May 30

The harm TV does to kids

According to this article, a study was conducted of approximately 400 preteen students in the Midwest, both black and white. It looked at the amount of time they spent in front of the television and their self-esteem over a year’s time.

The results?

If you are a white girl, a black girl or a black boy, exposure to today’s electronic media in the long run tends to make you feel worse about yourself. If you’re a white boy, you’ll feel better.

I see that making quite a bit of sense. While there are some inroads with programming for kids, the fact of the matter is that we cannot escape our society.

“Regardless of what show you’re watching, if you’re a white male, things in life are pretty good for you,” Martins said of characters on TV. “You tend to be in positions of power, you have prestigious occupations, high education, glamorous houses, a beautiful wife, with very little portrayals of how hard you worked to get there.

“If you are a girl or a woman, what you see is that women on television are not given a variety of roles,” she added. “The roles that they see are pretty simplistic; they’re almost always one-dimensional and focused on the success they have because of how they look, not what they do or what they think or how they got there.”

This is like the Bechdel test for movies, which is a pretty simple indicator. To pass the test, a movie must have two female characters who speak to each other about something other than a man. About half of all movies by my estimation fail. And when it doesn’t fail? It’s somehow lauded as an achievement. That’s not an achievement, it’s the bare minimum of what should be acceptable.

And if you’re black? Well then, you really are up a creek:

With regard to black boys, they are often criminalized in many programs, shown as hoodlums and buffoons, and without much variety in the kinds of roles they occupy.

“Young black boys are getting the opposite message: that there is not lots of good things that you can aspire to,” Martins said. “If we think about those kinds of messages, that’s what’s responsible for the impact.

This kind of characterization not only feeds into self-esteem issues for minority children, it also increases white racist stereotypes in white children. My parents raised me to not be racist. I still remember the day in second grade when I first heard a racist slur. I repeated it that weekend to my dad, who had a long talk with me about racism, why it was wrong, and why I should never use those words. I think of my nieces and nephew. I know their parents do the best they can, but how much can parents stem the tide with TV there blaring racism and sexism to them? This is where the George Zimmermans of the world get their start.

And it’s not just TV:

Martins said their study counters claims by producers that programs have been progressive in their depictions of under-represented populations. An earlier study co-authored by her and Harrison suggests that video games “are the worst offenders when it comes to representation of ethnicity and gender.”

So really, there’s no escape.

I love TV, but maybe it’s just not constructive in any way to society…



  1. Amy

    May 31, 2012


    The Bechdel test is a very interesting idea… i bet it’s super sad how often movies/shows fail!!! :/

    One of my favorite shows is Parks and Recreation, I think it does a really good job of having awesome female characters!

  2. sepra

    June 6, 2012


    I think we don’t even see when it fails because it’s so right in this society that men have voices that women don’t have. I do like Parks and Rec, and I love TV in general, so this was depressing.

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