You’ll rarely hear parents speaking too enthusiastically about children’s TV shows ― even if a show is pretty good, the sheer volume of exposure is going to wear you down eventually. But while my 5-year-old son’s “Doc McStuffins” phase is now over (we’re deep in Kidzbop country now), it was one of the few shows I never minded watching when he was into it.
That’s because the show, about a little girl who models herself after her doctor mom by operating on stuffed animals, is just genuinely entertaining ― the characters are charming and the songs, while repetitive, don’t make you want to stab yourself with an icepick. It’s just an added bonus that “Doc McStuffins” passes on valuable messages, without being preachy or overly saccharine.
The most obvious benefit is that Doc and her family are black in a largely white children’s programming lineup. Lack of representation permeates every area of children’s entertainment (and parenting resources ― just try finding a picture online of a rash on a black baby). Since my son is black, I’m particularly sensitive to him seeing black faces on television and in books, but Doc and her family are great role models for everyone, in so many different ways.
Below, a few of the valuable lessons that make “Doc McStuffins,” as comic Kamau Bell says, “one of the most important shows in the history of television.”
1. Doc’s Mom Is Always Working
My actual favorite part of this show is how often Doc’s mom ends a scene by either getting a phone call or going “Well, I need to get back to work!” It’s not just that Doc’s mom is the bread-winner, but that she’s actually depicted as having to work a lot of the time, even when she’s at home. It’s such a realistic portrayal of what “work-life balance” actually means for many career-focused moms.
“I need to get back to work,” she says in the middle of this clip, after a little family time. “And I need to get back to my dinner prep,” responds Dad.
2. Doc’s Dad Loves To Cook
Speaking of meal prep, there’s no second shift for Doc’s doctor mom. Not only does Doc’s stay-at-home dad seem to take on the lion’s share of the domestic responsibilities, but he’s really into cooking. And nobody ever acts like it’s unusual or special for that to be his domain. In one episode, he buys Doc a kitchen play set so she can be “just like Dad.”
I’m a hopeless cook and know many dads who excel at making meals for their kids, so I find this refreshing.
3. Doc Preaches Consent
This is probably my single favorite moment of any children’s programming ever. Since one of my top parenting priorities is making sure my son grows up to respect the bodily autonomy of others, I adore the song “Commander No,” in which Doc explains to Giggling Gorilla that you always stop tickling someone when they say no.
They even touch upon people’s counterintuitive reactions to sexual assault with this exchange:
Commander: “I said no, but you didn’t listen.”
Giggling Gorilla: “I didn’t think you meant it. You were laughing when you said no...”
Commander: “That’s true, but tickling is a strange thing. I was laughing even though I wanted you to stop.”
That’s a pretty nuanced take for a kid’s show.
4. Doc Is A Female Role Model For Girls AND Boys
I’m sure the show has a larger female fan base given that Doc herself is a girl, but my son, who has been known to balk at princesses no matter how hard I try to tell him boys and girls can like whatever they want, never had any problem with Doc. Although Doc is a girl, nothing codes “Doc McStuffins” explicitly as a “girl show” or a “boy show” and the storyline is appealing to everyone.
A NY Times article from last year noted that Doc bridges not only racial divides, but gender divides. Like the little boys in the story, my son even plays with a Doc McStuffins doctor bag ― luckily pink and purple are two of his favorite colors.
5. The Show Teaches About Embracing Differences
In a 2014 episode entitled “Take Your Doc To Work Day,” Doc teaches a curly-haired doll how to love her natural hair, just like Doc learned to. In another episode, she builds a wheelchair for an action figure who has lost his legs.
“It’s quite different from legs,” says Wildlife Will when trying out his his new wheels.
“That’s true. But different can be good,” responds Doc.
Doc also represented different kinds of families with a multi-part adoption storyline last year.
6. She’s A Freaking Doctor!
OK, Doc herself is just a pretend doctor. But Doc’s mother is a real one, and you get the feeling Doc will follow in her mom’s footsteps. And considering a black woman was recently discriminated against on a plane for not “looking like a doctor,” this kind of representation is still sorely needed in the world.
In 2012, 131 African-American female physicians even released a thank you collage of themselves with the cartoon character that read “We are Doc McStuffins.”
If none of that convinces you, let me leave you with two words: Michelle Obama. The first lady actually made a guest appearance last season. Re-watching this with my son brought tears to my eyes.