The Influence of Mass Media on Parenting Style
Media and Middle Class Moms: Images and Realities of Work and Family by Lara J. Descartes and Conrad Kottak raises questions about the extent to which parents, as well as their parenting style, are affected by the media. Peer pressure is often as powerful a force in the adult world as it is in the world of children and adolescents. In a world in which mass media is sponsored by multi-billion dollar corporations millions of those dollars are spent on creating commercials which portray lives in which everyone is able to afford to buy their products.
The degree to which social behavior is influenced by those commercials is beginning to alarm many people. In areas such as fashion and home improvement, the influence that mass media exerts may be relatively harmless other than perhaps increasing family debt. Parents have long struggled with varying degrees of success with having to say no to the often daily requests from children besieged by commercials for toys and fast food. Further, studies have shown that children under eight years of age are unable to understand the difference between advertising and regular programming. That’s one reason the influence of mass media can significantly interfere with a chosen parenting style.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average teen spends seven and a half hours each day utilizing some form of mass media. Of those connected to the internet, 81 percent reported being active on social networking sites. In the past, the home was often a place where teens could escape peer pressure for a time, but the ubiquitous nature of mass media has vastly reduced opportunities for respite. If a child is being bullied at school, that bullying is now able to reach inside the home through the internet. Many parents whose parenting style would otherwise be far more relaxed have had to become hyper-vigilant about their children’s online activities.
Today, mass media such as television is only one form of media with the power to influence parenting style. Social media in the form of Facebook, Twitter, podcasts and personal blogs are becoming increasingly influential as well. One example of how social media can affect parenting style and decision making is presented in an article describing the power of social media to influence parents’ decisions to vaccinate their children against disease.
A study was conducted in an area with a vaccination rate lower than the national average that was experiencing a pertussis epidemic. 196 parents of children younger than 18 months were surveyed in the study. The survey revealed that one group of 126 of the parents followed the recommended vaccination schedule from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The other group consisted of 28 of the parents who delayed vaccines, 37 who refused some of the vaccines, and 5 parents who didn’t vaccinate at all. 95% of parents in both groups indicated that they had consulted their “people network” for insight into making vaccination decisions. The people networks of 72% of those who did not conform to the guidelines had advised them against it.
Another example comes from an article in the Independent. Research from a study of 1,500 teens in Los Angeles showed that teens who saw more pictures of friends engaged in social activities involving alcohol on social media such as Facebook were more likely to participate in drinking themselves.
The Increasing Sphere of Corporate Sponsored Media Influence
In an article in the Guardian in response to the commercialization of the Australian Melbourne Cup, the author describes the horse racing event as “an endless parade of careful, deliberate sponsor messages punctuated by several minutes of horse racing”. It also points out that the line between advertising and real public space is becoming blurred.
The power of corporations and advertising has become such that in 2012 at the London Olympics, corporate sponsors insisted upon “brand exclusion zones“. People were to be forbidden even from wearing clothing depicting the name of a competing brand within the zone. Increasingly, corporations are beginning to resemble oppressive governments in their attempts to control what we see, wear, and do. They are also achieving an alarming measure of success in doing so, partially because of their ability to influence parenting style.
Television can be a valuable educational tool and some children’s programming provides worthwhile lessons in desirable behaviors such as kindness and cooperation as well as focusing on literacy. Others can allow economically disadvantaged children to experience a vicarious trip to a museum or a zoo. However, in addition to the often negative influences of corporate sponsors, excessive television viewing can also prevent the development of other important skills, such as reading and physical activities. Just as parents have had to learn to say no to the many requests from their children to purchase items viewed on mass media, there’s an increasing likelihood that large numbers of parents may begin saying no to mass media itself.