The world of reality TV has opened new doors- but what do you want for your child? To dream about being on TV and becoming a celebrity or would you prefer them to understand that there's more to life? This is a one of the challenges facing today's parents.
Progress is and was and ever will be. Children used to be children but now they're frequently mini-me's due largely to media influence across the board; but following on from fashion, a new phase has swept nations worldwide to influence us- it's called reality TV.
Reality TV has become so popular it's taking over more than the airwaves, it's actually programming our minds. Top of the list are the talent contests which have gained incredible momentum, giving people their 5 minutes of fame and possibly a great career. Having proved hugely successful, The Voice is now running a children's talent contest. Is this simply ITV capitalising on our hunger for talent and love of child performers or do the producers genuinely want to offer youngsters an opportunity? That's the first debate- the second is; are these programmes of real value to children?
In some ways society seems to embrace talent above and beyond other more basic values. To be a star is a common dream and always has been, but today there are many more avenues to fame, so all children have to do is keep dreaming and keep practicing! Many youngsters have grown up in the talent show era and the only thing they have ever wanted to do is get on the Xfactor or similar. It could be deemed sad given that the vast majority will not make it beyond the auditions, however ambition is a better choice than lack of ambition and gives children something positive to work towards. The Xfactor has a track record of producing huge stars- not so with The Voice, but at the same time it is very cruel; the nature of the business is cut throat so unless your youngster has a steel core they will endure heartache.
There have always been truly talented children who are destined for fame and these children will naturally be obsessional about their dream, rightly believing them to be their destiny. The majority of children on The Voice have musical backgrounds, attending stage school or having experience of gigging and singing in public. They really want to make this their career. But children are susceptible to suggestion and trends, so how many just jump on the band wagon and see this as their escape from what might be considered a less glamorous future? Years ago children wanted to be policemen or air hostesses- thanks goodness we have moved away from gender stereotypes; so is this really any different or do these shows fill a generation with false hope?
Children's pageants have been running for years and we are often horrified by compulsive, driven parents who deprive their children of childhood in order to live their own dreams and drag their children around the country. Children have always been pushed if they show talent; gymnasts, footballers and ballerinas come to mind- but how does this equate with new TV opportunities? That will depend upon the parent, but what is the reality in households where dreams such as these are prevalent and the children are not being coached? Coaching is the key difference here however you could say the application process will weed out the no-goers and acts as a safety net. You could also say that these programmes provide free tuition for children with potential and give them the kind of contacts and opportunities they cannot otherwise access.
Social history is interesting. Years ago the average teenager admired pop stars and had countless posters on the wall, dreaming of meeting their idol, but now huge numbers want to be the star. Is reality TV a good thing or a bad thing? It's definitely not a trend having continued to grow rapidly over more than a decade. If you have children, it's something to think about. We need to encourage ambition and ambition is born of dreams so it's a difficult balance. Children grow up fast physically and have more emotional pressure than they did a couple of decades ago, so we need to be clear as to our own family values and create as many care-free hours for our children as possible. Keeping it real is key. Family, friendships and school should come first and your children should benefit from using their leisure time as they choose.
Jaz McKenzie~ The Word Magician