Our children are growing up in an influencer economy, where everyone is selfishly motivated by attention and its monetary benefits. Be it through social media avenues or unscripted television programming, our children are exposed to unrealistic and, oftentimes, unhealthy role models. Even when restricting access to these technologies, the values they glorify can infect the daily lives of our children and impact how they interact in the world.
Producers are not motivated by well-adjusted, healthy-minded individuals: empathy, respect and responsibility don’t make money or increase ratings. Consequently, we are confronted with chemically enhanced and self-involved individuals, who create hours of drama worthy of tabloid headlines. Our children are encouraged to engage with these individuals, to invest in and comment on their stories, lifting their online profiles. Furthermore, social media platforms, like YouTube and TikTok, promote the popularity of content creators who demonstrate judgmental behaviours, while online gamers roast and prank each other in ever-increasing displays of stupidity simply to increase views and subscriptions.
As adults, we have life experience enough to understand what is appropriate and socially acceptable when considering television and the real world. Most of us have grown up in a time when the influence of social media and reality television was limited, allowing us the ability to develop a strong sense of responsibility and empathy towards those around us. Our children are no longer afforded the opportunity to experience life without influence: they are exposed to a new set of acceptable values in society. What impact is this influencer economy having on their lives? According to Brad Gorham of Syracuse University, ‘reality television has an effect on the behaviors of people in society, as people are easily influenced by reality television and eventually copy the behaviors portrayed on television while using them in real life’.
What does this look like for our children?
They think it is acceptable to comment on someone’s appearance and ‘suggest’ improvements; they think it is cool to tease someone based on their personality or fears; they think it is acceptable to vote people in/out of their friendship group; they think it is normal to argue loudly and fight back when you have a different opinion. They believe their value is dependent on their appearance, and that materialism and excessive partying is cool. The frightening point is our children don’t believe they’re doing the wrong thing. They don’t recognize they are hurting someone’s feelings because they think this is normal.
So, what can we do as parents to minimise the impact on our children? How can we try to buck against these changing values and ensure we are raising empathetic, well-adjusted, and resilient children?
1. Engage in the content with your child:
Be involved in what content they are consuming and open conversations with them about what they are seeing. Find out if what they are viewing is affecting their self-image and values. Ask if they are envious of the way these people look or act.
2. Make a clear statement about the reality of reality TV shows:
This is important since kids need to know that while reality TV appears to be “reality,” it is a sensationalized reality of the television world.
3. Find out what your child thinks is real:
Start a conversation to gauge how your child views reality TV. There is no way of knowing what they think unless you ask.
4. Help your child develop critical responses to what she observes on reality TV:
Talking to the television and commenting when something seems unreal or scripted can help your child develop these critical skills. Use commercial breaks to discuss these elements or pause the show when you want to take a break and talk