Media and the Consumer Culture
Development is affected by the dynamic interaction between the individual and various other forces that extend beyond the friendship circle, the family, and the school. Peer networks, families, and schools operate, as Bronfenbrenner (1979) pointed out, within an even larger context called the exosystem, or the level of the culture. The culture’s values, laws, politics, customs, and so on directly and indirectly contribute elements and experiences that the adolescent uses to construct a map of the world. Clearly, this influence process is reciprocal and multidirectional. For example, changes in the workplace because of economic forces may put excess demands on parents already suffering from a time deficit. Because they cannot be available to supervise, these parents may then adopt practices that encourage relatively high levels of independent behavior from their adolescents. The economic market may move in to provide goods and services, such as structured tutoring or television programming attractive to teens, to fill their time. Teen preferences and interests then influence the advertising and marketing of goods. Recent large scale studies of children up to age 6 as well as older children and adolescents from 8 to 18 indicate increasing use of electronic media. For example, one third of all 6-years-olds in America have a television in their bedrooms, and children ages 6 and under spend approximately two hours a day watching either videos, television, or a computer screen (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2003). Among 8- to 18-year-olds, total electronic media use a day has reached 6 hours and 21 minutes (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2005).
It is important for mental health professionals to concern themselves with the effects of cultural forces on adolescent development if they are to take a position that promotes healthy growth and functioning. Jessor (1993) noted that the distal effects of the larger cultural context are rarely taken into consideration when studying development, although “understanding contextual change is as important as understanding individual change” (p. 120). Perhaps the major question to be addressed is: How adolescent-friendly is the society we live in? If family, peers, and teachers are fellow players in the unfolding drama of adolescent identity formation, the culture with its values and broader institutions provides the stage upon which that drama is acted out.
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