Everyone loves Disney Channel, the iconic shows and characters hold a special place in all of our hearts. Something I’ve noticed, though, is the weird age gaps in some of the relationships.
Two of the most recent and bizarre age gaps on Disney Channel are Maya Hart and Josh Matthews in Girl Meets World, and Jonah Beck and Amber Brown from Andi Mack.
The premise of Andi Mack is a coming-of-age story where Andi, a 13-year-old girl, finds out her sister is actually her mother– and her “mother” is actually her grandmother. During the show, she has a crush on Jonah Beck, who is 12 in season 1, but Jonah has a 15-year-old high school girlfriend, Amber.
Now, three years might not seem like a lot, but when put into perspective that is a 9th/10th grader dating a 7th grader. From middle school to high school, you are at completely different stages in your life; more different than say 42 and 45.
Now, I’m not calling Amber’s character a predator, the whole point of her being with a middle schooler was because of her insecurities and always feeling like she needs a boyfriend. I do, however, think it’s weird how controlling Amber is throughout their relationship.
Every time the couple broke up in the show, Amber tells Jonah he is going to regret it because he is lucky to be with a high schooler. This is a classic manipulation tactic — to use social inequities to control a person.
Another manipulation tactic is gaslighting when an abuser, for example, “might deny that the abuse happened, telling the victim there’s something wrong with their memory.” Amber cheated on Jonah in season 1 and Andi caught her, and she tells Jonah. When Jonah confronts Amber, she convinces Jonah that Andi was lying because she likes him.
Now the age gap relationship I think is even worse is Maya Hart and Josh Matthews from Girl Meets World, the spin-off of Boy Meets World. Maya Hart is Riley Matthews, the daughter of Cory and Topanga Matthews, best friend. Josh Matthews is Riley’s uncle and Cory’s younger brother. In season 1 Maya is 12 and Josh is 17 headed to college. Maya has always had a crush on Josh, but Josh isn’t interested.
Josh continues to think of Maya as a little girl and continues to tell Maya he is too old for her until Maya and Riley sneak out in season 2; to go to Josh’s college party. Josh walks Maya and Riley home and tells Maya that he is “intrigued” by her and needs to start seeing her as more mature.
In season 3 there is the annual ski lodge trip for the Girl’s school, Josh decided to chaperone. Josh and Maya end up having a talk, Maya tells Josh they can hold hands for 6 weeks in the year where they are only 2 years apart. Maya then tells Josh she likes him and Josh says “I like you too.” They both agree to play “the long game”– aka waiting for Maya to turn 18.
What I find even more disturbing about Maya and Josh is that Josh clearly has feelings for Maya and the only thing stopping them from dating is the law. Even though Maya was throwing herself at Josh, it is Josh’s responsibility, as the adult, to not contribute to her attraction.
It is also Cory and Topanga’s job as parental figures to stop what was happening right in front of them.
Age Gaps between Actors
There are also many age gaps between actors in relationships. The actors who played Angela and Shawn from Boy Meets World had a 10 year age gap. When Trina McGee, who played Angela, was cast she was 28, while Rider Strong, who played Shawn, was 17– which is uncomfortable given the intense makeout scenes between the two.
In Another Cinderella Story, Selena Gomez was 15 while Drew Seeley was 26 at the time. The two also shared an onscreen kiss.
I don’t think Trina McGee or Drew Seeley are horrible people — they had a job and did what they needed to do. However, I’m not a fan of the fact that Disney hired these actors knowing the large age gap and the required scenes.
In Let it Shine, Tyler James Williams, who played Cyrus, and Coco Jones, who played Roxie, were 19 and 15 when they were cast. Though the two did share a love story, they did not share a kiss which I respect.
How TV Contributes to Childhood Development
TV plays a major role in children’s morals. A University of California study showed tv can help children’s basic ideas of right and wrong, but more complex topics needed more nuance.
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), says violent tv shows can lead to more violence in children. Children can become “numb” to the violence and accept it as a way to solve problems.
According to the AACAP, this same concept can carry over to other areas like racism and sexual violence, therefore, it can apply to concepts like relationships and grooming.
“TV has made a lot of not okay things sound good, but they…[are] also starting to bring more things into light like LGBTQ and stuff like that,” said Reyna Cole, a sophomore at Leesville, over text.
Disney Channel’s target audience is 6-14 years olds and “while the younger kids are still developing the things they see on tv influence them…, it can be very dangerous because when they get in the real world they will think that manipulation is ok and normal” typed Cole.
It’s easy to brush this off as a lack of judgment until you look at Disney’s entire discography. In their first-ever full-length film, Snow White, Snow is 14 years old while the prince is 31. In Tangled, Rapunzel is freshly 18 and Flynn Rider is 26.
TV plays a major role in our morals and understanding of the world, and Disney is a major player in the entertainment industry. As a company Disney should be more aware of the messages they are spreading; whether the messages are intentional or not.