Bullying and media culture: How TV teaches children to bully.

In today’s culture, it is absolutely true (and concerning) that TV teaches children to bully. Even the commercials for these television shows highlight the worst of these occurrences to draw an audience. How can we control what our kids see when these commercials appear with no notice or warning?My-Signature
By Katie McCoy
How TV Teaches Children to Bully

Our media culture, especially TV teaches children to bully.

Most Americans think of bullying as a youth problem.

In actuality, it’s more of a cultural problem.

It seems that everywhere you turn, today’s youth can see the bully mentality on full display. Nowhere is this phenomenon more prevalent that throughout the media.

Kids consume on average around 8 to 11 hours of media a day, depending on how you tally the overlapping types of media consumption. This is more time than they spend interacting with their parents or teachers or any other significant influence in their life.

Is there any doubt that TV teaches our children to bully?

So, to understand the problem of bullying, one must start with our media culture.

Just flip through different channels on TV and the odds are you’ll come across dozens of programs that either directly or indirectly celebrate a bully culture.

Take a reality TV show such as Survivor. On the surface, Survivor may not seem like it has anything to do with bullying. But think about the premise for a minute. Contestants are encouraged to use and manipulate their fellow participants for their own advancement, forming special alliances or cliques that can be used against the others, only to turn around at the end and betray those who have been loyal to them. It not only condones, but encourages all forms of relational aggression; backstabbing, misleading, gossiping, spreading false rumors, and so on.

Other forms of reality TV are even more direct in their aggression. Think about the example set by the narcissistic antics of Snooky.

How about the message of a show about a group of women who degrade each other in competition for the affections of a single man on a show such as The Bachelor. What do teenage girls learn from this?

Given how popular such shows have become, it’s little wonder that relational bullying has been on the rise in recent years.

Reality television is not the only culprit. You can find all the components of the bully mentality throughout most forms of television.

Turn on any talk show, and you’re likely to see a mob audience ganging up to scorn a certain individual.

Flip to Comedy Central’s Tosh.0,  and you’ll find a relatively disturbing show featuring humiliating internet videos narrated by a snarky comic who cracks jokes about and ridicules the people in them. Even videos of children enduring horrible injuries are turned into entertainment. In one episode, a little girl who has just been so badly burned across one side of her body that much of her skull, neck tendons, and shoulder bone are exposed is made fun of my Daniel Tosh, who cracks jokes about how she now looks like the Terminator.

Dateline NBC has built an empire on the basis of public humiliation and shadenfreude, disguising the pleasure and joy we get from reveling in the downfall of others as an act of community service. Most local news shows these days have gone to a similar format, devoting most of their newscasts to “name and shame” stories that expose some alleged wrongdoing while encouraging viewers to judge and condemn the accused without knowing all the facts. National Geographic, which was once an educational channel, has resorted to running episode after episode of police and border patrol shows, which are watched whether consciously or subconsciously, for the pleasure and feeling of superiority we receive from seeing others in a vulnerable or desperate situation. This superior feeling is one of the basics of bullying psychology.

Even seemingly noble shows such as Law & Order promote every aspect of the bully mentality, hiding it in plain sight. A snarky detective or prosecutor, full of self-righteous indignation and moral superiority, dishes out both insult and injury as he persecutes those deemed deserving of such treatment. We don’t see it as wrong, because the cruelty is directed towards “bad guys” who “deserve it.”

Yet the underlying message is clear: those who are different, those who make mistakes, those who are struggling with problems we don’t have, or those who hurt or offend us must be sought out, humiliated, condemned and destroyed.

This message is reinforced throughout the movies, which justify and celebrate every form of aggression up to and including murder, so long as it’s the “bad guys” being punished. The problem is, who gets to determine who is the bad guy?

Here’s a challenge. See how many shows you can find that are not included among those contributing to how TV teaches children to bully.

It’s hard to find a show that doesn’t promote one of these aspects of bully psychology:

  • an ‘Us versus Them’ or ‘Us versus Other’ mentality.
  • name calling and verbal aggression.
  • labeling or stereotyping people (predator, monster, illegal, looser, pervert, reject).
  • -group versus group aggression.
  • relational aggression (gossiping about or manipulating others for self-advancement).
  • feeling pleasure and satisfaction in the suffering or persecution of others.

While no one program is directly responsible for kids bullying one another, the cumulative effects of this exposure can be profound. What we provide as a model, children will bring with them into their own world. They’ll apply the same mentality when it comes to their own feuds and their own ideas about who deserves to be persecuted.

Our children are learning these lessons well. There are numerous cases of youths bullying others to the point of suicide, and then continuing to taunt and ridicule after their tragic death. Their cruelty shocks the nation. Yet the kids involved seem utterly baffled by or indifferent to the angry responses that are then directed at them in return.

If we try to put ourselves in their shoes, we can understand their confusion. After all, from their perspective, they were just doing some of the same things that everyone else in the world at large (as they see it) do.

They were conniving and manipulative, just like the people who win the million dollars and earn celebrity status on Survivor.

They were relentless in scorning their enemy and well-versed in the art of insult and humiliation; the same traits they see celebrated in the heroes portrayed throughout movies and television.

They persecuted their victim with the same self-righteous indignation and narcissistic hatred that you can see exhibited on every single episode of Law and Order.

They did exactly as our media culture has taught them to do.

Global Children's Fund is dedicated to improving the overall welfare of children. Our focus in overall child safety issues, as well as sexual abuse prevention. We offer materials and guidance in the form of child readable books, child educator learning materials, and parent or caregiver educational materials. Learn about help with bullying or discover our Child safety, health and welfare information. You can follow GCFparents on Twitter.
Article Source: Katie McCoy

photo credit: symphony of love via photopin cc

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