Have you heard? Sassiness is in fashion among the 8 to 16 year old crowd. Sarcasm, subtle insults and put-downs, and conversation stopping one-liners have become the conversational style not only in kids speaking to each other, but interacting with parents as well. “Mom, you really don’t have to get out of the car when you drive me to soccer, …especially in your mom jeans.” Ouch. With 71 percent of 8 to 18 year olds having their own TV in their rooms, doesn’t it make sense that some styles of parent child communication are being influenced by the way kids talk to parents on the tube? Take dads for example.
According to the Media Awareness Network, a Canadian research and awareness group, TV dads are often portrayed as immature, irresponsible, and doing whatever they can to get away from family responsibilities and interaction. Child characters, in turn, interact mostly by pointing out this immature stereotype, making some funny statement or put-down about the parent’s behavior. Take an informal tally of the types of child-to-parent statements you hear within a half-hour family comedy program on one of the two major child-oriented networks. Divide them up between teasing and insulting statements, help seeking statements, and I’m glad you’re around statements, and you’ll find the ratio of teasing and insulting greatly outweighing the other two types. Is the heavy reliance TV scriptwriters on clown-like parent stereotypes affecting your child’s view of your relationship with each other?
The Wall Street Journal came up with an interesting take on the state of parent child communication on TV, noting that broadcasters have changed their portrayals based on how they see changing parent-child relationships. Broadcasters saw a pattern in child and teen viewing that suggested children and teens did not relate to “parent hating” shows, or “troubled teen with absent parents” shows. In response, broadcasters brought parents back, but more as funny friends than as parents with generational authority or integrity. TV parents dress more like their kids, talk more like their kids, and are portrayed as having many of the same needs and impulses. Actual depiction of parents being parents, exercising and following through on setting expectations or consequences for poor choices, or helping their kids think more maturely through a thoughtful conversation has become as rare as a record player. You just don’t see it around anymore. And with only 7 minutes between commercials to tell their stories, it isn’t likely that TV scriptwriters will move away from using stereotypes to shorthand their portrayal of parents and how kids should talk to them. If you’ve noticed that your child’s communication style has gotten sassier, more sarcastic, or even completely unresponsive to the fact that you are the parent, try some of these activities and approaches suggested by the Media Awareness Network, the Public Broadcasting Service, and other media monitoring organizations:
Help you child become aware of mom, dad, and child stereotypes in their favorite shows. Have some discussion of how TV stereotypes different situations like single moms or dads, kids who have to negotiate with parents to start a band, or the types of discipline kids get versus what real kids get.
Don’t go along with the script. The temptation for parents is to either react to a sassy one-liner with a strong, authority-reminding power statement, or even worse, with their own teasing comeback. Instead, help your child break out of the script by asking questions and making observations, like “how do you think people feel when you say something like that to them,” or “how do real parents and kids handle this kind of situation, not TV parents and kids?”
Add some positive to your family culture. Help your kids understand that family members have a job to support each others’ potential, to bring each other up, rather than holding each other down. Teach your kids that realistic, positive statements and complements to each other elevate the family, and that this is a powerful and important job for everyone in the family.
Do some behavior modification on the problem, by using a feedback system that helps give kids a goal for reducing poor communication. There is a clever android app available for free at www.amazon.com called “Behavior Status” that uses a green light/red light system similar to what your child might know from his or her classroom. You could tell your child that a green light means great communication, a yellow shows up when a put-down or sarcasm is used, and a red-light if your child just can’t help him or herself avoid several insults and put downs during the day.
For more support in approaching the ways that media is affecting your children and family, take a look at www.pbs.org/parents/childrenandmedia/ or www.commonsensemedia.org and feel more effective as an aware and educated parent.