What Can Adults Learn From Shows Made For Kids?

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There are people out there who raise an eyebrow when they find out that a show that’s written for and marketed to kids and teenagers has a large number of grown-up fans. The most egregious example being the Bronies aka the adult male fans of the show My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. However, as someone who’s also a fan of children’s TV and lives her life as a part-time adult, I can say that children’s shows these days are hugely different from how they were during our childhood. The main purpose of shows like Girl Meets WorldSteven Universe, and Doctor Who aren’t to sell a toy line like Transformers or Ninja Turtles, but to actually tell a story about characters and the things they learn. Plus, shows like Bill Nye, Reading Rainbow, and Mister Rogers Neighborhood have arrived on Netflix which means that a whole new generation can be introduced to the lessons their parents learned when they were kids. (BTW, if they get Lamb Chop and Between the Lions on Netflix, my childhood will finally be made!)

So for this blog, I’ll look at Girl Meets World, Steven Universe, and Doctor Who to see what adults can learn from these seemingly childish shows.

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Girl Meets World is the spinoff series of Boy Meets World, which focuses on Riley Matthews, the daughter of Cory and Topanga Matthews. In the most recent episode “Girl Meets Cory and Topanga,” Riley is intimidated by how seemingly perfect her parents are and is afraid that she’ll never live up to their expectations of her. Through imagining her parents as kids (complete with clips from the original series), Riley realizes that her parents were total goofs like her. Most people felt like this episode was filler and repeated a story arc that Riley dealt with before. However, people forget that Riley is always insecure about her future. Yes, she’s a 13-year-old kid, but when I was her age (or close to it), I was already watching Gilmore Girls and fantasizing about college. The episode overall has a moral of paving your own path. Or as Judy Garland said “Always be a first rate version of yourself and not a second rate version of someone else.”

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I’ll admit that I am late to the Steven Universe bandwagon. I started avoiding Cartoon Network when they started doing live action shows. But Steven Universe is a diamond in the rough, and yes, I intended that pun. The show centers on a boy named Steven who has the powers of an alien species called the Crystal Gems. Since he’s a kid, though, he doesn’t have as much control over his powers as his mentors Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl. Steven and the Crystal Gems protect Earth from monsters that originally came from the Gems’ planet Homeworld.

One major theme in this show (among others) is having realistic expectations about life and especially about family. Aside from the fact that they are aliens, the Crystal Gems are very much human in their behavior and Steven sees the Gems as his family. Amethyst is like Steven’s sister because she’s always fun to be with and acts the most child-like. Pearl is very motherly because she always makes sure that Steven is safe and always worries about everything. Garnet is the leader of the Gems and keeps a cool head when trouble comes around.

The second season has started off again last week with two episodes that center on Steven’s human friends and their relationships with their mothers. In “Nightmare Hospital,” Steven gives a sword to his best friend Connie, who has been training in swordfighting without her parents ever knowing. When Connie’s mother confiscates the sword and takes it with her to her job at the hospital, Steven and Connie sneak into the hospital in the hopes of getting it back. Unfortunately, some monsters show up in the hospital, forcing Steven and Connie to expose their “saving the world” secret to Connie’s mother. Connie’s mother is a very strict woman and Connie calls her out for how smothered she feels. Playing devil’s advocate here, Connie’s mom had no clue how good of a fighter Connie was and by the end of the episode, she explains that she needs to be involved in case Connie gets in over her head. Connie is still ten years old, after all. But the two ladies end up meeting each other in the middle. Connie can now be open with at least one of her parents and her mother learned that her daughter can handle herself most of the time.

The most recent episode “Sadie’s Song” had a similar story arc. Steven’s friend Sadie, who works at the local donut shop, considers singing at the town’s talent show, but Steven and her mother end up turning her into something she felt completely uncomfortable with. Sadie’s backstory gets revealed a bit. Her mother is a bit of a stage mom, taking Sadie’s interests to the extreme and seeing Sadie as something she really isn’t. Sadie is a naturally shy girl and wanted to pace herself when it came to trying something new, but her mother pushed things too far every time. When Sadie finally calls her mother out on her pushy behavior, Sadie’s mom apologizes and the two of them have a talk while Steven takes over and performs in Sadie’s place.

Two lessons can be drawn from this episode: First of all, parents need to give their children space to grow. So many parents want their children to only grow up in a certain way only for their children to end up psychologically scared and screwed over. By being honest with each other, children and parents can learn how to help the child grow up in a healthy way. Secondly, when Steven performed the pop song Sadie originally planned to sing, he did so dressed up in a crop top, skirt, heels, and makeup.

Most of the fandom were cheering over the fact that Steven was breaking gender norms, but here’s the thing. Steven is a ten-year-old kid who lives in a town filled with people who love him unconditionally. Steven is a friend to everyone so I wasn’t surprised that the people of Beach City weren’t laughing at Steven dressed up like a girl. He’s performing a cheesy pop song in the most innocent way and to everyone in Beach City, Steven is special to them. In real life, a ten-year-old boy cross-dressing and performing a cheesy pop song would send the pundits on both sides screaming their usual party lines. I’m not saying that crossdressing in and of itself is all bad or all good. I’m just saying that boys dressing up as girls is something that happens and there’s a time and a place for it.

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Doctor Who is considered a family show more than a straight-up children’s series. There are lots of references in the show that only adults will get, after all, such as the Doctor playing the intro to “Pretty Woman” in the most recent episode.

SPOILER ALERT! IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN “THE MAGICIAN’S APPRENTICE” YET, WATCH IT NOW BEFORE YOU CONTINUE READING!

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But one thing I noticed about Doctor Who as a whole is that there’s always a theme about choices and consequences. In a show centering on time travel, the characters always get themselves in situations where a choice affects everything. The best example is in the Classic Doctor Who episode “Genesis of the Daleks.” Episodes similar to that have appeared in the new series such as “”Journey’s End,” “The Beast Below,” and “Kill the Moon.”

In the most recent episode “The Magician’s Apprentice,” The Doctor is faced with a choice similar to that of “Genesis of the Daleks.” Does he save the life of a child who would later grow up to be his worst enemy? Unfortunately, that question hasn’t been answered yet. Instead, the episode centers on the Doctor running away from his problem in the most spectacular manner. It’s not until his friends finds him and are put in danger that The Doctor is finally faced with the choice. What he decides will be shown in the next episode.

So what did I learn from these shows? For one thing, growing up means that there is a time and a place for everything. As Will Duquette told me, “Being adult: taking responsibility for yourself, and contributing willingly to the wellbeing of the household in which you reside according to your means and skills.” I still live with my parents and part of that means being considerate of them. I’m not in college with the freedom to be wherever I want and do whatever I want. But I also realized that this will prepare me in case I ever decide to have a family of my own someday. There’s a time to act proper and a time when you can relax and eat popcorn for breakfast. 

I also learned that growing up doesn’t mean giving up what you love. Many of my grownup friends are fans of Doctor Who and I know that a lot of grownups like Steven Universe as well. Plus, children’s shows can prove to be as good as adult shows provided that they have the right writers, directors, and producers. A great example of this is the Japanese children’s show Kamen Rider Drive, which is about a police officer who ends up becoming a superhero. Unlike most superhero stories, however, the main character, Shin, chooses to be a cop first when it comes to dealing with human criminals as opposed to the monsters he usually fights. The show overall portrays competent policemen who do actual detective work and think logically instead of acting violently towards people. There’s enough drama here that could be so much darker if this was a show like Blue Bloods or Law and Order. But instead, the show is smart, keeping a somewhat lighthearted tone while still having great characters and plotlines.

So basically, when you grow up, you don’t have to become a lifeless, boring automaton. Acting your age can just mean letting yourself cry and then thinking things out in a logical matter. Emotions will still come, but bottling them up or ignoring them is just as bad as giving into them completely. Like what Mister Rogers says in “What do you do with the mad that you feel?,” you can stop and think about what to do about how you feel and find an outlet for feelings. Writing has been my main outlet, but something I found to be relaxing is coloring as well. Adult coloring books have become a trend and I’m planning to jump on that bandwagon myself.

The picture I’m showing here is a “shield” of The Hunger Games with the symbol of Rose Quartz, a character from Steven Universe in the center. I made this drawing with pastels. When I was creating this drawing, I found so much energy pouring out of my as I created something new. I don’t think artists will ever get over that kind of feeling. Because that feeling of creating something out of nothing connects us to God, even when we don’t even know it.

And I think that’s the best lesson we can all learn: What connects us to God and makes us better?

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Photos from Girl Meets World, Steven Universe, and Doctor Who are copyrighted to their respective owners and are used for editorial purposes only.

 

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