Thursday, September 27, 2007

Because Media Knows Best.

"The press may not be successful much of the time in telling people what to think, but it is stunningly successful in telling its readers what to think about."
Bernard C. Cohen, 1963

“Parents may not be successful much of the time in telling their children what to think, but they are stunningly successful in telling them what to think about… like not getting pregnant, getting a stable job, the perils of smoking and alcoholism, and more.”

Diana Galindez, 2007

Think of this: the idea of going to school did not really occur to you until your parents told you that YOU HAD TO. School, as they told you, was a place where you would meet other children and learn about the things that you need to know. Early on in childhood, parents establish the necessity of education. We wonder, why is it such a big deal? Certainly, civilizations thrived in the primitive era even without formal education. In the olden times, people did not need teachers to show them how things were done. They had to learn, invent, and do things on their own.

However, the turn of the 19th century sparked a universal paranoia that instigated a boom in the education industry. Why did parents suddenly begin to nurse the fear of having illiterate children? Why did schools tailor their teaching strategies to appease the demands of parents? Furthermore, in the light of the agenda setting theory, how has the media shaped parental attitudes and values?

Majority of the studies conducted to gauge media effects have largely focused on children, overlooking both its direct and indirect influence on parents and their child-rearing techniques. In the past few decades, there has been an implosion of information and advice about parenting in the mass media. Books, magazines and shows have been created, as well as sites in the internet. Unfortunately, research has been insufficient in terms of looking into the quality and quantity of these messages, their implications, and the potential of transforming the media as effective agents for promoting better parenting.

Media shapes both child and parent. Parent brings the child to an encounter with the media and vice versa. In doing so, stereotypes are created to easily depict the ideal parenting virtues that will mold the perfect child. This is made evident by the establishment of parenting as a crucial issue in various forms of media. According to the symposium on media and parenting at Harvard University,

“Printed parenting materials have proliferated dramatically in the past two to four decades--books, magazines, newsletters, regional parenting papers, pamphlets, and parenting articles in newspapers. Over 1500 parenting books are estimated to be in print today, representing about 20% of the "psychology" market. Similarly, over 200 magazines are estimated to be devoted to aspects of parenting and family life, not including women's magazines and other more general titles that include significant parenting material. Controlled-circulation, regional parenting papers, typically distributed free to consumers, are now available in almost every major city, and controlled-circulation "baby" magazines, also free to consumers, reach almost every new parent. Child and family beat reporters have become quite common at major daily newspapers, and "child-related" stories are a regular feature of the news landscape. In short, almost every parent, regardless of socioeconomic status, is exposed to printed information about parenting, most repeatedly.”

As a result, every parent, regardless of socio-economic status, is exposed to information on parenting regularly. Subsequently, electronic media such as television, radio and the internet has made room for family-oriented ventures, with parents as their target audiences. With this, the level of interest bolsters the demand for information from the media. Studies further suggest that the mass media is “commonly used as sources of parenting information, sometimes as extensively as, or more extensively than, interpersonal sources such as family, clergy, or counselors.” In addition, the presence of professional and academic opinion, as backed-up by years of research and experience, has provided the media with a great deal of influence on parents' views towards raising their children. The question now is, does the media contribute effectively? or is it just another classic game of quantity winning over quality?

The problem with media-cultured parenting is that it breeds on profit. The competition among companies through media networks has led to the segmentation of sources on parenting information. There may be a lot, but they are certainly strewn in various forms of media. There is a distinct paradox in this situation: in its effort to make information accessible, the media has extended its reach. Yet, the immense assortment of sources makes it inaccessible because parents do not know which one is the most reliable. In short, they are denied access to factual information.

In relation, the competition among constituents of the media has made information confusing and conflicting. Almost all endorsements are backed up by professionals and trusted personalities. All of them are claiming that they know what’s best. In doing so, the media creates trends in parenting. The information that it disseminates is largely affected by the values that it wants to inculcate. For example, the 1960’s valued authoritarian parenting, while the 1980’s promoted permissive parenting. At the turn of the new millennium, the media started to advocate a democratic approach to parenting. Though these shifts are brought about by socioeconomic and political forces, we cannot discount the role of both policy and corporate agenda in shaping these views.

Subsequently, trends lead to stereotypes. Regarded as the most powerful influence of the media in parental values, these stereotypes have enabled parents to define what is ideal and vis-à-vis. Here are a few prevalent parenting ideologies that are used here in the Philippines and around the world, as well as the propaganda behind them.

1. The world is a scary place and it’s going to come and get you!

Fueled by the people’s inclination towards crime stories, news organizations have depicted the world as a scary place, giving parents enough reason to keep their kids at home.

Products sold: security devices, self-defense lessons and weapons.

2. The Gifted Child

As mentioned earlier, education is a necessity. However, it does not stop there. You have to be immensely intelligent to get ahead in life. The media has always portrayed intellectuals as successful in both family and career, hence, parents immediately assume that this is the case in real life.

Products sold: PROMIL! educational plans, and “mushrooming” of educational institutions

3. The Perfect Family

Mom and Dad have nice children. They go to work and school respectively. They get into trouble once in while, but at the end of every troublesome situation, they will all have their happy ending. Mom and dad are rational and diplomatic; while the kids are obedient and smart.

This is how the media shapes the family—though quite unrealistic, parents are highly motivated to strive for perfect family relationships. Furthermore, recent studies claim that parents have accustomed themselves to patterning their conduct on the behavior of characters in family-oriented shows.


1. Hersey, Paul and Kenneth H. Blanchard. The Family Game. Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc., 1978.

2.Redl, Ritz and David Wineman. Controls From Within. Illinois: Free Press Corporation, 1960.

3.Grolnick, Wendy S. The Psychology of Parental Control. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2003.