Thoughts about children’s songs

When I was a kid, my cousins had a tape of children’s songs that included one about an alligator raiding a department store and taking a refrigerator.

The first several verses were funny, light-hearted and not that remarkable, mainly playing with the rhymes of “alligator,” “refrigerator,” “elevator” and “escalator.” As a kid I guess I found it entertaining.

But the last verse was very out of place. It seemed as if it had been tacked on as an afterthought, to address criticism about the song being unwholesome because it depicted stealing.

In the last verse, the singer reassures the listeners that the alligator was honest and paid for the refrigerator, by mailing fish from his swamp to the department store afterwards.

Okay, but this made it way worse.

The first several verses were never going to give children the impression that stealing is okay. Children know from a very early age that you’re not supposed to take anything from a store without paying. Children hearing the song will fully understand that it depicts something they are not supposed to approve of, but that they can laugh at anyway because it’s ridiculous.

But the last verse? That could actually confuse children about what is right and wrong.

While young kids are totally aware that you have to pay for what you buy, they may not be clear on the details of how payment works. And the last verse teaches them that

1. stores accept payment in non-cash goods, like fish
2. stores accept payment mailed in after you have taken unpaid merchandise out of the store.

Your kids were never going to raid a department store and steal a refrigerator. And you know, they probably still aren’t going to steal something just because of this song. They’ll probably just ask you questions about the parts that don’t make sense, because asking questions is what kids do.

But, if any part of this song was going to convince kids to shoplift stuff, it would be the last verse, which basically tells them it’s okay because they can pay later by mailing some random possessions to the store they stole it from.

And this is typical. I have seen so many songs and stories edited to make them more kid-friendly and the editing actually worsens the message.

Adults have seriously no idea how kids think. I don’t know what happens in most people’s brains when they grow up, but in the vast majority of cases it seems to involve totally erasing the memory of what being a kid was like.

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