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Socializations Agents Media vs. Parenting

Sample Paper 2 by Shane Johnson - Fall 2012
[The strength of this paper is the recognition that the media is not only an agent of socialization, but also socializing other agents of socialization]

When I consider becoming a parent and when I talk to parents, discussions about how to best raise children are inevitable. Every parent has an idea about the best way to bring up their children, and in the process of enacting their own ideas they are becoming agents of socialization for their children. Acting as an agent of socialization is an important factor to the continuance of the human race as it passes on valuable learning to subsequent generations. As a result of the closeness that parents share with their children I would argue, and I believe many would agree that throughout a child's life (especially in the younger years), parents and family are the most important and influential agents of socialization. However, I think that another agent of socialization is taking an important and influential role in children's lives. In this paper I will examine if media is becoming more influential than parents (or family), throughout children's lives in the United States.

Giddens states that: "Socialization is the process whereby the helpless infant gradually becomes a self-aware, knowledgeable person, skilled in the ways of his or her culture" (Giddens 82). He also states that agents of socialization (the method through which people become socialized) occurs in two phases, the first primary stage is the most intense socialization period and lays the foundation for later learning, this stage occurs in infancy and childhood. The secondary phase occurs in later childhood and throughout maturity (Giddens, 85). The author acknowledges that family and parents are the most important agents of socialization in the primary stage, and then in the secondary stage other agents, such as; the media and they play a more important role. Other important agents of socialization in the secondary stage include schools, peer groups, and workplaces. I do not disagree with the author about how these different agents encourage socialization, nor I do I disagree with the stage in which they are the most influential. What I would like to argue is that media influences all of the agents (parents, schools, peer groups, and workplaces alike), and as an indirect result the influence of the media is now competing with parents and family for providing cultural knowledge and self-awareness.

In my mind media is communication that encourages people to act. It can be a billboard advertising "buy a product", it can be an internet blog encouraging someone to vote for a political party, or it can be a newspaper showing a family who survived a hurricane (the act here being to purchase the paper to read the article). But in order to encourage action the media outlet must appeal to their audience, and in order to do this it must be able to connect. These connections are often cultural. For example, the billboard encouraging a purchase may show a beautiful woman with flawless skin promoting an anti-wrinkle cream, this therefore plays off the cultural value in the U.S. conveying that being younger is more beautiful than being older. The blog for a politician may highlight the candidate's family values and describe their own experience of being a parent. This then encourages someone with similar values to vote for the party, but it also sets a standard for what a "good" parent is. The image of the hurricane survivors promotes values, such as; family strength and individual perseverance. Because the media outlets have a cultural element to them I believe the media not only reinforces culture but it has the power to create culture. The ability to reinforce and create culture through so many outlets means that there are very few (if any) agents that are not influenced by the media.

Parents are influenced by the media because television programs portray how a modern family unit should interact and creates ideals of what "good" parents and "good" children are. Parents are also influenced because the norm for acquiring parental advice is shifting away from families and social groups to self-help books and TV role models who are often receive funding from private organizations. Schools, peer groups, organizations, workplaces are influenced by the media because in groups where people do not share common cultural backgrounds, they often look to examples provided by the media to determine what will be most accepted in the group. Even if the people in the groups share common cultural values and norms, if at least one person has been exposed to the media they will bring that exposure into the group making it a point of discussion or carry that idea with them in some way.

Besides indirect exposure, such as; parenting norms being set by TV shows and people taking cultural cues from the media. There is the direct exposure to media outlets that children experience. From an early age many children are babysat by the TV and idolize Disney characters that promote certain values. Even if parents try to limit TV exposure a child has only to walk down the toy aisle at a grocery store to find Disney princesses, or go over to a friend's house to play with Barbie dolls. Media influences can also be much more subtle such as an internet website for General Mills, cereal showing a happy family (a male and female parent with 2 kids and a dog). The textbook suggests that it is very hard to raise a child in a gender neutral environment because toys, storybooks, and television programs portray certain gender roles (Giddens 94). This direct exposure to media outlets shapes how children from a very young age become socialized and learn culture.

The indirect and direct influence the media has in both creating and reinforcing culture is huge and is especially influential over children. Not only do children model their behavior after characters on TV, but they then see how to act by parents and people who also model their behavior on various media sources. As a result of this bombardment of media influence on children's lives, I believe that even though the parent chooses how they want to raise their children their choice is oftentimes influenced by the media, and therefore the media plays as integral of a role as a parent in socializing a child in the primary age. There is no question that adolescents are susceptible to the media as countless studies have proven this. In an article in the Journal of Youth and Adolescents, author Arnett argues that adolescents "self-socialize" through the media because they have control over the media influences they follow (Arnett 519). Another article suggests that adolescents develop their political views through the media, and the media is a primary socialization agent (Adoni 84). However, unlike Giddens who suggests that media begins its role as social agent later in a childhood and throughout maturity, I believe the media begins its socialization as early as infancy by indirectly influencing the parent, then in early childhood the child is indirectly and directly exposed to the media.

Works Cited

Adoni, Hanna. The Functions of Mass Media in the Political Socialization of Adolescents. Communication Research January 1979 vol. 6 no. 1 84-106. January, 1979. Online.

Arnet, Jeffery Jenson. Adolescents' uses of media for self-socialization. Journal of Youth and Adolescent: Volume 24, Number 5 (1995), 519-533, DOI: 10.1007/BF01537054. November, 1995. Online.

Giddens, Anthony, Mitchell Duneier, Richard, P Appelbuam, and Deborah Carr. Introduction to Sociology. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2012. Print.