x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Western TV makes teens 'confused over right and wrong'

Experts advise parents to monitor viewing and talk to teenagers about what they watch.

What's the cultural context? When teenagers like Shirin Rinno, 18, left, and Mariam al Alami, 17, watch western television shows, they may learn values that conflict with Arab culture, experts say.
What's the cultural context? When teenagers like Shirin Rinno, 18, left, and Mariam al Alami, 17, watch western television shows, they may learn values that conflict with Arab culture, experts say.

Western television shows aimed at adolescents can leave local teenagers "confused and conflicted about what's right and wrong", said a professor who specialises in such questions.

Many western shows depict values that conflict with Arab culture, said Samineh Shaheem, an assistant professor of psychology and "cross-cultural consultant" at the Human Relations Institute Dubai.

Young people may find it difficult to understand the content since the situations depicted do not arise in their cultural context, she said.

Prof Shaheem noted the number of sex scenes on American television had nearly doubled since 1998, so that 70 per cent of the 20 shows most watched by adolescents now included sexual content.

"Children watching the lives of people from another culture, with different values and cultural systems, may try and imitate that behaviour, especially in private or secret, and this experimentation could have serious and long-lasting repercussions," Prof Shaheem said.

"Children learn to accept the stereotypes represented on television because of repeated exposure of certain topics," she added.

Teenagers interviewed said American programmes were their favourites.

Mariam al Alami, a 17-year-old student at the American Community School (ACS), said Gossip Girl and One Tree Hill were two of her preferred shows.

"They're interesting because they show [life in] high school," she said. "What [the characters] go through is a little more exaggerated than what we'd go through, but it's still nice to see that maybe somewhere someone does go through these things, and makes me put what I go through in perspective."

On average, the teenagers said they watched two to three hours of TV daily, often into the late hours.

"I watch every day from 11pm to almost 2am," said Shirin Rinno, an 18-year-old student at ACS.

"I have a TV in my room. Usually when my parents see me still watching TV until late they [say] 'you should go to sleep', but they don't restrict me to a specific time."

Excessive television can have even more impact on behaviour than peer pressure does, experts say. This, Prof Shaheem explained, was because viewers often formed a deep connection with characters.

"Kids who watch more TV start smoking at an earlier age," for example, she said. "The relationship between TV viewing and the age of starting smoking was stronger than [the influence of] peer smoking and parental smoking."

Viewers, she said, want to be like the characters. Prolonged TV viewing has also been associated with disturbed sleep patterns, obesity and an inability for adolescents to interact with their peers, she added.

However, others said that not all television was negative - provided that there was some regulation.

"TV has its good side," said Dr Muna el Tom, a clinical psychologist and senior student counsellor at the American University of Sharjah. "It can be entertaining and educational, and can open up new worlds for kids, giving them [a chance to] learn about different cultures, and gain exposure to ideas they may never encounter in their own community."

Dubai One, one local outlet which airs a variety of popular syndicated western shows, takes precautions to ensure that international content is in line with the cultural sensitivities of the region, said Mai el Khalifa, the head of production at Dubai One. The station's programmes include Gossip Girl and CSI: Miami.

Shows chosen for broadcast, Ms el Khalifa said, were checked to ensure that their content "is in line with the right cultural context".

She said Dubai One examined UAE viewing habits, and scheduled "the appropriate programme at the right time", with adult-orientated programmes shown after 9pm.

Overall, Dr el Tom said, the best method of preventing the consequences of inappropriate television consumption among teenagers was to monitor their intake "and get TV sets out of your children's bedrooms".

Prof Shaheem advised parents to limit total TV time and which shows were watched, and also to "talk to your children about the shows being viewed".

"Let them know what you find appropriate and which parts, behaviours, events are not acceptable. It may not be so obvious to an adolescent trying to formulate a value system," she said.

mismail@thenational.ae