I’m not an expert on children and I’m not an expert on television. But I do have this nagging thought about a certain type of children’s tv show.
I’m talking about the tv shows, targeted at children, that encourage them to interact with the characters by answering questions or doing certain actions. The characters will abandon their setting and look out the tv at your child and ask them a question or tell them to do something.
“Will you help us figure out blah blah blah?”
“Do you see the letter X?”
“Pull the lever with me by moving your arm up and down like this!”
“Jump up and down and clap your hands to scare away the evil owl!”
I’m pretty sure these shows are designed like this to get your children “active” so they aren’t just sedentary sponges. Shows want you to think that they are getting your children’s minds engaged in the story, making them cognitively superior, and their bodies in the action, making them more fit.
But I see it completely different.
Television is not the best interactive device. It’s design is completely one-way, transmitting images and sounds, with no interface for receiving feedback from the audience. So when our children watch these shows, they are not engaged with the story or the character. They are mimicking, performing, and obeying an “other” just because they were told to.
This is just a theory, but I feel like these tv shows, geared toward children in their most formative years, are priming viewers to follow the commands of advertisers. Advertising already preys on our psychological weaknesses (see below). If advertisers start with a group of people who are already willing to do what they ask without questioning, it will be all the better for those advertisers.
Now, I’ve done no studies and have no proof of this. Maybe the creators of these tv shows really do just want to improve our children’s cognition and fitness. Maybe our children will grow up to be just as skeptical as any other person in any other generation, regardless of the tv they watch or don’t watch. Maybe watching these shows doesn’t have any effect on how we consume advertisements at all.
I’m just saying, that to me, it feels a bit… odd. Those tv shows make me feel uncomfortable and I don’t want my children following along. Adults aren’t expected to talk to a television so why should children? Why teach them to behave in a way that won’t serve them as they get older? That would actually make them appear crazy if they continued to do it?
The way I see it, tv is meant to be seen and processed. Interactions should be reciprocal — that is their very definition. After all, isn’t respectful interactive discourse how the best communication happens in the real world anyway?