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The ethical impacts of media productions on teenage interactions Introduction As the demographic cohort of children born after 1995, also known as “Generation Z”, embarks upon the educational system and the job market, many factors surrounding the effects of technology and social media come into question. An American consulting firm known as BridgeWorks predicts that “Gen Z” will supply approximately 61 million workers to the American job market in the following decades (CNBC). With the emergence of this large workforce, the inclusion of media and video platforms in daily endeavors cannot be ignored. Despite some criticism regarding modern video productions and media themes, the power and presence of technology form an impenetrable wall that continues to stand strong- for better or for worse. It is highly improbable that the use of social media and video platforms on technological devices will decline.
In fact, a survey by the PEW Research Center found that 95% of US teens have access to a smartphone and 45% of teens say that they are online almost constantly. With this, the question becomes: do videos, news, posts, and media impact the decisions, ethics, and mental health of the American youth in a beneficial or detrimental way? While it is certainly true that modern technology and media can influence youth positively by helping them communicate quickly, providing access to a plethora of information, and allowing them to express themselves and their views; modern media also impacts teens notoriously by bolstering the risk of substance abuse, increasing rates of depression/suicide, and reducing self-esteem. Substance Abuse As 2017 came to an end, a historical music trend was broken, to the surprise and dismay of many passionate Rock music fans across the globe. By 2018, Hip-hop/R&B/Rap music had surpassed Rock as the most popular genre of music according to leading market research and data analysis company -Nielsen Holdings PLC (Business Insider).
This development also brought up the long-standing debate about the correlation between Rap music (videos) and drug use in young adults. Denise Herd, Associate Dean of Students at the University of California, Berkeley’s School of Public Health claimed that the dynamics and themes of Rap songs had changed “from cautionary songs, such as those that emphasized the dangers of cocaine and crack, to songs that glorify the use of marijuana and other drugs as part of a desirable hip-hop lifestyle” (HealthDay News). Along with Herd’s statement regarding the glorification of drug and alcohol abuse, the University of California, Berkeley released additional data showing that- by 1993, 69% of rap songs and music videos included references to drugs and that the average adolescent was exposed to 30,732 drug references per year (Sites at Pennsylvania State University). This caused outrage among many Americans regarding the unethical and illegal nature of underage substance abuse and its negative effects on the growth and development of teens. Contrary to popular belief; however, even though rap music and videos pushed the idea of increased substance use in the American youth, many other factors such as the legalization of marijuana (in some U.S. states), the easy availability of false identification cards, and media glamorization have also contributed to this increase.
Mental Health, Depression, and Suicide
With the recent release of many popular, yet controversial T.V. shows, music videos, and digital video productions- instances relating to higher depression and suicide rates have been brought to light. Recent data gathered by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death in American youth aged 10 to 24 (CNN Health). Experts affirm that increasing rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide can be closely correlated with the emergence of a new social media age which glamorizes serious mental health illnesses in an effort to be “relatable” and gain a wider teenage audience. Many research outlets contain data showing that the American youth has not only become vulnerable to believing sensationalized, digital depictions of mental illness, but in many cases- is also willing to replicate the dangerous and threatening actions taken by fictional characters as a way to feel “connected” to the cause. The recent release of a Netflix production called 13 Reasons Why caused outrage among concerned parents and news outlets due to its glamorized depiction of serious mental and social issues such as suicide, rape, and bullying. In fact, “research shows that exposure to another person’s suicide, or to graphic or sensationalized accounts of death, can be one of the many risk factors that youth struggling with mental health conditions cite as a reason they contemplate or attempt suicide,” said the National Association of School Psychologists in response to the release of 13 Reasons Why (CNN Health). Many parents have become concerned for the safety of their children in the wake of T.V. shows and songs that explore themes similar to those of 13 Reasons Why. While it is true that a T.V. show cannot be the sole trigger leading to increased suicide rates, it is definitely a contributing factor that may inspire many teenagers to make potentially fatal decisions.
Self Esteem and confidence
A major topic of discussion regarding social media and video productions has been the issue of self-esteem and self-confidence, especially within the American, female youth. As technology and media creators advance with time, it becomes more difficult for viewers to distinguish fiction and fact in terms of the body images and ideals that they are exposed to on social media and many T.V. shows. Usually, the ideal female form that is “advertised” on social media and televised platforms changes with times and trends; consequently, many women are pressured to match these glamorous beauty standards despite how unrealistic and difficult they are to attain. This has been proven to be true both locally and globally- in fact, a study involving about 1800 females (aged 10 to 46) conducted by the University of South Australia found a direct correlation between increased use of social networking platforms and women feeling pressured to adopt and act on the thin ideal (ThriveWorks). For many women, these unrealistic standards can cause them to feel insecure in their own bodies and faces, which may lead to a lack of self-esteem and confidence.
Although the effects may not seem adverse at first, experts confirm that acting on such beauty standards may potentially lead to the development of mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression. Many women might also engage in unhealthy eating habits and lifestyle choices in an effort to live up to these standards, generating the risk of potentially fatal eating disorders like Anorexia, Bulimia, etc. A study being conducted in Minnesota presented data showing that incidences of anorexia increased significantly in the last 50 years in women aged 15-24 (The National Eating Disorders Association). These studies found that women are at a higher risk of developing mental illnesses than their male counterparts due to the continuous pressure of conforming to an unrealistic beauty standard shown in music videos and T.V. media. Conclusion Generation Z may be creating a turning point from a traditionally self-reliant society to one that revolves heavily around the use of technology. It is difficult to weigh all the pros and cons of this change due to the vastness and complexity of its ethical impacts on both American and global youth. Many might argue that although social media, T.V. shows, music videos, etc. may influence teens to make unethical and hazardous decisions, the ultimate choice to enact these decisions is in their own hands. While there is some truth to these statements, it is important for media creators to understand the amount of influence they can have on emerging youth. With that said, it is crucial that these creators establish a clear line between fiction and reality in order to ensure their viewers do not develop risks of substance abuse, mental illness, or low self-esteem due to the irresponsible glamorization of these hazards in media.
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