Photo: Cartoon Network
Parents have never had more control over what their kids watch – or more options to choose from. And yet, the time they have to figure out which shows are delicious and which are pure junk hasn’t really changed. So, for our series on kids and TV, we asked a handful of thoughtful and very demanding parents, from a sex therapist to TV producers, how they decide what their kids should watch.
“We have a son who is almost 7 years old. He really loves YouTube. He was in the Sharer Fam and now loves Preston (from PrestonsStylez), who mostly watches him and his wife – they both look like Barbie dolls – play Minecraft. We’re talking about these YouTubers and others, deconstructing what’s really going on – how these kids have millions of viewers, are millionaires, and waste time off viewers’ lives as they are zoned focusing on the screen. Conversations about what he watches are a key part of balancing the images and messages that flow in. Gender roles, being creative and empowered, are recurring topics.
–Amy levine, sex coach and founder of Ignite your pleasure, parent of 6 year old child, New York, NY
(Who are also sisters and co-producers of Bob’s burgers.)
“I’d rather show them something a little over their heads rather than looking at something really empty or badly written. My oldest enjoys watching videos of other people playing video games which I don’t understand but neither do I judge. Hey, if he’s got good grades and wants to spend his free time watching an adult play in England Minecraft, I guess that’s it? My 3 and 4 year olds currently only watch Olaf’s Frozen Adventure on Disney +, and that’s fine with me. As long as we don’t look Paw Patrol.“
–Wendy Molyneux, writer and co-executive producer of Bob’s burgers, parent of children aged 3, 4 and 9 and one child aged 5 months, Los Angeles, CA
“We like The Simpsons, Bob’s burgers (I don’t force this one I swear), Claire, and Adventure time. That said, she also watches things on her own that I don’t know anything about – kids’ shows on Netflix and recommended movies. I like to give her the opportunity to develop her own tastes and to have shows that she can enjoy on her own. “
–Lizzie Molyneux, writer and co-executive producer of Bob’s burgers, step-parent of an 11-year-old and parent of an 11-month-old, Los Angeles, California
“The things that are being done now, at least the ones we are looking at, are so focused on kindness and friendship, and they are really wonderful. Simon is about a rabbit-bunny family that has a lot of fraternal dynamics which I think are really useful for my two little ones. There is a brand new show by the Sesame Street people called Help. There is also a kind of wild and weirder shows like Danger & eggs and Cupcake and Dino, about a cupcake and a dinosaur who are friends and love to help people in town.
–Emma Straub, author of All adults here and owner of Books Are Magic, parent of children ages 3 and 6, Brooklyn, NY
“Our children don’t watch much TV or movies. But one show we really liked is Charlie and Lola. We found the style of animation really refreshing. He does not exaggerate the characteristics of the characters in a particularly gendered way. The main character of the girl is really adventurous and intelligent, and there is a really positive sibling relationship between a younger sister and an older brother at the heart of it. But the writing is really good. The language is original and funny.
–Julie orringer, author of Flight portfolio, parent of children ages 5 and 9, Brooklyn, NY
“People don’t agree with me, but I am a PJ Masks fan. These are three children who become superheroes when they put on their pajamas at night. And the first season is typical: “Oh no, where’s the playground equipment? Let’s put on our pajamas and solve the problem. But then over the next few seasons the villains get less or more villainous, and they become friends with each other and this whole nuanced ecosystem of villains, which was surprising and exciting. And Lion Guard, which is another Disney Channel show, an offshoot of Lion King, contains sweet moments of vulnerability and music. Both shows do well in getting kids to see the world as a nuanced place to engage, as opposed to hiding or judging. “
–Brian platzer, author of The body politic (coming soon), parent of 4 and 6 year olds, Brooklyn, NY
“The character of Stevonnie in Steven Universe was awesome in terms of portraying the fluidity of genres. All the characters have a “gem” in the navel area. At one point, Steven merges with Connie [his magical pet lion]. So Stevonnie, which is their name when they’re merged, just identifies as themselves. My youngest really had the idea of being able to “merge” with people – it changes their identity on the outside, but they are who they are on the inside. All of their representation is very gay friendly and inclusive.
–Sara kaplan, parent of children ages 7 and 12, Berkeley, CA
“He is in love with Strange eye. Jonathan Van Ness is his favorite, and when he came out as non-binary it was just great for him.
–Vanessa M., parent of 9 year old, Queens, NY
“I’m looking for intersectional main characters. Children of all genders, races and ethnicities, of all abilities. Not easy to find, at least on TV. One of my kid’s favorite shows is Molly from Denali on PBS. He is an indigenous character. We are a family of color. So my daughter sees her on the screen and sees someone who has brown skin, black hair, who looks like her. I would say it’s a modern day Dora, very modern. She doesn’t wear a lot of pink. She’s just very outside. She is an adventurer, an explorer. It solves a lot of problems.
–Maryann J., parent of 5 and 10 year olds, Queens, NY
“Anything that’s appropriate, that will instill a sense of engagement in my students, is super powerful. So I adapt the content to what the students are watching. Right now it’s Flash on CW, which lends itself to so many scientific opportunities. Kids love Barry Allen because he’s cute or whatever; that’s what the girls say. But they really like it because it’s rooted with factual information, but it’s still that fairytale, superhero-type story.
–Wade king, parent of 8 month old, Atlanta, GA
“My kids seem to be drawn to very sexed shows and movies, and I try to avoid overly gendered posts, so our choices usually don’t match. Our favorites are Odd squad and Wild Kratts. When they were younger, we mostly watched Daniel Tigre. Sadly, they sort of got past this one. They also watch Word girl and Ankle + Cat. “
–Maggie Gale, parent of children ages 4 and 7, Chicago, IL
“I’m a Type A personality and a scientist, so I research almost anything in order to make an informed decision. However, when it comes to setting the standards for what my kids can watch and to what extent, I just follow my gut. My sons love it Blaze and the Monster Machines, Paw Patrol, Bubble Guppies, and PJ Masks. They are obsessed with Blippi on Youtube. Every now and then they come across YouTube videos that don’t seem to have an educational component like Ryan’s toy review. “
–Jaime Noguez, Assistant Professor of Pathology, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, and Director of Chemistry and Toxicology, University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center, mother of children ages 2 and 4, Cleveland, OH
“My 7 year old watches are mostly Disney Channel shows and I love The descendants, Liv & Maddie, Jessie, Girl Meets World, with which I have no problem. I noticed that she enjoys watching shows on YouTube, but she is only allowed to watch “how-to” shows, which teach furniture making, doll clothes, etc. values are not always consistent with those we carry in our home.
–Latoya boston, parent of children aged 7, 15, 17 and 19, Los Angeles, CA
* A version of this article appears in the December 23, 2019 issue of new York Magazine. Subscribe now!