Are friendly Dr Brown Bear and Peppa Pig leading to more GP visits for children — as well as more unnecessary medication? Arlene Harris reports.
For some parents, taking their child to see the doctor can be an exercise fraught with anxiety as the very notion of being poked and prodded (no matter how gently) by a stranger can cause stress and trepidation among very young patients.
But thanks to fictional medics on television such as Dr Brown in Peppa Pig, some youngsters have not only lost their fear of doctors but actually, encourage their parents to bring them for a check-up to have their ailments investigated and a ‘cure’ promptly prescribed.
Welcome as this may be, a doctor in the UK has warned that this may not be such as good thing as many children, and even their parents, have come to expect medication when in fact none is required.
Sheffield-based GP Dr Catherine Bell wrote in the British Medical Journal that programmes such as Peppa Pig, which is broadcast in 180 countries and has 11m viewers, is “clinically inappropriate” and can have a ‘significant impact’ on parental expectations of GP services.
“I hypothesise that exposure to Peppa Pig and its portrayal of general practice raises patient expectation and encourages inappropriate use of primary care services,” she says.
Laura Erskine, spokesperson for MummyPages.ie, Ireland’s biggest digital parenting platform, agrees and says members of their online forum are concerned that their judgment may become clouded by cartoon characters on TV.
“Our MummyPages mums have raised concerns within our community regarding the portrayal of doctors and the role of medicine for minor ailments in children’s television programming,” she says.
“While our mums are happy for visits to the doctor, dentist, or even hospital to be explained in a child-centred way in order to remove any fear of the unknown which may be experienced by the child, some mums believe that certain cartoons have gone too far.
“The biggest culprit is Peppa Pig’s Dr Brown who frequently administers medicine for relatively common illnesses such as colds and coughs. The result is that our nation’s children are growing up believing that they really need medicine any time they sneeze, cough, or graze their knee. Previous generations were soothed with a kiss, some warm blankets, or a cold drink.
“However, the influence of some medical television characters on children today, coupled with the introduction of the free GP scheme for those less than six years of age, means that over-the-counter medicines and antibiotics are in danger of being taken when not needed.”
Sarah Maloney says she is guilty of expecting a prescription every time she takes her two young children to the doctor.
“Both of my young daughters (aged 3 and 5) watch Peppa Pig and love Dr Brown,” says the Wexford woman. “I think it’s a great way for them to become confident about visiting our own GP and they literally have no fear now whatsoever.
“But they do always want to be given some sort of ‘cure’ whether it is a cream or a pill; I suppose it’s something they have come to expect from watching cartoon doctors. And I have to admit that I probably take them (to see the GP) more often than necessary and feel somehow cheated when I don’t walk away with a prescription.
“If I’m being really honest with myself, I know they don’t need to visit the doctor with a cough or a cold, but they always ask and I suppose subconsciously I have become used to seeing this as the way to deal with things — so, yes, I do believe that both I and my kids have been influenced by what we see on TV.”
Dr David Carey, director of psychology at City Colleges and dean of the College of Progressive Education, does not agree and says anyone who takes guidance from a children’s cartoon should give themselves a ‘good talking to’.
“Where is the evidence that this show, a children’s cartoon, is influencing anyone?” he says.
“As far as I can tell, one GP speculated that Peppa Pig was an influence — so this is not evidence. We live in the age of paranoid parenting where every little thing is turned into a major upset and if parents are being influenced by Peppa Pig to bring their children to the GP more frequently, then they must be about the dumbest parents on earth — as far as I’m concerned it’s a cartoon — so they should get over it.
“Here’s a simple rule, if it isn’t bleeding, they don’t have a fever and they are not vomiting, then they aren’t sick enough to see a doctor.”
Laura Erskine , who has two young children of her own, agrees and says while youngsters are being ‘heavily influenced’ by fictional characters on TV, parents need to learn when and where medical intervention is needed.
“When I was a child a grazed knee was fixed with a kiss and a hug, with only the more serious injuries requiring a plaster,” she says.
“Today’s children, including my own daughter Lucy, are fixated on getting medicine or worse still, feel the need to see a professional doctor in order to have their illness assessed and suitable medication doled out.
“Lucy loves the taste of medicine, particularly the sweet orange and strawberry flavours, and she would often request it if she was upset. But while children are very easily influenced by television and their peers, their biggest influence should be their parents. And unfortunately, we have become a nation which is very quick to visit the doctor without trying home remedies first.”
Erskine says she has learned how to mollify her daughter and offer other solutions rather than medicine or a trip to the doctor. “Children take their cue from us and if we are heavily reliant on doctors, they may see that as the only solution to illness,” she says.
“Ultimately they like to feel special when under the weather but often a day at home with plenty of tender loving care will go a long way to a quick recovery.
“My eldest child, James, regularly attends Crumlin hospital for check-ups as a result of an ongoing medical condition and his sister can get jealous of the attention he is given during this time and often wishes out loud that she could have a turn to go to the hospital. So instead we placate her need for attention with a mummy and daughter day instead.
“I have learned that quite often a sticker for a brave child who has had a bump is far more effective and conducive to a speedy recovery than a tablespoon of medicine.”
And if, on the other side of the coin, children are too afraid to visit their GP, straight-talking Dr Carey says parents should ensure they do their best to alleviate these fears by alerting their doctor rather than switching on the TV.
“Instead of relying on a cartoon, ring up your GP, tell them about your child’s fears and try to organise an after hour visit,” he says.
“This way your doctor can show the children around the surgery, let them play with a stethoscope, look at any medical devices that may be present, and have a friendly chat with the doctor or nurse, which might include a nice lolly or sticker at the end.”
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