A case for watching children’s cartoons as a college student

By the end of April in 2020, I was rapidly losing hope for a normal end to my senior year of high school. When I wasn’t doing homework or watching Marvel movies with my sisters, I was holed up in my room, desperately trying to fill the void with sappy YA novels and Netflix originals. I was having a difficult time sticking to a show; I would usually watch a few episodes of a program before my attention fizzled out. 

Then “Avatar: the Last Airbender” arrived on Netflix. 

At first, I felt weird watching a TV-Y7 show by myself and saw “Avatar” as my guilty pleasure. But after watching several episodes of the show, I realized that I didn’t like it just because it had cool action sequences, witty side characters and an adorable flying bison. “Avatar” goes a step deeper with its themes by expanding its messages to apply not only to kids, but to adults as well.

From the disastrous effects of war on civilizations to abuse, grief, toxic masculinity and the importance of being vulnerable with others, this children’s show tackles social issues that would typically not be suitable for young viewers. “Avatar” creates a relatable atmosphere for young adults, who can relate to the struggles of grief and identity that many of the characters deal with. 

“Avatar” also understands the importance of representation by creating female characters that are strong, but also flawed and complicated. The show also does a great job of portraying people with disabilities as people who are still capable of living their own lives despite the barriers they face.  

The character of Toph accurately illustrates the female experience while also offering a positive portrayal of disabilities. Toph is an earthbender who is blind, but her blindness doesn’t impede her; instead, it strengthens her earthbending. She is also a great example of a complex female character, for the show delves into her impulsivity and her struggle to show her emotions. 

Being a young adult while watching a children’s cartoon like “Avatar” did not make me feel isolated from the content. Because of my age, I better understood the show’s thematic elements, which helped me harness an appreciation for the show that I would not have if I watched it as a child.

After watching “Avatar,” my interest in children’s cartoons was ignited. I then discovered “She-Ra and the Princesses of Power.” “She-Ra” solidified my appreciation of cartoons by not only combining well written comedy with complex characters, but by also providing much needed LGBTQ representation in juvenile media.

The beauty of “She-Ra” is that it does not reduce LGBTQ+ voices to one-dimensional side characters. They are placed front and center, with two of the main characters, Adora and Catra, being the predominant queer characters. The show also succeeds in not tokenizing their queer characters by just letting them exist and not making a huge deal with labels. None of the queer characters ever explicitly come out, for in the world they live in, they don’t have to; they are free to be themselves without question. By normalizing queerness in a children’s show, “She-Ra” provides a safe place for its queer audience, providing well-written queer characters for people to relate to.

I am not telling you to watch children cartoons because they are funny and have engaging characters; you can find adult shows with these qualities on practically every streaming network. But what you cannot find in an adult show is the seamlessly accessible way children cartoons incorporate social issues, morality and representation into twenty-minute episodes with engaging storylines. In recent years, channels like Cartoon Network and Disney have gone to extra lengths to promote diversity and inclusion, so there is a variety of programs for you to choose from. 

After a long day of school, give yourself a break from the mentally draining storylines of today’s dramas and thrillers, and unwind with a lighthearted cartoon. 

You never know, you might just end up binge-watching it.