Daddies or Dummies: Is the Media Teaching Our Youth to Disregard Dad?

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A new study reveals that the media may not only be portraying fathers negatively, but actually teaching youth to disrespect and disregard their dads. In an era where the role of dads is coming into question, these findings shed light on a possible widespread problem.

Tweens Respond to Dad

Savannah Keenan, recent winner of the college’s Fulton Conference in the category of Family Life at BYU,  found that almost 40 percent of fatherly behavior on popular tween television shows like the Disney Channel’s Good Luck Charlie could be considered ridiculous or buffoonery. But what is truly eye opening is the on-screen response of children to their fathers. Fifty percent of it is negative.

Child actors on television programs were often seen doing things such as:

  • rolling eyes
  • making fun of father
  • verbally and non-verbally criticizing
  • walking away
  • expressing annoyance

Does it Affect our Youth?

Children tend to model behavior they see on the TV screen. The National Institutes of Health have documented this. So when a child sees this kind of anti-dad behavior on their favorite TV show, they may pick up cues from their child-actor counterparts, and eventually exhibit similar behavior. Further, their attitude toward the importance of dads may eventually turn sour as they learn from the television that it is okay to disrespect their father.

“We know that dads are often portrayed negatively in the media,” says Keenan. “But not a lot of research has been done that shows how the father portrayals in the media actually affect real-life behavior and attitudes of children. I think the most important thing we need to know now is: how is this affecting our kids? If these television shows are portraying dads as incompetent— especially when they’re directed toward such a sensitive age group as tweens—what are these kids going to think about their own dads?”

Positive Change in the Media

Many people in the media actually admit that the portrayal of fatherhood is inaccurate and possibly damaging. And they are beginning to respond. Dove’s #RealDadMoments campaign is a fine example:

Studies like those done by Keenan can inform the media of the negative consequences of portraying fathers in a negative light. And hopefully, future findings will encourage the media to produce even more positive content for youth and families.

Keenan’s findings are portrayed in her winning poster, below (also on display on the ninth floor of the SWKT):

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How does the media in YOUR home portray Fathers? How do your kids react?

9 thoughts on “Daddies or Dummies: Is the Media Teaching Our Youth to Disregard Dad?

  1. To cherry-pick only from shows featuring families is to already bias the sample against the first hypothesis: “family shows” are supposedly trying hard to portray family better than their average contents. Non-family shows build a more devastating portrayal of parents, although they may just deal with them in passing. But why shouldn’t they be considered? They still reinforce negative perceptions in children and youth against their parents, and they might be even more effective since they do it more subtly.

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  2. I’ve noticed this for years and it bothers me too! I don’t even want my children watching these types of shows because of it. I want them to respect their father, not roll their eyes at him as if he’s a bufoon who can’t make appropriate decisions in the best interest of his family. Yes, many real-life families have issues and they shouldn’t be ignored, but these shows put the child as the protagonist and the family is usually portrayed as somewhat typical. The child isn’t seen as being rude. They’re seen as being clever and getting one over on old clueless dad. OR they’re seen telling the father off, and the father, appearing weak, then looks sad and wants to befriend the child again and bends over backward to please the child no matter what wrong the child had done. Apologizes for completely rational parental guidance. That’s not in the child’s best interest (it may be just a show, but when kids watch, they repeat what they learn!). Thanks for the study!

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  3. As a father who is raising a tween daughter who loves these shows, I have noticed behavior that mimics TV. I remind her quickly that this isn’t TV, and I’m not a moron. I think Girl Meets World actually breaks the Disney formula a bit and in the end, the Dad who is a school teacher is a positive role model. I was surprised that they included this show, because I’m guessing that’s where all the positive numbers came from. But all the others on Disney, Dad=moron and Mom = mid life crisis trying to get her youth back by wishing she could be like her daughter. If the study would have replaced Girl Meets World with Dog with a Blog, the Baffoon numbers would be off the charts.

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  4. Anddd this is why my parents only let us (90s and 00s kids) grow up on Andy Griffith, Leave it to Beaver, Father Knows Best (!) etc. At 23 now, and getting ready to start a family with my (great-dad-to-be) husband, I plan to do the same.

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