Television and video games and screens in general get a pretty bad rap these days from parents and pediatricians and everyone who wants to share their opinions with you. And while moderation is key and there’s some validity to arguments about exercise and brain development, the truth is that for some kids, television is where they learn how to deal with the hard lessons.
It’s where they see themselves for the first time, or see people different from them for the first time, or get answers to questions they were too afraid to ask in real life.
These 15 episodes of television were surely a lifeline for more than a few kids out there, and I say it’s okay to celebrate that.
15. The depictions of anxiety and panic attacks on Alexa & Katie.
“At the end of season three, Katie has a panic attack on her way to take the SAT, and is diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. The scene where Katie has the attack is heartbreaking; it’s really realistic and well done. They don’t just sweep this issue under the rug after this one episode, throughout season four anxiety is something that is openly discussed between Alexa and Katie and Katie and her mom.”
“She has another panic attack in season four, in which a friend helps her through it with realistic methods for doing so. I’ve never seen a kids show that openly talked about mental health issues or therapy, and they did it so, so well. As someone with anxiety, I felt incredibly seen by this show. I wish I’d had it around when I was younger.”
14. “True Colours” (That’s So Raven)
The “True Colours” episode of That’s So Raven where Raven exposes a racist recruiter at a clothing shop who won’t hire her because she’s Black.
13. In “Alone at Sea,” Steven Universe takes on the importance of leaving a relationship and asserting boundaries.
“The episode ends with Lapis telling Jasper that what they had was unhealthy, which was a good way to teach kids they have the power to say ‘no’ when someone is abusive toward them.
Steven himself is great in the episode and works as a support system for Lapis to get over her trauma.”
12. The importance of the Black Lives Matter movement on Blue Peter.
“Our media has been pretty poor at conveying why this is so important in the UK and Blue Peter succeeded in a kids show where adult programming and news has failed!”
11. Helga getting therapy to deal with her neglectful parents on Hey, Arnold!
“The way that they explained Helga’s anger from her mother’s alcoholism, her father’s disinterest, and having to live in the shadow of a ‘perfect’ older sister.
Seeing the reason Helga was angry and a bit of a bully really helped me to see some of my classmates differently. Plus, it normalised therapy for me as a kid – something that has helped as an adult.”
10. As Told By Ginger tackled being disappointed by our parents.
“Ginger’s mother sends her flowers, knowing the dad won’t follow through, and signs them from him.
Ginger knows what she did and thanks her mother.”
9. Hey, Arnold showed Arnold being sad that his parents weren’t there for parent’s day, but realizing his grandparents were a perfect family.
“I found that episode so comforting because I was also raised by a grandparent.”
8. Foster kid representation in The Story of Tracy Beaker.
“You had everyone from temporary foster kids, aged-out kids, poor income, and wealthy families – and a great diverse cast for something that started in 2002!”
7. On “When Carl Met George,” Arthur introduces a character with autism and attempts to show the world through his eyes.
“I use Brain’s explanation to show people what it’s like in my own head sometimes. It helps as a general guide and I like the way they emphasize the idea that things are different for everyone.
I also love seeing the characters treat their autistic friend, Carl, like he’s just one of the gang. It’s how I wish things had been for me.”
6. Doc McStuffins helped out someone who was feeling insecure about their stutter.
“She explains how even though it’s hard for the words to come out it doesn’t mean you’re broken. My husband grew up stuttering and still stutters so when he watched this with our kids he was ready to cry.
He was bullied growing up for his stutter (and has been fired because of it), but that episode is such a great explainer to kids and adults about the basics of what stutterers deal with.”
5. London and Maddie facing body shaming, but ultimately coming to love themselves, on The Suite Life of Zack and Cody.
“They have a fashion show and London’s friend insults everyone telling London she’s too curvy and Maddie she’s too thin.
Considering how similar the girls’ body types were, it really reinforced how much someone’s mean comments can change a person’s point of view.”
4. Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood tackles our differences, and that it’s great that no one is exactly the same, in a way that’s very accessible for young kids.
“My daughter watches Daniel Tiger a lot and I appreciate the way they discuss some serious subjects.
It’s definitely a less advanced approach because it’s geared toward preschoolers, but they talk about death and loss, handling anger and frustration, how to work through jealousy of a new sibling, and differences between individuals (Prince Wednesday’s cousin, Chrissy, uses crutches and braces to walk and the other kids are curious about it.
Prince Wednesday gets defensive about his cousin, but Chrissy lets the other kids ask her questions without making them feel bad).”
3. Karli’s mom going to rehab for opioid addiction on Sesame Street.
“I’m older now, but I grew up with that and my sister deals with addiction. I watched it and cried because I thought it was beautiful and explained the child’s feelings.
Showed it to my brother in law and my nieces so the girls could see that it’s normal to feel what they are feeling and they can talk about it.”
2. That’s So Raven got body positive after Raven realized a magazine she posed for had photoshopped her image.
“She gets angry (rightfully so) and at the end of the episode, shows up to model her dress at a fashion show, where she was supposed to let someone thinner walk on the runway. And she totally rocks it.
As someone who struggled with body image and an eating disorder at the airing of the episode, it was really nice and showed that all types of bodies are beautiful.”
1. The episode of Full House when Stephanie learns one of her classmates is being abused, and tells an adult.
“At the end of the episode they did a PSA to tell viewers that child abuse is a very real thing and what you can do about it. In fact most shows in the ’90s had PSAs at the end of the episode and I don’t understand why they discontinued doing that.
Even Sonic the Hedgehog did one about what to do if an adult touched you inappropriately.”
Some of these brought a tear to my eye.
Is there an episode of television that changed the way you looked at the world? That helped you understand something tough or confusing? That let you know your experiences weren’t unique? Tell us about it in the comments!