10 Worst TV Role Models
In CommonSenseMedia by Sierra Filucci, on 02.06.12
What Are Kids Learning from TV Characters?
When it comes to sex, violence, drinking, bullying, and other sensitive topics, you want messages about right and wrong to come from you -- not, say, Snooki from Jersey Shore.
But surprisingly, Snooki might be more of an ally than you think. Talking about TV characters and their choices can be a great way to start conversations with your kids about their own behavior. We encourage you to get familiar with the characters kids are watching -- whether you love or hate them -- and sneak in a little parental direction between Snooki's visits to the bar.
1. Snooki, Jersey Shore Not only is she not the brightest bulb in the bunch, but she drinks constantly and to excess. And while her drinking sometimes gets her arrested or leads to iffy sexual behavior, she gets lots of attention (and a big paycheck) for her antics. Why it matters: Kids who watch shows with alcohol use are more likely to try drinking than those who don't. What you can do: Use these moments to talk to your teens about drinking and whether they think the depictions on television are realistic. Take time to share your opinions -- and expectations -- about drinking. Be a good role model by not abusing alcohol in front of your kids.
2. Charlie Harper (Charlie Sheen), Two and a Half Men He is an alcoholic womanizer (who has since left the show, but can be seen in a bazillion reruns). And worse than that, the real-life Charlie got way too much attention for being a drug user and hanging out with prostitutes, all while flouting the idea that there was anything problematic with his behavior. Why it matters: Adolescents who watch a lot of TV with sexual content are twice as likely to get pregnant or impregnate someone as kids who watch fewer of these shows. And treating alcohol overuse as a punchline sends a mixed message to teens who might be thinking of experimenting with alcohol. What you can do: Watching shows that include the negative consequences of sex has been shown to be educational for teens. Talk about preventing unintended consequences such as sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies, respecting the opposite sex, and not taking decisions -- like having sex -- lightly. Additionally, talk about how drug and alcohol use has affected Sheen, from his appearance to his dignity to his relationship with family members.
3. Kim Kardashian, Keeping Up with the Kardashians Her fame is based on ... not much. Aside from having a bodacious body and a knack for self-promotion, Kim and her sisters are the ultimate celebrity role models with nothing worth copying. Why it matters: By middle school, kids are looking to their peers for a sense of what's socially acceptable or desirable. And celebrities, with their 24/7 presence in the media, become a gigantic super peer, whether you like it or not. What you can do: Use celebrity news as a pathway to media literacy. Talk about how these stars make their money. Is it from making positive choices and living mild-mannered lifestyles? No. It's from getting attention for their misbehavior, their love lives, and, especially in the Kardashians' case, their physical appearance. Also, point out that stars like Kim K. get paid to promote products through Twitter, etc.
4. Goku and Gohan, Dragon Ball Z Kai While the father and son team from this hugely popular anime series do put forward messages about loyalty and good triumphing over evil, they solve their problems with violence -- including hand-to-hand combat, superhuman powers, and guns. And their shows are marketed toward kids as young as 7, who are just learning to distinguish reality from fantasy. Why it matters: Exposure to lots of media violence can increase antisocial activity and bullying and decrease empathy for victims of violence. What you can do: Limit violent imagery in movies, television, and games, especially for younger kids. Explain the consequences of violent behavior, and teach conflict resolution so kids have a vocabulary to use when disputes arise.
5. Tyra Banks, America's Next Top Model Though she talks a good game about appreciating different body types and encouraging positive behavior among her young recruits, she continues to reinforce ultra-thin physical standards and showcase backstabbing behavior on her show. Why it matters: Girls are bombarded with messages about their appearance that reinforce unrealistic standards of thinness and beauty. Studies have shown that these messages have damaging effects on girls' self-esteem and can contribute to eating disorders and other extreme weight loss measures. What you can do: Place less emphasis on how your teen looks than on what she can do. Show that you value her intelligence, creativity, and other traits that have nothing to do with looks. And expose the myths behind the supposed perfection of models and celebrities -- use Top Model as a jumping-off point to talk about how photos can be digitally altered to make women appear thinner or remove blemishes; talk about how stylists, make-up artists, lighting, and other special effects create the illusion of perfection.
By the time we're adults, most of us have figured out the difference between the kind of behavior that would get us booked on a reality show and the kind of behavior that leads to healthy, productive lives. But kids and teens are still figuring out who they are. And they're using television -- at least partly -- as a barometer of what's socially acceptable.
Talking about TV characters and their choices can be a great way to start conversations with your kids about their own behavior. Are your kids absorbing messages from any of these characters?
6. All the Housewives, Real Housewives of Orange County, Beverly Hills, New York City, New Jersey, etc. These materialistic drama queens are poor role models for many, many reasons. But we particularly dislike the way they constantly gang up against each other and form mean-girl alliances. Why it matters: Being mean to others is so much easier in today's 24/7 digital world. Between social media, texting, and email, being a cyberbully has never been so easy. What you can do: Encourage kids to think before they post. And remind them not to say anything online that they wouldn't say face to face. And if they've been bullied -- online or otherwise -- teach them how to respond.
7. Blair Waldorf (Leighton Meester), Gossip Girl Backstabbing and always out to be queen bee, Blair is the ultimate mean girl ... with a killer wardrobe. Why it matters: Blair's fashionable ways and runway style make her a key target for young viewers to look up to. And when kids who visit the Gossip Girl website can buy the clothes right off the backs of their favorite characters, Blair and her prep school buddies become covert salespeople targeting a key demographic -- your teens. What you can do: Arm kids with the critical thinking skills to help them see through the hype and understand when they're being marketed to. Kids hate to feel manipulated, and when they understand that underneath promotions, free downloads, movie websites, or apps is plain and simple advertising, they'll be warier.
8. Nancy Botwin (Mary-Louise Parker), Weeds She makes consistently terrible parenting decisions, getting her sons caught up in a world of drug dealing, crime, and violence. Why it matters: Outrageous -- not to mention illegal -- parenting behavior sends a message that abandoning responsibility is the only option when life gets overwhelming. What you can do: You'd probably never miss a soccer game or back-to-school night, but do you know the ESRB ratings of your kids' favorite video games? Do you let your little kids surf the web unsupervised? Did you know that your Wii can surf the web or that your kid has a MySpace page? Get involved in your kids' digital life so that you can make informed media choices.
9. Strawberry Shortcake, Strawberry Shortcake Bitty Berry Adventures OK, she's not actually that bad. But her character has morphed from a cute, plump kid in baggy jeans to a svelte tween with a glamorous hairdo. What's up with that? On top of that, she and her berry-named friends tend to needs lots of reassurance for every decision they make, and their vocations tend toward the stereotypical (food, dance, hair-care). Why it matters: Girls are increasingly being sexualized in the media at a younger age, leading to a limited sense of self. What you can do: Watch out for stereotypes in TV shows and other media, and point out when girls are rewarded for their looks and boys for their strength. Teach kids to question these messages and reinforce behaviors that don't emphasize their looks.
10. Candace (Ashley Tisdale), Phineas and Ferb Her primary motivations are pleasing her boyfriend and getting her brothers in trouble. All while being a screechy, whiny stereotype of a girl. Why it matters: In the media, women are still too often relegated to the roles of love interest, sex object, selfless saint, or nitpicky nag -- despite overwhelming real-world evidence to the contrary. When kids see characters portrayed that way over and over, it reinforces gender stereotypes. What you can do: Talk to your kids about strong female role models who've achieved success through hard work, intelligence, discipline, or business savvy. These can be everyday heroes -- like your child's teacher -- or famous women your family admires or even a strong female character on television.