I’ve just e-mailed this addition to my earlier written complaint to the ASA about the dreadful, manipulative TV advert Bedtime Stories. I’m not sure if it will have any effect now – for all I know, a decision has already been made as to whether or not to uphold complaints against this ad. But I think I’ve probably done my best, in the circumstances.
As an addition to my letter of complaint, I would like to provide the following material, which I consider to be helpful in backing up my assertion that the Bedtime Stories advert could be emotionally harmful to very young children. Normally I would have sent this by post, but am e-mailing this instead, due to the erratic quality of postal services at the moment.
1) My first reference is to a web page maintained by the National Mental Health Information Center of the US Department of Health and Human Services – Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA.)
PSYCHOSOCIAL ISSUES FOR CHILDREN AND FAMILIES IN DISASTERS:
A Guide For The Primary Care Physician
On this page is a table (Table 5) showing various points to consider when understanding the comprehension of death in children and adolescents. I believe this is relevant, as people and pets such as dogs can and do lose their lives in natural disasters such as floods, and a dog drowning in a flood is depicted in the Bedtime Stories advert.
In this table, developmental considerations for preschool children include the terms “magical thinking”, “egocentric” and “no concept of time.” My interpretations of these are as follows:
“Magical thinking” would be the erroneous connection between thoughts such as “I didn’t switch off the light”, or “Daddy left the lights on” and either recollections such as “There was a flood (and I must have caused it)” or anticipations such as “There will be a flood (and it will be my fault).”
“Egocentric” is self-evident; it appears very possible for preschool children to imagine that what is happening to them is happening to everyone, or that their actions or private thoughts and feelings have a direct and magical effect on the rest of the world.
“No concept of time” again is self-evident. Preschool children do not have a realistic notion of long periods of time such as decades or centuries. The idea that the energy generated to provide power for electric lights also generates CO2, and that the UK’s man-made CO2 emissions (about 2% or less of the world total) would contribute (according to the controversial theory of anthropogenic global warming) to the increased likelihood of floods in unspecified locations and in future decades, would be more or less incomprehensible to preschool children. In the advert, they see the catastrophic consequences of not switching off a light occurring immediately and nearby, perhaps the very next day in their own neighbourhood.
2) My second reference comprises quotations from a 2005 article from the US-based News-Medical.Net, which recommended that parents limited television viewing of the Katrina disaster for children under 12 years of age.
THE MEDICAL NEWS: from News-Medical.Net – Latest Medical News and Research from Around the World
“Although they were not directly involved with the tragedy, repeated television viewing of the disaster puts these children at high risk for developing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression.”
“Research on the impact of the World Trade Center attack indicates that children who viewed more television news of the attack were two times as likely to develop symptoms of PTSD than children with lower TV exposure,” said Harold S. Koplewicz, M.D., Director of the NYU Child Study Center. “Our job as parents is to protect our kids from unnecessary media coverage of this event. Good parents will stop the television.”
3) My third reference is from the University of Michigan Health System website
This lists the following ways that TV can scare or traumatize children.
“Children can come to view the world as a mean and scary place when they take violence and other disturbing themes on TV to be accurate in real life.”
“Symptoms of being frightened or upset by TV stories can include bad dreams, anxious feelings, being afraid of being alone, withdrawing from friends, and missing school.
Fears caused by TV can cause sleep problems in children.
Scary-looking things like grotesque monsters especially frighten children aged two to seven. Telling them that the images aren’t real does not help because kids under age eight can’t tell the difference between fantasy and reality.
Many children exposed to scary movies regret that they watched because of the intensity of their fright reactions.
Children ages 8-12 years who view violence are often frightened that they may be a victim of violence or a natural disaster.”
4) My fourth reference is from Pediatrics – the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics
Published online August 31, 2005
Psychosocial Implications of Disaster or Terrorism on Children: A Guide for the Pediatrician
Joseph F. Hagan, Jr, MD and the Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health and the Task Force on Terrorism
I have excerpted three paragraphs from this report (below) which I consider to be particularly relevant:
“Traumatic and disrupting events can have adverse effects even on children who are too young to verbalize their distress. Although infants and toddlers may have no cognitive comprehension of a disaster, the destruction of routine and loss of loved ones can lead to regression and detachment. In the first year of life, such experiences can manifest as increased crying and irritability, separation anxiety, and an exaggerated startle response. Toddlers and preschool-aged children are likely to experience sleep terrors and nightmares and exhibit behavioral and skill regression manifesting as helplessness, clinging behavior, and increased temper tantrums.”
“School-aged children often demonstrate the experience of trauma through play, expressing trauma-related themes and aggressive behavior. Similar to their younger counterparts, sleep disturbances and regressive behaviors such as separation anxiety are often seen. School-aged children also may become withdrawn or apathetic or exhibit somatization and behavioral problems. Although fear was the most common primary reaction to the events of September 11th among school-aged children, the developmental diversity of this age
group leads to a wide range of responses to such trauma.”
“Children remote from catastrophic events by both location and experience are not immune to the acute and chronic psychopathologies related to disaster. Several studies have implicated indirect television exposure to disaster as a risk factor for children’s reactivity. The amount of information that a child will find valuable in understanding a disaster largely depends on a child’s developmental stage. Parents and caregivers should be aware that gruesome and disturbing details are likely unnecessary in facilitating a child’s comprehension of a tragedy. Such information has a great potential to engender fear and may be psychologically injurious and thus impede a child’s psychosocial recovery. In addition, the subjective response of a child to disaster has been demonstrated to have a high predictive value for symptoms of PTSD.”
Due to the very short time frame, I have not had the time or opportunity to access the primary sources, i.e., scientific studies and books, cited in these web pages. I am confident that were I able to have full access to these primary sources, I would be able to build an extremely robust case against the Bedtime Stories advert. However, even with the limited material I have been able to find on the internet, I am confident that I have been able to demonstrate convincingly some the factors by which the Bedtime Stories advert could be injurious to the emotional health of small children, and to summarise, I have listed some of these factors below.
1) The prevalence of “magical thinking” among very small children (“I didn’t switch off the light, so there will be a flood.”)
2) The natural egocentricity of very small children (“My thoughts and actions have a direct and powerful impact on everything around me.”)
3) The lack of a clear concept of time among very small children (“By not switching off the light, I could cause a flood tomorrow.”)
4) The fact that frightening TV stories can, in general, lead to bad dreams, anxiety, withdrawal from friends and sleep disorders in children.
5) The fact that scary images (such as a giant black CO2 sky monster, or pets drowning in a flood) may upset children between two and seven years especially, because they cannot differentiate between fiction and reality.
6) The fact that there is strong evidence to suggest that repeated TV viewing of disasters can lead to PTSD, anxiety and depression in children.
I believe that I have put forward a case strong enough to persuade the ASA to at least investigate this appalling advert, and I hope that there is enough of a case for the advert to be withdrawn as soon as possible. I think that children and parents in 21st century Britain have enough on their plates without the Halloween spectre of CO2 emissions, however illusory this threat may ultimately prove to be, hanging over them as well.