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Disney Channel Romanticizes Toxic Relationships—Why This is an Issue

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at BU chapter.

Many of us grew up watching Disney Channel and were envious of the relationships we saw in our favorite shows. However, not many of these relationships were worthy of our envy. Something I’ve realized as an adult looking back on some of my favorite kids shows is that there is a lot of toxic behavior in them. Showing this behavior to kids in such a romanticized way isn’t good. Kids internalize what they see in these shows and grow up to be in unhealthy relationships. Below are six examples of toxic relationships from Disney Channel. 

EJ Caswell and Nini Salazar-Roberts, High School Musical the Musical the Series

This couple is what sparked my research into the toxic relationships present on Disney Channel. EJ and Nini’s relationship is the best on this list. This is the only example in which the couple doesn’t end up together, and the person faces consequences for their toxic behavior. During their relationship, EJ was very controlling and jealous. He stole Nini’s phone because she wouldn’t tell him who was texting her all day. Also, he had given a girl food poisoning so Nini would get the lead role in the summer musical. After Nini found out, she broke up with him. It’s important to show characters actually facing consequences for their toxic behavior and equally important that EJ also make amends to those who he hurt.

Spencer Walsh and Teddy Duncan, Good Luck Charlie

Something very common in Disney movies and shows is the couple that is soulmates or destined to be together. While in this show, the couple isn’t deemed as cosmicly bound soulmates, they are still depicted as meant to be. Spencer had cheated on Teddy, and caused her a lot of pain. Nevertheless, they ended up getting back together despite all the pain he had caused her. This shows that even someone who cheated is worthy of forgiveness, just because they still love you. This is a bad example to set because it tells kids that when someone says they love you, they deserve to be forgiven for whatever bad thing they did.

Sonny Munroe and Chad Dylan Cooper, Sonny with a Chance

Sonny and Chad were from rival television shows. The two casts were constantly feuding, so the relationship between the two wasn’t welcomed with open arms. Due to this, Chad became controlling and tried to dictate when Sonny was allowed to see her friends. This is one of the first red flags in an abusive relationship. However, here it is just shown as a quirk of Chad’s. Normalizing red flags like this isn’t good, because then people won’t pick up on them as an adult. 

KC Cooper and Brett Willis, KC Undercover

KC and Brett were spies from rival organizations. Throughout their relationship, Brett constantly put KC and her friends in danger in order to accomplish a mission. However, Brett is always forgiven due to the few times he would do something nice for KC. This is a simplified version of the cycle of abuse seen in relationships.

Fletcher Quimby and Olive Doyle, ANT Farm

This is the worst example in a direct sense. Fletcher and Olive were always at odds with each other. Olive had a terrible temper and was prone to violence when angry. This was something that was looked over in the show. The couple was considered meant to be despite their overwhelming differences (and physical abuse). So, showing the violent relationship as something to live up to is very dangerous. 

Cece Jones and Logan Hunter, Shake it Up

While the relationship between Fletcher and Olive was direct in why it was so bad, the relationship between Cece and Logan wasn’t. There is a common trend in which young girls are told that when a boy is mean to you, they love you. This sets them up for the normalization of abusive relationships. Cece and Logan constantly tried to sabotage each other’s lives. In a flash forward episode, the two were shown to be married. We can’t normalize this behavior whatsoever. It makes it harder for people to see past the love they feel for an abuser and to see the toxic behavior.

I don’t believe Disney purposefully writes unhealthy and toxic relationships, but they need to be more aware of how they write relationships. Kids are watching these shows at a time when they are extremely impressionable. When many of the relationships they see aren’t healthy, they internalize these qualities and are more likely to be in an unhealthy relationship. It’s important for all channels, especially kids channels to be aware of what they are showing kids. I hope that in the future we see more healthy relationships.

The next time you’re binging a series on Disney+, pay attention to how the show depicts its relationships.  Unfortunately, you may find even more examples than I’ve included here. 


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MyChalia is a freshman majoring in English Education in the Wheelock College of Education and Human Development at Boston University. She has a passion for education and social justice, as well as creating a loving and accepting community for all regardless of race, gender, sexual identity, etc. MyChalia also has a passion for reading and creative writing. She can be found lost in the isles of a Barnes n' Noble or chilling in a random Boston cafe drinking iced coffee.
Writers of the Boston University chapter of Her Campus.