When I joined the Speech and Debate Team at my high school, I was amazed. My first two years, I witnessed kids as young as fourteen civilly debating matters of public and international policy intricately, thoughtfully, and factually. That factual aspect was what struck me. These students spent hours each week researching and examining sources to make sure their arguments were well rounded.
But I noticed a gradual shift in rhetoric and research quality. Debaters have become more willing to behave aggressively in and out of their rounds. Speech topics have moved farther away from being solution oriented. The sources individuals are using have become increasingly questionable. (When asked what qualifications her sources had, a debater once responded to me with “It is a .org, and therefore it is credible”). The competition stopped being about listening and learning and became about fighting to win in any possible way.
My fellow competitors and I have recognized this shift and we attribute it to a general idea: our exposure to media. We watched the news across various devices and platforms, as Speech and Debate kids do, and absorbed how those we watched responded to arguments. We examined how they spoke, countered, and defended. And even though their reactions were not aspects of classical decorum, we implemented them. We thought, if political commentators can yell at one another, so can we. If the news reports on the radio can have tenuous sources, so can we. If our communities can become polarized and not fully hear opponents’ opinions, so can we.
Our constant exposure to this media through our devices allows these behaviors to become acceptable and ingrained in our minds. The famous Bobo Doll experiment conducted by Albert Bandura illustrates this concept of observational learning and modeling. The experiment shows that we learn from what we observe and look to imitate those behaviors. Speech and Debate competitions allowed me to understand the impact of technology on children and teenagers. The media and information we surrounded ourselves slowly morphed the way we interacted with others and the world.
What about you? Have you had an experience where you fully realized the influence of media on your life? What did you do to try and change after you had that realization?
Bobo Doll Experiment
Study Abstract About Teenagers Learning Behaviors from Movies