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When I was a kid I wasn’t allowed to watch anything but PBS. I was completely out of the loop and constantly teased for my lameness. I will never do that to my kids!

Kids loving TV is a reality for parents, and it can be a positive force. But a SurveyUSA poll of 1000 parents finds that more children are spending time with media at a much younger age and for much longer periods of time than what is recommended by experts. According to the survey, 62% of preschoolers spend two or more hours with media per day while 69% of children seven years or older spend two or more hours with media per day. Little girls today are more sexualized than ever, and maybe because they idolize kids TV stars like Miley Cyrus or the Jonas brothers’ girlfriends. Little girls are “girlier” than ever, more princessy and glittery than ever. “Every girl goes through a princess phase,” says my mom, and yes, when I was five, I only wore pink for a whole year. But today’s princesses now have a scary sexy edge. I have a little boy- his little onesies are already mostly sports-themed and he can’t even walk! And when he starts to watch TV, I’ll have an even harder time letting him wear colors besides blue and camouflage.

Research from a new non-profit called TrueChild.org confirms my fears. “we know that narrow and extreme images and messages, including the hypersexualization of girls and emphasis on war-ready toughness for boys, is causing a lot of harm to children,” says Tammy Palazzo, who heads research for TrueChild.  These limiting and unrealistic “ideals” are strongly linked to eating disorders, bullying, early sexual activity and other problems that surface in the tween and teen years as children struggle to conform.

The survey of 1000 parents finds kids are watching more shows, and parents are worried about the shows’ effects. Parents with daughters under the age of six were three times more likely to worry about their daughters becoming sexually active at a young age as a result of the images they see than parents with school-age and tween daughters (who I guess are already indoctrinated?). Parents with sons under the age of six were five times more likely to worry about their sons becoming bullies as a result of the images they see than parents with school-aged and tween sons. The children’s TV analysis of popular shows from Jonas to iCarly, Higglytown Heroes to Go Diego Go revealed that:

•    24 school-aged programs reviewed, only six (25%) had exclusive girl leads.
•    Of the major and minor characters, girls represented 28% to boy’s 72% and 60% to boy’s 40% of the minor characters, respectively.
•    In general, the major and minor girl characters fell into three main archetypes: the boy-crazy beauty queen, the nagging and annoying friend or sister of the male lead, or the nerdy girl.  In contrast, when leading girl characters were created, the networks got it right.
•    The top scoring show in the school-aged category was iCarly on Nickelodeon, a show that features strong, confident girls who are technologically savvy, creative and bright.  That’s so Raven on the Disney Network also received high marks.

The shows’ stereotypes harm boys and girls.

“While boys have the lion’s share of roles, in fact, the creativity surrounding their characters is stagnant.  Most of those characters fall into two categories: the central lead boy who the girls love or the sidekick goofy boy who loves girls, but is chronically tongue-tied.

There are some bright spots, Go Diego Go (Noggin) edged out Dora the Explorer (Noggin) for the highest grade-- the original Dora creators (new, thinner, urban tween Dora aside) did just that much better in creating a more expansive boy character when they created Diego.  Another breakout character is Josh from Drake and Josh on Nickelodeon.  He is far more vulnerable and emotional than most boy characters on television.  He also breaks out of the typical body type. “

And, although his recent escapade into Burger King land was a scandal, SpongeBob of SpongeBob SquarePants, also on Nickelodeon, is “another refreshing breakout male character.”  SpongeBob exhibits a broad range of emotional and is exceedingly vulnerable.  He is willing to talk about his fears and readily asks for help.

Go Spongebob! Who knew.

Both MomsRising and TrueChild want to provide our kids with good role models on TV.  This isn’t about isolating our kids from pop culture, it’s about bringing about positive culture change.

What would you tell the producers of popular children’s shows?

You can join TrueChild founder Eliabeth Birch and Tammy Palazzo tonight at 7:30 Eastern for a Twittercast to talk about Tween/kids TV and stereotypes and how to fix it
On Twitter, use #TrueChild and visit tweetchat.com/room/TrueChild


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