Written by Sahana Charan and published on 29 April 2021.
Can reality shows be traumatic to your child? Here's a discussion on the disadvantages of reality shows and their negative impact on children. Read on.
Reality shows have a negative impact on our children in more ways than one. These shows focus on bullying, aggressive behavior and unhealthy competition, and kids often tend to confuse reality TV with the real world. In this debate against reality shows, we try to explain why reality shows are bad for children based on the disadvantages it presents.
Here are examples of two different scenes appearing on reality television shows.
A jovial group is sitting around in a living room talking casually. From a corner of the room, one of the women points her finger at another, accusing her of arrogant behaviour and not doing the tasks assigned to her. A heated argument ensues and they almost come to blows. In another conversation, happening in the same room, two men are talking in whispers, about another member of that group. "She is a liar and a busybody. Be wary of her company," one of them says.
In one particular international model hunt show, young girls still in their teens proudly show off their stick-thin bodies and talk about winning at all costs. There is a lot of drama and crying in the name of bagging the modelling contract and the message is that physical beauty and fame are more important in life than other values.
So what is prime time reality TV all about? They portray melodrama, bullying, back-biting, gossip and bad interpersonal relationships. Some reality shows can be quite entertaining and many people get drawn to them. However, is it appropriate for children to watch shows that promote the kind of behaviour, which we otherwise do not approve of?
Psychiatrist Holly Peek, in her article in a Harvard Medical School publication, talks about how it is important to be aware of the messages and values that these shows often portray. "It's essential to be aware of what our children are watching so that we can teach them how to recognize and process the skewed values of television reality. This is tricky, as this programming easily deceives viewers into believing it is a true reflection of the real world," she says.
As adults, we are mature enough to comprehend the difference between real life and the life portrayed in shows. But children may not have the maturity to draw a line between what's shown in TV programs and what actually happens in reality. So there is a danger of children confusing real life with the perceived reality of these programs.
Some reality shows also show participants taking extreme risks and putting themselves in bizarre or dangerous situations. As young children mostly learn through imitation, watching such programs may put them at risk of physical injury. A study published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology indicated that children who viewed high-risk TV programs showed an increase in their self-reported risk-taking behavior more than children who were exposed to low-risk TV or those who watched less TV.
"Reality shows that are focused on some people and their day-to-day lives are a big nuisance according to me, and as parents, we need to draw a line when children watch such shows. They portray everything in an exaggerated manner which is not at all a reflection of real life. This should be made clear to our children. Reality talent shows, on the other hand, make parents feel that their own children are inadequate," says Sandhya Prabhu, mother of a 10-year-old girl.
Having said this, there are some advantages we must consider as well. Not all reality TV is bad for children. There are some programs like singing shows and few cooking-based competitive shows that the whole family can enjoy watching. They are more entertaining than the melodramatic soaps and also engage children in a healthy way. There are also certain interactive educational reality shows which are academically beneficial to students.
All television programs including reality TV are based on certain formats, and how these are formatted depends on the particular television channel. "It's true that some channels may tweak their format to get the ratings up and they may not really be concerned about how this affects children," says a senior electronic media professional.
According to the professional, the majority of prime time television programming in India is targeted at the 25 to 40 year age group, and predominantly women.
Reality shows are targeted at people with a certain sensibility. If parents themselves are not very keen on watching such content, children also may not be that interested. It's a matter of not attaching too much importance to it, he adds.
"The biggest concern about some of these programs is the complex human dynamics, the manipulation and the back-biting that is portrayed. If there is no supporting adult to make children understand that such shows are scripted, they will use their own imagination and understanding to take in the messages being relayed to them," says Arundhati Swamy, counsellor and parenting expert.
She gives these pointers on how children can be adversely affected by reality shows:
There are some reality shows that have children as their main stars - mostly singing and dance shows that focus on a child's talent. Most parents find these programs entertaining and harmless. While these could be an opportunity for talented children from less-privileged to come into the limelight, the pressure on the children to perform and excel is too much. The shows are highly competitive and these kids are subjected to constant scrutiny, which can affect their mental health.
"When you have a child who is exceptionally talented, try to be a mature parent to encourage your child in a positive way. It is okay to be competitive and if your child is clear about her goals and the emotional maturity to handle the pressure, she may cope well. But those who do not, try to adapt from a survival point of view and this can adversely affect them," says Arundhati.