This is the first post in a series based on Professor Valerie Adams-Bass‘ UVA class, “Media Socialization, Racial Stereotypes And Black Adolescent Identity.”
Introduction by Valerie Adams-Bass, Ph.D.
TV talks. The characters we view on television shows and in movies speak to us through the written scripts and through the physical bodies of the characters. Media socialization—the exposure to mass communication (television, radio, internet, newspapers) messages, which teach people socially accepted behaviors that have: (a) a direct influence on cognitive ability and behavioral functioning, and (b) a mediating or facilitative indirect influence on learning (Adams & Stevenson, 2012), has been identified as a notable factor during adolescence. Arnett, 1995; Lloyd, 2002; Strasburger, Wilson & Jordan, 2014). Students in EDHS 3100, Media Socialization, Racial Stereotypes and Black Adolescent Identity, are learning about the scripts that are associated with black media images and discussing the impact on African-American adolescents. Their blog entries reflect an understanding of the scripts viewed in television sitcoms, drama, reality shows, or movies and the potential impact of exposure to theses media images on viewers.
The Parkers is a sitcom about an African-American mother-daughter duo in Los Angeles, California who both attend a local community college. In this particular episode, both mother (Nikki) and daughter (Kim) prepare for a final examination for a class taught by professor, and love interest of Nikki, Stanley Oglevee. Just a few days before the exam, Nikki’s high school friend, Flo, arrives in town for a charity walk and stays with the Parkers. Flo’s presence proves to be a hindrance to Nikki’s studies as she repeatedly convinces Nikki to go out instead of studying, even the night before the test. On this particular night, Flo leaves Nikki at a party, which eventually results in Nikki getting arrested and missing her morning exam. On Kim’s side of the story, she and her [musical] band (with friends Stevie and T) book a lot of gigs in the days leading up to the exam. This leaves them with little time to study and thus they resort to cheating.
Even though Nikki is older (I’m guessing late thirties/early forties), because she takes part in a significant event of late adolescence (i.e. attending college), I believe her character is relatable to adolescent viewers. Schools and formal education are things that nearly every child and adolescent comes in direct contact with, so it is reasonable to believe that these viewers can relate not only to Kim and her peers, but also to Nikki.
From the plot summary above, one can see that the primary recurrence in this episode is the prioritizing of leisure activities over education. Nikki puts off studying for partying, and Kim does so for performing with her group. As a class, we learned that five key elements to adolescent development are 1) identity formation, 2) autonomy, 3) risk taking, 4) peer influence, and 5) physical and emotional maturation (Adams-Bass).
Each of these elements was presented in this episode of The Parkers to some degree. Identity formation is presented with Nikki’s struggle between partying with Flo to relive her high school days and her desire to be a good student as a means of creating a better future. Autonomy is presented clearly in Nikki’s and Kim’s ability to do as they please. We see risking taking when both Nikki and Kim risk their academic integrity for less important leisure activities, as well as when Kim and her friends sneak into Prof. Olgevee’s apartment to try to coerce the exam topics out of him in his sleep. Peer influence comes into play with Flo’s several attempts to convince Nikki to skip studying and instead go out. Also, when the question arises as to whether or not Kim’s band has booked too many gigs, she and Stevie are easily comforted by T’s confident belief that they will have enough time to study. Lastly, we see emotional (not so much physical) maturation when Nikki stands up to Flo and realizes that sometimes people just grow out of old friends.
Adolescents have several needs relating to relationships amongst others, such as 1) feeling a sense of worth as a person, 2) finding a place in a valued group that provides a sense of belonging, and 3) identifying tasks that are generally recognized in a group as having value (Adams-Bass). These three needs are also found in this episode of The Parkers, and they correspond with the aforementioned elements of identity formation and peer influence.
As for the greater implications of this episode (and other media texts like it), we must realize that media socialization has a prominent effect on adolescent viewership. Among the various definitions of media socialization, it is fundamentally “the exposure to mass communication messages, which teach people socially accepted behaviors that have 1) a direct influence on cognitive ability and behavioral functioning and 2) a mediating or facilitative indirect influence on learning” (Adams-Bass). According to Bandura’s social learning theory, “children and adolescents learn by observing and imitating what they see on the screen, particularly when these behaviors seem realistic or are rewarded” (Strasburger, Jordan, & Donnerstein, p. 758). Along the lines of social learning theory, adolescents could view this episode of The Parkers and conclude that skipping studying for fun is okay and generally accepted. Also, because both Nikki’s and Kim’s behavior goes basically unpunished, viewers could imitate this behavior and expect the same mild consequences. This is similar to a cognitive theory developed by Strasburger called the superpeer theory, which states that “the media are like powerful best friends in sometimes making risky behaviors seem like normative behavior” (Strasburger, Jordan, & Donnerstein, p. 758). In this case, the media may exceed the influence of the traditional peer group and exert extra persuasion over adolescent viewers. Consequentially, we can see that media portraying this type of behavior that risks education at the cost of fun can elicit imitation of such behavior and impact adolescents’ academic performance in a detrimental way.
Questions for further discussion:
- Do you feel that television and/or other media has had an impact on your personal perception of school and education? On your own study habits?
- Are there any current media texts (e.g. television shows, movies, music) that promote scholarship or academic excellence?
Adams-Bass, V.N., Stevenson H., Slaughter-Kotzin, D. (2014). Measuring the Meaning of Black Media Stereotypes and their Relationship to the Racial Identity, and Racial/Ethnic Socialization of African American Youth. Journal of Black Studies. 45, 367-395.
Arnett, J. J. (1995). Adolescents’ uses of media for self-socialization. Journal of Youth &
Lloyd, B.T. (2002). Conceptual Framework for Examining Adolescent Identity, Media Influence, and Social Development. Review of General Psychology, 6(1) 73-91.
Strasburger, Victor C., Amy B. Jordan, and Ed Donnerstein (2010). Health Effects of Media on Children and Adolescents. American Academy of Pediatrics.