-eyed Milli, Geo and Bot as they solve math problems.
One of the top-rated shows among preschoolers on Nick Jr. is "Ni Hao, Kai-Lan," in which a cartoon Kai-lan Chow, a 6-year-old with big round eyes and black pigtails, teaches kids Mandarin Chinese. The series draws about 828,000 viewers aged 2 to 5, compared with 753,000 for "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse," Disney's top-rated preschool series.
Disney, which of course was built on telling stories to kids and is playing to its strengths, needs to do something. To support its decision to focus on feel-good stories rather than core curricula, the company proffers a six-month study of 2,200 parents of preschoolers the company commissioned and conducted last year. These Disney researchers found that when parents were asked what they most want for their children, the most popular reply was for them to be happy.
That's a big shift from five or 10 years ago when academic and cognitive skills topped parents' list, says Nancy Kanter, senior vice president of Disney Junior Worldwide. "It wasn't 'I want them to count to 100' or 'I want them to spell their name,' or 'I wish she could speak Chinese,' " she says.
Many people, of course, think small children shouldn't be watching TV at all, much less be subjected to commercials. The venerable "Sesame Street," which has corporate sponsorships but no ads, has been education-based from the beginning, with Cookie Monster, Big Bird and friends teaching numbers, letters and social behavior.
"Sesame Street" was designed in 1969 as a nonprofit tool for underprivileged kids. "We had a very specific goal of trying to get these kids ready for kindergarten," says creator Joan Ganz Cooney. Up until now, neither Disney or Nickelodeon had strayed very far from the PBS icon's playbook.
Disney's new initiative for kids starts in February, when it will launch Disney Junior, a new 10-hour block of daytime programming on the Disney Channel targeted at preschoolers. Disney Junior will replace its existing "Playhouse Disney," and in early 2012 will become a 24-hour cable channel of its own.
Nickelodeon declined to comment on Disney's plans, but says it believes that the best way to engage preschoolers is through educational programs that provide opportunities to learn core academic skills, largely through interactive game play. "We make kids feel important and smart—it's our secret sauce that no one else has figured out," says Brown Johnson, president of animation, Nickelodeon/MTV Networks Kids and Family Group. "Moms expect their kids to have vitamin-fortified programming," she adds.
Disney says its researchers talked to preschool and kindergarten teachers and found that kids had easy access to basic facts, but lagged in social skills like sharing or being a good listener. "Jake and the Never Land Pirates," a new series launching in February, follows a group of kids who get into adventures with Captain Hook. Even though Hook is a bad guy, Jake still invites him to play at the end of the episodes, an important social lesson, Disney says.
Just as Nick Jr. has shows like "The Backyardigans" that emphasize storytelling, Disney doesn't shy away from academics entirely. In "Jake and the Never Land Pirates," the kids receive gold doubloons as rewards in each episode, a story device that helps kids learn to count. In an upcoming country-western-themed episode of "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse" Mickey and the gang do a square dance, followed by a triangle and circle dance to teach shapes. Other new series like "Mickey Mousekersize" and "Special Agent Oso: Three Healthy Steps" give tips for healthy living.
But some parents say they're tired of being made to feel guilty about their child-rearing. They've become leery of experts who say, "No, no, this way is wrong," or, scarily, "It's all over when your kids are 3," says Ellen Galinsky, author of "Mind in the Making" and president and co-founder of Families and Work Institute, a nonprofit research center. "They don't want to just raise smart kids—they want kids who are happy, who have social skills, and can get along with other kids and adults."
Following the death of the broadcast networks' Saturday morning cartoon tradition, preschoolers have been watching at all hours. Forty percent more of them now watch Nick Jr. from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. than during the rest of the day, according to the network.
Turn on the Sprout network's on-demand channel at night and Big Bird, Ernie, Star and others appear in a kind of modern test pattern, fast asleep in bed 'til morning—it's called "Snooze-a-Thon." Kids are supposed to get the hint. Sprout is owned by cable giant Comcast Corp., Hit Entertainment, PBS and Sesame Workshop.
Disney executives say they trail Nick Jr. because they aren't able to air preschool shows in prime time, when the Disney Channel must cater to older kids. The Disney Junior channel, which will reach 75 million homes and replace Disney's low-rated SOAPnet channel, would remedy that.
More than 70% of parents told Disney they want preschool programs in the afternoon and evenings, especially 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. A record 2.9 million viewers watched a prime-time special of Disney's "Handy Manny," a preschool series about a bilingual Hispanic handyman and his anthropomorphic talking tools.
"Little Princess," in development for Disney Junior, follows the fantastical world of the classic Disney princess. In the upcoming Disney Junior series "Doc McStuffins," about a repairer of damaged toys, hints are offered on taking care of your body (a toy fire truck, for example, can't run on a hot day if he doesn't have enough water). But mostly it's designed to deliver what Disney calls a "sense of sparkle," which sounds like the classic Disney, with fireworks splashing over Sleeping Beauty's castle.
"Disney has done a good job of building channels to the I-just-want-my-kids-to-be-happy group, and Nick and a few others have certainly been going after the I-want-the-smartest-child set," says Langbourne Rust, a consumer psychologist and researcher who has conducted large-scale studies for "Sesame Street" and other children's programs. "The sector that wants to make their children smarter and work on that all the time is a small but a heavily involved group." A mass-market company like Disney needs to be broader.
For Disney, preschool is an entry point to the entire brand—from DVDs, theme parks and plush toys to Pixar movies and older-skewing Disney Channel series like "The Wizards of Waverly Place." Disney Junior will target Playhouse Disney's 2 to 5 demographic and also try to attract 6- and 7-year-olds.
Disney says it will adjust "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse," which teaches kids math, to make it less academic and more whimsical. "We're trying to capture the essence of what a family feels like when they go to visit a Disney theme park for the first time," says Gary Marsh, president of entertainment and chief creative officer at Disney Channels Worldwide.
In 1990 Nickelodeon executives gathered child-care experts, developmental psychiatrists, preschool teachers, toy designers and other experts to discuss how children learn. One of the conclusions was that children must play in order to absorb information. Back then, Nickelodeon was becoming one of the top-rated channels on cable. Its image as a wall-to-wall funhouse run by kids, not parents or teachers who talked down to them, captured older children. Nickelodeon emphasized that it was okay to be goofy, even a little naughty.
Nickelodeon tacked in a different direction when it approached preschoolers. In 1996, it launched "Blue's Clues," considered the first interactive kids show. In addition to the facts it dispensed, the action in each episode unfolded from left to right, as sentences do, to prepare children to read. Then came, "Dora the Explorer" which thrilled parents who saw their preschoolers dance around the living room saying "Hola" and "¿Cómo estás?"
The Disney Channel has now won tween audiences with stars like Mikey Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers. But as it was luring these deep-pocketed pre-teens, Disney was losing ground as a go-to for preschoolers. Its most popular cartoons, "Fish Hooks" and "Phineas & Ferb," attract an older audience and do not tie into the classic Disney characters that populate theme parks and gift shops.
Disney says it sees an opportunity to fill a void in preschool entertainment with programming that emphasizes layered narratives that help kids develop emotionally. The approach requires breaking with the industry rule that children's shows should not have villains, believed to upset young children. Most Nick Jr. shows do not have bad guys. Disney historically has been pretty good at wicked witches, mean stepsisters, vicious hyenas and the hunters who shot Bambi's mom.
"Well, if you can't have bad guys, then you can't have conflict and then it's difficult to have a real story," says Ms. Kanter from her corner office at Disney's Burbank headquarters.
Some Nick Jr. shows, like "Max & Ruby," a preschool hit about a 3-year-old bunny and his big sister who resolve conflicts, emphasize storytelling and social skills. But the most popular series have a specific curriculum, Ms. Johnson says. Whether a show has a villain is determined on a case by case basis, she says.
PBS Kids emphasizes cognitive development with a particular focus on math and science in shows like "Sid the Science Kid," but the network doesn't aim to drill kids with facts. "Recitation of hard knowledge might not be right for 2- and 3-year-olds," says Linda Simensky, vice president of children's programming at PBS. The channel's science-oriented "The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That!" is currently the top-rated show on TV among viewers aged 2 to 5.
With all the multitude of studies and statistics these companies marshall, analyzing this particular audience is an inexact science. On a recent afternoon right after nap time, a group of preschoolers at the Tutor Time child-care center in Castaic, Calif., gathered around a TV set to watch early sketches (or "storymatics") of an upcoming episode of "Jake and the Never Land Pirates."
Four-year-old Ali played with his shoelace. Five-year-old Devin giggled coyly after she passed gas. Jacob had a hard time obeying the "don't touch your friends" rule. Disney executives and researchers watched their every move, taking careful notes. An executive producer thought Devin clearly "felt comfortable with the program."
At the request of several very young participants, the writers also scurried to add another element to the story—more tickling.


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Thursday, December 2, 2010

Disney Will Stop Making Princess Movies Because Boys Think They're Icky
MOVIE TALK on Yahoo! Movies, by: Tim Grierson, Mon Nov 22 2010, 11:00 AM PST

Cinderella, we've got some bad news for you...
On Wednesday, Disney will be releasing "Tangled," the studio's 50th animated film. You might think that this would be cause for celebration, but from recent stories in the Los Angeles Times and New York Times, it appears that Disney Animation is in the midst of a major freak-out/reinvention. The main takeaway from these articles was that Pixar guru (and Disney Animation bigwig) John Lasseter is in the midst of reviving Disney's slumping non-Pixar animation projects. Oh, and he's done making movies about fairy tales and princesses.
"They may come back later because someone has a fresh take on it," Lasseter's Disney Animation co-chief Ed Catmull told the L.A. Times, "but we don't have any other musicals or fairy tales lined up." One reason is because the studio is fearful of alienating young boys, who supposedly won't see something like last year's "The Princess and the Frog." The other reason, frighteningly, is that young girls consider themselves too cool to want to be princesses.
Media critic Dafna Lemish, who has written about the influence of film and television on children, said in the same article, "By the time they're 5 or 6, [girls are] not interested in being princesses. They're interested in being hot, in being cool. Clearly, they see this is what society values." (That's right: A girl born in 2005 already is worrying about how "hot" she is. Have fun with that, moms and dads of the world.) 
So, if "Tangled" (based on the Rapunzel story) will be the last fairy tale/princess movie Disney makes for a while, what will the studio be working on instead? Next year we'll get a new Winnie the Pooh film, and there's talk of "Reboot Ralph," supposedly about an old-school videogame character who has to contend with life in the Xbox era. In other words, get ready for a bunch of animated movies for boys. 
This is what the animated-movie world is going to be like for some time to come: "How to Train Your Dragon" producer Bonnie Arnold was quoted in the L.A. Times article as saying, "You see elementary school kids standing in line to see 'Iron Man' or 'Transformers.' To be honest, that's who we're all competing with on some level." 
Disney has gotten the message, completely reworking "Tangled" two years ago so that it contained more action -- some chase sequences in the movie are inspired by the "Bourne" franchise -- and featured a wise-cracking prince. (We haven't seen the film yet, but we agree with The New York Times' Brooks Barnes' assessment that "Tangled" now sounds like a DreamWorks animated movie, even changing the name from "Rapunzel" so that boys wouldn't stay away.)

Lasseter insists that these changes at Disney are all for the good and that people should give him and his team time to work their wonders. But still it's hard not to be completely depressed by these developments. It's not that we're clamoring for a slew of new "princess movies," but it seems like Disney Animation is now trying to chase trends rather than focusing on just making good movies. 
This is doubly ironic since a commitment to quality and a fresh approach is what made Lasseter's Pixar so fantastic in the first place: It wasn't just the animation but the storytelling and heart that give their films their special aura. You would have hoped that Lasseter would have remembered those lessons when he moved over to Disney in 2006, especially now that classic-style Disney animated movies are a rarity in today's climate. Sure, "The Princess and the Frog" wasn't a great film, but what made it fun was that it didn't feel like anything else out there right now: It was a good-old-fashioned animated musical without the pumped-up action-adventure stories that Pixar and DreamWorks do now. Frankly, we're more ready for a new "Beauty and the Beast" than we are for yet another ultra-hip kids movie. 
The positive reviews thus far for "Tangled" suggest that it's a decent middle ground between Disney's past and future -- we just hope Lasseter doesn't let Disney's legacy disappear completely into that mysterious vault where they keep all their old films.