Dear Ms. Starr,
I wondered if you could shed some light on a concern. My 8-year-old daughter has become obsessed with various TV shows. Over the last month she has gone through a Suite Life of Zack and Cody phase and now she is watching Lizzy McGuire. She can’t seem to get enough! She seeks them out the minute we get home each evening and would gladly watch them uninterrupted until we drag her to bed.
Recently I’ve become worried about the kind of messages these programs are sending about friendship and communication. For example, from the little I have watched of these shows, it seems the characters engage in a lot of trash talking with each other. I have tried to expose her to other types of shows, mostly PBS ones that are available online, but she strongly resists.
Is this common among girls her age? Does it concern you as much at it concerns me, and what do you suggest I do here?
~ Too Much TV
Dear Too Much TV,
Sadly, I think that watching a lot of TV is the norm for many kids these days.
I too remember being smitten with certain shows (Go Go Power Rangers!) when I was growing up, watching them for hours until my eyes hurt or my parents forced me to do something else, whichever came first. Props to you for noticing the ways in which these popular TV personas may not be the best role models for girls when it comes to communication and what it means to be a true friend.
I hear that it is hard to pull your daughter away from the tube. I do have a few ideas and, as always, I empower you to decide what’s best for your family. Even though your daughter may be watching shows where kids gossip or trash talk, your interest in her social and emotional well-being will help her stay connected to her feelings and needs in relationships.
My first suggestion is to check in regularly with your daughter about what’s going on in her social life and how she’s feeling. If and when she opens up to you, seize the opportunity to bring some awareness to her real life soap opera. Rather than telling her that the way her friends are behaving is wrong or disrespectful, casually ask your daughter how it feels when her friends act in ways that are rude or mean.
I also encourage you to share your own girl world experiences –– both past and present –– with your daughter. The truth is that we all have conflict in our relationships, we all feel hurt when someone is emotionally aggressive towards us, and most of us have no idea how to react or what to do when this happens. Putting a name, a face, and a universal reaction to negative communication in relationships may help your daughter view the behaviors of her favorite TV characters in a different light.
Suggestion number two: how about once a week you sit down as a family and watch TV that is entertaining and socially conscious? If that TV programming is also amusing and compelling, then you’ve hit a home run. If your daughter is allowed to continue watching her own shows during the week but on Sunday your family watches a fun yet “healthy” show or movie together, hopefully her resistance will lessen and she may even enjoy these other programs.
Or, at the very least, it will help balance out the fluff.
Lastly, you may consider cutting out certain shows from your daughters repertoire. In one of my favorite women’s studies classes in college, my classmates and I were asked to completely stop reading all women’s magazines for one semester. As a prior fan, it was hard to distance myself from the pages of Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, and Self. However, the longer I stayed away from this material, the better my self-esteem became and the less I missed it.
I have not read a woman’s magazine ever since.
That’s the news,