Willy Wonka Series: Mike Teavee

The 1971 movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is probably one of my top fave movies of all time. I mean, a candy factory tour, singing Oompa-Loompas, and the occasional dark comedy comeuppance? Yes.

Over the years, the movies and the book by Roald Dahl are almost a cautionary tale about unchecked poor behavior in kids. To foil with innocent main character Charlie, we see four other children representing overconsumption, competition, spoiledness, and tv addiction and their consequent ejection from chocolate factory when they give into them. So in the spirit of Halloween and lots of candy, we’re taking a deep dive into these characters and how these negative traits can develop in real life. First up, Mike Teavee.

Mike Teavee (or Teevee in the first movie) is one of the Willy Wonka golden ticket winners. He is obsessed with television, so much so that he becomes upset that the reporters interviewing about his ticket find are distracting him from his favorite tv show. His fixation with the small screen becomes his demise when the tour enters the Wonkavision room. After refusing to listen to Mr. Wonka’s instructions, he uses the special camera to transport himself into a tv and shrinks to an inch tall as a result.

How it Starts

We have talked at length about screen use and how it influences the brain. This post is more about how our kids get sucked into tv in the first place and that starts with children’s tv programming.

Children’s television follows a simple formula: short clips that are bright and colorful, exaggerated expressions and movements, repetitive singing, and sounds reminiscent of a casino. All this hoopla is by design, grabbing your kid’s attention and holding it. One show does this so well that our little ones just stop and stare at the screen when it’s on, ignoring everything else around them. Yep, you guessed it: Cocomelon.

One way to gain a little one’s attention is through their visual system. A baby’s eyes are not mature enough to decipher details or hold visual focus for a long period of time (there’s way too much new stuff to check out). That means that they are drawn less to faces and more towards movement. Shows like Cocomelon are drawn with less detail but utilize big-eyed caricatured faces with bright colors and heavy contrast to dictate where they want children to focus. However, Cocomelon takes movement one step further with each scene being in constant motion. In other words, if JJ isn’t moving, the camera is panning/zooming/tilting. More movement means more attention. It’s also helpful that the camera angles are at a child’s eye level, giving that peer perspective to your kid.

While we’re on the topic of movement, scene changes also catch a child’s attention. A typical frame length on a kid’s tv show can range from 3-7 seconds. For Cocomelon, their scenes changes between 1-3 seconds. These cuts continuously redirect and hold their focus.

In addition to movement, we also have repetition. Repetition is helpful to learning and children’s programming uses it to educate, letting baby and toddler brains pick up on patterns. As things become more predictable, a kid can generalize the information, imitate it and commit to memory. Cocomelon’s repeated, slow-tempo nursery rhymes and phrases allow kids to listen, sing along, and focus on the daily routine scenes to help attach meaning to what they’re viewing.


Here’s where the issue lies. Cocomelon is designed for children’s consumption. However, its tactics to maintain a child’s focus with little to no breaks can put a toddler in a state of constant hyper-arousal, leaving them simultaneously agitated and exhausted. How? Dopamine.

Also known as the “feel good” hormone, dopamine is part of our internal reward system. When we do something good or pleasurable to us, our brain releases large amounts of this stuff to motivate us to do that behavior again.  When little ones watch a tv show like Cocomelon, each attention-grabbing technique used sends a shot of dopamine to your child’s brain, encouraging them to stay tuned. If tuned in for too long, that release of dopamine can wear down these reward pathways in the brain and up the demand for more stimuli. Ergo, tv addiction.

A study conducted in 2013 found an association between tv time and alterations to children’s developing brains. Brain scans of kids between 5-18 years old revealed that the more tv they watched, more gray matter was present toward the front and side of their brains. This gray matter volume meant that the pruning in the brain necessary for efficient connections was limited. The result: lower verbal IQs.

Breaking the Habit

In truth, we all use handheld screens and at least one television is somewhere in the household. Children’s tv programming is entertaining and can be educational, especially if you sit and engage with your kiddo when they’re watching. However, do this in moderation and find other activities that can also give them a good dopamine kick. Here’s some ways to curb the habit before it becomes a problem:

  • No televisions in your child’s bedroom
  • Keep the tv and remote out of your kid’s reach.
  • Only use the car tv/tablet for longer drives and road trips
  • Get them into other stationary activities like coloring and activity books, board and card games, building sets like Legos, reading books, etc.
  • Take them on play dates with friends or peers
  • Enroll them in activities they may be interested in, like dance, soccer, or piano lessons
  • Take them on personal field trips, like to the zoo/aquarium/museum or even out running errands around the community
  • Keep the tv off if no one is watching and don’t talk about tv time unless you must use it
  • Encourage unstructured play, bonus if it’s outside
  • Utilize television as a means to learning rather than an end to boredom

So the next time you ask your child a question and they don’t even hear you because their eyes are glued to the screen, that’s a good sign that it’s time to turn the tv off.

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Mike Teavee Character Analysis in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory | LitCharts
Why Do Babies Love ‘CoComelon’? Experts Explain (romper.com)
Screen Time Hurts Kids By Creating Dopamine Addiction Behavior. (fatherly.com)
Takeuchi, H. Taki, Y., Hashizume, H., Asano, K., Asano, M., Sassa, Y., Yokota, S., Kotozaki, Y., Nouchi, R., & Kawashima, R. (2013). The Impact of Television Viewing on Brain Structures: Cross-Sectional and Longitudinal Analyses. Cerebral Cortex, 25(5), 1188-1197. https://doi.org/10.1093/cercor/bht315
How To Break Your Toddler’s TV Addiction? – Being The Parent

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