Flexibility and Love: Reaching Children With Cartoons

Creators of "Steven Universe" give wonderfully wise advise to kids

Posted Aug 28, 2016

I'm excited to see how acceptance, mindfulness, and values are entering into our culture. Nothing shows this more clearly than the media. This is especially true in films and cartoons for children. I can't think of a better place to start!

One of my younger son's favorite shows is "Steven Universe". Both he and I share the name of the main character—which is a source of chuckles.

In a new episode called "Mindful Education," Steven and Connie combine to form "Stevonnie" (characters do that in this show ... ah, it's a long story). 

Once combined they work on their fighting skills, but in this episode Stevonnie suddenly and dangerously falls apart (back into Steven and Connie) when Connie touches on a painful emotion, and later in the show, when Steven does that as well.

In both cases the show takes the opportunity to take the characters through the process of confronting their demons, using principles and terms drawn from mindfulness-based therapy and ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy)

If you are not sure it's ACT, well the key song makes it darn clear by the lyrics, even speaking of "flexibility, love, and trust" in the opening and closing stanza 

In addition the official Wiki site for the show (link above) is explicit about the ACT/MBCT link: "Garnet's method of mindfulness meditation, especially the lines 'it's just a thought, we can watch them go by,' closely mirrors the principles and strategies of Mindfulness Cognitive Behavior Therapy (MCBT) or Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), of accepting the presence of negative feelings without dwelling on those thoughts."

The song is simply awesome, but even better is exactly why it is used.

Steven, realizing that they fell apart because Connie hit something emotionally hard when in their combined form, tells Connie just not to think about it. A wise adult figure in the show, Garnet, interrupts and redirects—as if to say to the kids that "don't think about it" is not wise advise. Instead, Garnet takes the kids to the beach to meditate with her in their combined form, Stevonnie. While they meditate she sings the song "Here Comes a Thought" saying things like:

And it was just a thought, just a thought, just a thought, just a thought, just a thought
It's okay, it's okay, it's okay, it's okay, it's okay
We can watch, we can watch, we can watch, we can watch them go by
From here, from here, from here

There is something so moving about this. Yes, of course, I'm glad to see the ACT work used. But that is not why I'm moved. 

What I'm moved to tears about is the children. There are millions of children out there living inside shame and sadness and fear who are trying to apply "just don't think about it." Once upon a time those children were us ... and we as adults know the cost of that move and how hard it was to find another way. 

Maybe, just maybe, our artists of today can help us help the children know there is an alternative to winning the war within. Maybe, just maybe, our children can find a place to be whole, even inside their pain.

If you know any parents, please share the link to this sweet and beautiful song with them 

This is the link: 
http://bit.ly/HereComesaThought

Peace, love, and life

- Steve Hayes