Social Expectations in American Society
The World We Have Created
In this paper we will discuss the societal expectations and influences on cognitive and social development in America. After reviewing several examples the paper reflects on what influence if any these societal expectations have on the cognitive development of its constituents. Through examination of these examples the paper shows how these influences can shape our children and perpetuate the society and influences they are subject to.
In today’s society there are many influential concepts that affect cognitive development at several different important stages of life as theorized by Lev Vygotsky. (Feldman, R. S 2010) For the purposes of this paper we will discuss the aspects of gender equality, financial gain, education, ethical and moral values and social networking. These influences greatly propagated by the media will be shown to have a direct influence on our development as children and young adults.
In the United States gender equality has been a long and hard fought battle. This came to rise from society’s refusal to allow women the equal right to vote and hold public office as men. Throughout our history men have held more civil right, wealth, prominent position and respect than most women. Slowly over the last 150 years beginning with the birth of the American Woman’s Suffrage Movement in 1848 the world has seen many advances in the equality of civil rights between men and woman, (Hawke, L. A. 2008) yet, what of the continued perpetuance of gender role placement? Women may have more equal civil rights than men yet they are portrayed as objects by the media. What effect does this objectification of women have on our children? What influences this objectification most?
As children we attain gender identification and differentiation as early as 15 months. (McGraw-Hill, 2003) Generally this would be taught by the interactions of the family unit. Yet what happens when the child’s influences mainly come from television or movies where gender role identification is heavily swayed toward a glorified sexually based identity? Freud’s research on identification has shown that through identification we subconsciously assimilate repeated influences. (Washington.edu) As children we try to create an identifying relationship between ourselves, others and the world around us through a process of identifying with common characteristics and subconsciously augmenting ourselves to be more “in-line” with our families, friends and societal belief systems.
Unfortunately if we examine many aspects of media influence such as clothing models, movie stars, entertainers etc. it can be seen how the objectification and gender role distinction perpetuates itself into our societies attitudes, beliefs and perspectives. Both men and women are continually placed in gender roles. Some theorize that this is due impart to genetic and/or physiological differences between men and women. As an example females are generally born more neurologically and physically developed at birth yet males have more “mature muscular development”. (McGraw-Hill, 2003). This is just one example of many. With the Medias influence and these physiological differences is possible to create true equality? Perhaps creating a greater sense of acceptance, selflessness and unity in our society may help lessen the focus on what they do not have and create a desire to see what they can give. True equality comes from a fair exchange based on selflessness and giving not self-interest and gain.
Financial Security and/or success are another aspect of “What is considered important”. Often in our country a person’s success and social standing are a reflection on their financial success and material positions that represent it. What is the difference between a $200.00 watch and a $2000.00 watch? They both tell time and are reliable. If you look at movies and magazine they portray a lavish life style of excess. Grandiose homes that have 13 guest rooms, a pool, tennis court and helicopter pad. What effect does this portrayal of financial gain have on children as they develop? If we follow the concept of identification it could suggest that children watching this may gain some of their identification from them. Throughout life children are taught by the media to want or consume. The newest toy, video, game system, clothing, or gadgets are always more expensive and advertised to create demand. I heard from my 11 year old daughter last week that she needed a cell phone because everyone she knew had one. Now this may fall into a more possession based influence yet these possessions are directly tied to financial success. In a study done by Sharon Beder showed that children and adolescents spent an average of $100 billion each year of their own and their family’s money on advertised products. (Beder, S. 1998) Without the financial capability to provide the cell phone my daughter would suffer a loss to social standing and influence.
In most parts of our country education is held to be important whether for financial success or personal agenda. I find it ironic that our society closely ties education with social standing. As a Chef I have had the opportunity to work with many staff, most of which had a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, yet they waited tables. Regardless of available opportunity for them growing up in a society that places value on education has had a positive effect as it propels us towards self-actualization, and ironically proposed financial success. This is evidenced by our system of 12 years that are considered mandatory. In China it is only mandated children attend 9 years. The average years of education attained in China is only 6.13 years compared to a 12 year average in the United States. It begs to question however what the lack of this influence is, in particular in poor and/or minority communities. If we look at the average amount that African Americans and Hispanics watch prime time television and their respective average education levels a correlation can be found between the two. An average of 38.9% of African Americans watched prime time television in 2011 with Hispanics averaging 33.1%. (Marketingcharts.com 2011) The average percentage of African Americans attaining a Bachelor’s degree in 2000 was 11.5% whereas the Hispanic average was 7.3 %. (NCES, 2003) The average difference between African and Hispanic Americans prime time television use was 5.8. The average difference in education level for a bachelor’s degree is 4.2%, leaving only a 1.6% difference. With such a close similar difference between education levels and television influence if think the correlation is apparent. Material Possession
Another facet of American culture is our search for ethical and moral values. As children we are taught “right from wrong” by not only our parents but by what we see in our environment. The government promotes its military in this way. For example the Comic book hero Captain America was created during the war with Germany to boost the countries moral and enlistment rates. (superherocomicshop.com) yet what are the moral values that we are exposed to on a daily basis in our country? Oddly enough they seem to be contradictory in nature. In one facet we have many charities to help the less fortunate and community outreach programs, yet on the other we live in a profit based economic system that dictates financial dominance and gain often at the expense of others. I cannot remember who stated this to me but it stuck with me to this day. He stated “People think slavery has been abolished. Originally, slave owners where responsible for their slave’s basic needs in exchange for their work to support the slave owner’s wealth. Today the slaves work towards this same goal but are responsible for their own basic needs.” I found this hauntingly ironic. How then can we as people not just children develop a healthy and non-conflicted moral compass when we are taught to give selflessly yet ignore the man asking for spare change?
Social Networking has recently become a major facet of society in America. The average percent of Americans who use a social networking site has risen from 34% in 2008 to 59% in 2011. (Rainie, L. Purcell, K. Goulet, L. and Hampton, K. 2011) In today’s world of computer mediated communication and social networking the influence of the parent and social interaction within the family has lessened. What is the cost to the development of social skills when they are primary developed through computer mediated communication? Without face-to-face interaction things such as body language and tone are not present resulting in a decrease in one’s ability to effectively communicate. Ask yourself this; have you ever received a text message that you took differently than intended by the sender? I have many times. Is this rise in internet and social networking site use due to a reduction of interpersonal communication skills? There have been studies on the theory of internet addiction that have recently been given more attention. If internet use can create a “high” feeling similar to personal interaction it is reasonable to hypothesis that one is replacing the other.
It is clear that every aspect of our society’s expectations of the individual has a direct effect on our cognitive development. From early in life we are bombarded with images and depictions of what is important. In our country we can see the result of teaching children that money and/or possessions brings happiness and that we are primarily valued for how we look and what we possess by the rate at which new products to make us “more attractive” and bigger and better technologies arise. Everything is centered on consumption and profit. That is what we are imprinting on our children. Media’s greatest influence on a child’s cognitive development is creating working consumer. I find it odd that the United States government offers a grant for people to attain a bachelor’s degree yet funding is unavailable for a masters or doctoral through he same program. With a bachelor’s degree you will join the income group of middle class workers who support the consumption and profit based economy.
Is it possible to change and/or stop a mechanism of such long standing and ingrained influence? What would interpersonal communications be like in 50 years, would people still interact face-to-face? I personally have to make my children shut off their cell phones at times because they will sit in the living room texting rather than interact with the family. How can this not influence cognitive and social development in children when their primary interaction is with a screen and between their peers rather than their more experienced parents? As always change stars in the home dynamic. Perhaps as with many fads this type of interaction will burn itself out and we will return to an age of community and interpersonal interaction, taking a direct role in the rearing of our children once again.
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