Lately, I’ve been rewatching a lot of “Hey Arnold” episodes.
I’m an older Gen Z kid. Just like everyone else, I grew up on the “Anime Sa Hapon” programming block, a handful of Cartoon Network shows and of course, Nicktoons. I remember watching the pilot episode of “Spongebob Squarepants” and catching “The Fairly OddParents” on a variety show called “KaBlam.”
But as much as I loved slapstick kid comedy, I must admit that I resonated more with NickToons that were grounded in reality. And that was “Hey Arnold” for me.
I also loved shows like “Rugrats” and “As Told By Ginger.” The thing was they didn’t stick with me as a grade schooler. I wasn’t a preschooler anymore to relate to “Rugrats,” and I was too young to understand Ginger Foutley’s high school woes. “Hey Arnold” however, caught me at a time when I was in grade school: playing, laughing, crushing, and trying to slowly figure out who I was as a person.
“Hey Arnold” didn’t disregard my prepubescent feelings. If I recall the show correctly, there were a lot of lull moments when Arnold was just in thought and simply daydreaming. A lot of shows tried to match the hyperactive energy that kids often exude. But we’re not always hyper. Sometimes, we’re just trying to figure out the adult world around us and where we fit in this world.
The lesson “Hey Arnold” left me with was that adults didn’t know how to fit in a grown-up world either. If anything, they’re just as lost as we are. That’s what fellow twentysomethings like me seem to forget. After all, we’re obsessed with mastering adulting and blowing up before we reach 30.
That’s why this somehow forgotten ’90s NickToon is important to me. So to fellow young adults caught in this wack ass rat race, here are some lessons from “Hey Arnold” that we need to hear now:
We don’t always need to win at life
Arnold Shortman is the most empathetic kid in his block. He helps his community in any way he can. In “Hey Arnold: The Jungle Movie,” his friends even made a supercut of his accomplishments for the community. There were supporting characters from past episodes that popped up like the Stoop Kid or Pigeon Man.
Funny thing was—his initial plans for them didn’t work out. In “Stoop Kid,” Arnold’s goal was to make the kid less agoraphobic. He eventually took Arnold’s advice. But much to Arnold’s dismay, he continued to harass passersby, even when he had left his stoop.
As for Pigeon Man, Arnold bonded with the neighborhood vagrant, encouraging him to create relationships beyond his pigeons. But Harold, Stinky and Joey went to the Pigeon Man’s home while Arnold took him out for a tour of the neighborhood. He thanks Arnold for showing him what the world was like out there. Still, the kids’ act of violence in his home proves how people aren’t always kind.
Arnold deserves all the best in this world. Yet, the show teaches us that even the kindest person doesn’t always win at life. Life, unfortunately, is filled with learning curves we’re not prepared for.
Materialism can only get you so far
PS 118 is filled with kids from all walks of life. There’s the campus rich kid Lorenzo, Rhonda and many others. These characters are often portrayed as outsiders in their friends’ groups.
With Arnold’s neighborhood being quite middle class, they are often seen as kids having a hard time relating with their peers or equating their material possessions with their worth as a person.
We often don’t think about these things as kids. However, the show was unafraid to tap these emotions. They’re not afraid to answer the question: What are kids thinking about?
They didn’t portray rich kids as villains like “Powerpuff Girls” did. Instead, they took the opportunity in these characters’ respective one-shots to show material possessions will only get you so far in life. These kids often cherish friendships instead like Rhonda, or creating childhood memories like Lorenzo.
Adult life cherishes the importance of money a lot, regardless of class standing. But we often forget the power of a simple and kind existence. We can thank late capitalism for that one.
We never stop growing—even as adults
The adults in “Hey Arnold” were nuanced. Of course, they were authority figures. But they remained imperfect, stubborn at times, and often wrong.
Helga’s neglectful parents are proof of this. At times, even the adults in Arnold’s boarding house were too. The adults in these households often underestimate their children. In some instances, they weren’t perfect role models at all.
They fuck up openly. Sad part was they rarely claimed responsibility. When Helga’s parents favored her older sister Olga, they failed to see the psychological repercussions of their actions. Arnold’s found family often fail to acknowledge how the child in their home can be more mature than the five of them combined.
“Hey Arnold” was one of the few shows to show adults’ imperfections. In this simple ’90s NickToon, they portray adults as they really are—often wrong and immature. Kids don’t have it figured out. But adults don’t either.
One of the biggest lessons of this show is that maturity doesn’t have an age limit. You can be an adult in your teens or a kid in your 30s. In reality, you never stop growing.
Life will always find a way to throw you a curveball. It doesn’t stop when you’re in grade school or in your first job as a young adult. As Arnold’s grandmother sang, “You gotta look up, you gotta be strong/You gotta take things as they come.”
Still from “Hey Arnold”