Parents seek more diversity in children’s movies and TV, but the entertainment industry continues to fail



A new report released today by Common Sense, “The Inclusion Imperative: Why Media Representation Is Important For Children’s Ethnic and Racial Development“, reveals that the media plays a vital role in children’s sense of identity and helps parents start important conversations about race. Almost 6 in 10 parents (57%) say the media their child consumes has sparked conversations about diversity, and an even greater percentage of parents say it is important that their children are exposed to content that helps them learn more about their own culture, religion or way of life. , 78% of parents want their children to be exposed to media that teach them about cultures, religions, and lifestyles different from their own, emphasizing the importance of stories and storylines that represent the diversity of a multicultural America .

But the report shows glaring diversity issues remain in the media, as people of color continue to be under-represented and poorly characterized in film and television roles across media platforms, networks and services. For example, characters of color in shows most watched by children aged 2 to 13 are more likely to be portrayed as violent, and women of all ethnic and racial groups in adult shows are more likely. to appear in sexualized roles.

“The media has a profound influence on how we see, understand and treat people, especially those who are of our race or ethnicity and who are different from them. And it is no different for them. children “, declares Onnie rogers, PhD, a researcher of Northwestern University who co-authored the report. “Media representation is important for how children construct their perspective on their own ethnic and racial group, as well as that of others. This research allows us to better understand how media, race and representation are all linked with lasting effects. “

The report, co-authored by Rogers; Dana mastro, PhD, professor of communication at the University of California, Santa Barbara; Michael B. Robb, PhD, Senior Director of Research at Common Sense; and Alanna peebles, PhD, Assistant Professor of Communication, Media and Technology at San Diego State University, synthesizes existing research from over 150 journal articles, book chapters, reports and other academic sources to gain the best available understanding of how media might influence children’s ethnic and racial development. A nationally representative survey of over 1,100 parents of children aged 2 to 12 was also conducted to help shed light on what parents expect from children’s media and how it can be a valuable tool to help children better understand race and ethnicity. Parents responded with a clear message: it’s not just about seeing their race / ethnicity in the mediait’s about being culturally and linguistically inclusive.

“This report makes it clear that parents use and value quality media to help teach their children about understanding, acceptance and inclusion,” said James P. Steyer, Founder and CEO of Common Sense. At the same time, the entertainment industry is not giving them enough choice. Parents want more from their media in terms of inclusiveness and representation, and it’s time for the content creators and the platforms that make that content. available to create TV shows, movies, games and apps that help all children feel included and celebrated. ”

Lack of representation in the media causes parents to fail when looking for realistic, three-dimensional representations of various races and ethnicities that are not stereotyped. (Sesame Street and Dora the Explorer are the examples parents most often gave for shows that have a positive and nuanced portrayal of different groups.) To address this concern, Common Sense Media adds a new notation for miscellaneous representations that can help parents identify high quality media that include and uplift accurate portrayals of characters of color. Common Sense Media has been providing research-based ratings for nearly two decades, and this latest research sheds deeper nuances on how media are rated and scrutinized for various representations.

Main conclusions of the report “Imperative for inclusion”

  • People of color are under-represented in film and television roles on media platforms, networks and services. Latinos are under-represented in all forms of media and in all lead roles (for example, although they make up 18% of the population, Latinos only make up 5% of speaking roles in movies). Native Americans are essentially invisible in the media landscape.
  • Media representation is important for how children construct their perspective on their own ethnic and racial group, as well as that of others. Our review of available research reinforced the idea that media can have both positive and negative impacts on the ethnic and racial development of children. On the negative side, stereotypical representations of people of color can promote negative opinions and reactions towards people of color among the white public, and can also negatively affect children’s future career aspirations and undermine their self-esteem. At the same time, high-quality children’s media can promote positive ethnic and racial attitudes and interactions.
  • Even when people from Asian, Black, Latino, Middle Eastern or Native American groups are portrayed on media platforms, they are generally stereotyped. Characters of color in shows most viewed by children ages 2 to 13 are more likely to be portrayed as violent, and women of all ethnic and racial groups in adult shows are more likely to appear in sexualized roles.
  • Whites are over-represented in all media platforms and roles, including children’s television, top-grossing movies, and lead roles on network, cable, and streaming television. Recent studies have shown that whites occupy 76% of the lead roles in streaming and network TV shows, even though they only make up 60% of the population. The overrepresentation of whites can contribute to children developing an inaccurate understanding of the social world.
  • Exposure to negative media representations of their own ethnic and racial groups can undermine children’s self-esteem. Studies examining the influence of media use on black children and adolescents found that exposure to stereotypical media representations was linked to low self-esteem, satisfaction with one’s appearance, self-confidence. their own abilities, feelings about their ethnic and racial group, and their academic performance.
  • Watching favorable representations of their own ethnic and racial group can have a positive impact on children’s perceptions and opinions about their own ethnic and racial group.
    For example, among black girls in elementary schools, exposure to beloved black TV characters is associated with more positive feelings about their own status, appearance, and happiness.

Key Findings from the Parent Survey

  • Representation is important to parents, and it’s not just about seeing their race / ethnicity in the media. About 6 in 10 parents (57%) say it is important for their children to see people of their race / ethnicity in the media they consume. This is the most important for black parents, 75% of them say it is important.
  • Parents find it very important that their children are exposed to media content that encourages acceptance from others who are not like them. Two in three parents think the media has a big impact on the way their children treat other people (67%) and on the information they get about other races / cultures (63%). For example, over 80% of parents say it’s important that the content their children are exposed to teach them to accept unlike people and their families.
  • There is much that can be done to improve the way diverse communities are represented in children’s media. Most parents think that white people are often portrayed in a positive light in the media to which their children are exposed; one in four think representations of black, hispanic, and LGBTQIA + people are more likely to be negative. Almost half of parents (47%) believe that the portrayal of blacks in children’s media is often stereotypical; 4 in 10 people think that the Asian, Hispanic, Middle Eastern and LGBTQIA + portrayal is often also stereotypical.
  • Parents want to see more nuanced and sophisticated representations of BIPOC people and communities that provide positive role models and dispel damaging stereotypes about these groups. Uninvited, parents more often than not stated that they wanted the people and communities of BIPOC to be described with more respect, as good people, as educated and prosperous.
  • About two in three parents (65%) believe that the media has a big impact on their children’s career aspirations, which underscores the importance of providing positive role models for BIPOC children. In addition, 62% believe that the media have an impact on their child’s academic success. 63% of parents believe the media has an impact on what information children have about people of other races, ethnicities, religions and cultures.


For the literature review, the authors reviewed existing research from over 150 journal articles, book chapters, reports and other academic sources on child development, ethnic and racial development, and the media. .

For the Parent Survey, the goal of Common Sense was to assess the views of parents and guardians on the quantity and quality of racial and cultural representations in children’s media content. The survey was conducted in June 2021 with 1,143 participants in a nationally representative sample of parents and guardians (18 and over) of children aged 2 to 12. Demographic quotas have been set within each ethnic and racial group to ensure adequate representation. The data was eventually weighted by actual ethnic and racial representation in the United States to make the aggregate data total representative. The survey was offered in English and Spanish.

A copy of the full report can be downloaded here.

About common sense
Common Sense is the nation’s leading nonprofit dedicated to improving the lives of children and families by providing them with the information, education and independent voice they need to thrive in 21st century. Learn more about

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SOURCE Common Sense Media

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