Break­ing stereo­types

Ac­tively teach and role-model gen­der equal­ity, us­ing these age-based strate­gies.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Family - By CAR­O­LINE KNORR

GEN­DER stereo­types are mess­ing with your kid. It’s not just one movie. It’s not just one TV show.

It’s con­stant ex­po­sure to the same dated con­cepts in the me­dia over and over, start­ing be­fore preschool and last­ing a life­time – con­cepts like: Boys are smarter than girls; cer­tain jobs are best for men and others for women; and even that girls are re­spon­si­ble for their own sex­ual as­saults.

If you thought this stuff went out with Leave It to Beaver, the new Com­mon Sense Me­dia re­port, “Watch­ing Gen­der: How Stereo­types in Movies and on TV Im­pact Kids’ De­vel­op­ment”, will put you right back in June Cleaver’s kitchen.

Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, which an­a­lysed more than 150 ar­ti­cles, in­ter­views, books, and other so­cial-sci­en­tific re­search, gen­der stereo­types in movies and on TV shows are more than per­sis­tent; they’re in­cred­i­bly ef­fec­tive at teach­ing kids what the cul­ture ex­pects of boys and girls.

What makes these mes­sages stick – and harder for par­ents to coun­ter­act – is that they’re timed for the pre­cise mo­ment in kids’ de­vel­op­ment when they’re most re­cep­tive to their in­flu­ence.

Think of preschool­ers who are just be­gin­ning to iden­tify as boys or girls. The char­ac­ters they see on TV and in movies of­ten have an ob­vi­ous mas­cu­line or fem­i­nine ap­pear­ance, such as a su­per­hero’s big mus­cles or a princess’ long hair. These char­ac­ter­is­tics also are of­ten as­so­ci­ated with spe­cific traits, for ex­am­ple, be­ing strong and brave or fear­ful and meek.

Fast-for­ward to the tween and teen years, when char­ac­ters be­gin to wres­tle with re­la­tion­ships, sex, and job prospects. That “strong and brave” su­per­hero be­comes ag­gres­sive and hos­tile. That “fear­ful and meek” princess be­come sub­mis­sive and weak.

For young au­di­ences who ab­sorb ideas from the me­dia on how to be­have and what to be­come, these char­ac­ter­i­sa­tions can lead to false as­sump­tions and harm­ful con­clu­sions. These over­sim­pli­fied char­ac­ter­i­sa­tions play out in many ways over and over.

Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, a life­time of view­ing stereo­typ­i­cal me­dia be­comes so in­grained it can ul­ti­mately af­fect kids’ ca­reer choices, self-worth, re­la­tion­ships, and abil­ity to achieve their full po­ten­tial.

And lots of par­ents are con­cerned about these is­sues, too.

We polled nearly 1,000 par­ents across the coun­try and found that they be­lieve the me­dia has a sig­nif­i­cant in­flu­ence on their kids, from how girls should look and be­have to how see­ing vi­o­lence can af­fect boys’ be­liefs about them­selves.

Luck­ily, par­ents can as­sert con­trol over the mes­sages that Hol­ly­wood dishes out. Be­cause, let’s face it: Ex­ag­ger­at­ing the dif­fer­ences be­tween boys and girls is just a ploy to keep au­di­ences en­ter­tained. It’s not what we re­ally want our kids to em­u­late.

While there are movies and TV shows that defy gen­der stereo­types – and Hol­ly­wood is mak­ing some progress on this front – you’re not go­ing to be able to pre­vent your kids from see­ing ev­ery­thing that sends the wrong mes­sage. And your kids prob­a­bly like a lot of me­dia that re­in­forces stereo­types.

For­tu­nately, the most pow­er­ful mes­sages kids ab­sorb are from you. When you ac­tively role-model gen­der equal­ity, speak out against stereo­types, and chal­lenge out­dated ideas, kids will hear that loud and clear.

Also, you have a lot of con­trol over your kids’ me­dia, mostly when they’re lit­tle, but even as they grow. Choose qual­ity me­dia that re­flects your val­ues, and talk to your kids about the movies and TV shows they watch.

Use these age-based strate­gies – from tod­dler­hood to the teen years – to reach kids at the ex­act mo­ment they need to hear them. – Com­mon Sense Me­dia/Tri­bune News Ser­vice

Par­ents can ac­tively de­bunk gen­der stereo­types in me­dia por­trayal, such as telling their daugh­ters they can play with any toys they like. —

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