How one television program attempted to teach new generations
Although they are fading faster than an endangered species, Facebook groups, at the very least, provided quite a few laughs. And although they may now be archived deep in the realms of cyberspace, these “fan groups” have provided us with some inspirational messages and a place to connect with other fans, may they be Harry Potter fanatics or lovers (or haters) of Justin Bieber.
And then, there is my personal favorite: “Linda Ellerbee, You Ruined My Childhood.”
Nick News with Linda Ellerbee first debuted on Nickelodeon in 1992 and appeared on CBS between 1993 and 1996. In each episode, Ellerbee, along with a cast of “ordinary” teenagers, discussed a different topic relevant to the news at that time. Although the show stopped airing on a regularly in the mid-2000s, Ellerbee and her crew still appear on Nickelodeon on occasionally.
For those of us who were lucky enough to grow up during Nick News’ prime, learning about the realities of humanity and society — sorry guys, Spongebob isn’t real — was, at times, a painful experience. As the authors of the “Linda Ellerbee, You Ruined My Childhood” Facebook page so eloquently put it:
By the first commercial break, you were either bored to tears or scared to death of what would happen to you and your family if you forgot to lock your doors at night.
Love her or hate her, Linda Ellerbee was always on at 8 p.m. during the ‘90s, encouraging families to sit down together and watch Nick News together.
But for the sixth graders at Copeland Middle School in Rockaway, N.J., there was no other alternative but to face the music — and Ellerbee — alone.
Ellerbee’s latest narrative, What Happened? The Story of September 11, 2001 was screened for these students during history classes. Parents were not informed that the film would be shown, and the children were told on Thursday that they would be watching it the next day because “the anniversary of 9/11 was so close and all.”
Ellerbee’s latest news special is narrated along the lines of other Nick News episodes; however, the thesis of this particular episode is that the children of today’s world do not fully understand the details surrounding the attacks. The program is divided into three parts: the news, the narration and the questions.
When 11-year-old Olivia Munson, a student at Copeland Middle School, watched the special, she couldn’t help but feel “depressed,” particularly when the young adults shared their experiences about 9/11. For Munson, it was the story of now-25-year-old “Sara” that frightened her the most.
“Her sister was on United 93, and my dad travels for work and is on planes a lot — it could have been him,” Munson said. “It just made me feel really sad and worried.”
Munson, although believing the message of the episode definitely hit home, does not know if it was absolutely necessary she and her fellow classmates watch the film — because she has two older siblings, the truth of 9/11 had been leaked to her over time and she, like many other kids, “just put the facts together.”
However, when asked how her other classmates felt, Munson was unable to answer, because following the film’s conclusion her teacher switched the topic, without discussing the film or allowing the students to speak to each other about it. Then, Munson explained, it was time for the students to go home and never once did they speak to each other about their thoughts on the movie.
Funny, considering part of Ellerbee’s opening monologue — a sentence that so many media critics praised — was to encourage children to have “a parent or an adult you trust watch with you and then talk about it.”
Regardless of one’s bias towards Nick News or its host, one thing can — or at least should — be agreed on concerning this controversial topic: If today’s children truly do not understand all the facts of 9/11, then having someone clarifying the details right next to them while watching the film is vital. Whether it is a parent, a grandparent or a teacher, an adult should be there not to censor information, but to answer any questions.
As Fred Eisner, a child psychologist in Manalapan, N.J., points out, showing the images of 9/11 to a young child “does not do any worse than the graphics shown on TV already.”
He continued by explaining that the point of having an adult present is so that the child has someone to talk to.
Eisner added that the problem arises when, in a school setting without parental approval, a film — even one as “tame” as Nick News — is shown.
Perhaps Linda Ellerbee did not ruin our childhood; perhaps the only thing threatening our innocence and that of the younger generation is the world beyond our television screen and how we are thrust into it.
Mia O’Brien is a freshman journalism major who thinks the ‘90s were All That. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.