Is Popular Culture Destroying Mental Health And Wellbeing?

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Nick Burton

Since qualifying as a Primary Teacher, Nick has held a number of teaching positions in the UK. He recently moved to Scotland and is currently working in Midlothian. He loves finding new ways to deliver lessons and use educational spaces in ways that best suit...
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What effect is popular culture having on our children?

As a teacher, I worry that we do not have enough positive role models in popular culture and it is having a disastrous effect on our young people.

Love Island, the World Cup and gaming are all having an impact but not in good ways. Are they a recipe for disaster?

Love Island

Love Island and other ‘reality’ TV shows are more popular than ever. I worry about young people, who may look to the TV for role models. Love Island amplifies all of the least desirable human traits, even if it is ‘just a bit of fun’. The show fails to represent traits such as intelligence, academia, loyalty or honesty. Instead, contestants whose physical appearance is deemed to be most attractive tend to hog the limelight.

Whether intentional or otherwise, seeing chiseled abs or make-up covered faces every night has the power to completely ruin a young person’s self-esteem. Undoubtedly, so called ‘reality’ TV such as Love Island and the advertising that comes with it could contribute to depression and eating disorders.

World Cup Fever

Football was rightly all over our screens last month. Children have the opportunity to see athletes at the top of their game on the grandest of stages. However, I sincerely worry about the examples the professional footballers set for young enthusiasts.

I am regularly disgusted by the disrespectful behaviour of football players. As someone who doesn’t usually watch ‘the beautiful game’, I have been totally put off by the pantomime. There are dozens of players who I believe are rude and dishonest cheats. The commentators disagree and refer to their ‘passion’.  Referees legitimise their blatant abuse by keeping them on the pitch.

Dissent and abuse of officials affects more than just football. The sport has to accept some of the blame for an increasing disregard for authority in schools, as many children see footballers as role models. What’s more, the pathetic habit of players to dive on the ground at the slightest touch may have wider consequences than just the outcome of a football game. It reinforces the idea that cheating and lying is acceptable and sometimes even preferable to honesty.

Games consoles

I had a PlayStation 1 when I was at school but I was only allowed to play for an hour at time. My games included ‘Spyro the Dragon’, ‘FIFA’ and ‘Tony Hawks Skateboarding’. None of these titles were violent.

A number of children in my class play ‘Call of Duty’, ‘God of War’ and ‘Grand Theft Auto’. The themes in these ’18+’ rated games include murder, rape, war and violent crime. My children are six and seven years old. I worry about how the violent nature of these games affects them.

Young boys’ imaginative play regularly involves guns. A child has threatened to rape or kill another child on a number of occassions in the playground this year. Though in probability at the age of six my children do not know what these words mean, it is highly concerning. Similarly, the children who play violent games in my school are more likely to raise their hands and feet to their peers. They also use bad language more frequently than others. Children ‘learn what they live’. If they live with violence, this is what their play involves.

The perfect storm

The notion that hard work is a necessary part of success has never been more threatened. ‘Reality’ TV, video games and sporting idols barrage children with the worse of human behaviour on a daily basis. Is it really a surprise that crime and poor behaviour is on the up?

Our youngsters have no chance. Not only are children growing up with fewer positive role models in the home; popular culture is slowly dismantling the values we deem to be pivotal in a successful society.

2 thoughts on “Is Popular Culture Destroying Mental Health And Wellbeing?

  1. Hi, Ross!
    I read the section about gaming with some concern, so I thought I’d reply.

    TLDR: Kids bring their own experiences to games and do not relate them to real world experiences (but it’s WAY more complicated then that)…

    The Active Media theory, purported by Anderson, Gentile and Buckley, (2007); and Comstock and Scharrer, (2007) sought evidence of direct harmful effects. It was lab-based and supported by more ecologically sound survey data that finds there is a consistent, but small correlation between patterns of playing violent video games and aggressive behaviour (Anderson and Dill, 2000); (Gentile, Lynch, Linder and Walsh, 2004); (Arriaga et al., 2006). However, this approach cannot distinguish whether there is a causal effect or that aggressive children choose aggressive games or whether there are any other variables. The research showed that there is a small link, but because the research was empirical, it can be challenged easily.
    Anderson and Bushman’s (2002) General Aggression Model (GAM) proposed that aggressive patterns of thoughts, emotions and behaviour are reinforced, as highlighted by Skinner (1974). The model has been seen by many as highly speculative and, although Kooijmans (2004) concludes that further research needs to be done to consider the effects of more realistic graphics (following on from how current research has not focussed on current, immersive styles of games like those we see developed today), there is no research available that can correlate the effects of forthcoming developments in games industry technology. These most recent developments provide for increased levels of interaction and processes to enhance the reinforcements of behaviours required for successful participation, often found in ‘violent’ games such as Call Of Duty 2, a game that became “the most successful entertainment launch of all time, in terms of its first 24 hours on sale” (BBC News, 2010: Online), with verified one day sales totalling more than $401.6 million (£242.4 million). One key example of impacting developments are controllers that were released in 2010 “which [use] a series of sensors, cameras and microphones to interpret a player’s intentions… along with a database that attempted to interpret the players intonation and meaning” (BBC, 2010). This real-time motion sensing with feedback, taken from gesture and voice (even tone) recognition systems, alongside High Definition, hyper-real graphics, all situated in a 3D environment, may well have an effect on the reinforcement of behaviour required in games played by many children well below the recommended Pan European Gaming Information (PEGI) age rating of 18 years old. But, again, the focus should perhaps come away from the technology and be redirected on the behaviour of the users.

    This is the focus of the Active User theory that, as Byron (2008) pointed out, is by far the more popular theory in the UK. It questions the validity of lab-based studies and is ethnographical in nature, seeing children as interpreters of content, not as victims. This perspective seeks to understand their interpretations and response in context in so much as what the child brings to the interaction is much more likely to be the determining factor. One conclusion has been that children see violence as a means by which they get to another level and not related to real-world experiences.
    One of the most interesting comments from the Bryon Review was that research has not looked at age-related variables, and the research that does exist with under-18s has looked mostly at teenagers. Moreover, no long-term studies exist that might begin to map the course of excessive video game playing to indicate whether this constitutes a risk factor for later difficulties. Perhaps the key issue is the behaviour of the parents in relation to their apparent lack of understanding and/or unwillingness to apply the recommendations of the PEGI gaming classifications, after all, Call of Duty 2 (rated ‘18’) was the most popular game among the 11 and 12 year olds in 2010 and in many cases, it was the parents that bought the games for their children. Given the aforementioned lack of research surrounding the effects of age-inappropriate gaming, this is quite concerning.

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