Synopsis: TV and movies are great. But they can also send negative messages, especially to the impressionable minds of children. That’s why it’s important you should be aware of how TV can make you feel bad, and discuss this with your kids, so they can consciously consume media in a safe and healthy way.
TV & film serves as great entertainment — but it can also lead to low self-esteem, unhappiness, and a distorted perception of reality, if you aren’t conscious about what you’re watching.
Even as adults, we underestimate the negative impact that media can have on our subconscious. And this is especially dangerous for children, who’s brains are still developing, and mind’s are easily impressionable.
The thing about TV/movies is this — it’s not real life, it’s a warped version of reality. And you may tell yourself, “of course I understand it’s made up!” But tell me how many times you’ve gotten annoyed, or witnessed someone else get annoyed, at the TV for being “unrealistic”?
Without even realizing it, we expect TV to be real. Although you know it’s a written script with actors and a whole team of filmmakers and producers, you look beyond this illusion on purpose, in order to escape into a different world and imagine it’s your own life, or that you’re living someone else’s life.
There’s nothing wrong with escaping reality and temporarily hiding from your problems in order to immerse yourself in a fantasy. It’s a lot of fun, it’s relaxing, and also therapeutic — a coping technique for the boredom and hardships of life. TV can also serve as a mirror for your life, drawing specific parallels, teaching you valuable lessons about your own struggles.
However, you have to be really careful about what you’re watching. You have to understand the difference between “reality” verses “ideas of how reality is supposed to be.” For children, this line can be very blurry, which is extremely damaging.
Children’s shows on Disney, Nick, and other common networks are not necessarily as child-friendly as they make themselves out to be.
What I find problematic about most kid’s shows:
- Fame — lots of these shows center around someone being famous, or dreaming of becoming famous, while failing to highlight the psychological damage we see happen to real-life celebrities, most notably child stars.
- Schoolwork — most shows center around school, or take place at school, without ever showing someone doing homework or studying for a test, or experiencing the pressure that comes with school.
- Dating — a lot of these shows involve middle schoolers who are going out on dates, having boyfriends and girlfriends, kissing one another. Although this can happen in real life, it’s not something children should be overexposed to, especially the pressure to be in a relationship or get physical before adulthood.
- Body dysmorphia — most of these shows star girls who are dangerously skinny, and you can find some interviews about actresses admitting later in life that they were forced to starve themselves while filming. Alongside, a lot of these child actresses are made to wear revealing or tight-fitting clothes like tank tops, mini skirts, bathing suits, etc.
- Mental health — rarely is a character seen experiencing human feelings like loneliness, jealousy, sadness, etc. If they are, it’s always quickly resolved and brushed off — or they get made fun of for it and labelled as the “crazy” character. Mental health problems and trauma are joked about.
- Popularity — usually the premise involves a “popular group”, with excluded characters wishing to be a part of the group, or battling against them, or being mean to one another. This isn’t something that children should be concerned with or thinking about.
- No supervision — often you see shows involving middle school/jr. high-aged kids out at parties, running around the city, staying out late, without any concern from their parents. Most teen shows involve underage drinking and make no big deal about it.
- Money — this is a very broad example, but money is always highlighted. There’s always comments about wishing to have more money, or a character who’s obsessed with money, or someone who wins a lot of money and then goes on an exciting shopping spree, etc.
- Narcissism — a lot of these shows promote narcissism by completely focusing on one main character and degrading his/her friends, making their problems less important. Often the side-characters get picked on, bullied, and bossed around by the main character.
- No personality — it generally seems that the main character, who is supposed to be most likable, has absolutely no personality. Sometimes they’re painted as a little “dorky,” but always in a cute way. Usually they’re just very dull, and overly concerned with being cool and likable.
With several of these themes appearing in most kid’s shows and movies, it doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t be watched, or that it’s wrong to like them, but that they need to be watched with important awareness.
Alongside, you also see a lot of these themes appearing in teen and adult shows. That’s why watching anything on TV, no matter your age, can subconsciously send you negative messages that make you feel bad about yourself. The difference is that adults have a stronger ability to distinguish the difference between TV and real life, while for children, it’s much more difficult.
Messages that TV & movies send:
- Comparison — It’s difficult to watch TV without comparing it to your own life. For adults, seeing a high school show uncontrollably triggers memories back to their own high school experience. And when kids see other kids on TV, they automatically compare. When your experience doesn’t add up to someone else’s, you can’t help but feel upset or jealous, even if this life is you’re comparing to is fake.
- My school isn’t fun like this!
- My teachers aren’t cool like these ones!
- I never had a boyfriend/girlfriend who was that sweet and good-looking!
- I never kissed someone like that!
- I never went on a date like that!
- I never went to a party like this!
- I never had friends like them!
- Passiveness — On the flip side, some people find that watching someone else’s experience on TV makes them feel like they are experiencing it too. So instead of getting jealous, they feel satisfied, living through a desired experience without the real-life risk it comes with. And so, when you experience something on the screen, you are less likely to get out of your comfort zone and try to do it in real life.
- Instead of dating and risking rejection and vulnerability, you can simply watch a perfect couple on TV.
- Instead of putting energy into socializing and getting to know people, you can just watch other people’s lives on TV in order to get your social needs met.
- Instead of working on your goals, you can just watch someone else being successful and achieving on TV.
- Distorted expectations — As we confuse TV for real life, our expectations of reality become completely distorted. It shapes us into how we assume we are supposed to think, feel, and behave. Most of all, it changes what you think you’re supposed to experience.
- Disney princess movies are the most classic example of this — every girl who grew up watching these movies will tell you that they ruined romance for her!
- Teen and adult shows/movies have boys speaking such witty and charming lines — not a single boy speaks like this in real life.
- Girls with full-faced makeup are shown waking up in bed or coming out of the shower — not a single girl’s face is naturally flawless like that.
- Doctor dramas, where all the doctors are hooking up with each other all day and no one is actually doing their job.
- When kids watch shows about jr. high or high school, they genuinely believe that their experience is going to be similar or identical. I have heard countless people say “I grew up watching these shows, thinking that this is how high school normally is.”
- Hyper-sexuality — There is so much sex and nudity on TV. What’s even more shocking is how much kissing, touching, partial nudity, sex jokes, and sexual degradation there is on kid’s shows. Young teens are already dealing with enough hormones, and there’s absolutely no reason for children to be exposed to any of that. This most certainly encourages people to be more physical, or to feel bad about themselves if they aren’t. For an adult who doesn’t have a partner or chooses to abstain themselves, this is very difficult to watch. And even more importantly for a child who is too young to understand this, they should NOT be feeling pressured about it.
What you can do…
I’m NOT saying that all TV and movies are bad, or that children shouldn’t be watching anything. As mentioned before, TV & film can be a great thing.
What’s important is that you are conscious about what you consume, and that you teach your kids to do the same.
What you should do is have a very honest conversation with your kids about TV and movies.
What you can say:
- Tell them that even though TV and movies can be fun, they can also send negative messages (comparison, passiveness, distorted expectations, hyper-sexuality, and problematic themes.) Ask them to be aware of their emotions while they watch something.
- Tell them that just because a show/movie is popular and well-liked, doesn’t mean they also have to like it. If it makes you feel bad, don’t watch it — simple as that.
- Tell them that networks like Disney and Nick do not always have the best intentions for children. Their purpose is making money, not teaching you ethics or educating you.
- Tell them that TV/movies are fine in moderation, but too much of it is dangerous, and that it disconnects you from reality.
- Tell them how TV/movies can lead to depression and low self-esteem.
- Tell them how important it is to distinguish the difference between TV/movies and reality, that they need to remind themselves that these are actors saying a script, with a whole production team behind them.