As described by Merriam-Webster, a stereotype is a standardized mental picture that is held in common by members of a group. Although the word “stereotype” tends to have a negative connotation you may have noticed the active role the media has in reinforcing these stereotypes. Whether on T.V., Internet or video games, these generalizations paint many people unfairly and misinform kids about the world they live in.
Media are full of economic, gender, and ethnic stereotypes, from the roles of good guys and bad guys in video games to the animated films our youngest children enjoy, say Common Sense Media. White male heroes far outnumber both women and minorities in media portrayals. And, although women have come a long way in how popular culture reflects their status, statistics show that women are still most often relegated to roles of love interest, sex object, or selfless saint.
The reason this matters is because the images our kids see powerfully inform their sense of what is “normal.” When kids see the same class, racial, and sexual relations portrayed over and over, it reinforces class, race, and gender stereotypes. The characters kids see can become role models – and kids may want to imitate the behavior they see. They may also form judgments about others based on portrayals in video games, in stories, and on TV.
Here are some tips for you to keep in mind:
Count – when you find yourself watching television or playing games with your kids take a tally of the characters. How many are male/female? Are the characters of certain gender or race portrayed a certain way? Discuss what you see with you children and see if they have any questions.
Dollar – as a parent and consumer you have the power. Not only to control what your children are exposed to but what companies produce. If you don’t like something speak up. When you write or call media companies that produce materials that you feel have stereotypes, company representatives assume there are many other folks who feel the same way you do. This means that when you speak up, you’re speaking for both yourself and for many others.
Discuss – Ask your kids about their values. What do they think about gender, racial, and economic equality? Then ask what they think of action heroes, sports heroes, and video game and movie villains. What about popular culture’s portrayals reflects their values? What doesn’t?
Stereotypes are all around your family. Exposing them and making sure your kids understand that stereotypes are not fact but generalizations is most important. Keeping the lines of communication open so your children can ask you questions when they’re confused will help to ease the burden of being surrounded by confusing messages. It’s most important to know that you’re in control of what your children view. Screening before hand or view material with your children will let you know exactly what they’re being presented with.