What does Love Island teach kids about relationships?

A good love story entertains everyone. The highs and lows of euphoric love and heartbreak have been at the heart of the film and music industries for decades. Children’s animated films that emphasize the “true love kiss” as the solution to all of life’s problems have further conveyed the message of “true love.” But young people have given up on Disney-like movies, and their demands for entertainment are much higher. They are no longer satisfied with the story “the prince and the glass slipper”. Walk in the island of love, where we see a number of potential princes vying for the affections of a number of princesses, and of course it’ll have to be thrown frogs and toads into it to make it more interesting.

Technology has changed the traditional narrative of “romantic love” in recent years. The connecting nature of online dating and weeding people out by swiping left and right has impacted how we now view intimate relationships. Teenagers often describe “talking to” several people at once, which appears to be a “screening process.” It is only after a period of “conversation” that someone is declared “exclusive”. The days of “dating” or “being single” seem to have been replaced by “it’s complicated,” which seems to cover all sorts of scenarios and possibilities.

Do shows like To like
Islandinfluence young people’s views on intimacy and romantic relationships? A recent study revealed that they are not passive consumers of reality TV. Many have understood that reality TV relationships are nuanced and complex, built and edited for entertainment value. Although I agree that a TV show does not have the power to shape a population’s opinions on concepts like “love”, it is still influential.

Because contestants are rejected by the public every week, it would seem that the premise of Love Island isn’t “love” but “survival.” Photo: ITV

Teenagers are more savvy than many people realize, but they often struggle to tell the difference between “normative” and “normal.” For example, if sexting is believed to be part of adolescent sexual development because so many people do it, that doesn’t make it “normal” or “recommended.”

Since candidates are rejected by the public every week, it would seem that the premise of the the island of love is not ‘love’ but ‘survival’. This pressure causes contestants to act in less than noble ways to ensure they stay on the show until the end. This could involve engaging in fickle/dishonest relationships, emotionally manipulating people, and/or strategically twisting their feelings about another candidate to deceive others. Some might misinterpret this manipulation as acceptable behavior in everyday intimate relationships.

In the same way that pornography is a poor educator of romantic sexual relationships, the island of love may be an equally poor educator of how to behave in emotionally intimate relationships. Most day-to-day relationships don’t develop at an accelerated pace like the the island of love relationships, and they don’t usually contain the same level of cutting and changing your mind about who you’re romantically involved with.

Perfect Body Candidates

The most important relationship you have in life is with yourself, but there’s little to no room in fast-paced reality TV to explore that. No competitor in the island of love is overweight or has physical imperfections, and they are not representative of the general population. Perhaps this is not understood by young viewers with limited life experiences. There is considerable evidence to show how mass media affects body dissatisfaction. Girls as young as three years old have been observed to attribute positive characteristics to thinner icons (Harriger et al. 2010). Exposure to reality TV shows can lead to body surveillance and disturbances in body image, referred to as “normative discontent” (Erchull et al., 2013).

The evolution of social media platforms means that most of us are now producers and consumers of media, often simultaneously. There are many outlets where Love Island-related content can be available 24/7 for viewing and creation, providing exponentially more opportunities for social comparison.

Shows like the island of love will not impact all viewers in the same way. Certain characteristics make some people more vulnerable to this message than others. Viewers with low self-esteem, perfectionism and who believe that appearance is a key currency for self-esteem could be at risk of being negatively impacted by watching shows like the island of love.

But this is nothing new. Advertisers play on our vulnerabilities, creating a change in attitude and behavior to sell products. Although typically associated with beauty products aimed at women, men are no longer spared this pressure.

Almost all of the men on Love Island exude leanness, strength (“ripped”), muscularity, and height.  Photo: ITV
Almost all of the men on Love Island exude leanness, strength (“ripped”), muscularity, and height. Photo: ITV

The male body ideal is widespread in the the island of love crew. Almost all men exude leanness, strength (“ripped”), muscularity and size, which is believed to create the same body image insecurities in young men. Although much less is known about the effects of media on male body satisfaction, research has reported positive correlations between media consumption and body dissatisfaction and the use of muscle-enhancing supplements (Levine and Chapman 2011). Experiments have revealed that exposure to muscular media images can cause male participants to report less body satisfaction (Galioto and Crowther 2013).

Unfortunately, these reality shows, which show a narrow cohort of the population that is conventionally beautiful, may convince young people to rethink their attitudes towards their bodies.

Talk to your kids

Is Love Island good or bad for our children? Although the show is compelling viewing for many, the TV show’s format is morally questionable as it encourages the contestants to be manipulative and sometimes hurtful to others for the sake of entertainment.

If there are young people in your life who watch this show, it is essential that they understand that its premise is survival and entertainment and that the relationships they watch are not representative of real-life intimate relationships. They must also realize that the behavior of some individuals on the island of love is not a license to take the same approach in their relationships.

Irish boy Dami Hope locks the lip with Indiyah.  Photo: ITV
Irish boy Dami Hope locks the lip with Indiyah. Photo: ITV

However, the series allows us to open a conversation about modern relationships with our children. Perhaps we could take this opportunity to talk about “Love Island” relationships versus genuine relationships. Other topics of conversation might include contraception, consent, and coercive control. Discuss openly what is going on the island of love could be a way to discuss these sensitive issues in a “once removed” way. And while we are right to be concerned about external influences on our children’s behavior, the most lasting influence is what they learn at home from their parents.

Dr. Colman Noctor is a child psychotherapist.

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