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Tackle Bullying Issues with Arthur Episodes

by Carol Greenwald, Arthur's Executive Producer

Carol Greenwald, Arthur's Executive Producer

Carol Greenwald is Senior Executive Producer of Children’s Programs at WGBH Boston, where she has been honored with four Emmys and a George Foster Peabody award. As a mother of two, she is proudest of the commendations that recognize her commitment to reaching, and teaching, children. Read more »

Sorry, Carol Greenwald, Arthur's Executive Producer is no longer taking questions.

Bullying impacts the lives of so many kids here in the United States, including those 4-8, our core Arthur audience. While we've touched upon bullying in past seasons of Arthur, we felt a need to do more, particularly due to the lack of anti-bullying resources for young kids. This week, we address this important issue in two new episodes premiering on PBS KIDS.

For sixteen seasons, we've made social and emotional development a hallmark of our series, dealing with topics that range from coping with asthma, to learning about and understanding a grandparent’s memory loss. Our challenge with this topic was to craft stories that not only felt relatable and authentic to our audience, but also enabled us to explore bullying from multiple perspectives: bully, victim, and bystander. We wanted kids to better understand what causes someone to become a bully, how it feels to be a victim, and what they can do to help others. We were also conscious that, particularly among elementary school age kids, these roles are often fluid.

While we were developing these stories, I had the unique opportunity to hear from college students who had grown up watching Arthur. What struck me most about this conversation was that, for many of the students, the most memorable stories were those where our characters made big mistakes—often the same ones the kids were making in their own lives—and then had to rectify them. When they saw Arthur, Francine, and Buster figuring out how to make things, if not perfect, at least better, it gave them faith that they could do the same.

Ultimately, we decided to create two different episodes: one that looks at the roots of why someone becomes a bully, and one that explores what happens when someone who isn't normally a bully, acts like one. The first episode, “The Last of the Tough Customers,” gives us some insight into how Molly developed her tough ways, and why it’s so hard for her to let go of them. The second episode, “So Funny I Forgot to Laugh,” shows Arthur taking a joke too far and hurting Sue Ellen’s feelings. Here's a clip from that episode:

Though I found Molly’s story very compelling, I think Arthur’s missteps may actually have a more powerful impact on kids. In the show, he gets a lot of laughs for jokes he makes about Sue Ellen’s sweater. But he keeps going, not noticing how uncomfortable he’s making her. We, in the audience, can see how unhappy she’s becoming. But when Arthur is confronted about it, his first instinct is to get defensive. All of his other friends had laughed, so why can’t Sue Ellen take a joke? When he finally realizes just how badly he has hurt her feelings, it’s a great moment. We see him developing empathy for Sue Ellen—something that’s so crucial but also difficult for our children to learn—and realizing he has to make it right.

One thing that’s particularly exciting about this story is that we are going to get the opportunity to test if our instincts are correct—will Arthur’s struggle resonate with kids and help them to think about these issues? In partnership with the Institute of Applied Research in Youth Development (IARYD) at Tufts University, we recently received a one-year grant from the John Templeton Foundation to design and pilot a groundbreaking interactive comic book based on this story that will then be used as part of a peer-mentoring “book buddy” program. We’re hoping to learn whether this story, and others like it, will promote character development, especially empathy and positive decision-making.

It’s always inspiring to hear from kids of all ages that something they've seen on Arthur has affected them and resonated with their own experiences. My hope is that by watching our characters experience the authentic, and unavoidable, ups and downs of childhood, our viewers will be able to acknowledge and reflect on their own behavior, and realize that, although everyone makes mistakes, you can always make it right. Like Arthur, I think we all want to be better friends, family members, students and citizens. With any luck, I’ll have the opportunity to meet up with another group of college students fifteen years from now, and some of them will reminisce about the time they identified with our trusty aardvark’s struggle to find his best self.

For more information on bullying, you can find resources on the Arthur website for Parents. As always, I’d love to hear about your or your child’s experiences with Arthur or with bullying.

Sorry, Carol Greenwald, Arthur's Executive Producer is no longer taking questions. Feel free to comment on the article and let us know what you think about the topic.

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