The Disney Channel drama aims teenage content at pre-teen viewers.
The Disney name has been associated with wholesome, family entertainment for so long that many parents of young children trust the brand implicitly. If a program airs on the Disney Channel, it is assumed by many parents to be light-hearted and free from any problematic content. Although this is generally true – you are unlikely to encounter foul language, violence, or explicit sexual content on Disney Channel programming – that doesn’t mean you don’t need to take a closer look before allowing your teen or pre-teen to watch.
For example, Disney’s latest break-out hit Andi Mack — which debuted earlier this year — is far from the light-hearted fare parents have come to expect from the Disney Channel. If your ambition is for your pre-teen to be a future fan of Pretty Little Liars, The Secret Life of an American Teenager, or even The Young and the Restless, then Andi Mack would serve as a suitable training ground.
This soapy-tween drama puts its 13-year-old protagonist in the center of relationship struggles, beginning with the return of her older sister, Bex, who turns out to be her mother — making the woman she believed to be her mother actually her grandmother. Suddenly, Andi’s biological father reappears and tries to become part of this newly reunited family after a thirteen-year absence, but Bex isn’t interested. Andi is trying to reunite the mother and father she never knew about, while simultaneously pursuing a relationship with the cute, popular boy in class, Jonah – who is just coming off an ugly break-up with Amber. Meanwhile, Cyrus is also struggling with feelings of attraction to Jonah, and tries to compensate by getting himself a girlfriend.
Although the series is set in middle-school, many of the show’s fans are still in elementary school. The New York Times reports that the target audience is children ages 6-14, and the products advertised during the commercial breaks reflect that wide age range. Commercials for dolls and toys targeted to elementary-school-aged children run alongside ads for the latest PG-13-rated Star Wars film. But there is a vast difference between content that is suitable for a 6-year-old and content that is suitable for a 14-year-old; that’s why the MPAA created the PG-13 rating, and why TV ratings distinguish between TV-PG and TV-14.
These soapy, over-the-top storylines, hyper-focused on dating drama and relationships, may ring true to a small percentage of Disney’s audience, and maybe children on the older end of that age spectrum are starting to think about such things; but Disney is not merely reflecting reality back at middle schoolers. They are setting up in the minds of elementary school-aged children expectations about what life will be like when they reach middle school. The New York Times posits that kids are getting older quicker, and Disney is just trying to adapt. But this seems to put the horse behind the cart. It is far more likely that kids are getting older quicker because they grew up watching Disney Channel programs that made dating and relationships central to every storyline. Many parents would no doubt prefer to just let their children be children.