The Effects of Pop Culture on Teenagers

Teenage girls watching television
Teenage girls watching tv together. (Image: Thinkstock Images/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

While the research on the effects of pop culture on teenagers is not yet conclusive, the predominance of pop culture in today’s society definitely has some effect. In particular, it affects the way teenagers think of themselves, how they associate with others, and how they express characteristics of their maturation.

Influences How Teens Define Themselves

An important characteristic of every teenager’s maturation is her self-definition. Self-definition can be defined as the way you see yourself. For teens, that image is influenced to a large extent by personal choices, which are, in turn, influenced by the images and associations teens glean from pop culture on a daily basis. Although researchers disagree on exactly the extent of these influences – for example, not every teenager that listens to gangster rap self-defines as a gangster – researchers agree that pop culture has some impact on teenagers’ self-definition. Pop culture can provide benchmarks with which teenagers pin their self-definition. In this way, they see themselves take characteristics from the various celebrities and stimuli they see in pop culture. Lastly, self-definition can be intrinsically tied into self-esteem and confidence, two critical components of a healthy disposition throughout maturation and into adulthood.

Teens Want to Imitate Rock Stars

Most if not all pop culture icons extend their visibility beyond culture and into brands, which they sell via advertisements or products carrying their name. Teenagers who see, for example, Jay-Z wearing his Rocawear label may then be influenced to wear that label. Beyond fostering a certain degree of commercialism, these brands have associations in and of themselves that tie into self-definition or social groups within a teenager’s life. Often, celebrity brands tie into an acceptance level among teenagers, such that some teenagers feel they must own a particular brand in order to be accepted. While not necessarily harmful, these sentiments can distract teenagers from key aspects of their development.

Might Promote Violence

Kathleen O’Toole of Stanford University writes that research has shown some male teenagers who listen to music advocating violence become more “antagonistic.” But the evidence is nowhere near definitive. Not everybody who listens to music or who plays video games that advocate violence, entertains violent thoughts. Still, the evidence stands that violence in pop culture can have an effect and should, therefore, be monitored by parents and censors. Teens who partake in violent aspects of pop culture may only be carrying out a typical and not unhealthy wish to be independent and separate from those who manage their lives.

MIght Promote Sexuality

As with violence, the influence of sex in pop culture is evident but not conclusive. Also as with violence, sometimes teenagers’ participation in sexual acts as they see in pop culture is an expression of a natural maturation. But the sheer amount of sexual imagery in pop culture can affect teens’ thoughts toward sex, and teens who are not yet mature enough to handle the physical and emotional effects of sexual activity can experience potentially harmful effects of it throughout their teen years and later in life.

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