TELEVISION GIVES CHILDREN UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS A few months after my friend Angela, who lives in Santo Domingo, acquired access to premium channels such as HBO, Cinemax, etc. her eight years old daughter asked her one night: “Mom, are there poor people in the United States? ” This could have been a joke if it were not so revealing. My friend realized that the luxurious scenes shown on television were not only giving her daughter a false idea about life in the United States, but they could also be creating unrealistic expectations in the girl’s mind concerning life in general.
The same situation is faced by children and teenagers all over the United Sates. To a child’s eyes, television represents a parallel reality with its own rules and laws, a reality in which everything is not only possible and easy, but is obviously more appealing to his/her mind than the sometimes bleak or deprived household in which he or she lives. The problem is real and is not going away. On the contrary, it is only strengthened by the leading role played by television in the upbringing of children, as parents are forced to work long hours and depend more and more on the “electronic nanny” for the children’s entertainment.
Unfortunately, the damage done to the children is serious and has unpredictable consequences in the long run. On the one hand, we have a powerful industry that feeds on audiences regardless of their age, sex or personal characteristics; an industry that harness the imagination of the viewers and, as such, has limitless resources and only one goal: production. On the other hand, we have a defenseless child who spends long hours in front of a TV set, sometimes in the privacy of his own room. Children do not have the ability to analyze or screen the information presented to them.
All the images and messages wrapped up in the movies, programs or commercials go straight through to the subconscious mind of a child and become the storeroom from which he will draw tomorrow in response to the demands of his environment. Studies performed at MIT have demonstrated that the brain is more active during our sleep than during the times we watch TV. It is precisely that passivity which entraps the child and renders him helpless. Watching TV is not a creative activity. The child does not have to do anything only sit there and absorb the images and the sounds, just like a plant absorbs the sun.
This characteristic makes TV and ideal way to escape reality and go into a world of our own making where everything is possible. Additionally, children can find that TV is a less demanding and more peaceful place to be than their homes, with parents quarreling all the time, when they are present… It is in this way that superheroes, gangsters or the latest rock star form a solid bond with our children and it is here they learn to mimic them. We have all learned of cases where children have jumped from high buildings, expecting to fly or have killed their little sibling just as seen on their favorite movie.
But these are only the most obvious and publicized cases. What of the girls that find themselves ugly because their smile is not as white or as perfect as the smiles of the girls on the TV commercial? Or the boys who feel they have failed in life because they do not drive the car of the year? It is obvious that TV is playing an important role in the education of our children and in the way they see life and react to its challenges. Let us take for instance the soap operas. They provide not only the stereotypes that are so potentially harmful, but also the general idea children get about relationships, authority, success, and love.
Afterwards, they expect that life is going to be the same, that the good poor girl is going to marry the rich guy; justices is always reached and the bad guys pay for their sins; some day they will win the lottery, etc. To the extent possible, we should try to protect our children by monitoring the programs they watch and/or demystifying the messages, explaining those aspects that might be confusing or can lead to misconceptions. TV is a business; we should not let it play nanny for our children. Misguided expectations are a terrible thing to happen to a defenseless child.