February 19, 2014


These days you can turn on the TV, and every evening you’ll find a reality type show, where people are encouraged to “rat each other out”, play nasty tricks on their competitors, lie and connive, all in the name of winning (albeit for a lot of money and proving they are “number one”). We’re not criticizing the desire to be “number one”, to win, or the wish to make a lot of money…we’re merely asking, “at what expense”?

Before you read any further, we want to make it clear that we feel that competing and winning are not bad…it’s just the way one goes about playing or getting to the winner’s circle, that has us concerned.

These reality programs are set up for people to be mean to each other. Children often watch these reality shows as a family activity.  Often they take delight in watching one team or contestant pull ahead by doing some not so “kosher” things. As adults, we hope we have the capability to recognize what is fair, correct and moral, but children, especially the younger ones, can’t always make that distinction.

Winning at all costs is not only an issue in reality TV, but it is ubiquitous in the entertainment we seek in some professional sports.

Within families there can be different views on the issue of what is entertainment. Take for example, watching professional boxing, football and/or hockey. Boxing may be exciting and gripping for some family members, but for others it is a “blood sport”.  Boxing was set up to physically hurt someone else in order to win.  What is the message to the children?  Football and hockey were not originally as violent as they are now. These professional sports were once considered rough, but now have become almost brutal. When money is at issue, the rules change. Over time spectators have wanted and demanded to see more physicality.  This kind of play often results in serious mental and physical damage for the players. The teams are playing for so much money and stature that we have come to accept the violence as part of the sport. How many times have you heard, “I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out”? 

As we sit here and write this, we have some questions about what children may learn watching programs where winning comes at the expense of hurting someone physically or emotionally. We agree that non-violent, team sports, where rules are established for protection, can be uplifting and fun. There is much to be learned playing as a team.  There are also some reality programs that show compassion and consideration to the competitors. When watching some of these above mentioned programs perhaps there is an opportunity to talk to your family about your and their feelings. Are the losers lesser people?  Is it important to always be a winner?  If I play tennis, play as well as I can and lose the set, am I diminished?  Or is losing part of learning?  We’re interested to hear your take is on this issue.  Please let us know.