When I walk through the family room Saturday mornings, my teenage kids aren’t watching cartoons anymore. They are watching reality TV. You know which shows I am talking about, the ones where the performers become stars by acting like self-centered, foul-mouthed brats. However, reality TV is as real as professional wrestling (which in case you did not know, is as rehearsed and choreographed as plays and movies).
All media is crafted, whether they call it “reality,” or commercials. Everything on TV, and even in newspapers, is carefully made to catch your attention so that you will believe in it or the products advertised along with it. I heard Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, lecture once in college. One of the funniest things he said was “TV is not there to entertain you, it is there to sell you things.” Spock couldn’t have said it better.
The problem is that sometimes media messages go against good health. TV encourages kids to drink soda and eat fatty, sugary foods. They in turn get fat and get stomach aches, which brings them to the Emergency Room. Reality shows encourage emotional drama and lousy communication, which then encourages emotional drama and lousy communication at home. The ensuing family fights end up in the Emergency Room with suicides, abuse, and exaggerated pain symptoms.
Parents and kids need to be “media literate.” Figure out for yourself what the TV is trying to tell you or sell you, and discuss that with your kids. Discuss with them that just because the kids on TV are happy, dancing, and popular because they are drinking delicious soda, that doesn’t mean delicious soda leads to happiness.
I listened to my kids from another room while they were watching their reality show. They began laughing and talking about how stupid the characters were acting, and whether or not the particular bit on the show was staged or spontaneous. I relaxed and smiled, because I realized they were figuring out for themselves what was really “real.”