Children’s Cartoons Are Doing More For Mental Health Than They Were Before

In 1969, Fred Rogers testified in front of Congress in order to save the funding for PBS. He believed that if “public television can only make it clear that feelings are mentionable and manageable, we will have done a great service”. Mr. Rogers attempted to do so with his show in 1968 because the content that children were watching were mostly violent and lacked substance. The cartoons that children were watching didn’t teach kids anything. After the long and very successful run of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, many children’s shows started to become more and more educational. Today, animated children’s shows are catching up and helping children deal with their feelings as well.

Steven Universe, created by Rebecca Sugar, is a prime example of a children’s animated tv show that teaches kids how to calm themselves and deal with their emotions.  In an episode called “Mindful Education”, Steven and his best friend, Connie, can’t keep focus and have trouble fusing due to something weighing heavily on Connie’s mind. Upon noticing this, another gem, Garnet, sings a song that encourages them to “Take a moment to ask yourself if this is how we fall apart?” Later in the episode, Connie and Steven must be honest about the way they feel and let those feelings play out. This isn’t the only time Rebecca Sugar has touched on this subject. She has also done it with other characters in the show who learn to overcome abuse and anxiety, and even in the spin off show, Steven Universe Future, where Steven has to overcome his PTSD and depression due to all of the trauma that he experienced in his youth from fighting an intergalactic war left behind by his mother.

The Legend of Korra, a show created by Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino, also touches on this subject. In the fourth season of the show, Avatar Korra struggles with PTSD from all of the trauma she endured in the first three seasons. Even after three years of healing her body physically, Korra still struggles with her spiritual self. She is unable to fight enemies she would have once taken out without a problem due to her mental block. The only way she could help herself was to accept what happened to her. When she was told to “Accept what happened to you. Don’t fear what might’ve been”, she was finally able to connect with her Avatar spirit and become whole again, which is something she didn’t think was possible the entire season.

Another show that does this is Infinity Train. In an episode called “The Cat’s Car”, Tulip Olsen is forced to confront her feelings about her parent’s divorce in order to overcome them. In the episode, a suspicious cat forces Tulip to watch a tape of her memories in order to trap her in them. At first, the memories of her and her parents are good and Tulip thoroughly enjoys them. However, when her body starts to become overrun by tv static, she starts to see how the memories actually played out. The harsh memories of her parents leading up to their divorce were being changed by her own mind. When she finally accepted those memories and let them play out the way that they should, she was freed. Tulip continues on during the rest of the show trying to overcome her issues by accepting what happened to her. 

The 1996 show, Hey Arnold, created by Craig Bartlett, had an episode called “Helga on the Couch where Helga, Arnold’s long-time bully, goes to see a child psychiatrist. After witnessing Helga bully Arnold and many other children countless times, the principal orders Helga to see the psychiatrist every Tuesday and Thursday. Helga thinks it’s a waste of time and her angry father, who barely notices Helga, tells her that the “Pataki’s don’t talk about things. We sweep them under the rug”. Although Helga is determined to keep all of her feelings hidden, she ends up really enjoying getting her feelings off of her chest about Arnold and her parents. Immediately after the session, Helga feels great and refrains from punching a kid in the face. Helga’s friend even tells her that therapy is acceptable and useful, and that there is nothing to be ashamed about. 

Children’s animation has come so far from the cartoons that were shown in the 40’s and 60’s like The Bullwinkle show, Looney Toons, and Tom and Jerry. Now, the characters in children’s animation are doing and talking about much more than silly pranks, chases, and explosions. Many people would say “Well it’s just a cartoon. It doesn’t have to talk about important issues”. Although that may be true, it is important that children are watching things that will have a positive impact on them rather than a negative one. All of the shows mentioned above are still entertaining and action packed while still being able to address important issues. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. Shows today are more educational and teach both children and adults how to deal with their emotions and take care of their mental health.

7 Replies to “Children’s Cartoons Are Doing More For Mental Health Than They Were Before”

  1. This is something I noticed recently! I forgot where it was, but I also saw a video on it. It was a while ago so you must forgive that I no longer have the link. I really think that cartoons have been doing more to teach people valuable lesson -. Steven Universe especially. It’s not my favorite show but I dig how constructive and educational it is while still being wondefully written and made. I just hope it continues.

  2. I love being able to watch episodes of shows where they talk about personal conflicts, especially if there’s an episode where I needed to hear a certain message at the right time in my life. Even though I never grew up with Mr. Rogers and I’m not much of a fan of Korra and Steven Universe and have only watched 1 season of Infinity Train, I highly respect what these shows and their creators/ teams stand for and the good they have done. It feels like these episodes tell us we’re not alone and teach the audience positive messages like you’re saying. Some of the messages may go over young kid’s heads and some may not, but I’m glad there’s content that all ages can learn from and enjoy.

  3. I love the fact that cartoon children shows such as ‘The Legend of Korra’ and ‘Steven Universe’ are promoting positive messages for all children to take in. While I never grew up watching these shows, I greatly admire the content the creators behind them put forth.

  4. After reading your article, I sort of think that this sort of thing has been a long time coming; as our late-stage capitalist society continues to put more work on the individual than ever before, it has become common for people to burn out earlier and earlier. As artists in the animation industry, this has been a popular topic for a long time, especially for artists within the production pipeline and artists looking to break in. Considering these showrunners are nearly always the same artists that have work in production, it’s no surprise that these sorts of conversations come up. Because art is grounded in individuality and expression of the mind, I hope that these shows continue to make wonderful content to call upon certain issues that everyone can enjoy!

  5. I agree that we’ve been coming a long way in helping to teach kids about personal conflict and how to deal with their feelings. They definitely do a lot to help children see that they are not alone in their problems and may provide an outlet for them as well. A lot of animated children’s shows today seem to make emotional well-being a large focus in their shows. The emphasis on mental health and dealing with emotions is so great at a young age, I’m hoping this continues and we can find more creative ways to teach kids about their feelings.

  6. I agree that cartoons, especially ones for younger audiences need to be honest and real about mental health. I hope that they make it more normalized to talk about these kinds of issues, since parents may not be able to help them or unwilling to. Just like having diversity in kids shows is important so they can learn at a young age, talking about mental health in cartoons can help kids recognize and identify their own feelings early on.

  7. I agree with you that this has been a move in children’s programming, and I agree that it is very important to include this sort of introspective, self-examination that comes with assessing one’s own mental health. I think it isn’t enough to just have children’s media that teaches reading, and writing, and math fundamentals to young kids, and then forgoing any kind of education after that. Part of being a well-adjusted and healthy individual is learning how to assess oneself and engage with one’s own feelings and teaching kids methods of doing so and avenues of getting help with doing so is a great way to keep that learning ongoing.

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