Media Health Matters


Media Content–Teaching Tolerance or Securing Stereotypes?


What do media teach your child about who she is and who she can be? Does she see people who look like her–and those who are different from her–being represented in varied and positive ways? How people are portrayed in media can affect your child’s concept of both others and herself. Depending on content and other factors, like what your child hears from peers and adults, media can help teach tolerance or secure stereotypes.


Tolerance is a healthy lesson for children because: (1) Stereotype bias (which is often unconscious) can impede the confidence, performance, and ultimately the heath of marginalized individuals. (2) Growing up in homes that are accepting of differences can help children be more content and accepting of themselves. (3) The ability to respectfully collaborate with people of differing religions, ethnicities, abilities, and cultures is a valuable 21st century skill.


Although it can often send negative messages, media can also help to promote the respect and understanding of differences. Parents and teachers seeking to teach tolerance can use media images to help raise awareness of the messages they send.
How do you use media to teach tolerance in your home or classroom? Exchange ideas with other forward-thinking parents on our Facebook page. And to help celebrate our 10 year anniversary, learn learn more about us by visiting our February Monthly Meet, which highlights CMCH team member Julie Polvinen.

— The CMCH Media Health Matters Team



From the Parent Network 

  • Look at race and gender roles from a young child’s point of view. Watch what your child watches. Biases, like all attitudes, start early and are learned gradually. Does your child see muppets that were created to humanize and destigmatize people, or exaggerated caricatures that create narrow ideas about race and gender roles? Are teachers and nurses always depicted as women? Are boys free to express emotion? Do beautiful girls or bad guys have a singular look? Preschoolers mimic behaviors they see on TV, and those behaviors can become habitual if they are rewarded in the child’s daily life. Repetitive inaccurate messages may impose limits on how your child imagines her future, so carefully choose media content that opens your child’s mind to healthful possibilities! 
  • Talk to middle-school kids about stereotypes and fairness. 
    Explain that a stereotype is an exaggerated belief about a person or a group–a generalization that allows for little or no individual differences–and that many stereotypes carry negative stigma that can hurt self-confidence and academic performance. Appeal to your pre-teen’s budding sense of fairness, and talk about what that means to them. Discuss stereotypes or tolerance in the media, and then encourage your child engage with children who are different than him during project time and playtime. This can help him learn about human differences and similarities firsthand, and help him humanize differences. 
  • Engage teens in media creation, and discuss the temptation to generalize. Next time your teens have “nothing to do,” encourage them to create a 5-minute story. The only requirement of this game might be that the story (home video, illustrations, or photos) must include a setting, characters, a challenge or situation, and an outcome or solution. Help them notice that the process of story telling is naturally predisposed to exaggeration and over-simplification. Discuss stereotype threat and the stereotypes — about gender, race, body image, religion, age, weight, etc. — your teen may have encountered in this game and in their everyday media content.


The Q &A         

From the Mediatrician


Dr. Michael Rich encourages families to enjoy their media and use them wisely! 

Drawing on his experience as a parent, pediatrician, professor, and filmmaker, Dr. Rich shares
science-based answers and practical solutions to your questions about media and child health.    
How important is outdoor recess for children in elementary school? 

Recess recess has many cognitive, social, emotional, and physical benefits for children, and nature has rhythms and rules of its own, that software can’t duplicate. So even when indoor media time is allowed instead of outdoor recess, encourage your child to get outside as often as possible!…  

>Read more 


Sarcasm requires complex coordination of brain processes to be fully understood. If you watch Family Guy episodes with your family, discuss it after viewing them. You can model sarcasm in humorous and non-hurtful ways, and help your sons understand not to use it in ways that could hurt other individuals or groups…





The Research  

From the CMCH Database                        

  • Children, wired: For better and for worse. A review of research on cognitive development of children who use educational and entertainment media. 

  • Girls who watched thin models in music videos felt worse about their bodies afterward compared to the girls who only listened to music or did a word memory task.  >  See this study

  • Participants who viewed stereotypical videos were more likely to express traditional gender stereotypes than participants who had watched music videos neutral to sex and gender stereotypes.  >  See this study
  • Mean girls? Viewing teen movies was correlated with the undergraduates’ belief that social aggression is common and accepted in female friendships.  >  See this study