One of the major perspectives within behaviorism, social learning theory, states that behaviors are learned through observation and imitation. Even though children and adolescents are particularly exposed to social learning, there are almost no age limitations to the development of new behaviors. Due to the development of communication technologies, the media have seized one of the key roles in the provision of role models to citizens. The present paper discusses these patterns in more detail.
First of all, in relation to the given case, it is possible to identify several positive role models from the media, which would be useful to the boy in his early teens. First of all, it is necessary to note the positive contribution of sports stars, as they often become media actors or figures whose reputation and behavior convey certain messages. Male athletes (like David Beckham) act as positive role models, as they represent fitness, healthy lifestyle, willpower as well as professional success, but it also needs to be noted that several kinds of sport (including chess) should be represented in order to avoid manipulating and imposing the strong image of masculinity (Gauntlett, 2002) to the adolescents, whose interests and lifestyles should not be gendered completely.
Another positive role model for teenagers is their peers, who would be inquisitive, industrious, and courageous (e.g., characters of “Harry Potter”). Teenage boys often demonstrate a low interest in classroom activities, so such role models reinforce them to find attractive aspects of school studies and motivate the young personalities to develop an awareness of the positive effects of academic success (most importantly, classmates’ respect). Moreover, the characters, who have this set of behavioral patterns, often succeed in out-of-class activities, relationships with teachers and instructors, and even sports.
Speaking about the general characteristics of the media role models, it is important to distinguish two categories to which the corresponding messages are normally directed. These are women aged 20-35 and teenagers of both genders. Teenage girls, as Gauntlett observes, are particularly exposed to the media role models, especially those promoting specific body images. As a rule, celebrities and actresses represent one and the same role model, which includes prioritizing appearance over professionalism: for instance, critics and reviewers normally focus on the outfit and overall fitness of TV stars, whereas their performance is discussed on a narrower scale. As a result, females learn the very specific canon of beauty (which can be even measured) and become reinforced only in terms of self-grooming, moreover, female adolescents might also exaggerate the importance of the exterior and develop anorexia and obsession with plastic surgery. Unfortunately, the number of role models belonging to professional and self-actualized women (beyond the Hollywood careers) is relatively small, so mass communication provides little incentives for education and employment.
Another persistent aspect is media violence, or aggressive role models, which condition the violent or cruel behavior in teenagers (normally males, but female school gangs are also becoming a common practice) as well as the parallel victimization of girls. “Today, it seems that violence is an accepted part of television programming and filmmaking, grossly exaggerated in its prevalence, and glorified in digital clarity” (Giles, 2003, p. 50). The research mentioned in the same book suggested that more than 80 percent of all TV shows are marked with violence (Giles, 2003).
To sum up, the popular media tend to emphasize particular role models, which might not always appear useful, especially to the growing generation. The media, in fact, represents a distorted image of the society, as mass communication often promotes useless patterns (e.g., accentuation on appearance and fashion) and overlooks those role models, which would be valid in the social context (e.g., health, professionalism, value of education).
Gauntlett, D. (2002). Media, Gender and Identity: An Introduction. London: Routledge.
Giles, D. (2003). Media Psychology. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Lecture 2 Notes.