The TV Generation: Kids n The Box

Written By Tumbleweed.

Illustration by Samantha Jenkins
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Television. Is it really such a bad thing for kids? It gets way too much bad press, right? And anyway, we all grew up with Disney cartoons, and we turned out right?

I recently spent a lazy Sunday with my 5 year old niece: chilling out, watching some family-friendly telly. The topic of conversation turned to princesses, and my niece stated determinedly that she wasn't a princess now, but she will be one when she's older. "Really?" I ask jokingly, "Why can't you be one now?!". This was her reply: "Well, because I don't look like a princess now. Princesses have long yellow hair and big beautiful dresses, and they dance like this!" [She twirls around in the style of a Disney female, her far-from-yellow black curly hair twisted up tightly into a bun]. She continues, when I am older, I will have yellow hair too, and [she softens her tone] also my skin is the wrong colour - [she rubs her arm, dark as chocolate, then points shyly at me]  - when I am older I will have skin like yours [She looks at my pale white arms]. And then I can be a Princess!". Jubilantly she leaps across the room, and sits down in front of me, hands clasped together in her lap, head tilted to one side, faking an inane smile, and fluttering her eyelashes in a way that makes me think she is having a mild epileptic fit: "That's what princesses do, she explains, so that they can get husbands".

Those of you with young kids will know this kind of behavior well, no matter how shocking it may sound to an outsider- especially to myself, a feminist activist. Was my niece too young to know the true meaning of what she was saying on that day? Or is her growing identity, self-esteem and self-concept, as a mixed-race female in this society, really in as much dire straits as it sounds?

In short- yes. Much research has been done on the influence of TV media on infants, children and adolescents- those most easily influenced in society and most vulnerable to suggestion. I need not real a list of statistical and qualitative data. The titles of the research papers say it all: The relationship between media consumption and eating disorders, Idealized women in TV ads make girls feel bad, Media's impact on adolescents' body dissatisfaction, Sexual Teens, Sexual Media, Sitcoms, videos make even fifth-graders feel fat, Beauty and the beast: toy commercials and the social construction of gender, Television cartoons: Do children notice it's a boy's world? ( and the list goes on and on.

Young adults today are the first generation in the history of human-kind not to have experienced frequent outdoor imaginative play within nature as an integral part of their childhood (Louv 2006). Indoor computer games and TV cartoons have captured our kids imaginations instead- and they still hold it captive. There is a name proposed for this phenomenon: 'Nature-Deficit Disorder', and it has gone far towards explaining the growing unhealthy trends for kids today- such as the rise in obesity, attention deficit disorder and depression (Louv 2006). I want you to think really hard about yourself now- do you construct your image and behaviors in line with the 'norm' projected by visual media? Have your relationships with the opposite sex been based on equality and respect? Is your self-esteem really that rock hard? Not all of us have been blessed with privileged and nurtured upbringings- one should never assume that visual media affects all children in the same way. A child with already poor self-esteem can be crushed even further by constant bombardment of negative visual media, more so than a child brought up in a balanced and loving environment.

"All very well", I hear you say- "but you try telling my kid that, when she's in a total tantrum, trashing the house, along with the little ounce of patience I have left. Try telling her she can't watch TV then!" As parents we have to make tough choices, bringing to mind the popular phase between a rock and a hard place. Parents tend to use TV much like a live-in babysitter: a 365 days a year, 24 hours a day kids party entertainer. The blame should never lie with the parents. Something is very wrong in our society if we feel we have to resort to using any electrical device to substitute time that should be taken up by quality adult nurture or natural childhood exploration.

There is hope! We can attempt to combat TV and its negative effects: Recognise when you and your kid need TV the most, and work out ways together to counteract the urge. Deconstruct the sexist imagery with your pre-teen daughter. Or if all else fails, then remove your TV into the garden, place safety goggles on both yourself and your kid- and sledgehammer your way to a happier TV-free future together!

Capitalism, with all its technological advances, has contributed to more families living in isolation than ever before: more mothers bringing up kids without family, friends and community support. We must reclaim community childcare, and reconnect child-rearing as being a collective effort- not a solely parental burden. Children today can't totally escape the enormous pressures that our media-saturated society puts upon them. But we sure as hell can give them the tools to help fight it!     

Tumbleweed 2009 

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