The Berenstain Bears are ubiquitous characters in children’s literature, for better or worse. (Worse. Yeah, definitely worse.) Your children are going to receive Berenstain Bears books from a well-intentioned aunt, grandparent, or family friend who think the pictures are cute and the morals are nice, without regard to the subtle lessons wedged sideways into these books. You may not have noticed these lessons on the first read-through (Mama Bear’s omnipresent blue and white polka dot housecoat is pretty distracting), but what kinds of disturbing inadvertent take-aways are your kids going to pick up by reading the Berenstain Bears?
1. The Berenstain Bears and the Double Dare
Moral: You can get away with anything as long as you (or your parents) know the right people.
This epic saga of giving in to peer pressure sees Brother Bear falling in with Bear Country’s gang of juvenile delinquents on a mission to steal watermelons from Farmer Ben, a friend of the Bear family. (Is “Farmer” his actual name, or just his profession? It’s hard to tell sometimes in Bear Country, where “Brother” is apparently an acceptable first name.) After succumbing to the dreaded “dee-double-dare” from his peers, Brother gets caught red-handed mid-theft by Farmer Ben himself. The other kids take off, but Farmer Ben just wants to know what a nice kid like Brother Bear is doing running around with such a bad crowd. Not only does Farmer Ben call the parents of the other kids, but not the parents of actual watermelon thief Brother, he serves Brother a big juicy slice of the pilfered fruit. Brother goes home with a full stomach and a strong sense of superiority as angry parents of the other kids show up to haul their spawn home and give them an earful. (The other moral of this story is that Brother Bear is kind of a dick.)
2. The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Junk Food
Moral: Once you eat a single Hershey’s kiss your health is as good as ruined. There is no going back.
Mama Bear notices that her cubs are turning into little Fatty McPudgebutts, and responds by forbidding them all contact with anything sweet, which is portrayed as the proper choice. All sweets and snacks in the house are locked in the freezer and replaced with carrot sticks, and this decision is supported by the kids’ pediatrician, because as we all know, every time a kid eats a cookie, she immediately catches Mega-Diabetes. After the family gets their exercise on and ends up winning a race trophy, Papa proposes opening up the freezer for a special treat, at which point he is immediately shut down by his cubs, who have clearly drunk Mama’s sugar-free Kool-Aid. “HAVE A CARROT STICK,” they shout, their eyes glassy with the fervency of their belief in the One True Way.
3. The Berenstain Bears And The Bad Habit
Moral: It’s pretty easy to get your parents to bribe you for good behavior.
Mama and Papa try strategy after strategy to get Sister to stop biting her nails, and only succeed in the end by paying her for every day she goes without nibbling. Brother takes notice and starts to speculate on what bad habit he should develop so he can tap into this obvious gold mine. Actually, I think Brother is on to something here. If my kids were old enough to be bribe-able, I would totally pay them to stop trying to bite each other’s faces off.