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.