How Nickelodeon made me a better adult

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I was born in the mid-eighties. That means that I need aspirin for my back most days, I will never own a house, and I grew up in the golden age of Nickelodeon. I can recall the premiers of the first three Nick-toons.

Probably I’m biased, but I think people my age are pretty cool. We have twisted senses of humor, a love of horror stories, and are more politically active than generations before us. Some of that’s because the internet became more and more prevalent as we got older. But I think some of the credit goes to Nickelodeon.

Or, without making sweeping generalizations, I am at least convinced that I am the funny, horror-loving socially aware person that I am at least in part because I grew up with these five shows.

Pete & Pete

This stands as one of the weirdest shows I have ever seen. It’s the adventures of two brothers who were for some strange reason given the same name. And their world just gets weirder from there. They exist in a world with adults who take their jobs far too seriously. The bus driver who nearly runs Big Pete off the road. The school principal who makes the whole school attend an assembly on ear hygiene. A quality inspection agent who inspects everything and demands perfection. A mail woman who keeps careful verbal notes on her route every day. And Artie! The strongest man… in the world!

The show certainly gave me a taste for the quirky, with a slight touch of darkness. It also taught me that grownups are just big kids. No matter what we might tell ourselves.

Are you afraid of the dark

Maybe one of my favorite shows from childhood, Are You Afraid of the Dark was a creepy anthology series. In each episode, a group called the Midnight Society came together to scare the hell out of each other around a campfire. There were stories of ghosts coming back for a visit, demons that came out of comic books, killer clowns, and hypnotic music boxes.

My love of anthology horror was sparked by this show. But something else was sparked. These kids were telling decent stories, stories they wrote themselves. It led me to think that maybe I could write a story.


All That

I’ve always considered All That to be kind of like a farm league for Saturday Night Live. Long-running cast member Kenan Thompson got his start on All That.

All That was funny. Sometimes it was smart funny, and sometimes it was just dumb funny. But it was always a good time. 

I was, sadly, a pretty serious child. All That was one way I got a little bit of much-needed funny in my life. It was also my introduction to some iconic musical artists. It was the first time I saw TLC, Coolio, Brandy, and Outkast. It was an important musical education for me.

Nick News with Linda Ellerbee

I didn’t grow up in a very politically aware house. I’ve never seen my mother with a newspaper. She never turned the news on, and never seemed aware of world events. Whenever we talked about ‘current events’ in school, I was largely lost.

So watching Nick News was instrumental in me realizing two things. One, there was a big world out there where people were living very different lives than I was. And two, I might be able to understand it.

Nick News talked about some topics that were amazing to hear about. I remember when Magic Johnson was on for a special episode to talk about his HIV diagnosis. I remember kids my age asking him honest, intelligent questions, and getting real answers. Wars, politics, and environmental issues were laid out in a way that was attainable for a kid, but not condescending.

Kids Pick The President

After everything I just told you, it should come as no surprise that voting wasn’t a huge thing in my house growing up. I can’t remember Mom voting for anything but American Idol. 

And yet, I have never missed an election. Not presidential, not local. I have voted every year since I turned eighteen. And I was able to do that because of the education I got from Kids Pick The President. It seemed fun as a kid to vote, which led to me being ready to register to vote as soon as I was old enough. For kids who don’t get that education at home, Kids Pick The President was a blessing.

The point of this post isn’t just to take a self-indulgent trip down memory lane. Though, that is a perk. No, I told you all that to tell you this.

Some of you reading this, I assume, write for children or young adults. I write young and new adult fiction, at least some of the time.

If you’re writing for kids, teens, and young adults, I feel like you’ve got an obligation to give them something real.

I’m not saying you’ve got to teach them the state capitols or some great moral lesson. But I am saying that you should give them something good. Something that will help shape the kind of human being that you want to have around. And if you want to do that, you could do worse than emulate the qualities of these classic Nickelodeon shows. 



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