The Woke Parenting Guide: 10 Barbie Vlogs About Mental Health
Welcome to the third installment of the Woke Parenting Guide.
On our SKEW team, I’m the lone parent in the bunch, but with six children, I have enough kids for all of us, right? As a parent, I know all of us are hungry for resources, especially if you’re like me and didn’t talk about these topics with your parents when you were a kid. It’s not just parents, either; if you’re a teacher, grandparent, older sibling, or neighbor, these are questions worth considering. Every month, I choose a topic and offer a handful of suggested resources, sometimes based on the calendar and sometimes chosen for some other reason. None of us arrive at wokeness like it’s a destination, but we’re all in process. I’m learning along with you, and none of us as expert. So let’s figure this out together, for the sake of the generation.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and Barbie has impressed me with how aware she already is in this particular area.
(No, I never thought I’d ever say that, but here we are. 2018 is weird like that.)
The classic Mattel doll's vlog is in season one with 58 episodes so far. Each episode is full of social story lessons, almost like an older monologue-based Daniel Tiger with blond hair and impossible measurements. Each episode is only a couple minutes long, perfect for watching with a beloved child or even with an entire class. Here are my 10 fitting for Mental Health Awareness Month, in chronological order:
Episode 1: 10 Things About Me
Might as well start at the beginning, right? This one only touches on mental wellness. Notice how at the 1:45 mark in the video, Barbie says, “Be who you wanna be, right?” when talking about fashion. At 2:13, she shares about her failed attempts at paddle boarding, “I fall down all the time, but I’ll get the hang of it.” I love that my kids get those messages slipped in to a fun episode.
Episode 4: Finger Tutting and Raise Our Voices Challenge
The finger tutting thing is cute, but it’s the part starting at 0:49 that’s golden. Barbie shares that her little sister Stacie is afraid to raise her hand in class because she’s afraid of looking stupid. She then encourages all those watching to raise their voices in meaningful ways.
Also noteworthy: this is the first episode with closed captioning. The first three lack that accessibility feature, which isn’t okay. But from episode 4 on, captions are a go!
Episode 9: You Can Be Anything or Everything!
This starts off with the suggestion of writing letters to your future self, which can be a helpful practice, especially for kids who aren’t yet thinking about their futures. But I nearly applauded when, at 0:45, Barbie shares the story of Mae Jemison, not just as an astronaut but also a doctor and a dancer. Barbie also turns the princess trope on its head by reframing princesses with the words, “Everyone knows the best princesses are good leaders.” Throughout this episode, she stresses that girls can do or be anything, a positive message for developing minds.
Episode 12: Feeling Blue? You’re Not Alone
While Barbie doesn’t use the word depression, that’s the focus of this episode. She offers strategies that help for her, which I spotted right away as research-based interventions: journaling, drawing, writing out her thoughts before bed to calm her mind, organizing her bedroom, getting exercise, going on a brisk walk, or talking to trusted friends or adults. Then she shares about a Buddhist practice called the laughing meditation, explaining that her parents taught it to her and her siblings and modeling how it’s done.
After sharing all of that, though, something I didn’t expect happens. Barbie sighs, pauses for a moment, and says, “but sometimes I still feel blue,” after trying every tool she has. She talks about guilt and shame for not meeting others’ expectations that she always be bubbly and positive. As she processes that out loud, she ends up concluding that “maybe I’m just being really unfair on myself.” The rest includes beautiful analogies and encouragements, but I’ve probably piqued your interest enough already. This episode is her best example of her mental health awareness!
Episode 24: Power and Empowerment
This episode follows up Episode 4, the the one about raising your voice (the second video on our list). While the earlier episode was about what to do, this one is about what Stacie actually did. Barbie tells the story of how Stacie handled being bullied and how she chose to intervene when another girl was being bullied. Without naming Michelle Obama, Barbie paraphrases her line, saying “when they go low, we can go high.”
Episode 31: I’m So Cranky!
In this episode, Barbie starts with a bit of light venting about how she feels cranky for no reason, and then she shifts toward an introspective state, wondering if her crankiness came from her lack of sleep the previous night when she stayed up late working on a school assignment. As she transitions to problem solving, her first point – one I needed to hear much as any child watching – is “I’m not going to beat myself up over this.” Second, she suggests and models deep breathing as a calming strategy. Next, she suggests listening to music, doodling, journaling and working on coding her video game as actions to take when stuck in a funk. She also shares that having alone time can be beneficial. One of my daughters has found the tips on this episode to be indispensable for dealing with her own emotional slumps.
Episode 32: The Empathy Challenge
This episode starts with Ken and Barbie playing a friendly game of trying to guess baby food flavors. Then she’s surprised with birthday cake. Instead of seeking presents, Barbie asks instead for those watching to participate in the empathy challenge. She boils that down to “challenge each other to do an act of kindness every day.” She and Ken offer ideas for what that might look like. The ability to empathize with others is a sign of positive mental health, and this video encourages that!
Episode 42: I’m only “Joking…?"
Barbie opens with how problematic this kind of response can be, aptly describing that far too often, the hurt party is expected to assuage the one who did the hurting. She says, “it’s just… there’s so much roasting humor nowadays.” She doesn’t just offer observation but goes further to offer advice on boundaries with her remark, “I’m going to let people know when it’s not okay.” I’ve never been so convicted by an animated character before this moment.
Episode 50: We Can Walk Away from Bullies
Bullying for my kids started in first grade, so I was happy to see this topic. Barbie explains what bullying is and how to respond. She offers data, stories and best practices to engage with others. She ends by saying, “When we walk away from bullies, they become small and our world becomes big.” My only disappointment (and reminder for myself and others!) is that being able to walk away from bullies can be a privilege: it requires a supportive environment where kids have somewhere to walk away to, because some bullying doesn’t end so easily.
10: Episode 51: My Morning Routine: Meditation
In this video, Barbie walks those watching through her morning meditation routine. You can just watch, but following along with the practice is even more valuable if you’re up for it. This simple episode guides watchers though an explanation about how meditation practice can both change a school as a whole and foster a healthier classroom culture.
Sure, Barbie isn’t perfect. I bet eventually she’ll have an episode with Christie, her black friend, and make me wish I never wrote about her white feminism. But for now, Barbie is tackling some important topics. I’m thankful for the conversations her vlog is starting among my children and others.
Unrelated to Barbie, Austin Channing Brown’s book I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness releases May 15. I’ve already read my advance copy twice because once wasn’t enough. This isn’t a resource for your kids, but part of being a parent awakening to whiteness and race is doing your own work before you can be helpful to your kids. So, Mom, Dad, Auntie, teacher, neighbor, guardian, grandparent, or anyone else with children in your life: this is your own homework. Preorder it. Read it. Learn from Austin’s wisdom. (And then review it on Amazon, because right now there are some reviews up by people who totally missed the point. On this topic, I’m bold enough to say that I’m right and they’re wrong, so heed my recommendation, okay?)