Please wait...
Please wait...


Navigating new trends in the global content business.

Nickelodeon on showing kids it's OK to not be OK

Paramount-owned Nickelodeon’s insights team spoke earlier this month about how children’s content creators can raise awareness of and normalise mental health issues in their programming.

Bluey helps embed positive messages into kids’ lives

At Kidscreen Summit earlier this month, execs from Paramount-owned Nickelodeon’s insights team urged the children’s content sector to use kids’ programmes as a way to raise awareness of mental health and wellbeing.

According to the results of a study Nickelodeon presented, kids often turn to TV when they are sad, anxious or stressed to help them feel better. When examining the strategies children follow in those situations, watching their favourite TV shows, movies or videos came second to talking to parents and family.

Playing video games, which takes up the vast majority of kids’ spare time these days, only ranked in 10th place.

“This highlights an opportunity, as well as a responsibility for us to embed positive messages and coping strategies in shows,” said Colleen Russo Johnson, VP of digital and cultural consumer insights at Nickelodeon.

Nickelodeon’s SpongeBob SquarePants offered kids a chance toi express their feelings

Speaking alongside Russo Johnson was Nickelodeon’s senior VP of digital and cultural consumer insights, Makeda Mays Green, who explained that only 32% of the mental health professionals surveyed said they were satisfied with the current portrayal of mental wellbeing for kids aged 6-12 in TV and movies. The score was even lower than the 35% satisfaction rate for YouTube videos.

When kids were asked to name specific shows in which characters discuss their feelings, Bluey came up top, followed by SpongeBob SquarePants, Daniel Tiger’s Neighbourhood, Paw Patrol, Sesame Street and Peppa Pig.

“The majority of TV shows mentioned are preschool shows, but this showcases an opportunity for more content, particularly for that audience of kids aged six and older,” Green said, adding that 92% of parents and children said they thought it was important to see a character getting help with their mental health in a TV show.

When it comes to the wellbeing situations kids are most interested in seeing in a TV show, Nickelodeon’s research found that a child talking to their parents about feeling sad, anxious or stressed came in pole position. This was followed by friends asking each other how they are every day, a child openly talking about their feelings to their friends, a supportive teacher who checks in on how kids are feeling every day and a child who does positive self-talk to cheer themselves up.

Portraying mental health situations in a TV show can be done both passively and actively, Russo Johnson said. Passively could simply mean a character, as one example, mentioning to a friend that they will be seeing their therapist later, without changing the scene or storyline. The active equivalent of that situation would show the character in their therapy session and would add to the storyline.

“Passive portrayals can arguably be added into any piece of content no matter what the topic, whether or not messaging around mental health and wellbeing is an explicit goal of yours. It costs the storyline nothing but helps subtly normalise mental health and wellbeing for all kids, and it creates a powerful ‘feel seen’ moment for kids who can relate to them. Active portrayals, on the other hand, are great if you explicitly want to call out messaging around mental health and wellbeing,” she said.

Other aspects relating to mental health children would like to see on screen include showing model coping strategies, showing real everyday problems rather than just major struggles, normalising low feelings, portraying bullying and how to cope with it, showing kids going to therapy, showing children receiving hugs from loved ones and adding an all-important dose of humour.

Offering some final advice to programme makers, Green said: “Take a proactive approach. In your content showcase a diverse range of emotions from sadness and anger to frustration and anxiety. It’s important to know and show that no individual is one dimensional. It’s also important to highlight that it’s okay to not be okay. Naturally, integrate strategies that are relatable and relevant, and you can do that in active and passive ways throughout episodic storylines or even interstitials. Remember the value of connecting with professionals.

“Leverage areas of convergence. There is an opportunity to market mental wellbeing to parents and kids. Based on our research, both audiences want and need to see characters getting help with their mental health. Parents, kids and professionals agreed that strategies are important. Talking through problems and physical health can improve mental wellbeing, and while there is no universal approach, we know that mental wellbeing is a universal need.

“Showcase a toolbox of coping skills and tailor techniques as there is no one size fits all answer. Make sure you are using opportunities to reinforce, but not being redundant in your approach, and be mindful of ways in which culture, for example race and ethnicity, socioeconomic status and gender, can influence thoughts and actions.”