The new golden age of kids' TV
Why they're so wonderful, and an essential list to get started
Every time you turn on the TV you make a choice. Are you tuning in? Or tuning out?
We’re living in a golden age of kids TV shows. Take a second. Soak it in. But, as with so many things in life, it’s all about mindset. If you’re using TV as a crutch for twenty minutes peace, there's no judgment here. We all need a little quiet time.
But I want to take a few minutes out of your day to open your eyes to an opportunity you might have overlooked: how cartoons can be a catalyst for more interesting, deeper conversations with your children, and where you can start.
There's a growing body of research that indicates the right kind of TV shows can help in the development of your child's mind. But it's important to note that most of this is based around what they call "contingent engagement", actively participating in what you're watching, and using it as a basis for conversation. A show that you watch together can provide a common shared language with your child, enabling you to peer into their brain by asking questions like "why did they do that?", "what should they have done?" and "what would you have done in that situation?"
OK, three caveats before we get into it:
Most research shows that it's best to wait until children are at least 18 months old to start watching any show. After this, most advice says not to exceed 2 hours a day. These numbers were all agreed upon before we were stuck at home trying to stay sane, but they still feel about right.
My daughter is almost 7. So I haven't got a lot of knowledge of TV beyond that. If you have, and you fancy adding a bit more to the conversation, let me know.
99% of the stuff your children can watch right now is garbage. But, the other 1% is better than what you used to watch. And you might be surprised why.
A golden age for kids' cartoons
We all know the true golden age of cartoons was whatever was on when you were 7. But nostalgia is a hell of a drug—have you ever gone back and watched Transformers, M.A.S.K. or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles lately? They haven't aged very well, and with reason.
Up until the 1980s, there were a whole host of rules around kids’ TV. Action for Children's Television, a US-based non-profit, pushed for laws that limited the amount of advertising and discouraged the over-commercialisation of programming. But then, in 1981, Ronald Reagan (in one of many dick moves) pushed for deregulation in the industry so that "children's television would be dictated by marketplace considerations and not education, health, or wellbeing”:
“Along with the deregulation came many other changes in children's television. Toy manufacturers, for example, became heavily involved in children's programming, developing shows based on toys that, in some cases, broadcasters were enticed to schedule in exchange for a part of the profit on toy sales." New York Times, 1988
So, most of the shows you love from your childhood? They were created solely with the intention of selling toys. And they worked! These shows drove the sale of close to one billion plastic figures during the 1980s.
Today, these types of shows still exist. But modern cartoon makers are holding themselves to higher standards. In 2008, a German whitepaper was published for cartoon creators, featuring best-in-class research on childhood emotional development, and the role of media at this formative time:
“The task of your professional work is to offer today‘s children characters and stories that help them to develop emotional competences and perspectives for their future.”
Creators are one-upping each other with innovative shows that deal with complex emotions, introducing concepts of diversity and inclusion, and helping children become more empathetic and understanding of their place in the world. And if you sit with together, watch along, and use them as prompts for discussion, they can provide you a unique opportunity to talk to your children about some important topics at when they're still figuring the world out.
The New Fatherhood Recommends
Here's a few shows you should consider adding to your watch list.