When I was growing up I knew I wanted to be a teacher just like my mum but I harboured a secret ambition, to be a presenter on Blue Peter. I looked forward to watching Blue Peter after school and I loved all of the presenters. I dreamed of making things on camera that children at home would copy, I wanted to look after the Blue Peter pets and I wanted to travel the world. I had some inspirational role models when I was growing up, both close to home and also those further afield that I saw on TV and I know that my own children are discovering role models of their own to look up to. But the celebrities that modern society gives air time too have changed in many ways from those when I was a girl and the programmes and personalities that we see on television and in popular music these days aren’t necessarily as wholesome in their appearance as they used to be.
Take for example, Kanye West. He is frequently in the public eye and following his high profile performance at Glastonbury festival there has been much comment in the media. Kanye West, the modestly self proclaimed ‘greatest living rock star on the planet’ is, as far as I can make out, mainly famous for making outlandish statements such as, “I am God’s vessel. But my greatest pain in life is that I will never be able to see myself perform live.” I couldn’t name one of his songs and I don’t know much about him but it seems that any musical talent that he does have has is being over shadowed by his narcissism. The egocentric, puffed up attitude that he exudes makes me cringe but it is this that increases his appeal to many and guarantees him public exposure.
And in the news another topic of conversation, the launch of yet another reality TV show. This one is called ‘Life On Marbs’ and it is about the lives of a selected few people who live in Marbella. In the article there is a synopsis of this much copied show formula as well as an introduction to the cast which is mainly made up of the vaunting proclamations of these people that will undoubtedly become overnight media sensations. There is a man who boasts of washing his watches with champagne that costs £20,000 a bottle and who subsequently posts videos of himself doing this on Instagram, another man who boasts about running up £85,000 bar bills and of once spending £450,000 in a week on two cars and then another who proudly professes to have lost count of the number of women he has slept with. There is a woman who is a self confessed plastic surgery addict, another who spends three hours getting ready for the school run in the morning and then another who believes in having plastic surgery in order to keep her millionaire husband interested. As I read I can’t quite believe the vulgar, vacuous ways that these people have found to live their privileged lives and I wonder why we are so obsessed with following the exploits of these pompous people and promoting their dubious values. Why must we glorify those who have no idea how to live their fortunate lives in a worthy manner but who instead flaunt their self indulgent existences in such a crass manner?
My children are still young and they won’t be watching any such television programmes for many years to come but nevertheless it is an undeniable fact that from as young as two years old children are influenced by the people and characters they see around them, both in their daily life and on television. Modelling behaviour starts early with children copying the actions of mummy or daddy or wanting to dress up and act like favourite fictional characters. This was demonstrated vividly by the recent ‘Frozen’ frenzy which had young girls everywhere pretending to be Anna or Elsa. Working with young children has further highlighted to me the role models that young children admire and they aren’t all the innocent, wholesome characters that we would hope for them to be. The children in my class this last school year were just 5 and 6 years old but already they were talking about and imitating public figures such as Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, Rihanna and Kim Kardashian. In the playground they would recreate the over sexualised dance moves from music videos and they would sing the lyrics of popular songs which often contained words which out of context we would surely not want them to use. “Hey, sexy lady…” and “I’m sexy and I know it…” could be frequently heard and were usually accompanied by much giggling from the other children.
It is of course the role of a parent to protect children from unsuitable material and also to keep them grounded in reality but when children are exposed to ostentatious, exaggerated and often inappropriate personalities through television or music this can create a distorted view of the world. There can be a very real disconnect between how life is portrayed in the media to how life really is. This endless fascination that we have with celebrity and ‘reality’ TV can present a very unrealistic view of the world as well as glorifying certain values, morals and vocabulary which are anything but desirable.
But for how long should I shield my children from this and at what point should I use it as a springboard for discussion, as an opportunity to talk about inappropriate vocabulary, to consider traits that we should ideally value and those undesirable ones that we shouldn’t? At what point should I overlook any innocently used ‘bad’ words that my young children use in innocence, with no understanding of their meaning but that they have heard on TV, in songs or from other children so as not to bring attention or importance to them? At which point should I stop discouraging the use of such words with a ‘That’s not a nice word, we don’t use words like that’ type statement and instead plunge into a deeper, more worldly discussion?
Undoubtedly tomorrow there will be new stories in the media, new TV shows being touted and new celebrities being created and of course not all of these will offer an ideal that we would want our own children to aspire to. As we all know in parenting there is no instruction book, no manual to tell us how and when we must do things. Ultimately we must follow our instincts and do what we feel is right. It can be a difficult task.