A Chicken or Egg Question

1 Jun

I have always wondered why middle schoolers, or teenagers in the U.S. are always thought to be rebels and little devils. Many parents dread the day when their children enter teenage years. And my friends told me how lucky I am to have never gone to middle school in the U.S, because everyone in middle school is so miserable and they take their misery out on everyone else.

Duane from the Little Miss Sunshine

I understand that there are psychological reasons for teenager’s rebellion. But I also think that how teenagers are depicted in the movies play a significant role. Movies reflect the values, beliefs of a society. It is a mirror of its culture. But at the same time, we should not ignore their reinforcing effect on the values and phenomena of a society. It has priming effect. If one watch a violent movie, he/she will behave more aggressively afterwards. If we take a look at the majority of teenagers depicted in the American movies, we can’t fail to notice their anger, insecurity and hostile attitude towards the world around them.  Such depictions could be an accurate reflection of reality, yet they also reinforce the behavior, and to some extent trigger it.

I remember watching TV recently with two 8 or 9 year old in the U.S.. First they were watching Hanna Montana. They were dancing on the couch to the music and copying her moves. And then they started watching a show and there was a part where the students were playing tricks on the teacher in a middle school classroom. They were the cool kids in the show.  I immediately started wondering, if the kids are copying the singing show, they will copy the kids in the TV show as well. And how these teenagers are depicted will surely have an influence on their behavior, especially when they become teenagers. I remember copying the characters from kid’s TV programs when I was little. I would imitate how they are dressed, what they do, how they speak and even their misbehaviors, simply because I thought it would be cool to try it out. I grew up in China and many of the kid’s program those days were about good kids. So there weren’t too many misbehavior I could copied. Incidentally, I also notice that my friends in China were a lot less rebellious and angry in middle school and high school.  I am sure cultural differences play a big role but I also wonder how much of this can be contributed to the programs we watched as a kid. In a society where TV constitutes an increasingly bigger part of our entertainment, TV is no longer only a mirror of our culture, but also a reinforcement of the values and phenomena in the society. Sometimes I wonder which is the chicken and which is the egg.


2 Responses to “A Chicken or Egg Question”

  1. Jenny Donovan June 4, 2011 at 10:51 pm #

    We reap what we sow. And what TV tends to sow in the minds of children is what we reap when they are teenagers and young adults. While it’s not as simplistic as watching a violent program and immediately feeling more aggressive afterwards, and there is the question of whether violent TV makes children more aggressive or whether more aggressive children gravitate to watching violent TV, there is some evidence to support the the social learning (cognitive) theory which suggests that children model what they see. Observing others shows how to do things, this becomes encoded as the way to do things in future. In this theory it is WHAT they see (the specific content) that is important. Similarly there is evidence for the cultivation theory of learning from the mass media, which says that when the same ideas are continually being projected, they are absorbed and self-reinforcing just as you suggested. There is influence on the worldview. In this case the content doesn’t have to be exactly the same, but similar, and repeated often enough, i.e. it’s the HOW MUCH factor.
    I am studying what younger children (ages 10-12) might learn about genes and DNA from their everyday exposure to the mass media, long before it is formally taught in school. Here in Australia, even in some of the more remote centres, the mass media are heavily accessed, and very few children of those ages have not at least heard of DNA and are already forming ideas about it and what it does. Unfortunately they know very little about its importance in the body and a lot more about its uses in solving crime and in identifying family members. Whilst many of the students acknowledge TV as the main source of this information, some do not realise how much they have ‘picked up’ coincidentally whilst watching programs for enjoyment. There has been virtually no research on this sort of learning from the mass media, whereas there is quite a bit about its influence on behaviour.
    I’ll close with this quote from Carl Sagan:
    An extraterrestrial being, newly arrived on Earth–scrutinizing what we mainly present to our children in television, radio, movies, newspapers, magazines, the comics, and many books–might easily conclude that we are intent on teaching them murder, rape, cruelty, superstition, credulity, and consumerism. We keep at it, and through constant repetition, many of them finally get it. What kind of society could we create if, instead, we drummed into them science and the sense of hope? Carl Sagan 1996 p.39.
    What indeed!


  1. 8-5-2008 Dream Fragment The Movies « John Jr's WordPress Blog - June 24, 2011

    […] A Chicken or Egg Question (lawmindscience.wordpress.com) […]

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