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The long-term effects of being exposed to propaganda at an early age

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UPR chapter.

Propaganda is a more or less organized attempt to use symbols to influence other people’s ideas, attitudes or behaviors (words, gestures, banners, monuments, music, clothing, brands, etc.). Propaganda is often used as a way to perpetuate a negative narrative. Particularly, politicians use this technique to influence elections and secure a win. In fact, any strategy aimed at persuading people can be classified as propaganda, which includes advertising. 

Propaganda usually entails avoiding the entire story behind what is actually being publicized and providing information that is usually biased. This technique reached its pinnacle during World War II. On  one hand, posters of Uncle Sam urging young men to join the military and fight for their nation adorned the streets. On the other hand, under Hitler’s regime, the German government used propaganda to both promote and encourage nazism. As somewhat of a result, propaganda might be considered a synonym for manipulation and control.

Now, it is nearly impossible to avoid being influenced by the media, especially when we take into account ever-evolving  technologies and easy access to information. We are constantly influenced by the multiplicity of messages and pictures that entice and intoxicate us as communication expands. However, because we can choose to use our critical thinking, we have the option of selecting those that best meet our actual needs. Unfortunately, this is not the case for children because their brains are still developing. Hence, they may be particularly  vulnerable to persuasion, which  can affect their lives in the long term.  

Children and propaganda:

Although children between the ages of 2-3 have the cognitive ability to make logical connections between things, it is known that they do not acquire critical thinking until about the age of 12, making them more impressionable to commercial allure. Despite the fact that children of that age are unable to engage in civil acts such as purchasing and selling, advertising targets them directly as full consumers. 

Because the average child is exposed to over 40,000 TV advertisements per year and the advertising industry spends $12 billion per year on advertising, this exposure can have a significant impact on how children think, act and feel. Children learn by watching and imitating what they see within their surroundings. As a result, propaganda plays a significant role in forming a child’s character, and let’s not forget that the content they see and hear may have an impact on how they perceive the world.

Advertising shortens childhood in the haste to create new consumers ahead of time without considering the grave ramifications of the appropriation of authentic childhoods. Violence results from the desire for expensive products introduced to many children who barely have food; childhood obesity is promoted by an excessive offering of unhealthy products; and depression and frustration may stem from the association of the concept of happiness with the act of consuming.

Propaganda, on the other hand, raises expectations and distorts our perception of reality, leading us to assume that everything we see is how it should be. When you or your life do not reach such standards, you may feel like a failure. This might lead to depression, since you don’t feel like you’re living the life you’re supposed to.

High expectations can sometimes lead to emotional problems such as  anxiety and despair. According to the findings of a study , a group of law students who felt exceedingly pressured by their parents’ expectations and their definitions of success suffered from significant depression, anxiety and stress symptoms. The study also discovered that when students’ degrees of psychological distress increased, so did their motivation and ambitions. Setting high standards for yourself doesn’t always imply that you will suffer from depression. However, if you don’t achieve your goals, you may feel guilty, or you may feel easily irritable and restless as a result of your anxiety. 

When children are exposed to high standards from an early age, they may develop an unhealthy perception of what the world should be like, only to be disappointed by the reality of modern-day society.

The conversation of propaganda having negative or positive effects on society as a whole is still a subject of ongoing debate… However, it has been employed throughout history in various forms and ways, and it continues to influence our lives and the society we live in. Propaganda has left an emotional impact on us and oftentimes has a tendency to appeal  to the traditionalist in all of us. It leads us to bend our thinking to the propagandist’s position, whether it’s a perspective on a governmental policy, a political cause or a corporate issue. 

Adriana Quiles is junior at the University of Puerto Rico Recinto de Río Piedras. She's very passionate about female empowerment and feels that Her Campus is her ideal outlet to talk about topics that matter to her and to all women.