By Sholain Govender-Bateman – Pretoria-based New Media journalism lecturer and editor who worked for The Star & edited magazines. She is mum to two gorgeous girls, Isobel and Aishwari, and wife to Barry Bateman. Visit her on Twitter @sholain
I’d like to think that most parents are aware of the widely publicised ‘dangers’ of exposing our kids to violence through television, games and even toys and try to protect their offspring from such things. There are numerous studies detailing the effects that these shows and games have on young children and how it influences their behaviour and social interactions, but is it possible that these shows teach children valuable life lessons?
I’m quite strict with what my little girls view and they mostly watch DSTV 306 or 309 with firm favourites being Mister Maker and Pajanimals. I try to keep an eye on the content of the shows, in between doing everything else that must get done, and I can change channel if something inappropriate starts but it’s not always possible.
I once let them watch Dora the Explorer on another channel and got busy with something else so the girls started watching the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles by default. They didn’t watch much of the show before I changed the channel but less than a week later my 2-year-old picked up a vuvuzela and pretended to shoot her sister with sound effects accompanied by giggling. I felt guilty and I took the vuvuzela away and asked her what she was doing and told her it was not nice…but I still felt guilty resulting in this attempt at convincing myself that somewhere amongst the cartoon violence our kids are being exposed to daily intentional or not, there’s a little bit of good.
Most cartoons for older age groups follow the classic scenario of the baddy versus the goody. Ben10, Lilo & Stitch, Kung Fu Panda, Tom & Jerry, even SpongeBob all have storylines that follow the pattern of conflict and resolution, and inevitably the goody wins. We may not approve of the methods, like Jerry bashing Tom over the head or the aliens in Lilo & Stitch being vaporised but it does introduce the concept of “problems” and “good versus bad” without the young impressionable viewers having to deal with it in real life, we hope. On the flipside, the good guy doesn’t always win in real life…so does it teach them anything? Does it pressure them into positioning themselves as either good or bad?