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12 Jul 2019

Love Island: a small-screen blessing or a reality TV curse?

Last summer, social media platforms and news outlets were awash with all things Love Island as the 2018 series made cultural waves. In light of this, we decided to ask our Secondary voters “Should your parents/carers watch Love Island with you?” As news broke this week that children as young as 8 have been ‘emulating contestants’ in a Primary school in Carmarthenshire (which is precisely why we did not cover this topic for our Primary voters), it seemed appropriate to revisit this question. 

Love Island Parents Secondary Results

While the result was 72.8% no, this is not to say that all voters were in favour of watching it independently. In fact, many of the comments centred around the fact that no one should be watching it due to its promotion of unrealistic body image and ‘fantasy’ relationships. Some feedback did emerge that showed the value of watching it with parents, however: ‘I think [teenagers] should because it will encourage you and your parent/carer to talk about things that you never thought you would talk about’. Evidently, there is value to be found in the show once you’ve seen past the mortification of sitting with your parents and watching people ‘crack on’. Since it looks set to stay on our screens for the time being, it’s worth finding out how it could be a useful source for life lessons rather than a mere summer-long fling. 

Given that it was ‘the most tweeted about TV show in 2018’ and that a significant proportion of UK teenagers use social media for several hours every day (much of this during the evenings), it is almost impossible that young people across the UK are unaware of the stories emerging from the show whether they are avid viewers or not. Let’s take a look at some of the statistics and headlines that they are likely to have come across since last summer: 

  • Two contestants, Sophie Gradon and Mike Thalassitis, who appeared in the 2016 and 2017 series respectively, have died by suicide in the last 12 months, with another contestant from this series recently quitting the show to protect her mental health.

  • It’s been found that appearing on Love Island could be more lucrative than attending Oxford or Cambridge University. 

  • This year’s series has been subject to accusations of racism as well as a lack of body diversity (though it has also been argued that given the history of poor mental health support from the show, putting someone ‘plus-size’ in the villa would have been negligent).

  • The show has been proffered as a showcase of toxic masculinity, which highlights wider social issues at play beyond the confines of the villa.

  • It has even been cited as a great lesson in how to deal with heartbreak and the power of kindness.


None of these are small issues, but putting them under the microscope and watching people live through and challenge them may well make them all the more relatable and easy to comprehend, especially for younger viewers. Identifying the ‘snakey’ behaviour of a contestant on the show could well help someone spot it happening in their own life, and this can only be seen as a positive byproduct of an otherwise controversial programme. Admittedly, relying on the Islanders enduring heartbreak and betrayal to teach teenagers about healthy relationships is not the most compassionate of approaches, but the show is nevertheless a relatable touchstone between generations that could help these conversations to occur more organically. Watching it with parents could therefore open up honest discussion about topics that are equally as important to young people’s wellbeing as the political and economic issues that otherwise dominate the news. 

It is not only young people who would benefit, either: though some VotesforSchools commenters cited the show as ‘inappropriate’ as it ‘contains sexual scenes’, this could actually be helpful for parents needing to open up conversations about relationships, sex and even consent in a more engaging and understandable way (provided, of course, that scenes are not overly explicit and that those watching are of an age to have that conversation). Former contestant Megan Barton Hanson has even highlighted her desire to teach kids sex education, while also expressing how ‘schools have a responsibility, as do parents, to teach their kids.’ As it turns out, she may have already started teaching them during her time on the show in 2018. 

In short: if teenagers are going to watch Love Island (or even just read up on it via social media), then it seems preferable that they do so in the knowledge that the issues they see on screen are not for them to analyse and dissect alone. Even if they are resolutely averse to having these discussions with parents, having them with someone is a positive step. It would be interesting to see the response from students if the parents/carers aspect were omitted, and they were asked ‘Should you watch Love Island alone?’ The likelihood is that the Yes/No ratio of the 2018 vote may well be reversed. 

As this post has shown, Love Island is, like it or not, a huge cultural phenomenon. To find out more, try the following:


Georgie is the Schools Relationship Officer at VotesforSchools, though she also helps out with content. Her blog series, Power to the Pupils, will take a retrospective look at how the results of the debates by young people in the classroom are coming to fruition – or not, as the case may be. Please email her at georgie@votesforschools.com if you have any questions or comments about this post or future ones.


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