Uncommon Sense

Television Bullying: Our Way of Life?

The content we are watching changes how we behave

It has become increasingly difficult for me to find a television show to enjoy. When parents ask me what shows I find good for kids, the list keeps shrinking. It is not only that many shows have a lot of violence and or sex. What seems to be growing exponentially is the number of shows based primarily on adult bullying of some kind.

What are the talent competition shows but an opportunity to visually pan in on the crushed face of the latest competitor to be publically rejected? Most “reality” shows are exercises in watching women beat up on each other, mostly verbally but sometimes physically too. Even supposed news programs have moved towards pitting screamers against each other in hopes that one will shame the other or if it’s an extra great night, the host will shame them both.

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It’s called entertainment, but the common theme of sadism and masochism is so front and center that it feels like a throwback to watching gladiators in an arena and all of us are cheering “thumbs down!”. The public has become increasingly aware of and concerned about the prevalence and dangers of bullying in children. Worried parents ask “What can we do?” For starters, stop watching and letting your kids watch bullying for entertainment! Kids model what they see.

Kids aren’t the only ones who model what they see, adults do as well. This steady diet of cruelty for fun and pleasure desensitizes everyone to a tolerance for meanness. It stirs the “lord of the flies” inclinations buried in us all and blurs the line between healthy assertiveness and cruel aggression. We are living in difficult times and some people are watching these programs because it makes them feel better to see others worse off than they are. While it is perfectly normal to have a morbid curiosity, the desire for a regular diet of television bullying means that it makes money and will continue to proliferate, squeezing out programming that might actually have some redeeming value. It also means our minds will continue to be inundated by this kind of content and affect how we treat each other in society.

People have to vote with their remote controls, because eyeballs translate into dollars and as long as we have an appetite for watching, the bullying and its effect on all of us will prevail. Children do what parents do, not just what parents say. As a society in desperate need of dealing with bullying in both children and adults, think about what you watch.

Psychiatrist, psychoanalyst ,columnist, author, and television commentator Gail Saltz, M.D., is a regular mental health, sex, and relationship contributor to The Today Show. more...

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