In general, research (Simpson, 1997) shows that media takes parenting as a serious topic since 90’s, and is still gaining popularity. Parent’s interest in self-education increases, thus the impact the media has on parental education. However, there is still a lack of systematic advice, given that available information is often scattered and conflicted.
One of the earlier research (Simpson, 1997) showed a lack of accessible education for parents of younger children. Given the abundance of forums and websites devoted to parenting babies and toddlers, you would think the results would be different. However, you may notice that the information given is often repetitive.
When it comes to shows observed as most influential (Ferguson, 2009), they bring anxiety to parents, introducing a paradox of splitting parents and children to good or bad, as well as bring the emotional sense of shame and anxiety to parents.
Media plays an important role in forming expectations of parenting (Assarsson & Aarsand, 2011). It paints the picture of a good parent and sets an ideal towards which the majority of parents strive to. This research confirms that media sets unrealistic standards and expectations for parenting. Also, parents who resist conforming to standards set by media are often observed as bad parents.
Most often, parents turn to their own families and literature for information. However, parents of higher education levels tend to use digital sources, as well as parents of younger age and those that are not married (Radey & Randolph,2009).
TV shows present life in a very unrealistic way, making parents worldwide (including myself) often feel inadequate. These are some aspects of parenting in TV shows I find most unrealistic:
1. Casual and easy newborns
Even the most stressful moments in young parents lives are presented as quite effortless to handle, compared to how difficult they are in real life. Internal struggles, breakdowns due to exhaustion and often a lack of tidiness and hygiene in characters and their homes hardly ever show on screen. Watching Rachel looking like a model barely a month after having a baby and living in a super tidy apartment must have rubbed a lot of new mothers the wrong way.
2.No life or personality changes AT ALL
Unless the changes serve to make story plots more interesting, chances are you are not going to see movie and TV show characters having to put their social life on hold, having trouble moving around with a baby or having to schedule ridiculous things like errands and appointments around naptimes.
More so than ever, pop-culture parenting can make real-life parents feel incompetent, simply because they can’t proceed to live the same lifestyle they had before having kids. Probably the most frustrating moment in every parent’s life was realizing that they went into parenting not knowing that they are no longer be able to schedule and plan their activities without having to cross-reference them with their babies.
When you become a parent, you are suddenly no longer able to pretty much plan or do anything without considering whether or not you have the time or space (free hands) to do it, considering your child. Your every action is conditioned by feeding and nap times, weather and climate, accessibility to receive help and conditions of baby’s surroundings.
Simply stopping by the bank requires thinking through whether or not the baby will get upset, whether it will be too hot, cold, clean or safe for him or her. And the same goes for pretty much any other place you need to go. Every time you move, you need to think about what to do with your baby. But not in Hollywood.
3.Abundance of high-quality gear & gadgets
This particular point can make a lot of parents feel like they are not investing in their children enough. Depending on the scenery, parents in TV shows seem to pull all possible baby-handling gadgets out of their hats at any time, and there is never a mention of hand-downs.
4.Perky and energetic 24/7
Did you ever notice how rarely parents on TV look tired, stressed or irritated rarely, if ever? Unless it serves the story, you are not likely to pick up the realistic image of how low energy can be in new parents. If Hollywood presented characters in a more realistic way, chances are we would be seeing our favorite show characters running slow, feeling drained and speaking in simple sentences.
Parents in TV shows always seem to have enough time to spend making small talk, meeting up in coffee shops and shopping by themselves. It seems like babies and children on TV only appear when necessary to the plot. The reality is, the majority of parents have a tough time finding reliable people to care for their children when they are not around. For this reason, the majority of parents in real life reserve babysitting for occasions where it’s impossible for them to take babies and toddlers along.
It appears that plenty of researchers focused on proving what all of us know: TV influences the way in which parents see themselves. Though most of us know better than to compare ourselves with what we see in our favorite shows, it’s still hard to resist it at times.
However, it’s important to know that real-life parenting is a lot harder and messier than shown on TV. After all, every second and every shot cost money. It’s no surprise that showing realistic parenting scenes is not a priority.
Assarsson, L., & Aarsand, P. (2011). ‘How to be good’: Media representations of parenting. Studies in the Education of Adults, 43(1), 78-92.
Ferguson, G. (2009). Watching families: parenting, reality television and popular culture (Doctoral dissertation, University of East London).
Radey, M., & Randolph, K. A. (2009). Parenting sources: How do parents differ in their efforts to learn about parenting?. Family Relations, 58(5), 536-548.
Simpson, A. R. (1997). The Role of the Mass Media in Parenting Education.