We’re living in a digital age. And as a parent, this can be a whole new world to navigate as your kids grow up. When kids enter their school years, they’ll want to start being more independent, have their own mobile devices and choose what they want to watch – but it’s important to think about the influence of media on children, too.
Every parent has different opinions about screen time, and every family manages media differently. In this article, we’ll discuss kids’ media and stereotypes, how it can influence children’s self-esteem and the effects of negative body image. So that you can make more informed decisions around the screen time rules in your family.
Appearance standards and stereotypes in kids’ media
TV shows, films, books, online games and apps. Kids’ media comes in so many forms – and they all teach them about what’s acceptable and celebrated in society. Some of them show narrow beauty ideals and appearance standards, that can also reinforce outdated ideals in relation to gender.
Ask most kids to describe a princess, and they’ll often describe someone that’s slim, super feminine, and conventionally “pretty”. Research has found that Disney princess media doesn't seem to impact the body image of girls under 6 years old1,2. This could be because they identify with the characters, rather than compare themselves to them. But as girls get older, something changes and they begin to compare themselves with others. So it’s important to ensure that girls see a wide range of bodies and appearances in the media they see at this age. But it’s not just girls who are affected by the stereotypes in media, the effects of negative body image can impact boys too. Male characters also conform to societal gender and appearance standards. Male action figures, and characters in films and video games are often unrealistic and hyper muscular. Research with 6-year-old boys has also shown that one third wished to be more muscular than they are3.
Villains or “baddies” are often characterized by facial features that don’t conform to societal appearance standards and have stereotypically ‘unattractive’ features. Typically attractive characters usually have more desirable personality traits too (e.g., funny, smart, curious), while those who don't conform to societal norms of attractiveness are more likely to be labelled as lazy, boring, greedy or mean. This sends the message to kids that it’s okay to judge people’s personal qualities by how they look, and this reinforces stereotypes and prejudice.
Why do you think that the evil characters look a certain way? Could that hurt some people’s feelings?
What do the ‘good’ characters have in common and why might that be? Can you see any problems with that?
Why do you think these actors have been chosen to be in the film/show? Do they look like people in real life?