The XX Factor

How I Learned To Love Dora

This Sunday, Nickelodeon celebrates Dora’s 10 th anniversary with an hourlong special, “Dora’s Big Birthday Adventure.” I used to be anti-Dora because I had the outdated notion that any show for kids that was not on PBS was evil. How did Dora win me over? First, she’s a girl of action. Her mom’s having a baby? Great. She’ll visit the newborn, or (spoiler alert) newborns, but first she needs to get through a spooky forest, a nut farm, and help Benny the Bull put new tires on his car. None of the self-doubt or whininess that might come from another animated TV character with his own show, Caillou. Second, Dora is also practical. Going camping in the Friendly Forest? Fancy Nancy would need at least two footlockers. Dora grabs a map, a backpack with provisions, and her simian sidekick. And when Swiper threatens to swipe the tent poles she stops him cold.

Most of all, Dora helps people who need a hand. She’s saved the mermaids, a snow princess, the residents of the crystal kingdom. She even used her dancing skills to rescue her nemesis, Swiper the Fox, when a mean dancing elf trapped him in a bottle. People depend on her and she finds a way to come through. She doesn’t use violence or superpower strength, only her intelligence, perseverance, and a little suspension of disbelief on the part of her fans. In 2008, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign professor Barbara J. Wilson makes a lofty defense of Dora in the journal the The Future of Children . Wilson says television is able to teach kids beneficial behaviors in the same way, although with less frequency, than it does violent and negative ones. “Content matters,” Wilson writes. When altruism, which is a prosocial behavior along with friendliness, sharing, cooperation, sympathy and acceptance of others from another group, is reinforced in children by role-playing after they’ve watched a show that features it, children can, even days later, model that behavior in new situations.