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They’re bright, colourful and traditionally filled with sugar, spice and all things nice. Pre-millennial cartoons like Sesame Street, Art Attack and Arthur took approving parents down memory lane, and engaged kids in an educational sing-a-long about numbers, letters and shapes. But, have the messages in modern pre-school and pre-teen cartoons becoming less educational and more entertaining? And are they encouraging bad behaviour in children?
Winning the 2005 BAFTA Children’s Award for ‘Best Pre-school Animation’ and the Cristal Award for ‘Best TV Production’, popular kids cartoon Peppa Pig follows the main character Peppa on her daily adventures as she interacts with her family and friends. Being a pre-schoolers cartoon that targets under fives, I was surprised to see a short clip of the show pop up on my Facebook timeline and the endless number of comments beneath the video from adults who were conveying their disbelief at the content. The video titled ‘She hung up on her #thuglife’ showed eight year old Peppa calling her friend Suzy Sheep to ask her if she can whistle after realising that everyone in her household could whistle, apart from her. Wanting to find empathy in someone like herself who she assumed couldn’t whistle either, Peppa confidently rings Suzy to enquire, (in hopes that she can’t) and when Suzy proves that she can, naughty Peppa presses the hang up button quicker than a contestant on Family Fortunes, leaving an oblivious Suzi on the other end of the line.
American animation, The Regular Show, is another example of ‘bad behaving’ characters targeted at school aged children. Falling under the ‘entertaining’ category, this crude cartoon follows two 23 year old best friends called Mordecai and Rigby who are park groundskeepers that skip work to embark on ‘adventures' that always land them into trouble with their boss. From sexual innuendos to violence and drinking, the popular Internet Movie Database (IMDB) and commomsensemedia.org websites have reviewed and rated this show as inappropriate. Characters are often seen acting ‘drunk’ after consuming a substance that resembles beer and using vocabulary that’s made up of soft swear words and phrases like, ‘How in the h are we gonna fix this s?’
"A 2007 Ofcom Research Report on children’s media consumption habits, found that, ‘A television is the most owned piece of media equipment for a child to have in their bedroom, with 71% of children aged 5-15 claiming to have one"
Although these examples may make the adult audience chuckle, they’re not positive representations for the influential adolescent mind. The creators of Peppa Pig may have wanted children to grasp the lesson ‘if you don’t succeed, try, try again’, but unfortunately this was overshadowed by Peppa’s ‘cheekiness’ which subtly sends the message that it’s ok to be impolite to a friend if the friend can do something that the child can’t. Counterproductive? I’d say so. Similarly, the covert message that cartoons like The Regular Show is sending to preteens is that they won’t be caught for behaving irresponsibly or recklessly on the job, as long as they clean up their tracks and fix it before the boss finds out.
Some may say that cartoons nowadays are an example of art imitating life; children are a lot more advanced, therefore cartoons would naturally reflect this change. Others may disagree and respond with the common idea that children are like sponges; they are prone to copying what they see. A 2007 Ofcom Research Report on children’s media consumption habits, found that, ‘A television is the most owned piece of media equipment for a child to have in their bedroom, with 71% of children aged 5-15 claiming to have one’. Combining this statistic from Ofsted with Albert Bandura’s Social Learning Theory, (which explains that people learn new behaviours, values and attitudes through the observation of others) supports the idea that children are highly likely to imitate the characters they see on TV.
"…After all, if you look past the cute theme tune, the humour and the belly-laugh ending, there's little denying that Peppa Pig is terribly behaved"
In 2012 the Mail Online covered a story on the CBeebies animation, titled, ‘Is Peppa Pig making toddlers naughty? Parents despair as children copy cartoon by answering back’ and two years later they covered a follow-up called, ‘What’s Peppa Pig really teaching our children?’ Both writers conveyed their experiences of how the five minute programme had negatively impacted their child’s behaviour.
Journalist and mother Naomi Greenaway recalls, ‘It reminded me of an incident from when my eldest was three. After the usual tug-of-war over a dolly with a friend, she shoved her hands on her hips and declared, “I don't want to play with you anymore!” To which Lilly blurted out, “I don't want to play with you anymore!” It was a live rendition of Peppa and Suzy Sheep's argument in the episode called 'The Quarrel'. And on the lips of my three-year-old it sounded even more unpleasant than on screen. The girls were totally unaware of their plagiarism, but this dialogue had become etched in both their minds as a template of how friends interact.’
'There’s no doubt that these modern animated anarchists have had a hand in shaping the behaviours and values of children and young people over the years, but as parents, guardians and relatives, we should continue to create a safe space for entertainment and also be aware of the kind of programmes that our young people are exposed to, even if they appear innocent and harmless.'
Commenting on the general behaviour of Peppa, which usually consists of her whining and telling her parents that they are ‘silly’ or ‘old’, Naomi concludes, ‘…After all, if you look past the cute theme tune, the humour and the belly-laugh ending, there's little denying that Peppa Pig is terribly behaved.’
There’s no doubt that these modern animated anarchists have had a hand in shaping the behaviours and values of children and young people over the years, but as parents, guardians and relatives, we should continue to create a safe space for entertainment and also be aware of the kind of programmes that our young people are exposed to, even if they appear innocent and harmless. Philippians 4:8 says, ‘Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.’
Consider this: would you invite these animated characters to a child’s play date or birthday party, if they were real? If your answer is no, switch over. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with introducing tiny tots and pre-teens to the cartoons that you enjoyed when you were their age. After all, you’re living proof that these shows opened up a world of learning and imagination where you explored new and exciting things.
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