Study suggests TV good for self-esteem of white boys, bad for everyone else’s

Stupid television.  In addition to being an accurate predictor of a child’s chance of obesity, a new study from the US suggests that those hours children spend watching fictional characters have adventures could also be detrimental to their self-esteem.

Detrimental, that is, if those children are anything other than white boys.

It’s not a shock really.  Anyone who watches TV will recognize that it’s the white boys who get to be heroes, who get to take risks and make friends, who get to be good at different things and escape being defined by their failings.  It is still unusual to see a truly diverse cast, or to see a character who is female or of colour without being a 2-D token.

Of course, there are lots of other factors that play into this dynamic.  As Harrison says, “Children who are not doing other things besides watching television cannot help but compare themselves to what they see on the screen.”  For me, this demonstrates another way in which TV watching fails as a way for children to spend the majority of their free time – not only is the enjoyment it offers largely vicarious, it often reinforces the gap between the characters frolicking onscreen, and the living child who watches.

Co-author Martins continues to say “if we think just about the sheer amount of time they’re spending, and not the messages, these kids are spending so much time with the media that they’re not given a chance to explore other things they’re good at, that could boost their self-esteem.”

What really gets me about information such as this is that we already know better!  I doubt that the parents of the children who participated in this study believe that TV is a worthwhile substitute for play – rather, they are responding to the opportunities and hazards of their environment as they perceive them.  They are, like parents everywhere, doing the best they can.

And it sometimes takes so little to turn the tide – children can be amazingly opportunistic about this.  I wrote a story a couple years ago about a boy who seized just such an opportunity to experience for himself something he’d only own second-hand.  We were having a fire, in the middle of a thunderstorm, and this boy who had never previously displayed enthusiasm suddenly came alive.

“This is brilliant,” he said.  I realized suddenly that I had only ever heard him speak enthusiastically about celebrities and television before.  ”I feel like Ray Mears*,” he continued, smiling at me through the tiny gap in his cinched-up hood.  We stood out there until the rough sides of the matchbox peeled off in wet lumps and the tiny fire drowned.  Back inside, he suggested that next time we try making fires on rocks and wondered if he’d have more luck lighting moss with flints, rather than those damp wooden matches.  He was, with excitement and imagination, talking about becoming a person he’d admired.

via Jezebel.


4 thoughts on “Study suggests TV good for self-esteem of white boys, bad for everyone else’s

    1. Absolutely! And while you’re doing that, the rest of us will be quietly taking over the world….

  1. Apologies, Morgan, for not being my usual perky self, but this research finding hit a nerve. Not your fault!

    But…hmm. ALL white boys? Even poor white boys from ‘broken homes’ with lousy life chances? Plenty of baddies on telly who are white – for example pretty much all the bad guys in ‘Justified’, my favourite cop show at the moment, based on the work of the awesome Elmore Leonard. Let’s look at our ‘hoodies’ and NEETs that our government is so concerned about – they don’t have self-esteem, they have to get by with sullen bravado and bullshit. ‘Hoodies’ know what will happen to them if they drive a car like Vin Diesel in ‘Gone in 60 Seconds’: they’ll get caught and put away. It won’t stop them nicking the car, though; there’s a kind of resigned, despairing, I’ll get caught anyway so why not, there’s no prospects for me, so why not, what have I got to lose? going on all the time for them. I know, I have worked with them, and I am going to be working with them again soon. So perhaps the researchers only studied well-off white boys from good homes, going to good schools? Who knows? Maybe America is more segregated than the UK? Maybe it was just the sample? Who knows?

    Some say ‘Men run the world’. No they don’t, not all ‘men’. I’m not ruling any part of the world, myself, last time I looked. Let’s be a little more specific – yes, the world is ruled by men, specifically , old, white, rich, Western men – the ‘men of good fortune’, to quote a favourite Lou Reed song. Some of us are what Lou calls ‘men of poor beginnings’, we don’t rule the world, we just live in it, getting by, doing our bit, doing what we can, making a contribution, just like everyone else who isn’t a white man (or woman) in the Bilderberg group.

    Still, nothing lasts – China will rule soon and then we’ll have to say the world is ruled by old Chinese communist men. Fortune cracker, anybody?

    Have to say though, to finish on a positive note, I did like your ‘turning the tide’ example. There was a similar thing said by Plas Madoc just yesterday, quoting a kid saying he felt like he was at Alton Towers when he was on the slide at the Adventure Playground. If you give kids a taste of the good stuff, they can turn away from the TV…

  2. Hmmm – it doesn’t mean “all white boys”. It means that across the spectrum of children in the study, when all other variables were accounted for, ethnicity was closely correlated with the difference researchers found in the consequences for children watching.

    Of course, children who are white come from all sorts of backgrounds, and being white and male doesn’t mean that your life is easy, or filled with power, or without difficulty. It doesn’t mean that you don’t also suffer from living in a system which marginalizes people who are not-white, not-male (or not straight, wealthy, Christian, physically able, etc.) But it does mean that there are certain kinds of experiences which you are not subject to – and finding a stark absence of people who LOOK LIKE YOU enjoying themselves on TV is one of them. This is part of white privilege, as is a discomfort with being reminded of it.

    Of course, it’s possible to be a black kid growing up exclusively watching episodes of Justified and re-runs of the Cosby show – but he’d be the exception, and statistically speaking, an outlier. My guess though is that this hypothetical child would have other problems, such as not knowing what anybody at school is talking about when they’re talking about TV.

    And never apologize for a lack of perkiness! I’ll take a discussion of provocative findings any day!

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