Reality TV: The Punch Parents Don’t See

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The job of nurturing an impressionable mind has always been a challenge. The once gradual ascent into adulthood is now a sharp rise. Every single day parents in America are confronted with the task of monitoring their child’s influences. New technologies, social crazes and information portals emerge on a monthly basis, making the job of policing what goes into a child’s brain all the more difficult. 


The attempt of previous generations to counter this quandary reflects our modern standard of censorship. School reading lists now have an emphasis on classical works. Films now warn of offensive content. Music controls its controversial artists with corporate strings. The Internet, the latest parental predicament, is vast but awareness of its power is leading to its restraint. Individual standards of decency dictate what is suitable for viewing in different households, however like any old boxer will warn you, “it’s the punch you don’t see that knocks you out …” 


More money is being spent on television production than any other time in the industry’s history. Television’s fiscal resurgence is on the back of reality programming. Reality TV shows, especially those of the talent show format, are gaining legitimacy and fulfilling the need for more family-oriented programming. For a parent, this is the punch you don’t see.


Recognize the Punch


  • Every year the airways carry another slew of reality drama packaged for families. The highest-rating and most profitable show in the genre, American Idol, has built its franchise upon young adults chasing their dreams. 


  • American Idol thrives because of its feel-good music moments and viewer participation. From the outside, American Idol is wholesome entertainment. The reality of this reality TV show though is not so benign. 


  • American Idol and it spin-offs intentionally project cruelty under the guise that it is part-and-parcel of the entertainment industry. American Idol reproduces the dynamics of bullying children deal with in schoolyards across the country every day. 


  • By making it family entertainment only legitimizes this behaviour. 


  • Children who have been victimized are much more likely to be depressed, anxious, withdrawn and distrustful, even in adulthood, and more likely to miss class and underperform in school. 


  • The impact of America’s most watched television show has been linked to the growing incidences of cyber-bullying. 


  • In 2008, researchers at Yale School of Medicine found signs of an apparent connection between bullying, being bullied and suicide in children. 


Reality shows are not only shaping how impressionable minds interact in the schoolyard, but what is perceived as reality. Unlike scripted television shows, there is no suspension of disbelief. American Idol and its affiliates claim to make superstars out of ordinary people; however the reality is far from this. Confidentiality agreements suppress the hundreds of contestant horror stories resulting from reality-show experiences. 


Mental-health workers have discovered that people who compete on these shows suffer severe and often long-lasting psychological trauma as a result. American Idol is no different to any other television show produced in America except that it works on a fundamentally different premise—that it is real. The winner is chosen before a single second of the show goes to air. Impressionable minds take American Idol on face value. 


The punch that parents don’t see is not drugs, sex or violence—it’s the subtle impressions. Parents cannot control every stimulus—only give their children perspective to make balanced judgements. Dreams are an expression of the soul’s desire and shows like American Idol stimulate our hearts to achieve extraordinary feats. It’s when their promises and methods are rooted in fiction the greatest damage is done. 


Every day, parents all over America are giving their children wings hoping they achieve whatever it is they want. The punch we don’t see is giving children hope when there is a dead-end and legitimizing a show that encourages meanness.


Dreams do not materialize overnight, but they do come true. And they are a direct result of courage, perseverance and talent that parents nurture in developing people every day.

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