(Please note: My blog is generally kid-friendly, but this particular entry deals with some issues you may not want your children to read. Please read this before they do, to make sure you feel it is appropriate. Thank you. – JR)
Like many of you, I am a parent, and like many of your kids, mine watch T.V. They don’t watch a lot — we encourage books in our home first and foremost (of course) — but they have a few favorite shows just the same. As I type this, my youngest daughter, who is six, is watching Blues Clues, a show that I think is adorable and entirely acceptable.
Hence, why she is allowed to watch it.
There are some others like that. For example, all of my kids — including my son and my sixteen-year-old daughter — love My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. (Though my son insists he is NOT a Brony — he just has a crush on Rainbow Dash. ;-)) I’ll admit that even I enjoy watching that particular show with them. It’s hilarious, adorable, and very relevant to modern children. The morals and values exemplified by the ponies are also terrific. Despite my general distaste for fads, I have found nothing I dislike about that deservedly popular show. Hence, it is encouraged in our home, and I would highly recommend it to your children as well, without reservation.
The same can’t be said of all cartoons, however.
I’m not speaking of cartoons that are billed for adults. While I enjoy Aqua Teen Hunger Force and Venture Brothers as much as the next adult, I wouldn’t recommend them for kids in an way, shape or form. But they don’t pretend to be for kids, either. Adult-themed cartoons such as Family Guy air later in the evening for a reason — most kids in most homes are in bed by then, or at least close to it. And a large amount of adult cartoons air on Cartoon Network’s aptly named “Adult Swim” late at night. These aren’t for kids and they make sure we know it. For that reason I have nothing against them.
But there are some cartoons that are very much billed for kids… that really shouldn’t be. From my family to yours, here are the top five kids’ cartoons that are banned in my home:
#5: The Grimm Adventures of Billy and Mandy
It took me a long time to ban this show, because I wanted to like it. (Hence why it is #5 on my list from least-offensive to most.) However, there were more than a few times while watching it with my children that I felt very uncomfortable. Now, I’m all for gothic / horror / thriller – based kids’ stuff. I’m a huge fan of Neil Gaiman and Tim Burton, and I myself have been working on a gothic fantasy series for middle readers for a while now. Still, I very much feel that there is a line that shouldn’t be crossed with kids… and Grimm crosses it on a regular basis.
Strongest Offence: Encouraging depressive / suicidal thoughts and tendencies in the very young.
Kid-Friendly Alternative: Ruby Gloom is a very cute show with an adorably monstrous cast, dark color scheme and rockingly Goth theme song (“…let me show you the light side of the dark side…”). However, where Grimm encourages cynicism and bullying as a solution to life’s problems, Ruby Gloom‘s stories are always uplifting and hopeful.
Summary: Leave depression and hopelessness out of childhood. So many kids already live not-so-great lives. At least let them retain some hope for the future… and for themselves.
This show is a big hit with many toddlers… and a HUGE miss for many toddler parents. I personally watched two episodes before I realized that this kid was not someone I wanted my kids to exemplify, and banned it without mercy. Bright colors, a happy family, and a racially diverse cast still can’t save the show from its protagonists’ whiny, selfish attitude… or the entirely complacent way his parents deal with it. If you want your kid to grow up thinking it’s perfectly acceptable to throw tantrums every time something doesn’t go their way (and that they will get whatever they want if they do so), then by all means let them watch Caillou. I, for one, am not a fan.
Strongest Offence: Encouraging whiny, selfish behavior.
Kid-Friendly Alternative: My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Yes, I already told you how wonderful this show is, but as a replacement for Caillou, you can’t get any better. Where Caillou encourages selfishness and greed, MLP is all about sharing, friendship, and learning how to get along no matter our differences. To those who, like me, dislike fads to the point of loathing, I only ask one thing — that you watch one episode. You don’t even have to watch it with your kids if you don’t want to introduce them to it at the moment, but it deserves a chance.
Trust me on this.
Summary: There is already more than enough rampant entitlement in this world. Why would we want to continue it to the next generation?
#3: Johnny Test
Jonny Test is a show about an “average” boy who has genius scientist sisters that use him as a guinea pig for their experiments. Notice I put quotes around “average”. That’s because nobody in this show is average. Normally I’d mean that as a compliment, but when it comes to Johnny Test, they really should have shot for average at least. For one, Johnny’s parents are the worst example of parents in cartoondom (yes, even more so than Caillou’s complacent parental units). His mother is a high-strung businesswoman who never has time — let alone patience — for her children. The ongoing joke with her is that she is hardly ever home. Funny, huh? Only not so much. Johnny’s dad isn’t any better. He’s a stay-at-home dad who’s just about as high-strung as his power-suited wife, and the running gag about him? He makes meatloaf… and screams at the kids. A lot.
Hah. Neglect and emotional abuse! Hilarious!
Then there’s Johnny. He’s not average. He’s not even above average. He’s… let me put it gently… he’s dumb as a post. And not only that, but he’s selfish and reckless to boot. His sisters dupe him into being their guinea pig by using that against him, promising him whatever he wants in that particular episode. His dog tries to talk sense into him (note: if your dog is smarter than you, you probably shouldn’t be getting into highly dangerous scientific experiments), but usually it doesn’t work. Sometimes the fault is the sisters’, sometimes it’s Johnny’s, but always something goes terribly wrong. This is pretty average (heh) for most stories of course, but here’s where Johnny Test fails this particular test — there is no moral. None. Ziltch. There may seem to be some lessons to learn in some episodes, but when there are absolutely no consequences to anything Johnny or his sisters do (short of dad screaming, of course), then the lesson is entirely lost. Not only that, but Johnny almost always ends up with what he wanted in the first place. Ugh.
Strongest Offence: Perpetuating the idea that there are no consequences for our actions.
Kid-Friendly Alternative: The Fairly Odd Parents is just as crazy, irreverent, and fun as Johnny Test claims to be. The stories and animation style of both shows are very close, but Timmy Turner, who’s wishes are granted by a pair of goofy fairy godparents instead of mad scientist sisters, always faces the consequences of his actions. That’s pretty much the entire point of the show. Something goes horribly wrong, Timmy learns a valuable lesson which he repeats to the camera, and in the end he usually doesn’t get — or even want — whatever worthless prize he was after to start with. Fairly focuses not on the thing, but on the person, which is a far more valuable lesson to any child.
Summary: When children learn that collecting things nefariously and without consequence can make up for lack of love and attention at home, everybody loses.
# 2: Chowder
I allowed Chowder into my home for a long time. In fact, it was my eldest daughter’s favorite show ever… for a time. I watched it with them at first, as I always do, but after a while I decided it was harmless and allowed them to continue watching without me. That was a bad idea. This show started out wonderfully. The characters were quirky and unique, the world was fascinatingly insane and fun, and Chowder, the main character, always learned a great life lesson that I could get behind.
When or why it changed, I don’t know, but one day my daughter told me that she wasn’t comfortable with her younger siblings watching it anymore.
Taking her cue I watched a new episode, and was appalled. Gross nudity, suggestive jokes, and disgusting actions on the part of the characters was only the beginning. After all, while concerning, these things weren’t blatant or even very numerous per episode. But it was the change in the main character that really threw me. Chowder as a character had lost any semblance of intelligence or understanding. They had turned him into a freak show act. Nothing he did was for any reason than cheap laughs not with him, but at him… laughs that I didn’t want to encourage in my children. If any cartoon encourages the vilification of the mentally ill and/or obese, it’s Chowder. After all, if children are so easily amused by the antics of an obviously mentally challenged, obese cartoon character, how many steps more do they have to take to laugh at and make fun of a real person? I’m not saying that kids don’t know the difference between fantasy and reality — I’m a huge proponent of the opposite view, actually — but anyone can be trained to think a certain way, even without them knowing it.
That’s too bad, too. They really had a great show in the beginning.
Strongest Offence: Encouraging the lowest common denominator of humor — that mental illness and/or obesity is funny.
Kid-Friendly Alternative: Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends is absolutely wonderful. Set in an old mansion and animated with beautifully stylized imagery, Fosters centers around the main character Mac, whose parents have made him give up his imaginary friend Bloo. Though he’s sad, Mac follows his parent’s instructions and takes Bloo to Fosters, an orphanage for abandoned imaginary friends. Mac still visits his friend often, and they have many fun adventures together. While Bloo himself can be somewhat rough-around-the-edges, the writers use his character as a springboard for Mac to learn relevant lessons about his own attitude and choices. This is entirely appropriate, considering that Bloo is an imaginary friend, thus the representation of Mac’s own worst attributes.
There are many different imaginary friends at Fosters, from all walks of life and childhood cultures. Some of them aren’t the smartest or prettiest crayons in the box, but they are always treated with as much respect as anyone else, and welcomed into the Fosters family as one of their own (unless, of course, inclusion is a lesson Mac needs to learn that week).
Fosters was discontinued in 2009 but as you can see from clicking the link above, this was changed rather quickly when fans demanded its return to T.V.
Summary: How can we expect bullying to end when we encourage it in the very young through shows like Chowder?
#1: The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack
This one is by far the worst, and that really is too bad. The artistry is bar-none, especially in the puppeteer scenes. The animation can be absolutely stunning. But that’s sadly the only good thing I can say about Flapjack.
Right out the gate I knew there was something wrong with this show, but I always try to be openminded and understanding to new ideas and concepts. Maybe it was the pretty imagery that made me want to like it so badly, or maybe I just didn’t want to be a judgmental fuddy-duddy. Whatever the reason, it took me a while to understand why I was just not comfortable watching Flapjack… and really really not comfortable with my children watching it. I’m not sure when I realized what bothered me so much; I’m sure it wasn’t any particular scene or comment. Still, after a while I began to see a disturbing pattern in the storyline of each episode, and the relationship Flapjack has with… well… almost everyone. However Knuckles, an adult pirate captain who is always promising Flapjack candy in exchange for his companionship, really drives it home. On top of that, almost every other character is disgusting in their own way — with the very notable exception of Flapjack — and each and every of them has creepy way of leering at the innocent blond-haired, blue eyed, kid…
All. The. Time.
I’d go into it more (and did actually; this has been edited), but I have young readers to protect. Besides, I’m pretty sure the adults who are reading this already know what I’m talking about. (Disclaimer: this has nothing to do with homosexuality, and everything to do with minors.)
Kids may not see what I (and many others I have spoken to) see when they watch the show, but that doesn’t mean it should be encouraged in any way.
Strongest Offence: Extremely inappropriate themes throughout.
Kid-Friendly Alternative: Flapjack has some good ideas for a kid’s show, notably encouraging boys to have relationships with male mentors. However as I have stated, Flapjack does this just about as wrong as anyone possibly can, and Flapjack’s relationship with Knuckles is anything but healthy. In that vein, Dragons: Riders of Berk does it as right as Flapjack does it wrong. Hiccough has a loving, respectful, healthy relationship with his father Stoic, which is clinched beautifully in the original film, How to Train Your Dragon by Dreamworks. If any cartoon shows the best of what a male mentor relationship should be, Dragons does. And it has dragons to boot! Win -win!
Summary: Just. No.
What about you? What cartoons are banned in your home and why?