This video speaks to the potentially harmful effects of something as seemingly harmless as a fashion magazine. It suggests that a girl can developed a negative self image in just 3 minutes of perusing its airbrushed, overproduced, glossy, seductive interior. This is not that hard to believe and, as most of us already know, it is just the tip of the iceberg. The manipulative power of social influence is not just true for young girls but is true for everyone. Our sub-conscience mind is constantly bombarded by the media, as well as by our associations in an attempt to influence our behavior in a certain way. This influence can cause us to act a certain way, to feel a certain way, and to think a certain way that is consistent with a programmed response. From smoking a certain cigarette to buying a certain car we are all under the influence. For kids there is the added social influence of peer pressure that can positively or negatively affect behavior. Grades, sports activities, and even levels of parental disobedience can all be influenced through this invisible yet powerful social control. Disobedience can be a slippery slope escalating to the point of embracing extreme countercultures totally at odds with their parent’s expectations. This can be seen through mild examples of rebellion such as radical clothing choices, hair styles, music, and overly hash attitudes. In its worst examples we may see extreme body piercings, tattooing, drinking and drug use. The adolescent may view these life choices as control and independence with a twist of parental payback. The reality is they are typically just trading one influential control for another and sadly this behavior can be self-destructive and life altering. Other examples of influential control are television, video games, and internet. For years child psychologists have argued the dangers of violent programming with little effect on media output. Study after study has shown the negative impact on a child’s behavior associated with watching violent content. So why are the acts of violence our children are exposed to increasing year after year? The answer is simple…violence is big money because people continue to buy it. Due to this small fact each study has been vigorously attacked and discredited by counter studies funded by the media giants with their own agenda… Profits! Even when they can’t win the argument with facts and spin they win it by saying it is a freedom of choice issue and people can express their opinion with their remote control or wallets. The problem with this argument is that it puts parents at a disadvantage and at odds with their children. This can create more contention and ultimately more reasons for a child to rebel by acting up or seeking out radical counter-cultural experiences. This is not to say that every child who plays violent games or watches violent content will become overtly violent but the accumulated affects on personality are not really known at this point. All we know is that exposing children to extreme violence doesn’t feel right.
So how do we defend ourselves and our loved ones from the insidious clutches of influence? First off you really can’t…but knowledge is a fairly good attempt at inoculation. It is much harder to manipulate someone without their consent when they know about it. I also suggest applying the four L’s mantra of good parenting. Look, listen, learn, limit. Look for signs of manipulation such as changes in your kid’s wardrobe, language, and attitude. Listen to what they are listening too and taking about. Learn about their lives, habits, and friendships. Limit exposure to questionable influences.