A Gay Dad Sounds Off on Tweeny-vision and the Bully Playground

Jasmyn Smith committed suicide.  According to her family and friends, she had endured “a year and a half of being heavily bullied, both at school and online”.

She was…eleven.

I cannot stand that this happened.  I cannot stand that she was only a year older than my sons.  I am sure that every one in Jasmyn’s life is trying to understand what happened, what could have been done… what should be done to stop this from happening again.

We all have to address the fruitful environment where bullying flourishes.  Certainly the homophobic and misogynistic voices in our society feed it… they give direct rationalization to those looking to beat up on someone who an “acceptable” target.  Parents and school personnel have been lax with the idea that bullying is just a rite of passage and ignorable.

Another contributor to the environment is one that currently enhances the inspiration to bully, when it could be used instead to diffuse it.   That contributor is the pre-teen, “tweeny”, medium on television and movies.

When my kids were in pre-school, the doled out programming they saw seemed to have high input from developmental professionals.  The Sesame Streets, Backyardigans, Mickey Mouse Playhouse and others had deliberate socialization values built into them.  As I watched these shows with my boys, I could see them picking up good ideas on how to interact with others.  The shows taught them how to collaborate, how to use imagination and how to problem solve.

Now they qualify for a different level of programming and the offerings have no such filter, even age appropriate ones, in place.  Mostly set in high school, these shows depict cool, but slightly vulnerable leads around a set of misfits.  There is usually one “strong” character that performs humor that should it be delivered without the laugh track, would basically be…abuse.  This plays out in both direct and subtle ways and is often set up to give the impression of justification.    Those cast in these shows as misfits are the recipients of jibes, remarks and insults. These “misfits” are usually overweight, nerdish, effeminate (if male) and butch (if girls).  If the put downs for these characters are not coming from other characters, they are byproducts of the plots themselves in the guise of humiliating situations, demeaning costumes and embarrassing behavior.  The shows nod to political correctness by making sure that effeminate recipients are clearly identified as being “not gay” and the quip turning bullies have shots at other “bad” bullies to show that they are in fact…the good guys.  Yet the result is the same—find the acceptable target and denigrate them.

Who is cool is clear.  Who is not cool is clear.  Who deserves humiliation… is clear.

After watching several of these shows, my one son started to mirror different behaviors.  A mantra that I had to repeat over and over as a result was “mean does not equal funny”.   He got the point, but still the temptation to imitate the cool tough characters kept on.  It was not long after that I banned the shows in our home all together.

ImageIronically, that same son got bullied in his summer school this last summer.  A girl, four years older than him, started jeering him with lines from a tweeny show.  The words and tone obviously embarrassed him and so not only did she persist in badgering him with them, she recruited more kids to do the same.  This went on for two days before my son came to talk to me about it, and I contacted the teacher.

She worked with me, and the kids involved and we were able to diffuse the situation.

Jasmyn Smith’s situation was not diffused.  Did tweeny television cause her death?  I have no reason to think so.

This issue is complex however, and the foundation to impact it is to start with values.  Tweeny television contributes significantly to these values, and to the actions around them.  In the fabricated world it creates however, those who become victimized by bullying can laugh it off, or have some secret super power, or an even bigger bully best friend to come to the rescue.

Not so in real life.  In real life, kids in that situation have depression, lack of self worth and self destruction.  Since there is no Hollywood writer who can write their real life happy ending, we need those writers to do a better job up front in the fictional world that real kids emulate.

Bullying, in all its forms,  should not be cool.

About robw77

A single gay dad who cares. His story can be read here: http://www.imagaysingleparent.com/2013/02/02/rob/ and here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/31/rob-watson-gay-family_n_4689661.html
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12 Responses to A Gay Dad Sounds Off on Tweeny-vision and the Bully Playground

  1. Lea Ault says:

    I had to ban the tweeny shows when I noticed my 8-year-old coming up with the snappy little one-liners. As far as I am concerned that is cheek, and not acceptable. Kids don’t always know when it’s appropriate to have a cute comeback so it’s better they don’t do it at all. I don’t like it when they are sarcastic to each other and I try to discourage adult friends who are cheeky with them, because it teaches them that it’s ok to be cheeky to adults. Wrong lesson. The tweeny shows always show the adults as idiots and the kids as clever but it’s very shallow cleverness and the type I discourage in my kids. Good post, thanks! I’ll be following from now on.

  2. YHC says:

    11? Oh, dear G*d. I don’t even know what to say. That a child that young, could feel so bad as to even figure out how to do that to herself. . . . This compassionate child could have been our future, and now we’re left with the bullies.

  3. Grace Alexander says:

    When my daughter graduated from Dora and Zoboomafoo to iCarly, Drake and Josh and associated tweeny shows, it only took a week for me to decide they were not welcome in my home. A friend who felt I was really overreacting came over to visit and saw my eight year old happily watching “Alien” with her dad, and berated me for allowing her to watch such violence.

    I told her that at least my daughter recognized that the Alien show was make believe, and would not be tempted to go find a gun and start spattering people all over walls. My daughter couldn’t, however, keep from telling me to “talk to the hand” – so my hand did a talking to her butt and I got rid of Disney channel.

    It’s insidious.

    • waterlexeme says:

      Also, Alien is quality, she was watching it WITH her father and the ‘values’ in Alien are actually pretty good. The violence in Alien isn’t random, it’s focused and justified. It’s a story about ‘true grit’ and that even in the toughest situations, never give up, fight for your survival even when you are terrified. Riply is a fantastically written hero because she is actually a hero. I foolishly volunteered to watch my friend’s kids one time and they were watching some nonsense that was so awful I had to turn it off, it was starting to rot my brain and my tolerance for bad TV is pretty high. Does Disney have some strategic plan that says if its for kids it has to be badly written, dumbed down and cast with actors who couldn’t get work in a used car commercial (although they do spend a lot of time shouting the cumbersome dialogue)? Wish more parents would vote with their wallets – kids deserve better, especially if you are paying for it!

    • Lucy says:

      Congratulations on recognizing a bad influence on your child and taking steps to remedy the problem. However, you lost my support when you wrote “so my hand did a talking to her butt ”
      Really? Physical violence? Guess what? A lot of the children who bully and resort to violence on the playground are subject to that kind of “discipline”.
      Turning off the shows, removing privileges, sending to her room – all of that would have been an appropriate response to “talk to the hand”. Hitting her was not.

      • Grace Alexander says:

        Lucy, you can pretend that a smack on the padded rear end of a child causes horrible post traumatic stress disorder or else will turn her into a serial murderer or the worst of the schoolyard bullies if you like. There is vast difference between hitting a child in anger, hitting a child in a vengeful spirit, and administering a flat hand smack on the rear in order to get a point across once and for all (and I love the way you assumed I automatically went to the smack first, but that is oft the way with people who like to pass snap judgements on others.) I could make some assumptions about you, but I don’t care to stoop to your level. Have a nice day.

        • KievJoy says:

          I agree with you Grace. I was smacked on the rear as a child. Not often cos I knew dad would if he said you do that again and I’ll tan your butt. It has not done me any harm. I do the same with mine. Explain to them the first time, then tell ‘I told you last time why you shouldn’t do that. If you do it again I’ll smack you’. There isn’t often a third time cos they know I will.

          God help our countries in the future when parents seen discipline as abuse and we’re not allowed to give them a smack. I’m just glad that I’m old enough that I probably won’t be around when the generation of ‘I can do what I want and there’s nothing you can do about it’ grows up.

      • Nikki says:

        I was spanked as a kid it did not traumatize me at all. In fact it helped me see consequences to bad behavior abd I was always regarded with good behavior. I had respect for my patents and a healthy dose of fear that kept me on the straight and narrow in high school. I attended a high school that at the time was the meth capital of the south. I never touched the stuff for fear of what would happen to me and as a result I was the only one of my friends to graduate on time and walk with my class. The reason today’s kids are so horrible is every one confuses the difference between a spanking and a beating. A spanking will not destroy a child and leave them a mess. I thank my parents for spanking me and I will spank my children if I ever have them.

        • KievJoy says:

          How I agree with you Nikki. I occasionally spanked my kids when growing up, didn’t need to do it often cos if I said do that again and you’ll get a smack, they knew they would. I do the same with the foster children I have here in Ukraine, and yes, Social know I do and agree with me.

          I can remember one of my nephews kept bunking off school and his mum kept telling him off. We were round there once and she said if he did it again she smack him. When she left the room he turned to his brother and said ‘She won’t she always says that but never does. By the way, Dagenham has a match on next Thursday, me and (whatever his friends name was) are gonna bunk off and go watch it.’

  4. kzottarelli says:

    An outstanding piece on one of the things our kids face today. Just as you did, with recognizing how the TV show was affecting your son, we ALL have to pay close attention to our kids. Their behaviors, what they are watching, who they are talking to and how, and question the schools. Do they have anti-bullying programs in the school, how do they handle bullying? I went through a similar problem with a boy bullying my daughter, she was six at the time. She was so upset and scared to go to school, and I know it wasn’t right, but I told her if he does it again, (this was after I spoke to the school and they told me they would handle it), that I was coming down to the school and that I would scare him and tell him to leave her alone. It did seem to stop, but she is still afraid of starting school this year because of this one boy, so I reminded her, that I will always be there to defend her, whether talking to the school or speaking to this boy myself, and that seemed to ease her mind. We have to let our kids know we are present in their lives, we are paying attention to everything, that we are their biggest supporters and that we love them no matter what!

    • KievJoy says:

      A plus for me when I started a new school cos we moved was that my father had always taught me that there is no such thing as a fair fight except for in sport. First day at the new school, the school bully started on me so, although she was two years older than me, I had a go back. A couple of the nuns came out to stop the fight as she was, as I say, the school bully. When they realised I was winning they let us get on with it and didn’t interfere. They didn’t say a word. When my mum went up to see the teachers (they didn’t ask her to go, she just went) they told her they didn’t interfer as everyone was afraid of the girl and they knew that as I’d given as good as I got (and better) they knew they would have to worry about her starting on me again. At least in this case, the teachers were prepared to intervene, which a lot of teachers won’t do.

  5. KievJoy says:

    Our first foster son had a badly scared face from a parafin lamp exploding in his face. When he first started in the village school he had triplets in his class who kept calling him scar face and laughing at him. When he eventually told me, I told him that yes he does have a scared face, but to say to them ‘Yes, I have a scarred face, now tell me something I don’t know.’ It worked for him, but unfortunately most bullying isn’t that easy to overcome. I know what it’s like as when I was at school I was fat and we were a poor family, so mostly wore hand me downs from my cousin. Both counts good for bullying. We can only help if the kids tell us, which often they won’t as they’ve been convinced by the bullies that we don’t really love them either, although we do. If we ask what is wrong the answer is mostly that they’re tired or they’ve got a lot of homework, but feel they should be handling this themselves, especially when they get to the mid-teens It is about time teachers were taught during their training the signs to watch out for so that they can help overcome this problem, but oh how I agree with you regarding the ‘coming of age’ programmes on TV.

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