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What We Loved About Kids' Media in 2022

Our Best of 2022 lists highlight growth in diversity, race and representation, and mental health awareness.

Topics: Quality Media
Scene from kids' movie

We know that media profoundly affects kids' social, emotional, and physical development, and the goal of Common Sense Media's research-based rating system is to inform, educate, and guide families to make the best choices for their kids. Research shows that the content kids engage with impacts their perspectives on the world around them. As the Common Sense ratings and reviews team looked across our recommendations for our annual Best Of lists in television, movies, podcasts, books, and games, we saw some encouraging trends in 2022. Our editors' top picks offer meaningful messages, show us the power of representation, and leave many feeling celebrated.

Diverse Representations

The best kids' movies of 2022 provide a lot of examples of inclusion and positive, diverse representations for families, from the thoughtful depiction of Turning Red's Chinese Canadian main character, to the strong Black women in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and Wendell & Wild, and the warm affection between Commander Alisha Hawthorne and her wife in Lightyear.

Diversity and inclusion are also happily woven into nearly all the series on our TV Top 10 list this year. Many highlighted shows include a diverse range of outstanding characters and lives, from Ms. Marvel's Pakistani American superhero to the reboot of beloved series The Proud Family—the animated Black family is now Louder and Prouder. Disability and neurodiversity representation are also front and center, starting with South Korea's international hit Extraordinary Attorney Woo, which features a thriving lawyer who has autism. And there's El Deafo, an animated series about a kid bunny who deals with the challenges of being deaf, and Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, starring a blind actor playing a blind alien character.

Latino podcast listenership continued to grow this year, and as a result, we've seen more bilingual and Spanish-language podcasts emerge. For example, Adonde Media teamed up with Rebel Girls to create the Spanish-language version of Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, Cuentos de Buenas Noches para Niñas Rebeldes. Media offerings like these prove that including more options and a more diverse assortment of characters only adds to the quality of entertainment for families.

Positive Female Role Models

It's important for kids to hear inspiring stories about innovative, influential women—and to know that women can do anything and everything. "This year, it's refreshing to see several films that have young girls front and center in their stories," shared Danny Brogan, Head of Streaming. Roald Dahl's Matilda the Musical and Catherine Called Birdy are both book adaptations that feature well-written girl lead characters you can't help but root for. Youthful activism and strong female characters are also evident in our top book choices, from Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Inspiring Young Changemakers to a fictional middle schooler standing up for what's right in Maizy Chen's Last Chance. Some of our top kids' movie picks also feature well-developed female characters with agency, including Luck, Ivy + Bean, The Sea Beast, Roald Dahl's Matilda the Musical, Catherine Called Birdy, The Woman King, Till, and more.

While diversity in gaming is still an issue, stories with strong female leads, like the World War II game Gerda: A Flame in Winter, and the LGBTQ+-friendly We Are OFK, are making strides in representation. "The games featured on our list highlight how there are plenty of tales out there waiting to be discovered for all audiences—they simply need a larger stage to have a chance to shine," says Jeff Haynes, Senior Editor of Web and Video Games.

Mental Health

Our research has shown that anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues are on the rise for young people today. It's important to have content that supports kids, tweens, and teens as they navigate their mental health.

As Brogan notes, "The importance of human interaction is a recurring topic in our selections this year. A number of these films, from the odd-couple comedy Brian and Charles to the superb Aftersun and The Banshees of Inisherin, also tackle issues around loneliness and mental health, such as depression." And Laura Ordoñez, Senior Editor of Podcasts and YouTube Reviews, shares that, "A huge trend in kids' podcasting this year was podcasts that centered around mental health, social and emotional learning, and mindfulness, like Good Morning, Good Night, Mini Meditations for Kids, and Be Calm on Ahway Island."

Cultural Heritage Celebration

Trends this year in picture books include celebrations of individual cultures and backgrounds, like Eyes That Speak to the Stars and Little Red Riding Hood and the Dragon. Several middle-grade and young adult fantasies draw on specific countries' folklore and mythology to create exciting stories in real or imagined settings, like Marikit and the Ocean of Stars (Filipino folklore), Serwa Boateng's Guide to Vampire Hunting (Ghanaian folklore), and A Thousand Steps Into Night (Japanese folklore). According to Regan McMahon, Deputy Editor of Books, "Graphic novels continue to break new storytelling ground. And books across ages and genres explore racism and the value of inclusion." We hope these positive trends will continue to grow and provide opportunities to deepen our connections with one another.

We've also identified some areas of growth for the media industry in 2023. Parents and caregivers are eager to share great movies with older preschoolers and young elementary schoolers, and it would be good to see more options that are truly meant for all ages. It's disappointing that no titles appropriate for preschoolers (age 2–4) made our list of the year's best movies.

And since we know that podcasting listening has grown in the 3–12 age range and that it's becoming increasingly popular with adults, we hope to see more content for teens in 2023 so this group doesn't get left behind. "Content should be designed to specifically help guide teens from younger-facing podcast content into the more expansive world of all podcasts," says Ordoñez. We also hope to continue to see more diverse perspectives and voices featured in the kids' podcast space.

Like every year, 2022 had both big hits and disappointing misses for kids and families—but there's a lot here to be encouraged by, and we can't wait to see what's coming in 2023.

To view our favorite media picks of 2022, visit https://www.commonsensemedia.org/lists/all

Betsy Bozdech

Betsy's experiences working in online parenting and entertainment content were the perfect preparation for her role as Common Sense's editorial director. After earning bachelor's and master's degrees from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism in 1997, she began her editorial career at BabyCenter.com and then served as an editor at Reel.com, Emode.com, and AOL's Digital City before working as the site content manager at Netflix for three years -- and then joining Common Sense Media in 2006. She's a lifelong movie and TV fan (favorites include The Princess Bride, 30 Rock, Some Like It Hot, Saturday Night Live, and Star Wars) and is delighted to have a job that makes keeping up on celebrity and pop culture news a necessity -- which, in turn, helps give her (a little) cred with her two kids.

In her role at Common Sense, Betsy has had the privilege of moderating a Comic-Con panel, serving as a juror for the San Francisco Film Festival, touring the set of Imagination Movers, interviewing filmmakers like The Good Dinosaur's Peter Sohn, and much more. She is also a member of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists.

Follow her on Twitter.