A letter to Daniel Tiger
Hi! I’m Jacqueline Nesi, a psychologist and professor at Brown University, co-founder of Tech Without Stress (@techwithoutstress), and mom of two young kids. Here at Techno Sapiens, I share the latest research and practical tips on psychology, technology, and parenting. Subscribe to join 20,000+ readers, and if you like it, please share Techno Sapiens with a friend!
4 min read
Dear Daniel (is it okay if I call you Daniel?),
You probably don’t often hear from 35-year-old women, given that you’re a fictional cartoon tiger starring in the PBS spin-off of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, but there are a few things I need to say to you.
Who am I? Oh—well, I did think maybe you’d at least heard of Techno Sapiens? That newsletter I’ve been writing about technology and parenting for two-plus years? I’ve written about you a few times? No, not ringing any bells, okay. That’s fine! Totally fine.
I’m a psychologist and researcher who studies kids and technology, and also a mom of two, so for me, your reputation preceded you. You’re probably aware that your show Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood is one of the few preschool series that’s been actively studied by psychologists. I mean, I know you’re not one to brag, but c’mon—multiple randomized experiments? Showing that kids (ages 2-6) who watched you were more empathetic and better at recognizing emotions, especially if their parents talked to them about what they were watching?
You had me at “Hi, neighbor.”
So, I always knew that if we were going to do some screen time, you were a good choice. I knew from this 2020 systematic review of 42 studies that kids’ quality screen time, including educational programming (like you!) and watching together with a parent, is associated with better language skills. But I’ll be honest—and I hope this doesn’t offend you—there was always a small, nagging voice somewhere in my brain, telling me you were a necessary evil. That any “screen time”—that nebulous, dark cloud of parental judgment and fear—was worse than no screen time at all.
Then I had my second child.
I don’t know if you noticed this after Mom Tiger brought baby Margaret home, but let me tell you, those first couple months with two kids were exhausting. At the end of each day, I was a puddle, melting into the couch, praying for something, anything, that would allow me to stay there for a few minutes. You, my friend, answered the call. Wholesome entertainment for my toddler that, critically, occurred in a reclined position.
Sure, I had my doubts at times. Does Katerina Kittycat really need to “meow meow” at the end of every sentence? Must everything be rrrrroyal for Prince Wednesday? And boop-she-boop-she-boo? Let’s not talk about that.
But I came around quickly.
When we brought the baby home, and my toddler’s big, round eyes welled up when he realized my hands were too full of bottles and diapers to build a block tower, you sang There’s time for you and baby, too!
When he started preschool, and each drop-off was a sign of certain abandonment, complete with leg-clinging and nose-running and tears (from all parties involved), you taught us that starting something new can be scary, but it gets easier with time.
And when he was potty training, you not only encouraged him to "sit and try to go!” but you reminded us that it’s okay to run around with no pants on. Which, actually, made more sense for him than for you—especially since all the other characters in your show wear pants? And even you wear snow pants and swim trunks sometimes?1 Never mind.
Come to think of it, you’ve helped us through a lot of transitions this year. You’ve been there for all the “firsts,” big and small—first snow day, first tantrum, first weekend away from Mom and Dad. And you always seemed to have just the right song for the moment, reminding us to take a deep breath and count to four, or, of course, that grownups come back.
Now, some time has passed, he’s grown a little older, and you’ve become part of our routine. As the chaos of the day comes to a close, with dinner eaten, pajamas put on, and teeth brushed, we gather on the couch together.2 My toddler sinks into my lap, eyes glued to you, snuggling in with his little hand grazing mine, my chin resting on the top of his head.
You’re big enough, you’re big enough, to think of what to do! We sing.
It’s one of the best parts of our day.
I know this is only the beginning. There will be many more “firsts” to come, and one day soon, my son will be big enough to navigate those independently. Without you. Without me.3
So for now, we’ll keep watching you, sharing screen time, together. I’ll keep sneaking kisses on the top of his head. And we’ll soak up these moments, because they’re fleeting. But you already knew that, didn’t you, Daniel?
I guess what I’m trying to say is: thank you.
Stuff Sapiens Might Like
A new feature where I’ll share the things I’m reading, listening to, and loving this week. I think you’ll like them, too!
My new @techwithoutstress Instagram account. Dr. Emily Weinstein and I are now sharing tech parenting tips on Instagram! Follow along as I learn to "talk to camera” without dying of embarrassment. Seriously though, I’m very excited to share balanced, evidence-based info in a new (for me) format. Join us!!
Magna-Tiles. Not a day goes by where we don’t play with Magna-Tiles at my house. Research suggests open-ended building toys like these can inspire more high-quality creative play. My toddler suggests he wants to use them to build a “really tall elevator!” and also “Mexico” (?).
The Emotional Lives of Teenagers by Lisa Damour. I’m not sure I’ve ever said this about a book, but I truly believe this is required reading for all parents.
- ’s interview with (The Gamer Educator) really got me thinking. “We can ask [our kids] about what they’re doing within screens with the same genuine curiosity that we would ask about what they did on a playdate…I don’t see being engaged, or understanding screens as neutral or valid, as mutually exclusive with having boundaries or limits around it.”
This Air Fryer. Long-time readers will remember my progression from air fryer skeptic to happy customer. I am pleased to report that it has now become my entire personality. My siblings have an “air fryer countdown,” placing bets on how long it will take me to bring it up in casual conversation when they see me. And my sisters got me this card for my birthday:
Do you want to see more Stuff Sapiens Might Like? Feedback? Ideas? Let me know!
A quick survey
What did you think of this week’s Techno Sapiens? Your feedback helps me make this better. Thanks!
Not to harp on the no-pants issue, but really, it’s the lack of internal consistency that bothers me. All the characters wear pants except Daniel and his dad. Why would Daniel need swim trunks if he doesn’t wear pants? Why are his dad’s legs so long and…bare?
For those wondering, the research would indicate that it’s better to avoid screens in the hour before bedtime. We are not currently following this recommendation. Sometimes a good couch snuggle needs to outweigh the available evidence.
If anyone at my local coffee shop happened to see a woman crying at her laptop while typing a letter to a fictional tiger character…no you didn’t.