With screens virtually everywhere, monitoring a child’s screen time can be challenging. To make matters more complicated, some screen time can be educational and beneficial to children’s social development. According to a report, the Goldilocks method – ‘not too little, not too much, but just the right amount – should be used.
Despite the negative connotations associated with children’s screen time, some new-age animated films are introducing subjects such as mental health and environmental conservation to our children, providing a much-needed break from stereotypical programming that has had problematic tropes such as princesses always needing a prince to rescue them. New content for children now delves into topics that are not openly discussed, such as the loss of a loved one and grief.
Screen time, in moderation, can thus be an excellent learning tool. After all, storytelling has always been a powerful medium for learning in India. Puppets, dance, and music have all been used to help children—and adults—acquaint themselves with religious texts, local heroes, ancient epics, and history since time immemorial. Occasionally, these stories conclude with a moral. Visual aids do more than just enhance the experience; they also stimulate their audiences, keep their attention, and make the experience memorable.
The environment and conservation, for example, are emerging as dominant topics. For example, Rio 2 (2014), a sequel to Rio (2011), introduced us to the Blue Macaw, also known as Spix’s Macaw, a species endemic to Brazil. In the film, a Blue Macaw family returns to its roots deep in the Amazon forests, only to discover that human plans to cut down the trees on which they rely for food and roosting could wipe them out entirely.
Bee Movie(2007) is a slightly older but still relevant film in the same genre. It tells you about the importance of bees in our ecosystem, how flowers would disappear without their role in pollination, and how over-exploitation is harming them, all while being delightfully narrated by its main protagonist, Barry B. Benson. The entire Ice Age series of films introduces animals that once roamed the earth.
Gender and its non-binary quality
According to author Rachael Michelle Johnson in a research paper titled ‘The Evolution of Disney Princesses and their Effect on Body Image, Gender Roles, and the Portrayal of Love,’ there have been three major eras of Disney princesses. Princesses from the first era (Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, 1937; Cinderella, 1950; Sleeping Beauty, 1959) are submissive and play traditional gender roles. In the second era (The Little Mermaid, 1989; Pocahontas, 1995; Mulan, 1998), princesses become more independent, more egalitarian, and eventually find true love with a prince.
The central plot has changed dramatically in the most recent era, with films such as Moana (2016) and the Frozen series of films. Moana sets out to save her island and her people is abandoned mid-way by the demi-god she relied on but still succeeds, whereas, in Frozen, the fairytale’s favourite narrative of true love’s act being a kiss from a handsome prince is shattered. Instead, sibling love is celebrated, bringing a new perspective.
Dr Bidita Das, head of the psychology department at Assam’s Handique College, believes that animated films are an effective medium for instilling positive values in children. “They (movies) can be a good intervention module for character development.” For example, to comprehend empathy extended to all living beings. Also a good medium for encouraging resilience (which should begin at a young age) and accepting ourselves as we are.
Celebrating diversity and accepting others who are different is an important theme, especially in today’s world
Films, such as Up (2009), which is about an unlikely friendship between an old man and a young boy, also address mental health. Before he accepts his truth, the man, a widower, is grieving and angry. The central theme of Coco (2017) is the loss of a loved one, as well as dementia in the elderly.
Emotions are required for kids to succeed in life. Moderation is the key here, as it is with all ‘good’ and ‘bad’ things—along with parental supervision.
Cover Image Credits – Pixels