Boys Deserve More from TV Than Muscles and Machine Guns

Let's broaden the definition of what it means to be a man on TV. By Sierra Filucci
Boys Deserve More from TV Than Muscles and Machine Guns

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But shows that reinforce outdated male stereotypes (and females ones, for that matter) persist.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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About Sierra Filucci

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Sierra is a journalist with a special interest in media and families. She has a master's degree in journalism from the University of California at Berkeley, and she's been writing and editing professionally for more... Read more

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Comments (8)

Teen, 13 years old written by MarvelisAwesome

Legend of Korra does NOT offer gender balance. The two main male characters are horrible. Mako is a firebender who cheats on the two female characters, Asami and Avatar Korra, over and over again, while Bolin does nothing but act as comic relief while hopping from girl to girl in every season. One season he liked Korra, and suddenly in another, he likes a villain, and then he just hops from one girl to the next, dating at least 6 in the span of 4 seasons. Both Mako and Bolin are male stereotypes to the highest degree.
Parent of an infant, 2, and 4 year old written by miloquent

Thank you! I would add Fetch! to the list. Boys and girls compete together and against each other in a variety of challenges from engineering to ballroom dance.
Parent written by WorstParent

I would add Cartoon Network's 'Steven Universe' to this list. The majority of the characters are women, and they are superheroes, but not sexed up ones. They have cartoonish but realistic body types and personalities, diverse body types and ethnicities, and they don't wear ridiculous outfits. In addition, the titular character, Steven, a sort of superhero in training is not a he-man, beat everything up style character, he's an awkward kid learning his way and he primarily saves the day by virtue of engendering teamwork and cooperation among his teammates and friends. As they are superheroes, yes, there is fighting, but it isn't graphic.
Parent of a 5 year old written by Norx

Design Squad Nation is currently not on the PBS lineup (at least in Seattle). We are having fun exploring the website however so thanks for the info.
Parent of a 5 year old written by Norx

Design Squad Nation is currently not on the PBS lineup (at least in Seattle). We are having fun exploring the website however so thanks for the info.
Teen, 14 years old written by DragonLovr

This is just plain lame. "Tv that's good for boys?!" I like Star Trek and I'm obsessed with Korra, and I'm a girl. This should be "tv that's good for kids" come on!!!
Parent written by Mlovgren

I couldn't agree more with your suggestion of Star Trek: The Next Generation. We've started watching an episode almost every evening with my 7 and 11 year-old boys, and each episode gives us so much to talk about! Concepts of loyalty, fairness, prejudice, stereotypes, faith, friendship, what it means to be "human"...all the things we WANT to talk about with our children. The show can be funny, dramatic, and at times scary. There are only a few that I would skip ("The Naked Now" in the first season is a bit ridiculous, with the crew acting "drunk"; "Conspiracy" in the same season was pretty scary for my 7 year-old). The first season does seem to fall victim to making the women wear outfits that are a little silly and sexualized--but by the second season they've gotten rid of them, and makes up for it with is portrayal of women and men working side by side. There are seven total seasons, all streaming on Netflix.


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