HOLLYWOOD (Christian Examiner) -- Parents who once thought of cartoons as a harmless form of children's entertainment are rethinking that view as the number of children's cartoons positively portraying the GLBT lifestyle is on the rise and so are the avenues through which such programming reaches children.
Focus on the Family media watcher and issues analyst Jeff Johnston told LifeSiteNews there are many gay and transgender characters and stories in children's programs with more on the way.
Johnston said children's programming reflects what is already in the culture and - in light of the Supreme Court decision declaring a "constitutional right" to same-sex marriage and extensive press coverage of Bruce Jenner and transgenderism - guarantees that "we'll only see more and more of this."
Some are pushing for more.
In a December 2014 Vanity Fair article, writer Joanna Robinson applauded Nickelodeon's series finale to The Legend of Korra in which the show's two heroines, who each dated men earlier in the series, were shown holding hands and dissolving into a mist in the final scene explicitly giving viewers the idea of a lesbian love interest.
"When it comes to children's entertainment, that envelope still needs pushing," Robinson wrote. "After-the-fact concessions like Dumbledore was gay, or Ren and Stimpy were gay, have limited value. Adventure Time certainly makes an effort, and two female lovers from the Japanese show Sailor Moon, who were changed to 'cousins' in the Americanized version, are finally coming out of the closet. But American kids' shows have a long way to go before L.G.B.T. story lines are considered a matter of course. And none of those examples above quite match Korra and Asami's climactic spirit portal moment."
Free from censors, Internet shows continue pushing boundaries
Robinson claimed Nickelodian changed children's television programming forever with The Legend of Korra and was subversive in doing so by moving the program from television to the internet -- freeing it of censorship concerns.
The Adventure Time program to which Robinson referred features the bisexual character of Marcelline the Vampire Queen and is one of three Cartoon Network programs positively portraying GLBT lifestyles. The other two are Clarence which has a main character with two moms and Steven Universe in which three alien "gem" mothers, two of whom are romantically involved, together raise a half-boy, half-alien "gem" named Steven.
Other recent examples of GLBT lifestyles in children's programming include Disney Channel's Good Luck Charlie series finale which showed a lesbian couple bringing their child to a play date, and Australia's SheZow in which a 12-year-old boy makes use of a "power ring" to turn himself into a girl.
The media watch organization Parents Television Council issued a special report in 2011 claiming viewing of cartoons is not as innocent as it seems. The report says animation is inherently risky to children and teens because of its ability to trivialize and bring humor to adult themes "and contribute to an atmosphere in which children view these depictions as normative and acceptable." PTC's report also noted children and teens increasingly receive video entertainment through avenues other than traditional television.
More children have mobile devices
Greg Nichols of California Sunday Magazine said in his article, "Hooked: Why Amazon and Netflix want your kids," on-demand streaming networks are investing large amounts of money into children's content because so many children have access to mobile devices. Citing 2013 studies by Common Sense Media and the American Pediatric Association, Nichols said 75 percent of American children ages 8 and younger have access to a "smart" mobile device and the average 8-year-old spends eight hours a day, or 56 hours per week, using electronic devices such as laptops, tablets, and smartphones.
Johnston, who once struggled with same-sex attraction and sex addiction, told LifeSiteNews, "Television shows, books, and movies with sexually-confusing messages . . . introduce children to falsehoods and immorality, and they create confusion and insecurity."
Calgary-based family counselor Wayne Ottenbriet, also a board member of the Canadian Association of Catholic Psychotherapists said people of all ages, including adults, should use caution with every form of media including books. The father of nine daughters recommends using all types of media sparingly for a healthy lifestyle and being more intentional about open discussions with children regarding media messages.
Johnston advocates use of Focus on the Family's Pluggedin.com where parents can find reviews of books, movies, and television programs. He said Focus on the Family also has material to help parents discuss with their children homosexuality, transgender issues, and gender-confusing messages from school. "We don't want parents to be fearful and scared. We want them to be equipped and prepared," he said.