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8 serious life lessons that The Rugrats can offer both kids and adults

This show is a work of art.

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1. How to help someone cope with bereavement

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In the episode ‘I remember Melville’ from season three of The Rugrats, Chuckie gets a pet bug and calls it Melville. Chuckie and Melville spend the day together, playing and enjoying the company of each other.

Chuckie goes to search for a special leaf for Melville to eat and entrusts Tommy, Phil and Lil to mind Melville while he’s gone.

Shortly after Chuckie departs, the children realise that Melville is lifeless. Phil and Lil explain death to Tommy and they all get extremely panicked for how Chuckie will react when he comes home.

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This episode is undoubtedly a tearjerker, regardless of what age you are. That’s because of all of the children, Chuckie is the only child who has lost a family member (his mother).

It seems extremely unjust that Chuckie has to deal with the loss of his bug when he has already faced so much hardship in his life.

However, if the other children were dealing with the death of their bug, they probably wouldn’t have found it to be such a big deal since they don’t deal with misfortune as often as poor Chuckie.

Chuckie is the least emotionally prepared for most situations, let alone the loss of an insect companion.

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The injustice, although tragic, really allows the other babies to display true empathy for their friend, in a way that probably wouldn’t have worked if it had been any other character that lost their bug.

This teaches kids and adults to respect how people feel after a loss and how they can try and make someone more comfortable and help them get closure.

By the end of the episode, after Melville’s funeral and a lot of tears from Chuckie, something happens. Chuckie realises that he has so many happy memories to reflect on from his brief time with Melville and feels a lot more at ease.

It is better to have bugged and lost than to have never bugged at all.

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2. Family dynamics can vary greatly

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The Rugrats offers a number of different family set-ups that turn the idea of the father as breadwinner on it’s head.

Things are fairly equal between Tommy’s parents Stu and Didi, but we get to see the trials that single fathers face in Chuckie’s home (until his father Chaz remarries, that is).

The fact that Chaz remarries is also pretty significant because in reality, that is something that happens very often and the blending of a family can seem very daunting for a small child, especially one with Chuckie’s inability to process stress.

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The Finster household offers a nice example of how well blending a family can go while acknowledging the struggles that come with it.

Charlotte and Drew, Angelica’s parents, are not the typical ideal parents that are seen on TV. Charlotte is a super-productive 1990s business woman while her husband Drew is a pushover who does whatever she and their daughter wants.

It’s not hard to feel bad for Drew or Phil and Lil’s father Howard who is in a pretty similar situation.

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Howard’s wife Betty is the dominant force in their house and while she tries to help Howard fight against bullies that he works with a some stage, he’s just totally unable to stand up for himself.

He’s not demonized for this or emasculated, but it just shows that dads are not always as brave as we are made to think and that is fine.

3. There are lots of different religions and cultures with lots of different traditions

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Tommy’s family are Jewish and while Judaism is pretty common in the United States, you don’t get exposed to a lot of Jewish culture in Ireland. A pretty solid amount of everything that a lot of people know about Hannakuh, Passover and other Jewish traditions comes from stories that Tommy’s grandparents in The Rugrats.

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In another episode we get to learn about Kwanzaa, the week-long celebration celebrating African heritage. When Susie Carmichael’s great aunt comes over for Kwanzaa, she teaches Susie that everyone is great in their own way.

She teaches Susie some of the things she has learned over the years and even tells her that she once met Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

All in all, it’s a pretty wholesome episode and was a lot of children’s only exposure to the holiday of Kwanzaa.

You most certainly don’t learn any of this in Alive-O.

4.Don’t fall for ‘friendly’ capitalism

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Angelica is well known for being exploitative of the babies due to her physical advantages and perceived maturity. She makes them share things with her but rarely returns the favour.

She’s all take, no give. Usually the babies just grin and bear it but one day they get very sick of Angelica’s selfishness.

While in the park, Angelica is forcing the kids to build a moat around the jungle gym so she can be ‘queen of the castle’. A new child called Josh comes over and asks them to play. Tommy explains that they can’t and Josh asks “How come you’ve got to do what she says?”

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Josh tells them there’s a jungle gym where any baby can stand up and say whatever they want to. He invites them to it, claiming that it is ‘his’ jungle gym. The babies escape to freedom at Josh’s jungle gym where he lets them decide how they get to play and what they get to do.

Slowly, Josh asks them to do favours in return for their liberty. It begins with pushing him on the tyre swing and it slowly begins to become clear that Josh is not willing to give anyone else a turn because it was ‘his idea’.

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Tommy’s mother makes fresh cookies for them and Josh collects their cookies and trades them a dirty lollipop for them to share, insisting that because he is bigger it’s only fair that he gets all of their cookies, especially because he gave them somewhere nicer to play.

Angelica is watching from afar and is in total disbelief at the fact that the babies gave Josh his cookies without him even having to sit on them.

Little does she know that Josh coerced the children and manipulated them rather than using her preferred method – brute force.

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Within a few minutes Josh has the kids building him a moat around his jungle gym because he described it as a game called ‘sand adventure’, and insisted that it definitely was not the same thing that Angelica had the children doing.

The children eventually grow to miss Angelica because although she was a bully in a physical sense, they did not suffer the same psychological torture that Josh put them through.

The children felt an obligation to act grateful to Josh for providing them with a nice space to play in, despite the fact that he was still exploiting them.

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Sounds a lot like those tech companies that hire you to work in their office that has a pool table and pay you in craft beers instead of real money and insist that the experience is far more important than money.

Angelica eventually goes back to save the babies from Josh, but this episode serves as a good reminder of the nuances of exploitation.

5. The show encourages showing patience and empathy towards people with anxiety

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Chuckie was a self-proclaimed scaredy-cat and his behaviour usually disrupted a lot of the groups activities. However, Chuckie’s pals were always completely accommodating of his fears and anxieties and very rarely became impatient or frustrated with him.

This is pretty nice because for any children who have friends who worry excessively. If they have watched The Rugrats, they can very easily see the relation between Chuckie and their friend who worries.

They’ll see the ways in which Tommy, Phil and Lil guided Chuckie and never pushed him too far beyond his limits while making sure that he was never excluded from anything.

 6. Anxiety can affect anyone

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Kids are particularly prone to worrying, but The Rugrats showed that even brave and noble Tommy Pickles can suffer from a terrifying stress dream every now and then. Some of his stress dreams still terrify many viewers well into their adult lives.

Remember the terrifying Mr Tippy?

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Although Tommy was supposed to be bold and brazen, we see that facing changes (like moving from a bottle to a sippy cup) can be extremely daunting and stressful for anyone. It’s not just Tommy.

We get to see  Angelica’s vulnerability when she begins to have nightmares about a potential sibling when her mother announces that she is pregnant.

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Her baby brother is terrifyingly large and she’s overcome with fear that she may no longer get the attention that she feels she deserves from her parents. This episode is also pretty sad because it turns out that Angelica’s mother had a miscarriage.

While that’s heavy subject matter for a children’s show, miscarriages are a very common occurrence and this episode highlights how to sensitively address the subject with your children.

7. Always clean up your home

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This one is short and simple. There is nothing more terrifying than the prospect of being attacked by the Dust Bunnies.

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8. Growing up is very difficult

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This is definitely a line you would not have thought much of when you first watched it as a child, but it’s extremely true. No more fun for the rest of your life. You know what’s even worse? You grow out of being cute.

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Chuckie, who suffers the most in The Rugrats really spills some tea about reality.

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And while that’s all true and life is hard and responsibilities destroy a lot of your joy, at least being an adult means you have full access to the internet and can watch old episodes of Rugrats to comfort you whenever you need it.


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About the author:

Kelly Earley

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