The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Curtin University.
Some parents enjoy the good fortune of children who don’t mind a sleep-in, especially during school holidays. Unfortunately, Dr and Mrs Loiacono have not been blessed in this way.
Our youngest is seven and he is an early riser, routinely waking at around 5:15 am. We allow him to watch the television in the mornings during school holidays until breakfast. He likes the cartoons, but we don’t let him watch them unsupervised. Leaving small kids alone in front of the TV for hours on end isn’t our idea of responsible parenting.
Over the last week, I have been up early with him. He seems to be now preferring the offerings on 10 Shake more than ABC Kids. The cartoons from 5:00 am to about midday include: Paw Patrol, Dora the Explorer, Spongebob Squarepants, Team Umizoomi, Blaze and the Monster Machines and Bubble Guppies. I’d say these cartoons are for very young kids, between the ages of four and eight.
Being a commercial channel, the ad breaks are quite frequent. While these ads generally promote the latest useless and, at the same time, expensive toys, one particular advertisement is run during each ad break and, from what I understand, throughout the day.
This ad is for the Kids Helpline. Two teenagers do the talking, asking: “Do you ever feel sad, lonely, scared or just a little off? Having a rough time with friends? Are you worried about a loved one?” Then, reassuringly they add: “Qualified counsellors are here to help.”
I’m sure this is all well-intentioned, and I’m not for one moment suggesting that kids would not feel this way. It is part of growing up. However, I know that, when I was growing up, if I ever felt this way, the first people I would talk to would to are my mother and father, not some stranger, qualified counsellor or not.
Neither am I suggesting that there are kids out there who, for whatever reason, feel they cannot talk to their parents, or, even worse, don’t have parents to talk to. Family breakdown is a scourge of the modern world, and some people just are not meant to be parents.
What I do have an issue with is possibly putting seeds in the minds of very young children that they don’t need to talk to their parents, and talk to some stranger, behind their parents back. Children should be encouraged to love their parents and know that, if they ever had a problem, their parents are the right people to talk to because no one loves them more. In my mind, that is the message we should be reinforcing.
The fact that this ad is run in every ad break from very early in the morning, throughout the day, leads me to think that there is another agenda here, yet another example of sidelining and deconstructing the roles of parents, leaving it to the state, which knows best. The Kids Helpline would know surely the age group of the audience for the abovementioned cartoons.
More often than not, if I felt sad, or lonely or ‘a little off’, a chat with my parents would reassure me and put me right. Kids are prone to mood swings just like anybody else, especially if you come between them and an iPad. However, this is also part of growing up. Life is complicated, especially in this social media age. Most times, in a loving and nurturing home environment, these things will sort themselves out with time, and as a child learns that parents have his or her best interests at heart.
That is the other question I have. How many times have parents been told they are ‘unfair’ or ‘the worst’ because they use that word which comprises only two letters but every kid hates: “no”? Will that make a child ring up this helpline, say his parents are horrible and mistreating him or her? Next thing we know, social services are knocking on the door, telling us how to do our job as parents.
Some may say I am exaggerating, stating: “This ad will just go over their heads, they’re too young to understand”. However, kids are smarter than we think. I believe that, while there obviously is a place for a ‘Kids Helpline’, given part of the general malaise we as a society find ourselves in – thanks mainly to governments, overzealous and activist bureaucrats and woke education departments – pitching it incessantly (as happens on 10 Shake) to kids as young as four just sends the wrong message.
Rocco Loiacono is a senior lecturer at Curtin University Law School.
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