Social learning theory in media is a highly debatable subject. The theory originated as part of a psychological study and analysis of social behavior in criminology, Albert Bandura has been its chief proponent. Gradually, as mass media has made inroads into our living rooms, much of social learning has been influenced by it, especially among the impressionable minds of children and adolescents.
Social learning theory was originally conceived to study the patterns of behavior as part of psychology. More precisely, the theory was derived for analyzing criminology. According to the theory, the human mind is susceptible to learning from daily interaction with others and observation.
Adolescents have the most impressionable minds, which explains their ability to learn and quickly pick up behaviors from their surrounding environment. Behavior patterns do not necessarily have to be taught to them--they are highly receptive to learning through social interaction.
As media and its various forms have gradually intruded into most households, social learning theorists have identified the influence of media in shaping the social behavior of adolescents and children.
Significance of Theory in Media
Social learning theory in media cannot be overlooked, especially as the forms of media have increased manifold in the last decade. Initially it was only through television or newspaper or radio that the media could reach adolescent minds, manipulating their social learning abilities. But with the foray of the Internet and speedy broadband into our lives, the significance of social learning theory in media has grown and its influence can hardly be filtered. Easy access to today's social networking sites helps in shaping the behavior of adolescents. Since the virtual world is largely without restriction and without physical identity, it is easier to don a fictitious identity and get involved in activities that could be prohibited in the real (non-virtual) world.
Effects on Impressionable Minds
Spending so much of time in the virtual world affects the social learning abilities of young minds and the behavior of these youths. It is from the constant exposure to and interaction in the virtual world as well as through television and newspapers that children pick up many of their characteristic traits. These behavioral traits, learned as young adults, continues throughout adulthood. These are potential influences of social learning patterns seen in grownups.
Parents must consider that monitoring the social learning in media influencing their children may not be a viable option. However, spending more time trying to understand the young impressionable minds may be useful. For example, the language of adolescents is much different from that of adults and is always evolving.
If a social behavior of the child is unacceptable to the family, the source must be identified. Most of the time, the source can be found in the virtual world or other forms of media. Attempts at rectification should come from the same sources. For instance, parents might find an increasing streak of violence in children because of too much online gaming. Instead of simply reprimanding them, parents must bring attention to cases of children who have been victims of violent online games or virtual characters. And this should be illustrated using the same source--the Internet. This "preaching through interaction" helps young minds to understand concepts and behaviors better and faster, while at the same time averting the conflictual situation.
On the whole, social learning in media has become much more relevant than ever before because of the high exposure to media among young people. Critiques of social learning theory blame the media for indiscriminately giving information without any checks, warning that this could lead to overexposure of children and adolescents to violence and corruption. This exposure could influence them to develop the undesirable behaviors observed. However, supporters of the theory feel the upsurge of social learning theory in media will only help young minds to judge any situation better because of their exposure.