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Saturday, March 2, 2024

Molding morals for new generations


A little over a week ago, I was video chatting with my goddaughter, Nia. She’s six years old and, like myself at that age, obsessed with Disney Channel. How do I know this? Because as we were on the phone, her eyes were glued in a different direction, and her responses to my questions were rather delayed.

“She’s watching a TV show,” her mother, Peggy, explained.

“Oh. What are you watching?” I said, hoping to regain at least some of her attention.

K.C. Undercover,” she replied.

And so, naturally, I asked her to explain the basis of the show. “It’s about killing people,” she said dryly.

With a little encouragement, Nia explained the show a little more. K.C., or Katy Cooper, is a teenage spy enlisted by her superspy parents to help fight (and kill) the ‘bad guys’ of the world. But that explanation still didn’t sit well with me. After hanging up the phone, I did a little bit of research and even watched an episode of the Disney Channel series. It makes light of violence in a way that could tamper with Generation Z’s moral compass.

I imagined the show to be a cartoon, similar to my generation’s beloved Kim Possible. I don’t know why, but somehow that would have made it better for me, perhaps because cartoons are set up to portray an unrealistic situation.

Kim Possible didn’t have a gun pointed at her by one of her high school classmates, and she definitely wasn’t explicitly threatened by anyone with the phrase ‘I came here to kill you.’ The very image of high school students pointing handguns at each other (and the sound of an audience laughing at it all) was more than a little disturbing, especially given the prevalence of gun violence today.

It wasn’t just the show itself that was unsettling; it was Nia’s reaction to the show. When asked repeatedly what the show was about, her single response was that the show was centered around ‘killing.’ And she wasn’t even fazed by that statement. But you can’t blame her entirely.

According to researchers at the American Psychological Association and Livestrong, Nia’s response can be explained by the ‘desensitization’ phenomenon. This means that the more violent content children are exposed to, the more likely they are to lose their sense of compassion and the less likely they are to react to violent behavior.

While this isn’t exactly a new problem (obviously, violent TV programs didn’t just spring up), the sort of brute force depicted in K.C. Undercover is relatively new, because its content even surprises and concerns some Millennials like myself. And it seems that, if this content continues to circulate as lackadaisically as it does, the character of generations beyond Nia’s will undoubtedly be at stake.
You can reach HAYLEY PROKOS at hprokos@ucdavis.edu or on Twitter @haroulii14.


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