Q: My daughter just posted a plea on her Facebook wall asking for help finding quality TV shows for elementary age girls (my granddaughter is 7). I know she has been frustrated by the shows her daughter currently watches, as she believes the female characters act cruelly to each other, and she’s concerned about how this kind of messaging affects her daughter. I think she is looking for both show recommendations and if there is a way that she, and other parents like her, can influence what is presented on TV.
~ iGranny, USA
A: Dear iGranny,
Your daughter’s question is one with which many parents struggle when searching for developmentally optimal content that features positive, inspiring role models with whom their children can relate. The issue becomes even deeper when specifically looking for positive portrayals of women and girls in children’s media, as female characters have historically been underplayed or portrayed as weak, sexualized or mean-spiritedly competitive with other female characters. Research has repeatedly shown that these portrayals of female characters can negatively influence how young girls view their bodies and gender roles, yet even today, these negative stereotypes can be found in many movies and TV shows.
You and your daughter are not alone in wanting to guide your granddaughter toward media that will be enlightening, empowering and uplifting for her. Although it may seem daunting, you have come to the right place – there are many practical steps you can take when seeking and selecting media for your granddaughter:
- Look for resources: Check out sources such as A Mighty Girl, which focuses specifically on providing users with descriptive listings of TV shows, movies, and books that bolster girls’ self-esteem, intelligence, and foster their curiosity to learn.
- Choose positive networks: Know what kinds of content play on each network–stereotyped cartoons? Catty sitcoms? Or positive programming? Choose to watch networks that make conscious choices to support children’s social emotional learning as part of their mission, such as PBSKids.
- Do your research: Read reviews, get advice from other parents and caregivers, and explore the “Kids” guidance from streaming services, such as Netflix, Hulu, and Apple TV.
- Ask an expert: Many local libraries have DVD sections. Children’s Librarians can be a valuable resource when it comes to choosing a TV series or movie that will best fit your granddaughter’s needs.
In terms of the current content your daughter is finding, remember that TV is a business and businesses depend on customers to survive. Your daughter and granddaughter are customers of the TV series and TV station. What that station is selling is either subscriptions to viewers or the viewers’ attention to advertisers. Either way, their business depends on consumers to view their programming and to come back for more. If there are shows that your daughter believes may harm your granddaughter, she can write to the producers, distributers, and broadcasters to say, “I will not be watching this show anymore”. Believe it or not, very few people write to creators and providers of TV content, so even a single letter makes a difference. Your daughter can follow up by discussing, respectfully and compassionately, with your granddaughter how she feels that watching those shows may harm her developing brain. (Just as she would explain the use of alcohol at age seven.) When we turn the TV on and watch any show, we are not just condoning, but encouraging producers to make more shows like it. Your granddaughter’s understanding of how she is affected can make her an ally with your daughter, ensuring that she will not only avoid viewing shows that diminish her at home, but anywhere she goes. And she will spread the word to her friends, and they will spread the word, and so on. Producers will follow the market and the best way to stop them is to increase their cost by pushback via letters and decrease their earning by just saying “Off!”
Enjoy your media and use them wisely,