kids and parents

How content can help parents have tough talks

A new report from Paramount and Noggin finds that children’s media can help spark family conversations about race, racism and other areas parents find hard to navigate.
April 18, 2023

Young children are aware of racism, and a new study from Paramount and Noggin finds that content creators can help parents have meaningful conversations about it with their kids by improving representation on screen and actively countering racial stereotypes.

The Let’s Talk About Racism report shares insights garnered from 15,000 interviews conducted in 2019 and 2020 with American families with kids ages three to 12 about the perceptions, experiences and conversations they have regarding race. 

Qualitative results were derived from verbal interviews with 12 Black families and 12 white families and found that three out of four Black kids believe their lives would be easier if they were white, while one in three white kids say their lives would be more difficult if they were Black.

The study also revealed that kids are eager to see racial differences represented on screen, and that the content they consume influences their views on race. In the research, one Asian boy noted that most of the princesses he had seen were light-skinned, while a Black girl told her mother that she thought robbers were Black because that was all she had seen on TV. 

But the representation of racial differences on screen and in books is just a first step, says study co-director Dr. Colleen Russo Johnson. “Content creators should consider ways they can go a step further by celebrating what makes us different, showing children delighting in learning about different cultures, and, when appropriate based on the show’s target age, portraying children standing up for one another when exclusion does take place.”

The report also found that Black and white parents believe it’s necessary to have conversations about racism with their kids by the age of 10. Black parents say they need to prepare their kids for the prejudices they faced as children, while Asian families talk with their kids about dealing with the bullying that comes from people’s misperceptions of COVID-19. Hispanic parents, meanwhile, talk about being careful when speaking Spanish and playing Spanish-language music outside the home.

But they struggle to have those conversations with their kids. In the research, they scored their feelings of preparedness around talking about racism at just 2.4 on a scale of one to five. “Helping their kids understand why discrimination and racism take place is often challenging,” says study co-director Makeda Mays Green. However, the report discovered that media and content can help. 

One of the activities conducted in the study—which asked three- and four-year-olds to identify similarities and differences in a picture of a group of kids with different skin colors—led to in-depth discussions on the topic between parents and kids. After the activity, parents said they felt more prepared to continue to have conversations about it (4.6 out of 5).

“The same discussion strategies we encourage parents to use in our photo activities in the guide can also be employed when watching TV shows or reading books,” says Johnson.

Black parents say they want their kids to see shows that empower Black people, not just those in which they were portrayed negatively or as victims. And for parents in general, it’s important to see authentic stories, created by people behind the scenes who can speak to the characters and stories being shared.

“TV programs can support inclusion and belonging through diverse characters, authentic storylines and positive cross-cultural interactions,” says Green. “I believe that it is possible to foster a more equitable society, but we all must be willing to do the work on screen and off screen.”

Photo courtesy Omar Lopez on Unsplash

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