Category Archives: MoralPanic

Moral Panic Mode: ‘Becoming’ vs. ‘Being’ Theories of Researchers


In order to make sense of the relationship children have with the media that surrounds them it is only natural for researchers to define theories. One of the main developmental theories was defined by Jean Piaget, it’s called the “cognitive-developmental theory” (Scheibe, 2007).

The theory focuses on the fact that children actively construct their understanding of the world through “the ongoing processes of assimilation (incorporating new information into existing knowledge) and accommodation (reorganizing ways of understanding to take into account new information) (Scheibe, 2007,65). In plain English: taking new info adding it to existing info and then shuffle it around to make sense of the new info so its one complete and happy information puzzle.
This theory describes the different stages of development from “being” a kid to “becoming” an adult. Trust me, the “becoming” part is still confusing. 

Coinciding with the cognitive theory there are two approaches researchers have developed when analyzing how the media effects children. Both are vastly different from each other in that the “becoming” theory values the comparison to adult thinking and the “being” theory completely dismisses it as a thing of value (Lemish, 2007). It’s OK, reread that again. Phew, much better.

Roll up those sleeves, let’s dig a bit deeper.
There are two different approaches when researching media and its effects on children. BECOMING: The first theory researchers use is the “becoming” approach, which views children as in the process of “becoming” an adult. This approach is more quantitative and measured by numbers. In general, they test the abilities and skills in comparison to the “ideal model of the adult thinker” (Lemish, 2007, 76). This approach is also called the “the deficiency model” because it “assumes that the child is ‘deficient’ in comparison to the adult.” For example, researchers my count how many times that child behaves in a specific way in response to viewing television. In this type of study the researcher has control. They can choose the kind of programming the child watches, the skills tested, and the toys that exist in the room in order to prove their hypothesis (Lemish, 2007). The major strength of this method is “its ability to examine long-term, accumulative influences of media use on a very large number of children and to offer insights that can be generalized to other situations” (Lemish, 2007, 77)

BEING: The other theory is the “being” approach. This approach is more qualitative research because it observes children in their natural environment like their homes, schools, playgrounds and recently the Internet. In this approach researchers often dig deeper. Not only do they observe the children from an outside-in approach, but also the inside-out approach and actually talk to the children, this type of researcher is called an ethnographer (Lemish, 2007). Researchers focus on seeing the children as “beings” in their own right, at all stages of development without trying to link them to the adult thinkers (Lemish, 2007). Because “what is perceived as central or important in a medium or a text for adults is not necessarily so for children” therefore making the comparison to adults irrelevant and “misleading” (Lemish, 2007, 78). Unlike the “becoming” theory, which focuses on the deficiency of children, the “being” theory focuses on the competency children have with the media. Researchers in this approach believe children can actively make sense of what they are seeing on television in order to develop their own thoughts and opinions about the world around them.


The moral panic that adults have on the media and its relationship with children will always exist as the society grows and changes. However, the panic will vary, as discussed, depending on the “type” of adult, whether a parent, a journalist or documentarian, a marketer,  a researcher, or if they’re fancy all four. Parents will always have concerns. Journalists and documentarians will always have an opinion, though they aren’t supposed to. Marketers will always have a product to sell. And Researchers will always have something to prove. At one point in my life I may take up all of these different professions. So, it’s important to be able to distinguish the various perspectives in order to remain objective and not get caught up as an adult in this moral panic.

Moral Panic Mode: Journalists/Documentarians

Where Media (with the help of Marketers) blurrrr liiinneeess between was it culture and what is commercial!


So far we’ve covered the Moral Panic of Parents and Marketers now it’s on to the media!
Journalists and documentarians have a lot to say about how kids are being targeted by marketers in their daily lives. The documentarian chose the commentary wisely for his film, “Consuming Kids,” which I’ve talked about before. The overall theme of the documentary is disapproval of the media and how it is exploiting society’s youth. Experts in communication articulate their opinion by trashing the media industry and the marketers that take part in commercialization. More specifically, they articulate their frustration with the single-minded approach to marketing, that the basis of all commercial logic is sales (McAllister, 2007). But the fact is the marketers are succeeding. However, the experts cannot do anything to stop the marketers’ grimy yet successful tactics. Sad but oh-so true. During the 1980s the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission were stripped of their authority to regulate children advertisements, which is when marketers decided to run rampant stripping children of their innocences.(McAllister, 2007). Ever since then, researchers, which we’ll learn about a bit later, claim that marketing agencies have been working to blurrrrr liiiiiines (hey, hey, hey…sorry I couldn’t help it) between what’s culture and what’s commercial within children’s media. So essentially agencies’ goal is to make Culture = Commercial and Commercial = Culture to which they are one in the same and we all nod in agreement because we can no longer tell the difference.

Michael Brody, a child psychiatrist featured in the film, went so far as to call marketers pedophiles. Ick, right? Because marketers often struggle between what is morally right by the children and the common goal of the company which is to make as much money as possible. Children’s imaginations are in jeopardy because marketers are telling them that their brains aren’t good enough. For example, one expert in the film said that kids couldn’t play Harry Potter unless they have the official branded wand because it’s not good enough to pick up a stick off the ground (“Consuming Kids”). Seriously, kids it’s called an imagination! Where did all the imagination go!?! If Justin Timberlake can bring “sexy back,” I think Ms. Frizzle and her magic school bus should be responsible for bringing imagination back, yeah!

An exception to media scheming along side marketers, perhaps are the documentarians, who often try to expose truths. Fully aware of the shock-and-awe history of documentarian Michael Moore, his point in “Bowling for Columbine” is to expose the public to the truths of media and debunk the previous coverage that resulted in American adults being “exponentially misinformed” (Mazzarella, 2007, 54). Those appearing in the documentary do not seem to be blaming kids but the media for their destructive behaviors. The film starts with claims that the media was significantly to blame for the behavior of teens, namely Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, gunmen in the Columbine School shootings. Many were blaming their behavior on one musician, the “poster boy for fear,” Marilyn Manson. Moore is out to prove experts and those easily influenced by journalists and politicians that they may want to reconsider blaming Manson.

In an interview between Moore and Manson, Manson said that he “represents what everyone is afraid of because I do and say what I want.” The shooting served as a distraction from what was really happening in the country. “Our president is shooting bombs overseas, yet I’m the bad guy because I sing some rock and roll songs. And who’s the bigger influence the president or Marilyn Manson? I’d like to think me, but I’m going to go with the president,” Manson said. This statement is an example of the adult society in moral panic, “that at root the moral panic is about instilling fear in people, in so doing, encouraging them to try and turn away from the complexity and the visible social problems of everyday life” because it’s easier to identify Manson as a simple solution to a complex problem (Mazzarella, 2007, 48-49). Manson is convinced that the media is a campaign of fear and consumption. The news is nothing but bad news and then break to commercial where marketers want to sell the viewer products. If everyone is kept afraid they will consume (“Bowling for Columbine”).

Journalists are constantly fueling public concern with panic (Mazzarella, 2007). Journalists often forget that not all people that are goth, or in a specific subculture, live the hate lifestyle. The media is powerful and controls how society stereotypes certain groups in society, if they choose to define them or not. For example, the news often mentions the gangs or enemies that exist in inner cities, however rarely is there mention of the enemies that exist in suburban areas (20/20 “Phenomenon of The Goth Movement,” 1999).

Moral of this Panic Mode: Don’t believe everything you read or see, don’t judge a book by its cover, don’t fall victim to the traps that media set up for us through sneaky marketing. Instead take a step back, examine, analyze and decide for yourself! Use your own smarts! And remember that the media is there to not only inform you but in most cases is there to attract your attention and get you to form new opinions or stick with old ones.

What do you think of documentarians exposing truths and debunking media stories? Do you have any favorite documentaries?! I’d love to hear suggestions. Comment below.

Moral Panic Mode: Parents

Kid culture is a relatively new(ish) phenomena defined by adults, (yup, guilty) who often have a clouded perspective of today’s youth. Adults view kids through the lens of moral panic. A moral panic occurs “when the official or press reaction to a deviant social or cultural phenomenon is ‘out of all proportion’ to the actual threat offered” (Mazzarella, 2007, 48). In addition, it is when a group is defined as a threat to the values of society and interests (Mazzarella, 2007). The purpose of the next 4 blog posts is to define how…

1) parents, 2) marketers, 3) journalists/documentarians, and 4) researchers aid in the development of the moral panic between adult culture and kid culture.

ParentsDistribution of media like CDs and DVDs has led to parents forming groups against these dispersal tactics. Parents’ Music Resource Center (PMRC) came on the scene in 1985, started by high profiled wives such as Tipper Gore, (ex)wife of then-senator Al Gore. Tipper Gore was shocked when she first heard the Prince song “Darling Nikki,” because the song references masturbation (Mazzarella, 2007). Though at the time the PMRC aimed to require all music, though predominately focused on heavy metal rock, to have a warning label if it contained explicit content inappropriate for children. Their passion spread to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). In 1990 the RIAA adopted the “Parental Advisory/Explicit Lyrics” label that we now see when visiting record stores (Mazzarella, 2007). Though the high profiled wives and mothers were able to have their voices heard around the country, most parents don’t have the luxury. And with the popularity of online music sales through iTunes, Spotify, etc. the world of music (TV, movies, etc) is WIDE open for kids with a computer or smartphone and a wifi connection, see: EVERY kid, has access to any and all music.  

Parents are forced to create their own rules for use in their household from music and television to the Internet. “One approach is through ‘restrictive mediation,’ a practice in which parents make rules about amount or time of viewing allowed, define forbidden content, and use media as part of a reward or punishment system” (Bachen, 2007, 242). The younger the child the more rules are placed on when, where and for how long use can take place. Parents of adolescents may lower their guard when it comes to displaying their favorite media characters, simply because they have more control over it in the home. By letting their children take part in “adolescent room culture,” the bedroom becomes a place where he or she “engage in identity work and investigate their future possibilities through media,” (Fisherkeller, 2007, 229). However, as parents become more familiar with the medium, particularly the Internet, rules may evolve (Bachen, 2007).

“Parents are deeply fearful about the World Wide Web’s influence on their children, according to the Annenberg Public Policy Center’s national survey of parents in computer households in the United States” (Aikat, 2005, 3). The Internet is a main concern because of the wide-range of freedom it gives children (Stern and Willis, 2007). Yet another reason why Facebook should have never left their college niche. “Teens have more autonomy to do, say and go where they wish than they have had historically” (Stern and Willis, 2007, 217). The three ways teenagers use the Internet is for communication, information seeking, and content creation. They communicate with their friends through Instant Messaging, (awww RIP, AIM) Facebook Messaging and Text Messaging with the phones they now have and the ripe age of eight. Damn you societal norms. They also use the Internet to seek information for school assignments and often complete those assignments now completely online. Now, more popular than ever kids are posting photos via Instagram, tweeting tweets they shouldn’t be during school hours and maybe writing the occasional blog post. Despite these uses parents are still concerned with access to “inappropriate” content.

Having the world’s information at the thumbs of your kids is scary sure with websites that have content about “eating disorders, bomb making, alcohol, smoking, and most of all, pornography,” parents are concerned teens who are seeking information about these topics will find an overload of information easily and those teens not seeking this type of information may accidently stumble upon it (Stern and Willis, 2007, 218; Aikat, 2005). For example, is the official website of the government establishment, but an unknowing teen may accidently type in the dot com (.com) address only to find explicit content. Note: It’s no longer an explicit site like it was when I was in sixth grade, but for the sake of argument…that example will do. Right? thanks.

But I have also found in recent talks with parents (disclaimer: I’m not a parent) that the “everybody’s-doing-it syndrome” is taking over. And as a parent it’s getting more difficult to just say “no” to requests like “everyone has a cellphone, mom” which can quickly elaborate to “everyone has a Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, insert all the social networking tools here.”
So as a parent…what do you do? Do you give in? What age is an appropriate age to allow your son or daughter to handle the responsibility of a cellphone and online communications. Parents, I want to hear from you! Leave a comment!