When I was in the 4th grade, I was just like any other nine year old: naïve, curious, and impressionable. In other words, I was stupid. Sure, I could solve fractions. Sure, I could write in cursive. But outside of home, school, and the extra-curricular activities my parents forced me into, there wasn’t much of a lesson plan that taught me how to engage with the world socially. Besides TV, that is.
It should come as no surprise to any millennial that for better or worse, I learned everything I needed to know about the elementary school years from Hey Arnold! How to turn an empty lot into a baseball field, how to come up with a cool handshake, what the world’s coolest bedroom that all your friends want to hang out in looks like, the list goes on.
What is pretty surprising, though, is how much a late 90s/early aughts cartoon with a football-head-shaped protagonist still informs every day of my 23 year old life. No, seriously, check it out:
Dating and the Helga/Arnold Dynamic
For better or for worse, since I was introduced to Hey Arnold, I’ve always been convinced that girls who treated me like shit actually liked me, à la Helga. This has led to some confusing moments in the dating world, to say the least, but it’s shocking how often that rule holds true for both genders. We’re all out here still pulling each other’s hair and tossing cruel insults at each other in front of friends. We just do it at bars now.
Perception of 5th Graders vs. 4th Graders
This might be the most ridiculous one, but thanks to the show’s depiction of kids a year older than Arnold as bodybuilding behemoths, for the rest of my schooling career I always sensed a bigger gap between myself and the grade above. Post-college, this is still affecting my day-to-day life. An extra year in the real world still feels like a lot. This one will stick with me well into my thirties.
The Importance of Friendship. And Handshakes.
Pretty straightforward. Arnold and Gerald had a great relationship, and an even better handshake. Unfortunately, I’m terrible at anticipating anything more than a standard firm handshake, so every time I embarrass myself, I’m reminded to keep things simple like Arnold and Gerald (shout out to these phenomenal names, by the way).
Group/Board Housing is Weird
Arnold’s home situation at the Sunset Arms was an interesting situation. This is what happens when you throw a bunch of random people under one roof though—you get harassed by shifty Czech men and all sorts of characters. Throughout the years, including dorm life and staying in hostels all over Europe, Hey Arnold! taught me who to trust and who to smack in the face with a backwards fist.
Bonus: Sensationalizing Natural Disasters
Okay actually this is the most ridiculous one. Hey Arnold! seeped into my brain so much that I became disturbingly fascinated with natural disasters after an episode in which Arnold sailed the streets of his outrageously flooded city in a blow up raft. I mean, come on. That looked fun. Ever since that episode, I’ve been a little too obsessed with movies like Deep Impact, Armageddon, and The Day After Tomorrow. It’s twisted, but I know I’m not the only one.
So yeah. I still live my life according to the lessons taught in Hey Arnold! Is that a good thing? Questionable. But that kid made it in the world with a misshapen head—I’ll probably be all right.