The role of TV series in youth development

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I wrote a couple of weeks back about the youth development issue with lead from a single idea, “Should we accept it as normal if kids/youth comes home in the morning and sleeps through the day with literally no responsibility?” The article is not titled like this, but it has this base on which it was build upon. I recalled later, that once a “parent” told me, ” you cannot really teach kids responsibility as the brain area of responsibility does not develop till 24 or some age”. I could not believe it. I am not sure what article that parent read and how was that article written, but this was completely against the concept of any brain development. Brain does not just develop, out of nowhere, the concept of responsibility at a given age. It learns, adapts, re-configure, re-wire based on what it has and is going through now. There are kids around the world, who are leading business, developing communities, helping poor, animals, creating educational programs, developing technologies, taking care of their families, siblings and so on. Did someone transplanted an adult brain in them? No! they were provided an environment and conditions to develop those skills at the early age. It is just we consider those kids as “special” or “not normal”. I think the same parent, given another circumstances would be happy to take out mobile phone and share a video of wonder kid with their friends. Why? because that is easy to do.

There are many things, many perspectives, many reasons and many topics being discussed and addressed around the world today, as to what is going on with youth and what are damages, risk factors and what can we do today to help modify our ways to engage with youth. Some of them are education system, mobile phone and similar gadgets, video games, physical activity, social media, social interactions, isolation, responsibility, dependency, financial (mis)management and so on. I won’t talk about all of them as they are all big topics in themselves. If the reader is interested, there is plenty of good material on the internet. All it needs is a bit of will and some time to search and read/watch it.

The topic that I am writing today is about TV programs, movies or series. I know that TV is part of the gadget scenario, especially with TV becoming mobile TV. No longer we need to go home at a particular time if we want to watch our program. Additionally, the content is exponentially more than it was just a few years ago. With more and more channels becoming available every few months. Many thanks to digital TV content e.g. Netflix, Youtube channels and others, the market and the available variety is almost unlimited.

The question as usual is not about the quantity of the material, but the content and quality of the material becoming available. How many of us wake up in the morning and open a science channel, or a physics or mathematics or a channel on history or arts for that matter? It is mostly a short funny video about cats and dogs or some usually negative political or social article spreading around social media. Something, which just came across on the “wall of mobile phone” and not something we “decided” last night to watch. A lot of people are happy to share those without even reading or watching them in completion. Once we are past that, people are then hooked to movies and especially to TV series or any form of series for that matter. I know that it can be a competition in friend circle as to who has watched the latest episode of the “breaking bad“. If one in the group starts a new series, the whole group kind of feel peer-pressured to watch it. Otherwise, people feel like they are left behind in some kind of race. Or they feel like little less educated about the world around them. Or they are simply trying to stay in touch with discussion topics of friends meet-up.

I learned about this need of “not to be left out of discussion topics among friends” many years ago. I was travelling in a train, a journey that would take more than 24 hours. I really enjoyed those journeys in trains. It is really comfortable as you can sleep at night, you can order food and it comes to you at certain times of the day. Or if you are adventurous, you can go out at some main train station to take some snacks from the local vendor of that city. In this case you must know, how long the train will stop at that station. As at smaller stations, the train would stop only for 1-2 minutes. Only way to get some local snacks at those places, while ensuring that you do not miss your train, is by ordering from the mobile vendors, who will come by the window. I am not sure, if that still happens, but this was really nice way to try variety of food when you are travelling 2000km away!. In one of those journey’s, I was sharing the coach with a family. During that journey, I was reading Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of two cities“. Yes, I cannot even imagine reading such work at some point in my life. The father was talking to me and he got to know what I was reading. After some time he asked his young girl, what was she reading. She was reading some fashion or some gossip magazine ( I am not sure about that). The father asked, why and why she is not reading something like Charles Dickens. The young girl said ( something on these lines), ” when I will meet my friends, they will be talking about the stuff from this magazine. If I am not aware of what is in it, what I am going to talk about, Charles Dickens?? “. I didn’t realize what it meant and how important it is as a factor for social bonding and at the same time, which direction that social group by-at-large will grow into. Of course, I had not no idea that many years later, I would recall it to write about it.

For the need to be socially involved in a group discussion or simply because of the sophisticated marketing reach of producers, for one or the other reason people watch or read content. Today that content is mainly in the form of videos and a lot of them in the form of TV series. I am definitely not an expert of TV series, but I have watched some of them as well. Recently, I was watching a new series and I realized one common theme in many of those, that I am aware of. The theme is how the personality of the hero(ine) or the main character is depicted. To keep it easy, I am going to use “hero” as a gender neutral word for the upcoming text. In general, stories have involved around a hero. This somehow relates to some special need of mankind to imagine some special people in life. May be I was not exposed to a lot of TV or just did not have access to the TV content in my childhood. But whatever I remember, the hero of that time was different than what I realized now is the case.

The hero today is very self-centered, careless about others, always expect that people “need” to be there for him. He has a feeling that he can do anything he likes, say anything he wants to anybody and anytime and people should simply accept it. Not just accept it, but even be ready to align with his idea, his way of doing things. If hero is arrogant and mean to someone, so what? People should just accept it as “one needs to accept people as they are”, isn’t it? If he takes your help all the time and when you need his help, he just won’t; this is also ok. If you try to reason that, that you helped him in many things, he has the right to say, “I didn’t ask you do it or you were not forced to do it”. He can drop you in the middle of the highway to find your own way back, there is nothing wrong it. Even to the extent, if the he kills someone because he was angry or he thought it was the right thing, it should be ok with everyone. Basically, he rules and everything he does is ok. He makes mistakes there should not be consequences, if someone is hurt, he does not care or can simply say one sorry and the “sins” should be forgiven and he moves on to the next ones.

It is not just how he thinks of himself. It is also how the rest of the crew around him behaves. Everyone would keep on bending their back to help him. They would put their tasks away and would go out of the way to help him. Anything he does wrong, four people would come running to tell him, “it was not your fault” or “you cannot blame yourself for what happened”. I mean, that hero just created an accident and people got injured and it is ok for everyone!. His friends, family members would keep on getting used like any resource, keep on getting emotionally hurt or abused, but they will come around somehow to make patches with him. All that hero needs to say is ,” I need you now”. They will keep on fueling his self-centered perspective of life.

Relationship lessons

I am not going to list all the various ways the self-centered approach of hero is created in series. I am sure, one can find more ways if we start to watch them with a certain lens of inspection. I will list a couple of series to relate to these points. I believe a lot of people know Sheldon Cooper from “Big Bang Theory“. It is such a popular series that if one googles “big bang”, then the link to series comes first, before any link to the actual “big bang theory“! Orphan black is another series, which revolves around similar character. “Impulse”, a relatively new series. To list a few more popular ones would be Charlie harper from “Two and a half men” or Ray from “Everybody loves Raymond“.

Isn’t it that many of these topics are the ones, that at the core discussions of “what’s wrong with the new generation? The kid grew up watching “Charlie harper” being a rich man, who almost does nothing whole day and sometimes compose children melodies. What do we think that this child is learning about life from that series? If the kids are watching numbers of these series, where every central character is arrogant, self-centered, careless, selfish, what are they going to pickup from these series consciously or unconsciously? To give one example from a series.” A teenager boy lived with his father most of his life and does not like his mother. He get into an accident while involved in “attempted rape” case and gets his backbone injured and is paralyzed now. Needs a wheelchair and help from someone to manage his daily life. Now, he is living with his mother as the father went away somewhere. The mother when learned about “the incident” tried to talk to him. She brought on the topic by iterating an incident from her life. The kid backfires, shouts and say,” get the f**k out of my room’. The mother silently moves out”. If kids are watching such behavior over and over, what are they going to learn? I am no behavioral psychologist, but I am very confident that they would learn, that such a behavior is normal and probably even their “right” to talk this way. In the case of Sheldon cooper, one may argue that the “geniuses” are usually off the track, which may be the case; I do not have data to talk about it from either side. But will the kids learn that association? They just see few characters fooling around and some times make a science joke. Most of the time is spent just playing video games, trips, eating food and other activities that keep the show popular. If my understanding of brain networks and behavioral learning is not too off the track, then I would say we learn more of those behaviors that we observe or experience more often. The synapses gets stronger for those neural chains, which see more repetition.

Relating to the earlier article about teenage behavior, mentioned in the beginning, could these series be significant contribution in developing that behavior? I am not saying that it is the only reason, which is almost never the case. There are always multiple factors involved in anything. If there are TV series out in the market, but just not available to kids would change that impact. How much parents are involved in it as a part of control? Today, content creator can just put a disclaimer ” viewer discretion may be needed”, but how to ensure it? If one set of parents manages to control it, what about friends home or how about free public WiFi access? What about peer pressure? What about system we have in place in many countries, where kids just need to call a number and someone has the authority to take action against parents? It is not easy to pin-point a reason or even a couple of them. It is even more difficult to find a solution to it. Once we have a solution, then comes even harder task, to implement it, monitor it and control it. If we manage to do it, then we come across even harder task to adapt as me move on, as the first solution we thought is the right one was not that right after all. Or it lost its relevance after 5 or 10 years. All those becomes even more challenging when we as adults want things easier every day on a click of a button with less responsibility on ourselves.

I am not sure, what exactly is the cause and what is the solution. However, I do hope and wish that we do not reach a state where to smile and laugh also becomes hard for us and we need someone to click a button for us to watch a video of us smiling at some time in the past.

Keep Smiling

Love

Arundeep Singh

“Darling,” said the young woman,”I could die for your sake.” “YOU ARE ALWAYS PROMISING THAT,” said Mulla Nasrudin, “BUT YOU NEVER DO IT.”

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