Like it or not, our kids learn a lot from what they see on TV — so what we choose to show our kids on television matters. On July 13th, my daughters, 6-year-old twins, got to watch the premiere of Ridley Jones on Netflix. Ridley, also a 6-year-old, made her television debut and my girls and I were glued to the television.
Ridley is a courageous, kind, soft spoken little girl who is raised by both her mother and her grandmother. She is navigating the world as most 6-year-olds do: with curiosity. The Jones family lives in a treehouse within a museum, and at night, the paintings come to life, something Ridley discovers in the first episode. The show promotes acceptance, embraces the importance of community, and provides all of us the opportunity to learn what it means to live and truly be in community with others.
Ridley’s sidekicks are a fun and colorful group, ranging from an ancient mummy, Ismet, to an astronaut monkey named Peaches. But ‘Ridley Jones’ also makes history as the first children’s show with a non-binary character, Fred the bison. Over the last year or so, we’ve seen a social and cultural movement to be more inclusive and attuned to people’s pronouns, and it’s important to teach our kids too — which is why ‘Ridley Jones’ is the perfect intro. Fred (voiced by Ezra Menas, who is also non-binary) provides viewers with an understanding of what it means to be a non-binary person, and more importantly how to treat them, as they live in an accepting community (as it should be).
We live in a world in which we constantly talk about our differences, and sometimes forget to accept one another for who we are. The LGBTQ community gets this. As a queer woman myself, it is important for me to teach my kids how to accept others — not just kids who look like them or kids whose families resemble theirs, but all kids from all different kinds of communities.
Getting to know characters like Fred empowers our kids to be more accepting too. In an interview with the show’s creator, producer and LGBTQ mom Chris Nee, also the creator of ‘Doc McStuffins’, I learned why Ridley’s story is an especially important one for us all to know right now.
“I grew up as a gay kid in the ’80s and didn’t see anyone on TV like me,” Chris tells Scary Mommy. “I wanted to create a character that made kids like me feel more comfortable in their own skin. I also wanted to incorporate a non-binary character in an effort to make topics like this a non-issue to children. And, Fred was born.”
As I watched the first few episodes of the show with my daughters, I too saw myself in some of the characters — like Ridley’s mom, Mama Jones, and even in Grandma Jones. The show introduces its viewers both young and old to the reality that not all families look alike, and not all have a mom and a dad.
The Jones family dynamic is an important part of the storyline. Mama Jones (Sutton Foster) and Grandma Jones (Blythe Danner) show us what many of us, myself included, got to see in our own homes: what it’s like to have both mama and grandma rule, and sometimes, disagree.
The Jones family may look different than the traditional household, but Chris hopes that parents will embrace this in an effort to normalize a variety of family structures. “Parents should show their kids shows that they feel good about,” she says. “But, if that’s the reason you’re not showing them Ridley, you’re missing out. And since these characters are just a reflection of the real world, your kids are going to end up being exposed to people different from them as they move through the world.” My hope is that kids, teachers, and parents will learn by watching Ridley Jones’s family, that every family’s make-up is different, but all are equal.
Inclusion matters. The stories we hear and see on the television screen also matter. Our kids are in their most formative years, shaping opinions that will help shape the world they inherit, and exposing them to diversity (and acceptance) at a young age will no doubt prove to be valuable later on.
In the words of Grandma Jones, “Be patient and work hard.” We all can take Grandma’s advice as we take the journey to form stronger, more inclusive communities. We should all be able to see ourselves and our lives reflected back at us when we watch television. Shows like ‘Ridley Jones’ take us a step further as we seek to open our hearts and minds to people and families who might not look like our own, and provide our kids with an opportunity to build stronger communities right alongside us.
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