kids and tv

What Novelists, Teachers, Therapists, and Other Highly Opinionated Parents Let Their Kids Watch

Steven Universe. Photo: Cartoon Network

Parents have never had more control over what their kids watch — or more options to pick from. And yet the time they have to figure out which shows are delightful and which are pure garbage hasn’t really changed. So for our series on kids and television, we asked a handful of thoughtful, highly discerning parents, from a sex therapist to television producers, how they decide what their kids should watch.

One Sex Coach Says:

“We have a son who is almost 7. He’s really into YouTube. He was into the Sharer Fam and now loves Preston (of PrestonsStylez), which is mostly watching him and his wife — they both look like a Barbie dolls — play Minecraft. We talk about these and other YouTubers, deconstructing what’s really going on — how these kids have millions of viewers, are millionaires and wasting time of the lives of viewers’ as they are zoned out focusing on the screen. The conversations about what he’s watching are a key component to balancing the images and messages that are pouring in. Gender roles, being creative and empowered, are topics that come up.”
Amy Levine, sex coach and founder of Ignite Your Pleasure, parent to a 6-year-old, New York, NY

Two TV Producers Say:

(Who also happen to be sisters and co-producers of Bob’s Burgers.)
“I’d rather show them something a little over their heads than watch something really empty or badly written. My oldest likes to watch videos of other people playing video games, which I don’t get but I also don’t judge. Hey, if he’s getting good grades and wants to spend his leisure time watching an adult in England playing Minecraft, I guess have at it? My 3- and 4-year-old currently watch nothing but Olaf’s Frozen Adventure on Disney+, and that’s fine with me. As long as we’re not watching Paw Patrol.
Wendy Molyneux, writer and co-executive producer of Bob’s Burgers, parent to children ages 3, 4, and 9 and a 5-month-old, Los Angeles, CA

“We love The Simpsons, Bob’s Burgers (I don’t force that one I swear), Clarence, and Adventure Time. That said, she also binge-watches things on her own that I know nothing about — kids’ series on Netflix and movies that get recommended to her. I like to give her the opportunity to develop her own taste and have some shows that are just for her to enjoy on her own.”
Lizzie Molyneux, writer and co-executive producer of Bob’s Burgers, stepparent to an 11-year-old and parent to an 11-month-old, Los Angeles, CA

Three Novelists Say:

“The things being made now, at least the ones we watch, are so focused on kindness and friendship, and they’re really wonderful. Simon is about a bunny-rabbit family that has a lot of sibling dynamics that I think are really helpful for my little two. There’s a brand-new show by the Sesame Street people called Helpsters. There’s also some kind of wild, weirder shows like Danger & Eggs and Cupcake and Dino, about a cupcake and a dinosaur that are friends and they like to help people around town.”
Emma Straub, author of All Adults Here and owner of Books Are Magic, parent to children ages 3 and 6, Brooklyn, NY

“Our kids don’t watch a lot of TV or movies. But one show that we have really liked is Charlie and Lola. We have found the style of the animation to be really refreshing. It doesn’t exaggerate the features of the characters in a way that feels particularly gendered. The main girl character is really adventurous and smart, and there’s 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 quirky and funny.
Julie Orringer, author of Flight Portfolio, parent to children ages 5 and 9, Brooklyn, NY

“People disagree with me, but I’m a PJ Masks fan. It’s three kids who become superheroes when they put on their pajamas at night. And season one is typical: “Oh no, where’s the playground equipment? Let’s put on our pajamas and solve the problem.” But then, in later seasons, the bad guys become less or more evil, and they become friends with one another 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, has sweet moments of vulnerability and music in it. Both shows do a good job of tricking the kids into seeing the world as a nuanced place to engage, as opposed to hide from or judge.”
Brian Platzer, author of The Body Politic (forthcoming), parent to children ages 4 and 6, Brooklyn, NY

Three Parents of Gender-Nonconforming Kids Say:

“The character Stevonnie in Steven Universe has been awesome in terms of representing gender fluidity. All of the characters have a ‘gem’ in their bellybutton area. At one point, Steven fuses with Connie [his magical pet lion]. So Stevonnie, which is their name when they’re fused, identifies simply as themself. My youngest one got really into the idea of being able to ‘fuse’ with people — that changes their identity on the outward, but they are who they are on the inside. Their whole representation is super queer-friendly and inclusive.”
Sara Kaplan, parent of children ages 7 and 12, Berkeley, CA

“He’s in love with Queer Eye. Jonathan Van Ness is his favorite, and when he came out as nonbinary, it was just awesome for him.”
Vanessa M., parent of a 9-year-old, Queens, NY

“I look for intersectional leading main characters. Children of all genders, of all races and ethnicities, all abilities. Not easy to find, at least on TV. One of my child’s favorite shows is Molly of Denali on PBS. She’s an indigenous character. We’re 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 she’s a modern-day Dora, very modern. She doesn’t wear a lot of pink. She’s just very outdoorsy. She’s an adventurer, an explorer. She does a lot of problem-solving.”
Maryann J., parent of children ages 5 and 10, Queens, NY

One Middle-School Teacher Says:

“Anything that’s appropriate, that will ignite a sense of engagement from my students, is super-powerful. So I adapt the content to whatever the students are watching. Right now, it’s The Flash on CW, which lends itself to so many science opportunities. The kids love Barry Allen because he’s cute or whatever; that’s what the girls say. But they really love it because it’s ingrained with factual information, but it’s still this fairy-tale, superhero-type story.”
Wade King, parent of an 8-month-old, Atlanta, GA

One Preschool Teacher Says:

“My children seem to be drawn to very gendered shows and movies, and I attempt to avoid overly gendered messages, so usually our choices do not align. Our favorites are Odd Squad and Wild Kratts. When they were younger, we watched mostly Daniel Tiger. Unfortunately, they kind of outgrew this one. They also watch Word Girl and Peg + Cat.”
Maggie Gale, parent of children ages 4 and 7, Chicago, IL

One Scientist Says:

“I’m a type-A personality and a scientist, so I research practically everything in order to make a well-informed decision. However, when it comes to setting the standards of what my children can watch and how much of it, I just follow my gut. My sons love Blaze and the Monster Machines, Paw Patrol, Bubble Guppies, and PJ Masks. They’re are obsessed with Blippi on YouTube. Every once in a while, they come across YouTube videos that don’t appear 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

One Family Therapist Says:

“My 7-year-old watches mostly shows offered on the Disney Channel and loves The Descendants, Liv & Maddie, Jessie, Girl Meets World, which I have no problem with. I noticed that she enjoyed watching YouTube shows, but she is only allowed to watch the “how to” shows, which teaches furniture-making, doll clothes, etc. I am not okay with her watching a lot of the YouTube family shows because their values are not always in line with the ones that we carry in our home.”
Latoya Boston, parent to children ages 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!

What Highly Opinionated Parents Let Their Kids Watch on TV