Last updated: July 15. 2014 9:19AM - 154 Views
By Justin Lockamy Contributing columnist

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It’s nice to find television programming appropriate for my three-year-old child; programming that teaches positive lessons and is absent any vulgarity.

“Thomas and Friends,” for example, is a show about a gang of rail engines as they haul freight around the Isle of Sodor under the supervision of cartoon capitalist Sir Topham Hatt. The characters were created by the Rev. W. V. Awdry, an Anglican priest, in part as a bedtime story for his son.

With that DNA, it’s no surprise that “Thomas and Friends” is loaded with valuable lessons for the 5-and-under set — the virtues of sharing and getting along, etc. However, there is a troubling uber-lesson running throughout the show, and I think it warrants discussion.

Sir Topham Hatt can’t motivate his engines with the promise of better pay or benefits; he can only praise them for being “very useful engines”. However, if you watch more than an hour of Thomas, you’ll realize that these innocent engines seems to pin their self-worth to their usefulness.

How come Sir Hatt is the only one judging what’s “useful”? Should we in the real world really let the most powerful in society judge what’s “useful” and what’s not? The concerns and values of the managerial and proletariat classes don’t always overlap. When we judge a person’s worth on the basis of the perceived usefulness to society, we are soon tempted to immoral or unethical action — such as when North Carolina forcibly sterilized more than 7,000 people between 1929 and 1974.

But a child’s worth does not arise from his usefulness to society. As children of God, no one — neither you, me, nor Sir Topham Hatt — need prove his worth. Our worth is a birthright. “Thomas and Friends” thus has backwards one of the biggest lessons we can teach a child.

Thomas and his friends are constantly bending over backwards to please Sir Topham Hatt, to make sure they live up to his definition of “usefulness.” But there are serious problems with this. First, a child never has one person to please, he has many: mother, father, teacher, sibling. Second, the wishes of all these people are often fickle and contradictory. It is thus impossible to please everybody all the time.

So instead of teaching our kids to strain their psyches by trying to prove their worth according to “usefulness” as determined by the values of others, perhaps we should teach our children to discover and follow their own values, even when those values don’t align with our own.

After all, a well-oriented child grows into a well-adjusted adult, and a well-adjusted adult can be infinitely useful to everyone in society — not just the Topham Hatts of the world.

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