By Guest Expert: Allison Gamble
This topic is well-worth your attention. Here’s an opportunity to talk to your children about meaningful subjects affecting their life and their culture. Don’t take media messages for granted. Take the initiative in guiding your children toward the values, ideals and perspectives that are important to you! Allison makes some significant points for your consideration!
Children spend, on average, three hours a day on digital entertainment. During those hours, your child’s mind is constantly developing, absorbing information and stimulation like a sponge. The way children see life depicted in the movies will shape the way they approach issues in reality.
Divorce is a part of many children’s lives today. The skills they have to cope with divorce are often adapted from the media, and not with the disbelieving eye of an adult. They develop their opinions based off of what they see – “Parent Trap“ says that if I can trick my parents into talking, they’ll fall in love again; “Cinderella” says that my stepmom is evil because she made me do my chores. If they see divorce as a simple act, and a stepfamily as an atrocity, they won’t have the skills to appropriately deal with the issues.
Children do not have the cognitive skills to observe media in a critical manner and evaluate; they simply take what they see at face value and process it as fact. It is important to teach children from a young age that television and movies are fictional, skewed depictions of reality. Children imitate what they see, so if they see children react poorly to a divorce they will respond in the same manner. It then becomes the parent’s responsibility to intervene and give their children the tools and venue to appropriately understand and discuss what they’ve seen on television.
In the 1950s shows such as “Leave it to Beaver” portrayed the stereotypical home: hard-working father, stay-at-home mother, and somewhat rambunctious but good-hearted children. The divorce rate has doubled since the 1960s, tripled since the 1950s. This has become clear in television, as blended families have become more present in entertainment.
Media always strives to reflect common culture, so as more families take a different path, the media shows more and more of these sorts of situations. The media, however, does not always show the whole story: of course, drama sells. People don’t want to watch a perfect family. They want to watch a family more dysfunctional than theirs. Media’s glorification of the negative side of divorce, however, is rubbing off on the impressionable minds of children.
Starting as young as the Disney movie “Cinderella,” marriage, divorce, and stepfamilies have been displayed as dysfunctional and unstable environments. Children get a mix of confusing messages from movies. From “Mrs. Doubtfire,” they learn that Dad will go to unreasonable lengths to be in his children’s lives, and from “Mr. Popper’s Penguins,” they learn that families can just fall back together as easily as they fell apart. If you don’t step in and teach your child the reality about divorce, they may act in an unfavorable way when faced with the situation themselves.
One of the common themes found in the media’s portrayal of marriage and divorce is that marriage isn‘t very important. It proves, in the eyes of a child, that even the smallest thing can be fixed by calling quits. In order to create a more fluid storyline, the complexities of a breakup are glossed over and simplified. In order to do that, the reasons for divorce tend to be simple or flaky. When you translate that into reality, children are going to think these simple reasons are enough to toss a marriage away. Talking to your children can help explain that there is more going on behind the scenes. If your children are old enough to understand more complexity and adult themes, consider watching “Frasier” with them; though Fraiser and Lillith are divorced, they turn to each other for advice, and have no problem saying “I love you.” Their relationship isn’t romantic, but it shows your kids that their parents can love each other without wanting to be married to each other.
Another issue that can arise in the inaccurate portrayal of stepfamilies in the media is how stepparents are usually depicted as evil people who only care about their own children and toss their stepchildren aside. Stepmoms are often portrayed as manipulative women who have fathers wrapped around their little fingers. Movies really draw on the idea of the stepmom replacing the real mom, which only adds to her image as a monster. The concept of a happy and well functioning stepfamily situation is rarely portrayed in the media. “Phineas and Ferb” can be a great jumping off point to discuss positive models of a stepmom on TV.
Occasionally movies will portray a happy stepfamily relationship, but that doesn’t happen often. Usually the child will resent or reject their new stepparent. Often the child’s mother will hate the father’s new wife, teaching the child that if they like their stepmom they will be going against their love for their biological mom. More than often, divorce and remarriage is portrayed as a war and movies only teach children how to play in the game. Try to find TV shows like “Glee” or “Drake and Josh“ that show the blending of two families in a more positive manner. Go old school if you have to, and tune in to the original blended family TV show, “The Brady Bunch.”
A child only knows what you teach them. You, as the parent, need to make a conscious effort to explain to kids that television is fictional. It’s important for you to expose your children to positive experiences to combat the negative media depiction of divorce.
Encourage your children to ask you questions about things they don’t understand in the media, or better yet, watch their shows with them to clarify confusing situations. Don’t be afraid to let your child watch the same age-appropriate shows that their friends watch (though three hours a day might be a little bit excessive). Above all else, communicate with your children to be sure that they understand what they’re watching.
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Allison Gamble has been a curious student of psychology since high school. She brings her understanding of the mind to work in the weird world of internet marketing.
Rosalind Sedacca, CCT is author of the internationally acclaimed How Do I Tell the Kids about the Divorce? A Create-a-Storybook(TM) Guide to Preparing Your Children – with Love! which can be found at //www.howdoitellthekids.com. Her free articles, ezine, coaching services and other valuable resources for parents are available at www.childcentereddivorce.com.