Scholars have devoted themselves to studying the effects of TV on children — how they separate reality from fantasy, and how a blurred line between the two affects them psychologically.


 

 

Scholars have devoted themselves to studying the effects of TV on children — how they separate reality from fantasy, and how a blurred line between the two affects them psychologically.

Then a hybrid rose from the ashes of consumer boredom: “reality TV.”

Whether you watch them or not, reality TV shows are here to stay, and even though I view them as the warts of popular culture, one thing is for sure: We need to observe how they affect children.

What values (or lack thereof) are being portrayed in these “reality shows,” and how many children get sucked into the shows just by being in their parents’ orbit?

The fact many of these shows air when children are still awake is enough for me to wonder how, even casually, children are absorbing the reality TV vibe, soaking in the fringes as they walk across the room like the sensitive sponges they are.

They see adults sniveling, plotting, screaming, fighting and hyper-sexualizing themselves as they elbow each other out of the way for the spotlight. Many are without a shred of restraint or evidence of the ability to self-edit.

Most dysfunctional

Of course, these are the types I’m sure producers extol — the shrewd ones keep an eagle eye out for the most dysfunctional, I’m sure. There’s more entertainment per mile to be pounded out of a toxic personality.

I’m just waiting for a reality TV show exposing that.

What does it teach children when the only life they see being idealized is one of a certain kind of fame? Whatever happened to valuing a stable life that gives its own rewards? Or having satisfying hobbies, such as singing in a choir or being in a community dance troupe instead of trying to catapult yourself into the stratosphere?

A study of 9- to 12-year-olds showed nondepressed children are more likely to take satisfaction from pursuing their goals on a day-to-day basis, whereas depressed children are more likely than their nondepressed peers to fixate upon beauty, wealth and popularity as keys to happiness. The study was conducted by Dr. Helen Street of the University of Western Australia in Perth, and was presented in 2003 at the British Psychological Association.

Never mind what we are teaching children about personal dignity. I cringe when I think about how other cultures will view us when they see reality TV. In fact, I’ve interviewed young exchange students from Japan in the past who form opinions about Americans that lead them to believe we are rude, aggressive and dangerous.

They are pleasantly surprised when they visit with their host families.

Of course, we can’t worry much regarding how others form their vision of Americans if they decide to do so via TV. But we do need to examine the rights American parents have when they sign their underage children up to do reality TV shows, whether it’s a show such as “Keeping Up With the Kardashians,” where Bruce Jenner’s young daughters are taught everything by their girls-gone-wild Kardashian sisters, from how to prepare for menstruation to pole dancing in their mother’s bedroom.

But beyond the physical well-being of the children, there has been much written about the physical dangers of shows such as PBS’ “Frontier House,” where children starved alongside their parents as they struggled to survive in a simulated frontier habitat. And then there’s the controversial show “Kid Nation,” in which 40 children between 8 and 15 are dropped off at a remote New Mexico ranch to form a semblance of a society with minimal adult support.

What’s next? Re-create “Lord of the Flies” with cameras hidden in the woods?

That our legislators are sleeping at the wheel when it comes to children and reality TV is egregious. Unchecked power in the hands of money-grubbing Hollywood producers fleecing the dignity and well-being of children whose parents have no scruples, or taste, has gone on long enough.

It’s time to offer them a reality check.

Sharma Howard, features writer for the Norwich Bulletin and mother of two boys, writes every Monday about parenting in the new age of media and technology. E-mail her at showard@norwichbulletin.com