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Cartoons Aren't Just Bright Colors — There's A Lot Of Connection There For Kids

Are you sick of singing the “Hot Dog Dance” and the Bubble Guppies theme song? Maybe wondering when your kiddo will grow out of cartoons and into something less mind-numbing-yet-catchy? Well, there are reasons why kids love cartoons so much, but there’s also hope for when they’ll transition into big kid shows and when Ghostbusters will actually hold their attention.

Tiffany Mann, a certified child life specialist at Providence Health & Services, tells Romper in an interview that your child's age affects what kinds of TV shows and movies they enjoy. Cartoons are animated to cater to what their young brains need to develop and grow. “Cartoons are characterized by vibrant colors, varied degrees of movements, simple themes or messages for children to understand, shorter duration, varied sounds, and other stimuli that interest children,” Mann says.

She also notes that, like adults, children gravitate towards shows they can relate to. So the characters in cartoons are often children themselves, or animals, creatures, cars, or trains that act like children. "Children are pulled in as cartoons explore developmentally appropriate themes — like kindness, being a good friend, resilience, what to do when scared, and so on — or build off of the vast imagination of children, such as being a doctor or a princess, flying an airplane, or going to space.”

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So, while all the bright colors and happy toon critters can keep your child glued to the TV, Mann says their connection to the characters is what will keep them coming back for the next episode. And they don’t have to be singing mice or talking trains for that to happen.

“I’ve noticed what keeps children engaged is connection to the child on the other side of the screen, whether animated or not. A paramount example is Fred Rogers in Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood who did a remarkable job of keeping children engaged, allowing children to feel noticed with simple gestures and reactions, prompts and praise, and so forth. The same can be said for Sesame Street," she says.

And you're probably seeing a whole lot of cartoons as screen time is only increasing during COVID-19 social distancing. For toddlers and preschool-aged children, Mann recommends series like these to get through the quarantine period:

  • Sesame Street: “In addition to regular series, the Sesame Street site has specific themes related to washing hands, talking about a virus, etc.”
  • Daniel Tiger: “In addition to the regular series, the PBS website offers support for parents in comforting and educating their children about healthy habits during this time.”
  • Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: “Some episodes can touch more on current themes, including that of patience, being a helper, and listening to your parents.”
  • Doc McStuffins: “This show can help promote conversation about gratitude towards health care workers, along with themes of compassion and safety.”
  • Paw Patrol: “Amongst many themes in this show, teamwork stands out in a time where it is essential that we’re all in this together.”

For kiddos in elementary school, Mann says to check out Teen Titans Go!, DC Superhero Girls, and Wild Kratts. No matter what age your littles, she adds that it’s important for parents to keep an eye on what kinds of shows their kids watch.

“Like any media content, parents should still filter what their children and teens are watching. During this time where inconsistency is the new norm and fear is portrayed through social media and news outlets, it is important to weave in shows that have themes of resilience, teamwork, and courage, while also having shows that touch on our real-time challenges.”


Tiffany Mann, MS, CCLS, certified child life specialist at Providence Health & Services