Are reality TV shows damaging mental well-being of participating children?
Children are in a stage of emotional development where they are not emotionally equipped to handle rejection in a mature manner; and when they are not appreciated or fail to qualify, their mental state could affect the way they handle pressure situations for the rest of their life.opinion Updated: Jul 14, 2017 16:59 IST
Reality TV shows involving children have become popular entertainment programmes in India. Many of these programmes are competitive talent hunts among children in various stages of childhood and adolescence. The shows “judge” children on talents such as dancing, stand up comedy, and many others.
The issue under debate is regarding the impact of this media intervention on these children’s personality development. These programmes are planned by private entertainment TV channels in order to make money and gain more viewership, without any stringent guidelines for protecting those children who participate or preventing their exploitation.
An important question to ask is why do parents become interested in their children participating in such reality shows? They could be forcing them or through them fulfilling their own desires or even trying to earn some prize money. It is possible that the media world is seen as attractive, glamorous and parents hope that their child will become famous, and get an opportunity to build a successful career using this jumpstart. There are many reasons why these shows are so popular; and there is no doubt that the TV audience for such programmes also includes the children themselves.
But it is important to consider the impact of such reality shows on the participant children. Many factors play a role in defining the impact including the nature of the programme, the extent of practice and rehearsals, safety, pressure by the parents to excel, the role of learning and enhancing motivation.
In many entertainment and performing reality TV shows, the benefits for participating children are far less compared to the damaging effect that the experience can have. It is important to keep in mind that this is not a normal situation of competition for growing children. Children are in a stage of emotional development where they are not emotionally equipped to handle rejection in a mature manner; and when they are not appreciated or fail to qualify, their mental state could affect the way they handle pressure situations for the rest of their life. They are constantly compared to others; and there is immense pressure on them to perform well. This may result in them feeling as though they have let down their parents, siblings, or other significant relationships such as friends, etc.
In many of these programmes we see such responses from the children as well as the parents. The judge’s opinion matters a lot. The participant children as well as children in the audience are exposed to a culture in which these judges are looked on as their ideal role models. This is the reality of reality TV shows. For children these role models may be larger than life.
It is vitally important to educate parents about how to handle children and to make them realise that participation in such shows is no guarantee to fulfil their desire to be at the top, to move ahead in the same field, or to learn to handle the possibility of rejection. For some children, such shows may certainly become a great opportunity to cultivate their talents and gain confidence. However the number of such children is very small.
It is not a healthy environment in which to enhance the talents of children. Parents usually desire to provide their children stimulating social environments to ensure a holistic personality development. Besides academic education, children should certainly be motivated to develop their creative skills in performing arts such as music, dancing, arts and others. Psychologists believe that each child has the capacity to learn any of these skills when provided a conducive environment of training, practice with motivation, interest as well as having the adequate biological capacity and the support of parents.
Well known American psychologist Urie Bronfenbrenner’s ecological system theory proposes that various environmental influences interacting with biological characteristics of a child shape his/her psychological development. The environmental settings range from family, school, community, media and culture. Most important is the family and parents’ role; and this can be seen in the context of media influence and participation of children TV in reality shows.
It is, therefore, important to ensure that such shows take steps to make sure that no undue pressure is put on children; and that they don’t take on more psychological pressures than they are equipped to handle at that delicate stage in their lives.
Dr Veena Tucker is associate professor, department of psychology, Gargi College, Delhi University
The views expressed are personal