*This article is written with the author’s opinions in mind, and is not Familywise Asia’s as a whole.
As a young child, I remember singing along to Britney Spears’s “Toxic” quite vividly, and it wasn’t until much later on, when I lipsynced to the same song for nostalgia’s sake, that I understood what the lyrics were actually saying. Aside from this, I also remember watching films that were definitely more than rated PG in terms of violence.
The thing is, though, I wasn’t completely affected by these experiences as much as an adult bystander would think. I didn’t understand the vocabulary or the innuendos made in them, and that was part of the fun and thrill that I experienced when I finally understood those references. But I believe there exist certain media out there that are unapologetically explicit and blatant in the inappropriateness that they display. And most of these are animated shows or cartoons.
Personally, I feel that these are the type of content that should be monitored. Just because certain shows are animated, doesn’t mean they’re for kids. They’re simply adult shows in a different medium. Children can’t appreciate dark and adult humor with the same distance as we can. They are poised to listen to these animations and absorb their verbal and physical languages, possibly adopting these languages into their lives in and outside the home.
In light of the recent Momo Challenge fiasco, let us be more vigilant in looking out for our children’s physical and mental safety. It is especially important today, where streaming sites and apps are immortalizing TV shows, and these things do not simply disappear anymore.
With that, I’ve listed down a few animated shows that parents should watch out for. This list is based on my personal knowledge, and my main criteria for choosing is if their animation styles can pass for children’s cartoons to the first-time viewer.
1. South Park
This adult animated sitcom has been around since 1997, with swearing and violence sharing an almost equal amount of screen time, which is a lot. Its characters are children themselves, which may be confusing for your kids to watch. While most adults would find humor in it because of how unlikely the characters are put into desperately dire and violent situations, along with its satirical quality, kids would instead interpret this alternate universe as an example to imitate.
2. Jack TV Adult Animations
While South Park was on Jack TV in other countries, our cable at home never aired it, so I’m putting it in a different category. Instead, what I saw from Jack TV were Family Guy, American Dad, Cleveland, and The Simpsons. Similar to South Park, these shows rely heavily on showing the extremely absurd to entertain its audience. Some characters are extremely bad friends and family members, but get away with it and move on to the next episodes. While there are certainly touching and inspirational moments from these shows that their fans can appreciate, these are not the usual scenes shown in these shows.
3. Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim Section
I don’t really know if I was the only kid who didn’t completely understand the Adult Swim section. But if I didn’t understand it, there’s a chance that your child won’t either. I remember being confused by Samurai Jack as a child, which, upon googling, was actually a series that gained critical acclaim during its run. Thankfully, there weren’t any inappropriate or explicit scenes from this show—or at least no memorable ones.
Today, the more popular series of Adult Swim are Adventure Time and Rick and Morty. Admittedly, Rick and Morty is one of my current favorite animations, but it’s certainly not for everyone, much less children. The series does not only confuse its audience with elaborate science fiction and alternate universes, it also showcases an absurd amount of violence, cursing, and familial neglect. Adventure Time, on the other hand, while championing friendship and adventure, might seem to be a positive, albeit absurd, cartoon on the surface, but its storyline is actually set in a post-apocalyptic world and often dives into dark themes and topics.
Netflix has a handful of adult animated shows in its roster. One of these is Big Mouth, an explicit show depicting the lives of puberty-stricken tweens. While educational in some episodes, the more, umm, ridiculous scenes negate the values that some of these scenes promote. It’s a great show though, so maybe you can tell your children to wait until they’re 18 to watch it instead.
To avoid situations like these altogether, make sure to set-up and to adjust your Netflix account’s parental controls.
5. Ren & Stimpy
The cartoon has sparked numerous controversies behind the scenes. Despite being a regular Cartoon Network animation, the series showcased extreme violence and several sexual innuendos. As it grew increasingly dark, the executives of Cartoon Network decided to fire one of the show’s main showrunners, which led to its latter seasons being a lot more kid-friendly.
6. Happy Tree Friends
Once upon a time, I watched an episode of Happy Tree Friends—and not one more. Suffice to say it’s one of my childhood regrets ever watching this show. The problem that I have with this show that I certainly don’t have with the prior titles mentioned is the fact that it’s set to deceive its first-time audience, relying on shock factor to be a more memorable show. It’s definitely worked, but I have little respect for the deceiving nature of the program. Happy Tree Friends contains extremely graphic violence and habitually showcases the deaths of its characters.
As for animated show recommendations, here’s a quick list of shows I’m sure you can enjoy with your children.
1. Paw Patrol
At this point, who doesn’t know Paw Patrol? The series tells the story of Ryder and his rescued dogs as they go on missions to protect their community. Honestly, who doesn’t like superhero dogs? I might just start watching this myself.
2. Boss Baby
If you’re looking for toddler safe Netflix shows, try Boss Baby. It certainly has a few adult themes here and there, but nothing that warrants censored languages or scenarios. Boss Baby tries to solve the question nobody asked, “What if babies ran a worldwide business?” and I’m all ears for the answer.
3. We Bare Bears
We Bare Bears doesn’t only have the cutest multi-cultural bears in the history of cartoons (sorry, Yogi Bear), it’s also a great example of positive media for children. Don’t believe me? Read this review that parents wrote on the series.
4. Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure
Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure is the series sequel to the lovely Disney movie, Tangled. It’s about Rapunzel’s journey after being rescued from the tower and rescuing herself from her own fate. The series is adventurous and fun, and displays real connection between friends and family.
5. Sesame Street
Sesame Street is a beloved classic and continues to thrive as its episodes keep up with the times and feature pop culture characters with positive twists—so positive, in fact, that in one episode, Game of Thrones’ Cersei and Tyrion Lannister were made to reconcile with each other.
6. Phineas and Ferb
A.K.A. My Favorite Cartoon. Phineas and Ferb have it all: family, friends, and fun. It’s an absolute delight to go along with the two stepbrothers’ many adventures—and consequently, their sister Candace’s misadventures—during a seemingly unending summer vacation. I confess to not having watched the last three episodes of the series even though it’s been more than three years since. I just don’t want their summer to end!