The Role of Fictional Story During Our Early Identity Development

Kids’ media consumption choices influence their identity development from early childhood through adolescence

Teenager watching the Amazon’s series, The Expanse. Photo credit: Mayra Ruiz-McPherson, MA, MFA

In reading Chapter 6 of Finding Truth in Fiction: What Fan Culture Gets Right–And Why It’s Good to Get Lost in a Story by Dill-Shackleford and Vinney (2020), a chapter that covers identity development from early childhood through adolescence, I began to wonder about my own 14-year-old son’s (Brandon) media consumption choices and influences in recent months.

In those insightful pages, authors Dill-Shackleford and Vinney (2020) explain fictional stories accessed by adolescents through mass media can give them opportunities to discover new things.

Brandon agreed with the authors’ claim and proceeded to share his strong interest in The Expanse (2015), a science fiction-themed Amazon series set in space 200 years from now. He then went on to explain how the series showcases three primary worlds (that of Earth, Mars, and “The Belt”) constantly at odds with each other over (limited) resources and space itself.

When asked how this observation and realization impacted his various perspectives on values, attitudes, and beliefs (a subject discussed in length throughout Chapter 6), Brandon did not offer as much insight. Instead, he only shared how such thoughts leave him feeling rather helpless or powerless.

Some thoughts

This exchange with my teenage son made me realize that while he’s probably not in deep thought about how his preferred fictional narrative, The Expansive (2015), might play an influential role in crafting his life’s views and his own identity beyond what he shared (it will be interesting to see if or how he does in time), his uncertainty about such matters underscores Dill-Shackleford’s and Vinney’s (2020) notion that it may be a challenge for people to see the role story has played in who they are.

Moreover, while Brandon still has plenty of life ahead to experience and grow, the opportunity for him to (later/eventually) leverage ideas or inspirations drawn from the fictional Expanse (2015) series remains.

This is in line with Dill-Shackleford’s and Vinney’s (2020) view that identity doesn’t just happen overnight; it develops throughout our lives as we grow, learn, and change.

Yet because we spend our lives surrounded by stories, it’s entirely possible that the impact of watching The Expanse (2015) series may have some influence on Brandon’s mindset and identity development over time.

The Adolescents’ Media Practice Model (AMPM)

In so far as Brandon’s media consumption experience where The Expanse (2015) series is concerned, the fact that Brandon’s not yet fully processed how the series has or is shaping his views and beliefs also speaks to the idea that Brandon’s not yet passed the second step of the Adolescents’ Media Practice Model (AMPM), founded by researchers Steele and Brown (1995).

According to Steele and Brown (1995), their Adolescents’ Media Practice Model contributes three important dimensions to the traditional conceptualization of mass media uses and effects” (p. 4), which are:

  1. a focus on the everyday activities and routines of media consumption, which allows for an insightful examination of the moment-to-moment interface between media and teenagers to determine media’s influence on adolescents;
  2. a “lived through experience” (Vygotsky, 1978; Wertsch, 1991) perspective, akin to “a complex sociogenetic construct that sees the process of development as a constant bridging” (p. 4); in other words, this perspective allows for a better understanding of how an adolescent “builds on and transforms the shared sociocultural knowledge available through the media” (p. 4).
  3. identity formation, the central task of adolescent development, as a key component, because “teens’ sense of who they are shapes their encounters with media, and those encounters, in turn, shape their sense of themselves in the ongoing process of cultural production and reproduction” (p. 4).

The Adolescents’ Media Practice Model’s three steps, and how they relate to Brandon’s media consumption choice, include the following:

  1. The first step of the AMP model focuses on selection, and in Brandon’s case, the media option he chose to consume, The Expanse (2015), is a fictional video series set into the future.
  2. AMP model’s second step focuses on interaction engagement where the viewer interprets and evaluates the messages media communicate. As noted, Brandon leveraged the idea of fighting and competing worlds to our modern-day geo/socio/political climate, thus “seeing” how the battle for mindshare and resources is real in everyday life, not just in fictional space.
  3. In Brandon’s case, however, I posit that the third step of the AMP model — where one applies what they’ve taken from his/her experiences with media in their daily lives (p. 14) — hasn’t fully materialized. This last step of the AMP model is, in Brandon’s case, may remain latent for some time while his identity development continues.

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References

Dill-Shackleford, K.E., & Vinney, C. (2020). Finding truth in fiction. New York: Oxford University Press.

Reysen, S., & Branscombe, N. R. (2010). Fanship and fandom: Comparisons between sport and non-sport fans. Journal of Sport Behavior, 33(2), 176.

Steele, J. R., & Brown, J. D. (1995). Adolescent room culture: Studying media in the context of everyday life. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 24(5), 551–576.

The expanse. (TV series 2015– ). (2015, November 23). IMDb. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt3230854.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. In M. Cole, V. John- Steiner, S. Scribner, and E. Souberman (Eds.). Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.

Wertsch, J. V. (1991). Voices of the Mind: A Sociocultural Approach to Mediated Action. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.

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Thanks for reading!

I write about human-technology interaction, mediated technologies, cyberpsychology, positive media psychology, narrative psychology, social psychology, brand psychology, transmedia storytelling, neuro design, behavior design, and so much more.

And once in a very blue moon, I’ll also creatively write about completely random stuff that has absolutely nothing to do with my profession :)

Mayra Ruiz-McPherson, MA, MFA
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media psychologist • neuroscience scholar • philosophy curious • tech ethicist • visual artist 🎨 designer • incurable bibliophile • #amwriting ✍️🗒️✏️