Writer, owner of Larger Family Life and mum of 12 Tania Sullivan ponders the lack of positive influences for our children in the media.
During the filming of 16 Kids and Counting, I was repeatedly interviewed on our choice to limit the amount of television our family watches. My answer that there is so much more to do in life than to waste it sitting in front of a box wasn’t enough. I was asked whether I was trying to control what they were exposed to, and whether that was overly-excessive parenting on my part.
My answers were yes and no. And so I elaborated.
Of course we wanted to control what our children were exposed to. Not only our children but ourselves, too. Our view is that the boundaries of acceptability have changed so much and so far, that the things that were once considered shocking have now become normal.
What once was considered unacceptable is now acceptable for children to see and follow. And every time this happens, the boundaries change, and the next shock factor becomes normalised. How far are we prepared to let them go before we say, “Enough is enough!”?
With the the multitude of technology at our fingertips in every facet of our lives, from mobile phones to computers, to 24-hour television and apps, we do need to be careful about what our children are exposed to. No, we cannot protect them from everything all the time but we do need to be aware of what they see because children are sponges and they soak it all in – the good and the bad.
Good role models and positive influences in the media are rare
I want my children to be confident in their choices. I want them to know that they can reach for the stars and succeed. I want them to dream big and not feel that dream isn’t good enough or ‘cool’ enough. I want them to feel free to be them, not what a programme or musician or latest Z-list personality tells them to be.
Positive role models don’t exist any more. There is nobody, not one person I can think of in mainstream media, who will positively encourage and inspire young, impressionable children.
The media encourages disrespect, over-sexualisation, a culture of aiming low or not at all.
Children grow up thinking the way to achieve their dreams is not through practise and hard work and determination, but by queuing up for a reality show for someone to tell them whether than can be a success or not, whilst being berated and belittled in front of millions.
WAGs and manufactured pop stars whose only talent is limited clothing and a provocative dance routine are held in high esteem. Forget the singing; they don’t need to be able to do that.
Footballers – the self-appointed, megalomaniacal mini-gods who believe they can treat anyone how they want because of who they are – are put on a pedestal. Talent not required.
Two-minute reality TV celebs whose bad boy/girl behaviour hitting headlines is their only way of ensuring their fame continues are not who I want my children to emulate.
These are not the role models I want my children to have.
There are no aspirations there. There is no encouragement or inspiration. The message these ‘role models’ send out is that by being a sexual, provocative, bullying, disrespectful lad or ladette, you’ll be cool.
As long as you’re cool, you’re successful.
Or as Rachel from Confessions of a Stay at Home Mum put it, “It’s okay to be a dumb-ass because you’ll be a famous dumb-ass.”
Where are all the positive role models for our children?
Who is there who can encourage them that they can be the one to change the world? Who can tell them that they can achieve anything if they work hard? Who can show them what a combination of a dream, hard work and determination can do?
Is it overzealous parenting? No.
I want my children to know that there is more out there than reality pop shows and soap operas. I want them to know about real life, and real people. They aren’t criticised or laughed at when they talk about the things they want to do, and nobody is telling them they’re wrong; that they’re not cool or that they’ll never achieve their dreams.
The media is good at chipping away at self-confidence. It is all-powerful in telling you how we should act, what we should wear, who we should listen to, what we should do and what we should think. And its constant influence through TV, radio, magazines and social media over so many means that this pressure feeds through as a constant drip, drip, drip no matter what we are doing.
Image is all. Deeds mean nothing. As long as you look the part you’ll be accepted and popular.
We have a television. It isn’t completely off limits. But we do need to be mindful of the rubbish – in all media, mind – which feeds our children. And we do need to be responsible enough to say, “Enough is enough!”
Our children should not base their worth on their looks or on their popularity. Every child needs to know that they can make a difference. Every child needs to know that they can aim high. Kids are under a lot of pressure to be accepted. We need to nurture their self-esteem positively. We need role models in the media that they can look up to.
We need mainstream media to stop dumbing our kids down.
Tania Sullivan is author and owner of Larger Family Life. This article originally appeared on Larger Family Life.