Variety is the spice of these CDs By Jennifer Mangan

When you read the statistics about the time kids spend watching television each day, you understand why it's dubbed "the third parent." With so much exposure, it stands to reason that our kids are looking to TV characters as role models. Who are your kids watching on TV? Are the characters exhibiting the values you want your child to model? I thought I'd take a look at some of the new releases that seem to be the popular choices among kids.


I am Lizzie McGuire-ed out. Wow, there are so many episodes on each of the DVDs that it's well worth the money-if you like Lizzie. And from what I gather, kids love Lizzie. As a parent, Lizzie in general squeaks by, but "Lizzie McGuire: Growing Up Lizzie" causes me concern. Two of the episodes portray Lizzie conniving with her friends, Gordo and Miranda, about how to dodge her parent's rules on R-rated movies and going to parties where there is no chaperone.

No doubt, these are good topics for middle- schoolers, but I am disappointed in the way they are handled. In almost every predicament, Lizzie caves in to her friends' pressure, lies to her parents and does not have much remorse in the end. Lizzie is also verbally disrespectful to her mom.

In "Rated Arghh," Lizzie's parents won't allow her to see an R-rated movie. Gordo suggests Lizzie ask her parents if she can play miniature golf and then sneak over to the movie. "You want me to lie to my parents?" asks Lizzie. "No, " Gordo replies, "I am asking you to make last minute plans in advance." Although Lizzie, Gordo and Miranda are caught in the end, as a parent it's tough to subscribe to a role model who is so easily influenced by others and lies.

In "Growing Up Lizzie," I feel like my kids are getting tips on defiance and how to make up quick-witted lies. I understand it's "just a movie," but I suggest you watch it with your kids so they understand how you feel about these issues. The episode "Adventures in Babysitting" is the best of the bunch with lots of laughs and mishaps by Lizzie and her dad. The second release, "Lizzie McGuire: Fashionably Lizzie" is my preference. In fact, Lizzie teaches her friends some lessons in these episodes.

RECESS: ALL GROWED DOWN and TAKING THE FIFTH GRADE, rated G, 2003, $14.99 VHS, $19.99 DVD; ages 8 and up.

The kids in Disney's "Recess" are also potential role models, especially to elementary-aged kids. It's a miracle that a Saturday morning cartoon can survive more than a couple years on network television, and so far "Recess" has received straight A's. It's no surprise why this show has outlasted others-the "Recess" kids do what most kids would love to do at school-have fun misbehaving without consequences. After all, what kid doesn't dream of pulling the ultimate charade on the substitute teacher without getting caught or orchestrating the best food fight ever in the cafeteria? I know, it's all in good fun. But are elementary-aged kids able to distinguish between mere fun and fantasy and mimicking this kind of behavior? I think it depends on the maturity of child, and that's why parents need to watch television with their kids. Don't assume they know; make sure they know.

I do enjoy the variety of character personalities from Principal Prickley, whose name I don't understand because he isn't very sharp, to Gretchen, a highly analytical kid and only girl in the gang, whose observations add zest to the dialogue. In "All Growed Down," the kids look back to when they first met in kindergarten. It's an endearing, sensitive episode focusing on the bond of friendship. "Taking the Fifth Grade" is a bit more spirited with one of the main characters, T.J., leading a boycott at school over changes made by the board of education. There's plenty of disrespect and defiance in this episode, so use it as an opportunity for teaching your family's values.

THE BIG COMFY COUCH, rated G, 2002, VHS $9.98, DVD $14.98; ages 2-5.

Did anyone see "The Big Comfy Couch" float in the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade? I'm glad to see the exposure because it's one of my favorite preschool television series. With an emphasis on social and emotional skill building, Loonette, the little girl clown who lives on a big, comfy couch, discovers the world around her from a child's point of view. She isn't perfect and she makes lots of mistakes, but by thinking things through, Loonette learns from her mistakes, apologizes when necessary and ultimately grows socially and emotionally. Loonette's best friend Molly, her dolly, communicates through cartoon bubbles and helps Loonette understand friendship. Granny, Auntie Macasser and Major Bedhead also play significant roles in Loonette's life lessons. Of the four new double-episode titles, I particularly enjoyed "Time Out and Let's Try Sharing," where Molly experiences a timeout when she doesn't listen and Loonette learns about greediness when she ends up hurting the feelings of Molly and Major Bedhead over a special coin.

FREAKY FRIDAY, rated PG, 2003, VHS $24.99, DVD $29.99; ages 10 and up.

Since this movie arrived at my house, I have watched it at least three times and all within the first couple of days. Each of my girls wanted to watch it with me alone. Although the entire family will enjoy this clever PG film, it's mandatory for moms and daughters to watch together for one good reason-so they can laugh at themselves. As the story goes, Tess Coleman (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her 15-year-old daughter Anna (Lindsay Lohan) have the stereotypical relationship fighting from sunup to sundown about the usual topics-school, music, boys, siblings and a soon-to-be stepfather. Everything changes when Tess and Anna read two identical fortune cookies causing a curse in the night where they wake up inside the other's body. It's mayhem as each tries to resume the other's life. Tess, inside Anna's body, goes to high school pledging never to get a detention but ends up with several, while Anna, inside Tess's body, tries to dodge her fiance's loving kisses.

There are countless precarious situations that provide great, clean comedy, but what the switcheroo accomplishes is deep respect for each other's point of view and a newfound mother-daughter, sister-brother, stepfather-stepdaughter relationship. They even learn to understand each other's taste in men and boys.



Jennifer Mangan is a writer who lives in the western suburbs with her husband and four children, ages 17, 16, 13 and 12.



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