How to Use Media to Talk to Kids about Race

Discussing stereotypes and racism

By Lindsey Self, local mom and legal professional 

Elementary school aged children spend hours each day in front of a screen. What do they see during those hours? For one, kids are not seeing demographics that reflect society as a whole: only about 7% of children’s programming includes characters of color. 

Media’s influence

Racial stereotyping in children’s media can leave a lasting impression. There is a connection

between negative media portrayals of particular groups and low self-esteem in children of those groups. Racial stereotypes in media can also skew the way children categorize people, particularly when children have limited contact with people of other races and rely on media to formulate ideas about people outside of their own race.

It can be difficult for children to identify stereotypes, so it is up to parents to speak up and build critical thinking skills that will allow children to question stereotypes as they get older. Consider the characters in children’s media. Are different races represented? If so, what roles do they play? How do characters look and how do they sound? Who is a hero and who is the villain?

Critique media

When you see something questionable within a children’s show, it’s important to call it out and to  express disapproval of stereotypes to child viewers. Explain to children why portraying members of a group in a particular way can shape the way we perceive people, or ourselves, in real life. By identifying and voicing disapproval of stereotypes in children’s media, kids learn to do the same.

Find shows that counter stereotypes and look for movies that depict people of color in a positive light. As children grow, they will learn to question and identify racism in the everyday world, which is an important step in moving our society towards perceptions of equality.