Thursday, April 18, 2024

GET REAL: Electronic caretakers raising children


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A PERSON FALLS into the arms of the entertainment industry for excitement, comfort and pleasure. You curl up on the couch and get cosy with your T.V., spend hours, eyes locked in a hypnotised gaze on the seductive pages of the internet, maybe listening to the sweet whisperings, sultry moans or passionate screams of your favourite artists.

Fewer people have a relationship with books.  The owner of my favourite bookstore tells me her best sellers, though, are still her second-hand romance novels. These are the ones with the blonde, blue-eyed maiden being carried away by the dark – but not too dark – and handsome – in a Greek way – hero, riding a white horse. 

Though the object of attraction is low-tech, the desired result of cohabitating with fictional literature is the same as intercourse with entertainment via electronic media: an orgasmic release from the dammed up energy cause by the tension-filled living of real life.

There is no legal age limit that restricts minors from engaging in intercourse with the entertainment industry. Some parents invite the TV, tablet or cell phone to court their child long before the child can question what the characters on the screen are doing to them. Therefore, whatever the characters do or say, the child will easily come to see as normal. The trust parents put in the producers of media programming to babysit their children is amazing, considering that some of the characters that enter your home via screens you would never invite otherwise.

Maybe because there is no physical contact the parent thinks nothing of leaving their child alone with caretakers from Disney, Warner Brothers and the Cartoon Network. Many children grow up spending more time with their electronic caretakers than they do with their real life caretakers. Maybe this is deemed to be okay, because these caretakers are agents of Disney, Warner Brothers and the Cartoon Network. These are massive corporations with long track records of capturing the minds of children. Do they ever let those minds go? Are you the authority figure in your child’s life? Or is it Elsa? Who is more powerful in your child’s eyes, you or Spiderman?

Of course, we all get to understand very early that what is on the screen is not real. And there is no actual physical interaction with the characters so we may feel there is no potential for an abusive relationship. There is psychological interaction, emotional interaction and cultural interaction, however. An abuser does not have to physically touch you to be abusive. 

Understanding this, conscientious parents choose their children’s electronic caretakers carefully. Given the hustle and bustle of modern living, most parents welcome the help. To guard against psychological influences they do not want, they screen the screens. A good parent will mind who they invite to influence their child’s mind.

We may not mind if our child’s mind is shaped by the morals and values promoted in Disney’s The Lion King for example. However, each individual sees things in their own way. How can you be sure that your child is taking from the screen what you want them to take? A child, for some reason, may be attracted to the villainous hyenas rather than to the heroic Simba. Even the best chosen influences could have some unexpected impact. A conversation after the movie may be a good idea.

Then there is the possibility of hidden themes: subtle messages that hitch a ride on the main storyline like giant snails on a cargo ship, slowly creep into your mind, and multiply in the fertile soil of your imagination. Once these ideas become established in the ecosystem of your head, they are hard to wipe out. You find your teenaged son acting out, not realising he is unconsciously playing a role he was influenced by from the TV when he was three. This might not be so bad if it is the role of Simba. But it might be Scar.

Human beings are resilient creatures. We find ways to overcome obstacles, even and especially psychological ones. We learn, outgrow, grow and adapt. However, the earlier, longer, and deeper we come under a psychological influence, the harder it is to uproot. 

“Give me the child until he is seven and I care not who has him thereafter” is a quote often attributed to Jesuit priest Baltasar Gracián. The Jesuits were an order of Catholic priests who founded several schools. Many children are given to the electronic caretaker for longer than the first seven years. Is it any wonder then that it has them for life?

As an adult, when life gets hard it becomes easy to fall into the soft arms that kept your company when you were little. We are social beings. Creating bonds is what we do. We start looking for bonding relationships as soon as we are born. We tend to recreate the familiar bonds we built in childhood in our adult life. 

When life gets stressful, the modern adult will likely seek solace in the place he spent much of his youth; in front of the screen, bonding with fictional characters in whom he finds more comfort than even his own family. This is a reality of contemporary life. It is literally the “home” screen. 

A people that do not create their own screen-worlds will bond with on-screen creations which were not created with them in mind. Their early minds will be shaped from afar. They look up to and bond with the character and characters not like themselves. Is it a wonder if they show signs that they do not like themselves?

Errol Barrow asked: “What mirror image do you have of yourself?” Many of us wish that it were the image we grew up with on the screen. We may have been victims of early childhood cultural abuse.

Adrian Green is a creative communications specialist. Email:


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