In my last blog, I shared how one sleepless night I made the disturbing realization that cartoons might send young children unintended and anxiety-provoking messages. Specifically, cartoons might be sending the message to young children that they have to take charge and assume the role of the adult. This might explain the apparent increase in the sass level of most young children nowadays or one of the reasons so many young children seem overwhelmed with worry.
With so many cartoons available for children to watch, I wanted to help us all figure out how to determine which are less likely to reinforce role-reversals and therefore less likely to be anxiety provoking for young children. I suggest the following three criteria can help us parents select cartoons for our young child.
Is there a parent present with any child in at least part of the cartoon? Does this parent, or substitute adult caregiver, show signs of supervising and guiding any child?
Good examples of cartoons that satisfy this criterion are Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, Sid the Science Kid, Caillou, Peppa Pig, Dinosaur Train and Curious George. Examples of where the criterion of a supervising adult is not met are Shimmer and Shine and Mission Force One.
Is there any role reversal between the adults and the children?Are children tasked with solving problems and do so completely on their own without the help of an adult?
A great example of clear role reversal is Paw Patrol. Young pups and a seemingly young adult, Ryder, are tasked with saving the town’s residents including several adults. Another example of role reversal is Phineas and Ferb. In this Disney cartoon the young characters repeatedly deceive the parents who are completely clueless to their antics each day. Martha Speaks also sometimes contains children and dogs who go off into their town to solve problems without enlisting any adult help. All three of these cartoons include parents, but none show the parents helping to solve problems. Instead the children do so on their own and in some instances purposefully deceive parents of their actions.
Do any children characters engage in behavior that is unrealistic and in actuality, unsafe for a young child?If so, does the child experience an adult who addresses the dangerous behavior and helps the child resolve any issues that arise from the child’s misbehavior?
My children love Rusty Rivets but I personally am limiting it in our home. Not only does it have the children hanging out in a junk yard using power tools, but I couldn’t believe how many instances the children’s inventions create problems and then the children solve the dangerous problem, even when they directly interact with police. The cartoon frequently has the children driving vehicles on streets or flying. Another cartoon that displays dangerous behavior is one of my preschooler’s favorites, PJ Masks. Children shouldn’t really fight crime in the middle of the night.
Now obviously you as the parent have the ultimate freedom to choose which cartoons your young children watch. I highly recommend the above criteria be considered for selecting a toddler’s first cartoon experiences to try to minimize undue anxiety. Also, If anything, the above criteria might help guide you to discussion with your children as they watch a show to gently point out the differences between the cartoon and real life. I’m not claiming that cartoons are evil and should be banned. I am just encouraging us all to think not only of the entertainment value of what our children watch, but also what messages are being communicated to children. It has been noted that children increasingly seem anxious and I suspect a contributing cause is the media they consume, including cartoons.