Social Influences: TV and Movies

    According to a survey from 2021, 41% of respondents (families with at least one child under the age of 18) said they watch between two and four hours of TV daily, with their families (Shull & Walker). They also found that watching TV was perceived as bringing families closer together, encouraged children to expand on their decision-making skills, and most families learned something new when they watched educational TV (Shull & Walker, 2021). What other influences can watching TV or movies have on families, youth, and marriage? Just like social media apps and trends, television can also be seen as a social influence that may play a role in how individuals and families interact and behave with each other and with society. Television can also contribute to our overall perception of society including families, peers, education, the workplace, and more.

Structure-function framework (Functionalism)

According to the structure-function framework, marriages and families serve as a social group that operates with the purpose of helping society function (Knox et al., 2024). Specifically, part of their function is to provide financially, as well as emotionally support the members of their family. Additionally, they’re expected to promote fulfillment and connections between members and the relationships (Knox et al., 2024). Marriage and relationships create spaces for members to “share their life and experiences, to help each other manage day-to-day responsibilities,... and to cope with stress and challenges (Knox et al., 2021, p. 14). Families with children are specifically expected to positively contribute to the development and socialization of their children in order for them to eventually provide for society.

  In the context of television, more families have and use the television as a way to spend time together and bond. As previously mentioned, a survey found that families (with at least one child under the age of 18) who watch TV together have also had positive experiences with learning and decision-making skills among the family, specifically in children (Shull & Walker, 2021). These kinds of positive impacts can add to a child’s, as well as adult’s overall socialization skills and form connections that can be beneficial when participating in society. Channels like the history channel, cooking channel, or PBS Kids can provide each member within a family with some kind of knowledge about society that they can later integrate into the real world. Examples of this may include socializing with other history fans, cooking a new meal for a party, or sharing in class because that’s what Elmo taught them to do. Through the lens of the structure-function framework, marriages and couples create opportunities for sharing experiences, helping one another on a daily basis, and providing a space to relieve stress or anxiety (Knox et al., 2024). Specifically, some ways for couples to share experiences include finding hobbies and activities, creating shared and unique traditions, and spending time with other friends and couples as a shared social network. However, if some of these options are not available or harder to manage depending on the circumstances, one alternative and accessible option is watching TV. In a study from 2017 by Gomillion et al., this concept of a shared social network is a key component in relationship satisfaction, commitment, and other positive outcomes. When couples have the space to share their “world” with others, they strengthen their feelings of connection within society and sense of belonging (Gomillion et al., 2017). When a strong social network is not accessible, watching TV and movies becomes a viable option as a way to obtain similar feelings in a different form. The study, in addition to several supporting general theories, found and concluded that “sharing the social connections provided by TV shows and movies can deepen intimacy and closeness” (Gomillion et al., 2017, p. 868). As TV shows and movies create unique and alternate worlds, individuals (particularly in relationships) are given the space to immerse themselves and become part of those worlds as they become invested. We see many fan groups of TV shows and movie series come together and bond over their shared interest, so one can only imagine the bond that is created between a couple (who already has a connection) that watches beloved TV shows or movies together. These kinds of positive impacts by media sources on relationships serve as another way to strengthen these bonds and, in turn, reinforce healthy relationships within society. In order for society to grow, marriages and families must practice fulfilling and healthy habits in order to remain stable, act as role models, and further down the road, continue to populate society. When done in a healthy manner, watching TV and movies can encourage and teach families and couples to connect with society and strengthen their bonds.

Social Exchange Theory

     Social exchange theory refers to the idea that the choices made in a relationship are decided through a weighted pros-and-cons process that analyzes which choice(s) has the most reward with the least amount of risk (Knox et al., 2021). This theory views relationships as constantly going through the process to assure that all possible options are always well thought out and the best choice is always being made. In the context of television, marriage, families, and relationships are represented in various ways, some very positive and healthy, while others may be negative and abusive. When it comes to real world couples watching television and media relationships, there may be a similar pros and cons process that occurs.

     Though general research is still pretty limited about the impact of television on marriages, relationships, and/or families, a study from 2012 uses exchange theory as one of several theories to attempt to explain a kind of pattern between couples who watch romantic-themed media and their levels of commitment and satisfaction in their relationship. It was found that those who watched more romantic-themed programs and had a higher belief in its depictions of relationships, felt less committed towards their relationship, perceived higher costs of their relationship, and saw alternative options as more attractive (Osborn, 2012). Further analysis suggested that because romantic-themed programs often depict their relationships as facing difficult obstacles, shifting partners and relationships, and a variety of alternative options that seem easily accessible (Osborn, 2012). As people in real world relationships watch fantasy versions of similar circumstances, members of the relationship may begin to compare and analyze the success and satisfaction of their real relationship to one depicted in the television and movie media. This may lead to positive outcomes if couples can openly discuss their strengths and weaknesses compared to those seen in programs and share their perspectives of the practices/habits that they do or don’t like. It can encourage healthy communication and help couples practice compromise, learning, and forgiveness, and in turn, improve relationship satisfaction. In my relationship, we have our list of shows that we watch and specifically when we watch our relationship-based reality TV shows, we often stop and talk about whatever happened, including what we liked or didn’t like about the couple and even ways we can relate to them. As previously mentioned, there is still limited research on this topic in depth, so further research could either expand on this connection or shed light to another explanation. 

Personal Experience

     My family has always been a “watch TV and eat dinner” kind of family, with our TV trays and paper plates. I’ve watched countless shows with my parents ranging from sitcoms to history shows to murder documentaries. I like to think my dad has one of the best senses of humor, so all the shows we watched (mostly sitcoms) were always very funny and I would try to pick up on funny jokes and comedic timing, and put them in my back pocket. Most times, I would bring this humor to school and test it out. A couple landed, but most didn’t (I like to think I was just ahead of my time). With that being said, watching TV was, and still is, one of the ways in which my family bonds. Outside of my family, I continue to enjoy making people laugh because it is something I love and something I have always connected to through the world of TV and movies. It has also become a part of mine and my boyfriend's relationship, specifically reality shows and sitcoms. We often pause the shows to have the most random and full conversations about what just happened. With our busy schedules, it is sometimes the easiest thing to do and we look forward to that time together.


     Though this blog doesn’t touch on the negatives of watching TV, I am aware they exist. When I was younger, I would usually switch between Disney Channel and Nickelodeon (and TLC with my mom). Once my parents overheard a show I was watching on Nickelodeon, they wouldn’t let me watch the show anymore. I never understood until later that I was being exposed to some weird and non age-appropriate content for my age. Though I was upset, it was in my best interest that my parents made that call. While TV shows and movies can teach us good habits and skills, it can also expose us to dangerous or inappropriate content that may result in negative consequences. At an early age, it’s important for parents to monitor what their kids are watching to make sure they are being exposed to positive sources. As adults striving for those positive impacts, we can opt for more positive, informative, wholesome, and funny forms of entertainment to achieve those benefits (all reality TV is included). 

Further Research

     Surprisingly, there is limited research on the impacts of television specifically on families and relationships. There are plenty of general studies about the effects of screen time, watching violent content, media use before sleep and so on. According to current and relevant research, watching television can help improve children's decision-making skills (Shull & Walker, 2021), as well as teach families new general skills and information. It is also fair to say, as with any other social material, if it is used or practiced in an unhealthy manner, such as excessive time spent watching TV or watching violent or inappropriate content, there is a greater chance of experiencing negative impacts. When fully immersed in relationship-themed media, couples may begin to compare their own relationships to the content, weighing the pros and cons of that relationship and the ones of their own. This can either lead to healthy and open conversations about their real world relationship, or encourage seeking alternative options that serve one or both members of the relationship (Osborn, 2012). Further research could explore the relationships between children watching television and the kinds of parenting styles, youth television programs and positive learned behaviors, and so on. We are fortunate enough to live in a technologically advanced society and it's within our best interest to know about the best ways to take advantage. There are plenty of other preferred and ideal forms of entertainment and, rather than advocating for time spent watching TV, this blog post aims to highlight some of the ways in which this media source can be used in a positive manner, especially when other options are not as easily accessible. 


Gomillion, S., Gabriel, S., Kawakami, K., & Young, A. F. (2017). Let’s stay home and watch TV: The benefits of shared media use for close relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 34(6), 855–874.

Knox, D., Schacht, C., & Chang, I.-T. J. (2024). Choices in Relationships (14th ed.). SAGE.

Osborn, J. L. (2012). When TV and Marriage Meet: A Social Exchange Analysis of the Impact of Television Viewing on Marital Satisfaction and Commitment. Mass Communication & Society, 15(5), 739–757.

Shull, C. (2021, July 13). Families are watching more TV than ever - and it’s bringing them together: Centurylinkquote. Find CenturyLink Internet, TV, Phone Services Information.,viewers%20new%20skills%20or%20facts



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