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?