The environment we live in plays a significant role in shaping who we become. The surrounding plays an even more crucial role in children’s behavior and development. There are for domains of child growth and development: physical, social and emotional, psychosocial and cognitive, and sexuality and gender identity. Physical development includes changes in weight and size, as well as appearance during puberty. Psychosocial and cognitive development involves thought processes and intellectual abilities, during which children absorb information and learn to apply it. Skills learned include imagination, memory, creativity, problem solving, attention, language, academic and everyday knowledge, and metacognition (Oswalt). Sexual and gender identity development encompasses physical, psychosocial, and social concepts. Children begin to understand their bodies and the differences between boys and girls. Lastly, children develop socially and emotionally by learning how to interact through communication, play, and work. They also learn how to not only handle their emotions but also recognizing and understanding other people’s emotions. As they grow into adulthood, children develop a sense of morality as they learn what is right and wrong. Child development occurs from birth to 19 years (Oswalt). During this period, various forces shape the development process and determine who the child becomes. Social factors including family, media and technology, and peers have a strong influence on a child’s development and behavior.
Theorizing Child Development
There are various theories put forth to explain how children grow and change over time. The theories shed light on the social, emotional, and cognitive growth of children and how the environment, particularly the social surrounding. The first approach is the Behavioral Child Development, which was established during the study of behaviorism in psychology (Oswalt). This theoretical approach describes human behavior in terms of environmental influence. The theorists, including Skinner and Watson, believed that children learn through association, which is a natural occurrence, and punishment and reinforcement. Bowlby’s Attachment Theory focuses on the social development of children. According to the theorist, early relationships with caregivers determine a child’s development and influence his/her behavior later in life (Oswalt). Children are born with an innate desire to form attachments in order to receive care and protection. Bowlby noted that children develop different attachment styles including ambivalent, avoidant, and disorganized, which determine their behavioral patterns. Another theory of child development is the Social Learning Theory by Albert Bandura. Bandura, who believed that conditioning and reinforcing insufficiently explained human learning, added that behaviors form through observation and modeling (Oswalt). By observing the actions of people in the surrounding including family members and peers, children acquire new information that shapes their behaviors. The last theory of child development is the Sociocultural Theory by Lev Vygotsky (Oswalt). This approach posits that children learn effectively through hands-on experiences and parents, caregivers, and peers are influential in the child’s development of high order function. These theories clearly explain how the social environment including family, the media and technology, and peers impact a child’s behavior and development today.
Family plays a fundamental role in the development of children from birth to adulthood. Effective parenting, which includes nurturing, support, and consistent discipline, encourage pro-social behaviors. Parents who establish warm relationships with minimal conflict with their children and provide regular monitoring and supervision prevent them (children) from engaging in substance use (Institute of Medicine (US) and National Research Council (US) 28). Children who lack strong positive relationships with parents are more likely to interact with deviant peers, which increase their risk of negative behaviors such as early pregnancy, precocious transitions, and school dropout. Additionally, children who form close positive relationships with their parents are more likely to delay engagement in sexual activities, have fewer sexual partners, and their possibility of using condoms is higher compared to children with poor relationships with parents (Institute of Medicine (US) and National Research Council (US)29).
Family Socioeconomic Status. The existing body of knowledge indicates that children from low-income backgrounds tend to display behavior problems such as conduct disorder due to economic distress. This is because economic hardships engender anger, depression, or aggression on parents, which in turn spawn increased conflict and harsh and inconsistent parenting or withdrawal. Children in such environments have a less possibility of developing competencies that protect them from such unhealthy environments, therefore, developing behavior disorders (Institute of Medicine (US) and National Research Council (US) 33).
Separated Families. With divorce cases on the rise today, children are forced to live away from one parent, mostly the father. Separation negatively affects every member of the family and younger children are more likely to suffer the effects due to their less ability to handle emotions (Figueiredo and Dias705). The family tasks that had normally been performed by two parents become responsibilities of one individual, which can be overwhelming and chaotic, affecting parenting. Children react to these changes differently including anger, confusion, and resentment through deviant behaviors like aggressiveness, too demanding, and uncooperative (Figueiredo and Dias 705). Additionally, parents serve as pathways to autonomy and independence. Children raised by single parents might feel less confident to take a step into independence. Also, the absence of a father creates a void of a male role model, affecting male children’s masculinity development, same to female children. Studies indicate that girls from separated families are more likely to experience difficulties in heterosexual relationships due to negative attitude developed from mothers’ “rejection” (Figueiredo and Dias 705). Families (father and mother) play a crucial role in creating a healthy child development. Stable families instill a sense of belonging, security, and stability in children. Divorce paves way to social problems such as academic decline and substance abuse (Figueiredo and Dias 706). The impact of divorce on children greatly relies on how parents express and manage the changes.
Media and Technology
Media and technology are the strong determinants of children behavior and development due to their rapid evolution being witnessed today. Technological devices and media content that children access influence their behaviors. Children are exposed to various media channels including television, social media, video games, and the internet from as young as two years or below. From the age of six, children undergo cognitive change whereby they start to understand the surrounding world and learn to reflect and judge (Figueiredo and Dias 703). Therefore, exposure to media content influences children’s behavior and development. Teenagers are increasingly using social media and technology. In the U.S., for instance, approximately half of the teenagers use platforms such as Facebook, You Tube, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and Snapchat (Anderson and Jiang). Further, 95% of American teenagers own smartphones or have access to one while 45% of the cohort is online on constant basis. The data indicate the prevalence of media access among children.
Theorizing Media Influence. The General Learning Model proposed by Buckley and Anderson posits that media utilization contribute to users’ knowledge and behavior (Mares and Kretz). The concept further proposes that the acquired knowledge may link to affective states like anger, warmth and fear eluded by previous experience and information concerning the appropriate emotions in certain situations. During exposure to media, behavior, affective knowledge and characteristics interact with other factors like personality, goals, and values to influence individuals’ reactions and appraisals (Mares and Kretz). For instance, exposure to hostile or violent content may evoke aggressive thoughts and feelings from the young individuals. The evoked thoughts and feelings, when aroused, increase the probability of aggressive behavior in children. Long-term exposure to media content may alter children’s beliefs and attitudes on different subjects beings portrayed in media including socialization, sexual orientation, politics, marriage, religion, and education among others.
Television. Television can influence behavior of children both positively and negatively. Child’s development level is crucial in determining the magnitude of influence imposed by television. A child who spends much time watching TV is deprived time for other essential activities like playing, learning, reading, socializing, and other important mental, physical, and social skills (Mares and Kretz). Television is a powerful tool of learning which provides children with knowledge and information on concepts like kindness, love, and racial harmony. These values are encouraged in society. Children tend to demonstrate the values learnt on TV in their day to day lives, which makes their social lives healthy. Television also plays an important role in shaping children’s eating habits. Most commercials on TV feature high calories foods like candy, fast foods, and presweetened cereals, which promote unhealthy dietary practices among children. A Canadian study revealed that commercials for healthy foods only comprised of 4% of TV commercials (Mares and Kretz). Sexuality is another important area of a child’s development shaped by television. Television shows, even though have age limits, portray adult behavior in a manner that portrays it as a norm and risk-free. Some practices include sex between unmarried individuals and teenagers kissing. When children are uncontrollably exposed to such content, they are most likely to emulate such behaviors, which may encourage practices such as early sex indulgence and dating, and multiple sexual partners (Marez and Kretz). Television also promotes alcohol consumption and smoking among children. Advertising agents tend to use young adults to advertise these substances, which portray the image of a lifestyle teenage consider “cool”. As result, teenagers or even younger children feel compelled to consume the substances being advertised, which may later result to deviant and aggressive behaviors such violence or uncooperativeness.
Violence is another phenomena extensively portrayed on media today. According to Mars and Kretz, the average child is exposed to 12,000 violent acts including rape and murder yearly. Consumption of excessive dosages of violent content induces aggressive behavior, with higher possibilities in boys. Tanwar and Priyanka categorize the harmful effect of violent content in three groups: the adoption of aggressive attitudes and behavior, desensitization or lack of sympathy for victims, and exaggerated fear of being a victim of violence (242). Bandura and Ross and Ross’s 1961 experiment to test the Social Learning Theory best explains the influence of violent content. The researchers placed children (both girls and boys) between ages 3 and 6 in three groups. One control group was also used in the study. One group watched a live model depiction of violence, another group was shown the film version of the live model, and the last group watched a cartoon version of a violent cat (Tanwar and Priyanka, 242). The children watched the films individually and were later put in a common room full of toys including dolls and “weapons”. It was observed that all the children who watched aggressive demonstrations (both in real life, in film, and cartoon) demonstrated aggressive behavior twice their counterparts in the control group (Tanwar and Priyanka 242).
Music Videos. Music videos, accessed on YouTube or television, have a profound influence on children. Close to 75% of music videos today contain sexually explicit and violent content (Tanwar and Priyanka 241). As result, children who watch such music videos have high chances of adopting odd behaviors such as premarital sex and violence against women. The music videos tend to use black male models who are portrayed perpetuating violence. Such content change children’s attitudes and perceptions towards black males. The influence of the music videos is not only video. Music videos today are increasing adopting explicit language, with a emphasis on drugs, money, sex, and violence. These messages are likely to shape children’s behaviors. A child may start using drugs and engaging in dangerous irresponsible sexual activities. Seeing artistes elevate the value and pride of having excessive amounts of money may encourage teenagers to participate in illegal practices in order to earn money.
The Internet. The internet is another powerful social tool influencing children today. The advent of the internet and the prevalence of computers of smarthones have shown a unique ability of influencing behavior among children. The internet provides useful knowledge and information including values like love, politeness, and generosity. Children learn the importance of this value and apply them in their daily interactions. However, the internet has cultivated negative behaviors like bullying due to perceived anonymity. Since most people use the internet anonymously, they feel free to express their opinions without retribution. Most children take advantage and bully others. The internet, including social media, also portrays celebrities engaging in practices such as drinking and smoking or are shown wearing skimpy dresses. With an urge to resemble their favorite celebrities, children imitate their lifestyles, most of which are harmful. Teenagers may adopt “adventurous” lifestyles including frequenting partying and indulging in sexual practices. However, the internet not only produces negative influence. Some prominent figures in the internet such as the late Nipsey Hustle who was recently shot was seen as positive influence to both children and adults. The late rapper was known as an advocate for peace and a strong opponent of gun violence. Followers of such people on the internet, undoubtedly, tend to practice the good behavior being promoted and refrain from the discouraged practices and behavior.
Video Games. Video games are gaining prominence in the modern society. Children spend much time playing video games, both online and offline. The mainstream perception of gaming has normalized the practice and made to look les “evil” as it had been known initially. Video games are known for their extensive depiction of violence since most involve fighting. A 2016 study from the University of Oxford indicated that children who play video games for more than three hours a day have a higher possibility of exhibiting hyperactive behaviors including involvement in fights (Tanwar and Priyanka 240).
Peer influence has been widely studied among adolescents, which may involve children as young as 9 years old. The adolescent stage has been associated with risk behavior such as experimenting with substances like tobacco and alcohol, unprotected sexual practices, and violent crime. This is the peak of the developmental stage in which children demonstrate lower tolerance as the risk of dependence increases (Tome et al. 28). Peers play an important role in influencing behavior at this stage. Peer pressure is considered as the primary contextual factor that leads adolescents into risky choices (Albert et al.). Besides an increased interest in opposite sex during puberty, adolescents spend more time socializing with peers, assign greatest priority to behaviors approved by peers, and report high levels of happiness when with peers. For instance, crime data reveals that adolescents participate in delinquent acts in peer groups, unlike adults who mostly commit crime individually (Albert et al.). Another important trend is that delinquent adolescents have shown to be affiliated to delinquent peers. A number of developmental neuroimaging studies have demonstrated that adolescents exhibit heightened neural activation in reaction to various stimuli such as social feedback and facial expressions. For instance, a 2011 longitudinal neuroimaging study by Pfeifer et al. (as cited in Albert et al.) showed that early adolescents indicated an increase in ventral prefrontal and ventral striatal reactivity towards facial stimuli. This hypersensitivity to social stimuli is an indication that adolescents, compared to adults, exhibit a heightened motivation towards valenced peer stimuli in scenarios of decision-making, thus, the exaggerated sensitization effect of decision-making peer context (Albert et al.). These hypersensitive responses towards social stimuli in the context of peers explain why peer influence in the mode of dressing, sexual behavior, speaking, anti-social behavior, and accepting violence. Peer influence can also impact an adolescent’s behavior positively. For instance, Tome et al. state hat peer interactions help adolescents to share feelings and experiences, which can be helpful in problem solving (29). Lack of friends may trigger feelings of social isolation and limit social contact, which might deprive a child of social skills. Interacting with friends has also been linked to children’s well-being including academic success and feelings of belonging in social settings like schools (Tome et al. 30).
Children are socially influenced by family, media and technology, and peers, which are strong determinants of their behavior and development. Family socioeconomic status and structure play an important role in determining children’s behavioral patterns. As seen, warm parent-child relationships instill positive behaviors and vice versa. Also, children from low-income families are more likely to exhibit behavior disorders due to pressure and stress exerted by economic hardship. Furthermore, children raised by single parents have a high probability of adopting deviant behaviors due to challenges posed by single parenting including economic strain and inadequate discipline. Media and technology, as they command their authority in the modern society today, have a great influence on children. Television, video games, internet, social media, and music video content have both positive and negative influence. For instance, violent content has been shown to greatly promote aggression among children. Peers influence also play an important role in shaping attitudes and beliefs in adolescents. Peer influence has not only been attributed to negative behaviors like delinquency but also positive outcomes regarding effective socializing and problem solving skills. Since the social environment has a profound effect on children, parents and other authoritative figures like teachers or older siblings should monitor the environment of children to optimize positive influence and minimize harmful effects.
Albert, Dustin, Chein, Jason, Laurence, Steinberg. “The Teenage Brain: Peer Influences on Adolescent Decision Making”. Current Directions in Psychosocial Science, vol. 22, no. 2, pp. 114-120. 16 April 2013. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0963721412471347. 21 April 2019.
Anderson, Monica, and Jingjing Jiang. “Teens, Social Media & Technology 2018”. Pew Research Center. 31 May 2018. https://www.pewinternet.org/2018/05/31/teens-social-media-technology-2018/. 21 April 2019.
Fugueiredo, Claudia, Rodrigues and Dias, Filomena, Valadao. “Families: Influences in Children’s Development and Behaviour, From Parents and Teachers’ Point of View”. Psychology Research, vol. 2, no. 12, pp. 693-705. Dec 2010. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED539404.pdf. 21 April 2019.
Institute of Medicine (US) and National Research Council (US). The Science of Adolescent Risk-Taking: Workshop Report. Washington (DC), National Academies Press (US). 2011. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK53409/. 21 April 2019.
Mares, Marie-Louie and Kretz, Valerie. “Media Effects on Children’s Social and Moral Development”. Elsevier SciTech Connect. 20 Oct 2015. http://scitechconnect.elsevier.com/media-childrens-social-moral-development/. 21 April 2019.
Oswalt, Angela. “Child & Adolescent Development: Overview”. Gulf Bend Center. 2019. https://www.gulfbend.org/poc/view_doc.php?type=doc&id=7920&cn=28. 21 April 2016.
Tanwar, Kamini and Priyanka. “Impact of Media Violence on Children’s Aggressive Behavior”. Indian Journal of Research, vol. 5. June 2016. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/320244728_Impact_of_Media_Violence_on_Children’s_Aggressive_Behaviour. 21 April 2019.
Tome, Gina, Matos de Gasper, Margarida, Simoes, Celeste, Cemacho, Ines and AlvesDiniz, Jose. “How can Peer Group Influence the Behavior of Adolescent: Explanatory Model”. Global Journal of Health Science, vol. 4, no. 2, pp. 26-35. March 2012. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4777050/. 21 April 2019.