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Boys Deserve More from TV Than Muscles and Machine Guns

Common Sense Media logo Common Sense Media 10/9/2016 Sierra Filucci

Boys have it pretty good when it comes to TV. From Sid the Science Kid and Jake and the Never Land Pirates to Psych and Modern Family, great male characters are everywhere. In fact, 70 percent of kids' TV characters are male, according to the Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media.

But shows that reinforce outdated male stereotypes (and females ones, for that matter) persist. And TV is still a huge part of kids' lives: It continues to dominate their screen time, and study after study shows that it really does impact kids' perception and behavior.

The good news is that parents have lots of viewing options these days. If you want to find shows that broaden the definition of what it means to be a man, look for:

  • Nonstereotypical characters. Weed out shows that focus on brute strength, stoic demeanors, and clueless hijinks in favor of ones that highlight realistic emotions and thoughtful behavior.
  • Strong male and female characters. Select shows with plenty of powerful or complex female leads to offer boys a wide view of femininity.
  • Positive conflict resolution. Counteract the violence and villains with examples of boys and men working out problems with understanding and compassion.

Below are some of our favorite shows for boys and what we love about them.

These shows avoid gender stereotypes:

  • Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood, age 3+
    From the folks who brought Mr. Rogers to kids of the 1970s, this show focuses on a sweet boy tiger and his friends who experience sadness, frustration, disappointment, and joy -- just like all preschoolers -- and then offers up age-appropriate ways of dealing with these strong feelings.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation, age 8+
    Captain Picard maintains his composure under pressure, but he isn't afraid to express fear, hurt, or love when the time is right. Other male characters express a range of emotions or, in Data's case, a complete absence of emotion, which only serves to highlight how important feelings are to being a human.
  • Degrassi, age 14+
    The teens on Degrassi deal with realistic situations, from experimenting with alcohol and sex to academic pressure and relationship woes. Through it all, boys and girls deal with these emotionally rocky times with a range of reactions not limited to gender stereotypes.

These shows offer gender balance:

  • WordGirl, age 5+
    This brainy superhero teaches kids vocabulary while saving the world. Her feats of grammar are full of action and adventure, plus some really silly villains that both boys and girls love.
  • Design Squad Nation, age 6+
    This lively engineering show demonstrates that both boys and girls like building things. The hosts are male and female, and the kids who appear on the show are a diverse bunch, with plenty of girls and boys in the mix who show off their smarts.
  • Legend of Korra, age 8+
    Korra is a determined, goal-oriented superhero with a strong sense of duty who, like her male counterpart from Avatar: The Last Airbender, gets into lots of trouble as she tries to bring peace to her communities while harnessing the power of the elements to defeat enemies.

These shows present boys doing good:

  • Sesame Street, age 3+
    Characters on TV's most famous street have lots of fun, but they also show viewers male characters who are well rounded and great because they care about others, not because they can shoot lasers or do magic.
  • The HALO Effect, age 6+
    Teens -- both male and female -- pursue specific causes, from helping military families to tackling bullying. They show how caring about others and improving the world around them is a noble cause.
  • World of Jenks, age 14+
    The docuseries follows filmmaker Andrew Jenks as he meets and learns from people in communities different from his own. His peek into other people's worlds offers a chance to understand others and develop empathy by watching his experience.

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