The Impact of Television on Social Values in Kuwaiti Families
The impact of television on social relationships and attitudes to various social phenomena remains one of the major concerns in present day science. While western societies display the threatening signs of social and moral degradation, many view television as the central element of this social self-destruction. Even more interesting is the impact of television on more traditional Middle Eastern communities, which position their social values as the basis for continuous economic and political flourishing: with the development of media technologies, these communities appear too vulnerable and unprepared to responding to the negative effects of television. That is why it is more than important to explore the impact of television on family relations in Kuwait. The choice of Kuwait is justified by the fact that the concept of television may not always fit into the traditional set of its national and individual social values. Moreover, Kuwait is a rare example of the society that has been able to retain its unique cultural heritage without compromising it with the new westernised values that change the country through television and other forms of electronic media.
Earlier researches suggested that television produces negative impact on the quality of social relations within families regardless their cultural and ethnic origin. Now, researchers in the field of sociology and media relations generally keep to several different types of theoretical assumptions. First, researchers believe that among family members, teenagers are the most vulnerable to negative effects of television (Gentzkow & Shapiro 2008). Teenagers frequently become the subjects of similar sociological researches for two reasons: (1) teenagers are believed to spend more time in front of the TV screen than their parents or younger children; simultaneously, (2) the period of difficult transition from childhood to adolescence and later adulthood is the “time when children begin to exhibit more accurately the dominant social values of society” (Condon 1998). As a result, teenagers are more susceptible to the values presented by TV programs and are more likely to change their social visions under the impact of television. In this context, researchers generally agree that under the impact of television, teenagers distance themselves from the dominant social values promoted by previous generations (i.e. parents) and display the new quality of behavioural patterns (Condon 1998; Halpem 2005; Olken 2008). These social cleavages are particularly visible in Eastern and Middle Eastern societies, where media turns into the instrument of westernisation (Olken 2008). In his research of Inuit families, Condon (1998) concludes that teenagers exposed to television change their social expectations and no longer rely on interpersonal cooperation and friendship, which used to determine the quality of social relationships for their parents. These differences rarely cause serious family conflicts, as teenagers are more apt to maintain precarious balance between the two different ways of looking at the world around them (Halpem 2005).
Second, researchers mostly agree that television changes the quality of intrapersonal trust, civic engagement, and life satisfaction. In the modern society, where the amount and the quality of work determine the quality of one’s wellbeing, people tend to disrupt the stability of their personal relations with others and shift the emphasis from personal relations to work. As a result, many of them use television to satisfy their socialisation needs (Halpem 2005; Kanazawa 2002). In his research, Kanazawa (2002) suggests that “people psychologically fail to distinguish between real friends and the imaginary ones they see on TV. […] People who watch certain types of TV are more satisfied with their friendships as if they had more friends and socialised with them more often”. Furthermore, TV changes the attitudes toward civic engagement of families, implying that the more adults tend to watch TV, the less they are prepared to volunteer in public activities initiated by their community (Halpem 2005). The results of this research can be extended to imply that television makes individual relations between family members and with other community members more static.
Third, television changes the quality of interactions within social networks. The simulation study performed by Stocker, Cornforth and Green (2006) supports the thesis that under the influence of external factors (i.e., television) social networks display the signs of coherence breakdowns. “As the exposure to the external influence is increased, a critical point is reached where the number of nodes changing opinion rapidly increase” (Stocker, Cornforth and Green 2006); as a result, under the impact of television the families are likely to reach the point, where their exposure to television watching will have a dramatic negative effect on the stability of marital relations.
The results of these studies present several substantial problems that need to be addressed in future research. Primarily, it is not clear whether all television programs produce equally negative effects on family engagement and the quality of marital relations. Here, it is more interesting to review the results of Vanderwater and Bickham’s (2004) research in relation to the impact of educational television on young children’s reading habits: the authors conclude that parents need to encourage educational television viewing. These recommendations stem from the assertion that educational television is a prerequisite of better learning outcomes in children, and promotes increased exposure of children to social values of particular society. Thus, when studying the impact of television on Kuwaiti families, the distinction between entertainment and educational programs should be made. Second, one should be very cautious with the assumption that television produces a unilaterally negative effect on social values. According to Halpem (2005), television has significantly increased individual loyalty to social values in Sweden, Japan, and Netherlands. Taking into account the strict legal instruments that regulate TV performance in Kuwait, it is possible that the impact of television on individual relations will be less negative than that observed in western countries.
The future research will be centered around the five critical questions in regard to the impact of television on social values within Kuwaiti families. (1) How does television impact the quality of marital relationships between the husband and wife? (2) How does television impact Kuwaiti children? (3) What social values are particularly vulnerable to the effects of media? (4) What are the advantages and disadvantages of television in terms of social values promoted within Kuwaiti families? (5) How do parents control the programs watched by their children?
Quantitative research with simple random sampling will form the central methodological element of future research. Simple online survey will be used to target the population sample. 400 online surveys will be sent to Kuwaiti families with the invitation to participate in the survey. It is expected that no less than 50% will agree and provide their responses. Anonymity will guarantee the objectivity of research results. The quantitative research will form the basis for evaluating the statistical variations across Kuwaiti families. Quantitative methodology will help assess the percentage of families who regularly watch television, the percentage of families and family members who feel that television negatively impacts their relations with spouses, and the number of children who have benefited of watching Kuwaiti television. These are some out of many aspects that will be addressed with the aim to explore the impact of television on Kuwaiti families.
Importance of research
The role of television in the development or disruption of social values in Middle Eastern countries is heavily disregarded by literature. In the light of cultural globalisation and the spreading of western values on more traditional societies, television is likely to serve the link between western and eastern communities. Simultaneously, the incorporation of modernised technologies into the structure of social capital in Kuwait may have negative social results, distancing children from parents and making marital relationships more static. The research is expected to close significant gaps that currently exist in literature. The task of this research is to form the foundation for the new quality of exploration at the individual (family) level with the perspective for the emergence and identification of a new social trend.
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