A lot of our fondest childhood memories come from television programs, but the modern world has turned this form of entertainment into a mix of advertising and technology-driven drivel.
There have been dozens and dozens of studies on the effects of our technological age on the development of children. Blue light from screens causes headaches and damage to eyesight, obesity rates are rising, children don’t know how to interact socially because they spend so much time on screens. The lists of risks are endless and widely recognised. However, there are also many benefits to children’s growing use of technology, such as connection with friends and increased avenues of education. The real question to ask is not whether children should use technology, but what technology should teach children.
It has long been the general consensus that children should be taught lessons through television: whether they be moralistic, or instructions in art and craft. Some of the earliest and most well-known children’s tales, such as ‘The Boy Who Cried Wolf’ and ‘The Tortoise and the Hare’ from ‘Aesop’s Fables’ were specifically written to teach a moral story to children. Play School featured simple cooking lessons, while Art Attack was always an exciting and messy experience of creation. There was also, of course, more straight down the line, mindless entertainment to enjoy. Cartoon Network and Disney Channel seemed an endless list of different exciting stories, some with lessons, some with thrills, enjoyed after school or for long, long hours on the weekend.
The nature of children’s television, however, is always evolving. Starting with BBC’s The Children’s Hour in 1946, children’s shows first began as adaptations from radio. Advertising infiltrated the industry soon after, and by the 50’s there was a back and forth between straight out advertising and a push for educational content. There have been variations on length, with some running as two shorter 11-minute episodes and some as half-hours, as well as mixes of animation and real-life, musicals, movie spin-offs and marathon specials. A lot of a childhood can be told through what was on the television in the background, and this is not a bad thing. Entertainment and media should be a part of our lives, and our experiences with film and video in our formative years can inform both our life views and our later preferences in art.
Furthermore, children’s television has always represented modern life. This is due to its ever-evolving nature and drive to keep up with trends in living and in style. For most children growing up now, this means technology. Phones, tablets and laptops dictate trends in fashion, styles of living and modes of thought. In fact, technology is often the motivation behind living. In Cartoon Network’s reboot of the 2007 anime, Bakugan: Battle Planet, the protagonists only engage in their game so they can film it and put it online. They often have lengthy discussions about how to keep their followers engaged, and get excited about how many views their videos have. In the original series, the show was about saving the world. In the modern remake, it’s about becoming a successful vlogger.
We’re seeing this kind of behaviour in many aspects of life. Skateboarders won’t skate if they don’t have a friend next to them with a camera rolling. Crowds at concerts and sports games are dotted with smartphones held high. We don’t just watch videos, we watch videos of people watching videos. The spectacle of culture has been so recycled as to turn right in on itself, and we are seeing the mundanity of life presented to us as entertainment.
Since children’s shows strive to reflect life as it truly is, putting either a humorous or informative spin on it, smartphones have become major parts of the plot in many shows. Teenagers walk through their school halls with them, FaceTiming friends and family. Ratings and views on alternatively named YouTube-esque websites drive characters motivations. Lying on the couch staring into a screen is considered the pinnacle of comfort, a humorous scene for the audience to laugh at and identify with. Younger and younger generations of children are asking their parents for phones, because on their favourite television show everyone has one, not for emergencies or as a way to tell Mum you’ll be home late, but as a necessity.
Of course, keeping children’s shows modern isn’t all bad. Television and video content has become a key way to teach children about diversity, equality and marginalisation. Disney’s Star vs. The Forces of Evil was praised a few years ago for being the first Disney show to feature same-sex kissing, while even earlier, Good Luck Charlie had involved a couple in a same-sex relationship. This assists in normalising and introducing the many aspects of human life that were once hidden from children.
There have long been predictions as to the way technology would impact our lives. Whether in George Orwell’s 1984 or Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle, we have been warned as to how our nature would change once we became slaves to the screen. Most know how important it is to find a balance between technology and real-life, and we can hope this wisdom is imparted onto children. They are growing up in a radically different world than the generations before them, and the asphyxiation of a technologically driven society is something for them to be mindful of.
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