Are children helpless observers, doomed to do all of the bad behaviors they have seen? No. This is what child “raising” is all about – raising children above their automatic impulses, in order to become rational and successful adults.
Parents, professionals and our culture have a huge influence over which behaviors are acceptable and which are not. If children learn that a behavior they have just seen is bad in the eyes of those closest to them, they are much less likely to do it themselves. But if the people they are closest to are doing the bad behavior, they are much more likely to do it themselves.
Children learn social rules from their many environments – their family culture, community leaders and the media. In most modern families, violence, sexist jokes and running away are discouraged or strongly forbidden. But in some families, these are tolerated or even encouraged.
Ironically, television drama, movies and the news repeatedly show bad behavior and in many cases treat it as acceptable, funny or even desirable. They do this to get your attention, so that you will watch their programs and buy the products they advertise. Unfortunately, while adults may think the extreme behaviors they see on the screen are funny or good drama, children are seeing them as role-modeling. After all, children’s brains are not fully developed until they are about 25 years old.
What’s entertainment for adults will become part of children’s repertoire of socially-acceptable behavior – since television, movies and the news are given such high status in our modern society. And this is all happening unconsciously.