Being a middle child, I was a peacekeeper. And I’ve always been a people pleaser, wanting everyone to be happy even if it meant doing something I didn’t really want to do. This combination will be interesting when I enter into the world of motherhood…because I know I won’t be able to stop my kids from disagreeing and getting into ridiculous spats. And I also can’t give them everything they want or do everything they want just to make them happy. But this is not the message most kids are receiving these days, and it’s scaring me. The world my children will be born into is one that tells them “it’s all about you.” For the past month I’ve been babysitting an eight year old girl named Ellie, and in the short amount of time I’ve been with her my influence has been far reaching…and I didn’t even mean to influence her! We watch a decent amount of TV (because come on…how much crafting and slip and sliding can you do before it gets really old!) and it makes me want to ban TV from my kids’ lives. Because the message TV sends today is terrifying. And kids pick up on things.
Kids are very easily influenced. Like I said, Ellie picks up on things I do very quickly. First I must admit a problem I have. An addiction, really. It’s not as bad as it once was, but I have a thing for chewing ice. My family, Ben, and soon to be in-laws all know this and don’t think it’s weird anymore. Ellie, however, did think it was weird. She noticed immediately when I started chewing ice because no one in her family does it. When I came back the next day, she admitted to me that she and her mom now chew ice together every night and they can’t stop! This is a funny example, but it only took one day for me to influence her in this weird way. She also remembers everything I say and what I like and dislike. We were in Walmart the other day buying craft supplies, and we stopped and looked at some sun catchers. Originally we were going to buy them, but then we found some popsicle sticks and glitter, and who could resist that?? She ended up going back later that night with her mom to pick out more crafts for us to do (we do crafts a lot!) and she remembered exactly which ones I had liked and wanted to buy. We looked at sun catchers for maybe two minutes…and yet she remembered which ones I wanted. Maybe not a big deal, but still. She paid attention to that small detail and it stuck. Example number three: while leaving Walmart that day we picked out some candy bars to snack on. She had a Hershey bar, I had a Three Musketeer, which she’d never had before. I gave her a piece to try, and when I came back the next day she told me when she and her mom were shopping for sun catchers she bought a Three Musketeer because I had one the day before. She only wanted one because I had one. Again, maybe not a big deal. But it proved to me that kids really do look up to adults and want to be like them. And it makes me nervous to sit beside her and watch trashy TV shows full of kids she looks up to…kids that are filling her mind with junk and teaching her to accept negative stereotypes.
I know some of you might think this is crap. Kids aren’t really that influenced by TV, right? I believe otherwise, and much of this opinion has been strengthened by my month with Ellie. Without even meaning too I have given her opinions and influenced her in a lot of weird ways. TV shows absolutely do the same. Here are a few problems I have with many TV shows on today:
1. Many shows on Disney and Nickelodeon make being smart into a bad thing. If you like school and work hard to get good grades, you’re a nerd. Think back to these shows: Suite Life of Zac and Cody(Disney): Cody is a nerd for liking school, and Zac is the cool one as he skips class and never does his homework. Jessie(relatively new show on Disney): Luke hates school and makes fun of his brother Ravi for wanting to do well. Luke is the one the girls love, and no one notices Ravi. And many of you might remember Zoey 101, on Nickelodeon. Quinn is a girl who loves science, but everyone labels her “the weird girl.” It takes quite a few episodes before any of the other kids will accept her into their group. Only three examples, but I know there are more shows that label smart, hardworking kids as “nerds.” Reading is portrayed as boring and lame; watching TV or playing video games is cool and a much better use of time. And if you’re a girl who likes reading or wants to do well in school, that’s about the worse thing for your reputation. So what messages are we sending kids? Grades don’t matter…reading is lame…and girls aren’t supposed to want to be smart. This is why in the past girls have lagged behind in science and math. They have been told by society that they aren’t good enough for these fields. Math and science are for boys. Don’t believe me? Check out this article: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/01/11/new-research-how-girls-can-win-in-math-and-science.html
2. Kids are being taught that people from other countries are weird. In many shows that bring in different nationalities, those people are weird, eccentric, and portrayed as not being as smart as Americans. For a country known as “the melting pot” this surprises me. And yet even today, we teach our kids that people from other parts of the world are different…but not in a good way. A few examples: On an episode of iCarly (Nickelodeon) Carly, Sam, and Freddie give out awards on their web show. Carly’s brother Spencer was supposed to make little Carly statues so Carly, Sam, and Freddie could give them away as trophies. Instead he made one giant statue, and didn’t have time to make 10 before the show started. He ends up recruiting some European swimsuit models to help him, and the show portrayed them as being stupid and clueless, tacking on weird accents and making them look ridiculous. They probably didn’t mean to make fun of Europeans…they were most likely trying to make fun of models. But why did they have to be European models? Another show, Shake it Up (Disney) does the same thing. Two of the characters are German, and they have thick accents. But they are portrayed as stupid and clueless. They dress very eccentrically and are always being made fun of for their outfits. Accents do weird things to us. I learned in my Communication class this past year that oftentimes when we come into contact with people who speak a different language we think they aren’t as smart as us. We raise our voices and start gesturing, which doesn’t help at all! It’s simply unfamiliar to us, but the confused looks on their faces from not understanding English makes us assume that they aren’t as smart as us. It’s kind of the same thing with accents. If someone speaks broken English, we again assume they aren’t as smart as we are. On these TV shows, accents make those people look stupid. We are teaching our kids that differences are scary, which they aren’t! They are beautiful, but that doesn’t make for funny television.
3. You only live once! (More popularly known as YOLO, which makes me want to bang my head against a wall) You’re only young once! Live it up now because one day you’ll grow up and all the fun stops. Young adulthood is glorified, but for all the wrong reasons! Young adulthood is a great time to figure out what you believe and set goals for yourself. But that’s uncool…why waste time being responsible and planning for the future when you could be out hooking up with as many people as you can and partying? You don’t see many shows encouraging kids to study hard, get a part time job, apply for scholarships, and be smart with money. Nope. Live it up. Buy all the fun toys. Enjoy not having a job because you’ll be working for the rest of your life. Kids aren’t being shown to work hard and save up money. They are taught to ask mommy and daddy for everything. But in the real world, mommy and daddy aren’t always able to hand you everything, as many college kids brutally discover. And when the bank account is all dried up, only then do some kids learn to budget, work, and save. But again…what show would teach kids those harsh lessons? I’ll pick on Jessie again. One girl, Emma, is all about clothes and fashion. All the time she talks about using her mother’s credit card. The kids watching it aren’t told how credit cards work…and who pays for it. It’s just a convenient way to get what you want. The other girl, Zuri, ruins a favorite doll and wants to get a new one…without working for it. When her nanny Jessie makes her set up a lemonade stand to earn some money, Zuri kicks and screams and hates every second. Hard work is portrayed as painful and not worth it. Are we teaching our kids to be lazy dependents?
4. And last but not least, TV shows often portray parents and adults as stupid. Anyone remember The Fairly Odd Parents on Nickelodeon? Timmy’s mom and dad were beyond stupid. In the new Disney Chanel movie “Radio Rebel” the principal is portrayed as evil and fun-sucking, only existing to ruin the fun and make student’s lives miserable. That’s the way many shows make teachers and principals look…they are either stupid or evil. If they try to calm down rowdy students or focus on education, they are the bad guy. Because having fun is more important, right? When the adults are dumb or the bad guys, it suddenly becomes okay to talk back or rebel against authority. Following rules becomes lame. Any present or future teachers, does this hit home for you? Or how about parents? Kids today aren’t being taught to respect authority because the authority is stupid and exists only to ruin their lives. How does respecting adults sound like a good thing when TV shows them otherwise?
A lot of people don’t believe that our culture has that much influence over us. But if it doesn’t, why do so many parents restrict what their kids watch? Is it just to shield them from foul language, or is it because they are afraid of the influence it might have on their thinking and behavior? We know the influence music has in our lives. Lyrics never leave. Once you know the lyrics, it can come back even years later. I firmly believe it’s the same with TV. The things we pick up from watching TV stick with us. And from what I’ve watched with Ellie in the past month, this makes me sick. I don’t want my kids exposed to the trash that fills the channels today. I don’t want them believing that education is lame. I don’t want them to want to play video games more than getting lost in a good book. I don’t want them to have negative stereotypes of people from other cultures. And I certainly don’t want them disrespecting adults.
So Ben and I have come to the conclusion that maybe getting cable isn’t on our to-do list. We won’t really be able to afford it in the early years of our marriage, but later on when we can afford it I’m not sure we will. I’d rather be visiting the library with my kids, teaching them to use their imagination and that learning is fun. I’d even rather snuggle down and pop in a good movie, because at least I know what I’m getting into before I let my kids watch it. Plus, it would be so much easier to talk about what we watched after a movie. You can’t really do that after a full day of mindless TV shows. To us, it’s not just saving money. It’s about saving the minds of our kids.