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The Best Kid’s Cartoons: What is Your Child Watching?

Not all cartoons are meant for kids. So, how do you decide which ones are okay -- perhaps even good -- for your child to watch?

From “Looney Tunes” to “SpongeBob SquarePants,” kids’ cartoons have been entertaining children for decades. Today, there is more cartoon programming than ever before to choose from, including shows that look like they may be for kids but have adult themes and humor. Before parents or nannies introduce children to a seemingly innocent kids’ cartoon, do your research to see what’s age appropriate, say media experts.

Not all kids’ cartoons are kid friendly, Jen Singer, the editor of MommaSaid.net, reminds parents. “The mistake that parents make is assuming that all cartoons — simply because they are animated — are OK for kids, but hello, ‘Family Guy.'” says Singer regarding the adult show. They often aren’t, though. Your child might be attracted by the animation, but the content may really not suitable for children.

When you find a program your child is interested in, take time to listen to the characters’ dialog. “I chose kids’ cartoons by how the characters talked to each other,” says Singer, recalling when her who teen children were younger “If I didn’t want my kids to say what was coming out of the characters’ mouths, they didn’t watch it. Sorry, Bart Simpson!”

Before introducing a new cartoon to your child, no matter what the age, Boursaw urges parents to check out the Parents Television Council website for great resources and reviews of cartoons and TV shows. “There’s a wealth of info. there, including family viewing guides, studies and reports, and picks of the week,” she says.

Toddler Television

Jane Boursaw, editor of the entertainment site ReelLifeWithJane, says to stick with a tried-and-true channel, such as PBS Kids, for choosing appropriate cartoons for toddlers. “They carry shows like ‘Caillou,’ ‘Curious George,’ ‘Barney,’ ‘Sesame Street’ and ‘Arthur,'” she says. “You can’t go wrong with these shows that are gentle, sweet and educational.”

PBS is also home to other cartoons that toddlers will enjoy, including the longtime favorite “Clifford the Big Red Dog,” “The Magic School Bus,” “Dragon Tales” and “Curious George.” The PBS Kids site also has sections with tips and educational resources for parents and teachers.

Cartoons for Preschoolers

Cartoons aren’t just about entertainment either. Cartoons for preschoolers such as Nick Jr.’s “Dora the Explorer,” “Bubble Guppies” and “Team Umizoomi” can teach early reading and math skills, while PBS’ “Sid the Science Kid” touches on, well, science.

Singer recommends the PBS cartoon “Cyberchase” for grade-schoolers, which follows a team that solves math mysteries and other problems that come their way.

Cartoons With a Lesson

Grade-school children may also enjoy cartoons that come with a bigger theme or lesson attached. For example, Nickelodeon’s “Avatar: The Last Airbender” has strong female characters and diversity and “Pokemon Season 1: Indigo League” teaches about teamwork and friendship. The Cartoon Network’s cleverly funny cartoon “Adventure Time” encourages children to indulge in their creativity and imagination while Nickelodeon’s wildly popular “SpongeBob SquarePants” focuses on the positive side of life and “Phineas and Ferb” look to make a fun day out of every day.

Once you find a cartoon your child enjoys, watch it with them periodically to make sure that the content remains appropriate and, of couse, to share some laughs together.

NEXT UP: The 25 Most Fun Games for Kids

Lisa Iannucci is a professional writer who has contributed to many parenting publications.