Media Influence and Self-Image
Children also observe and are exposed to prejudice by watching television, reading books
and magazines, or even studying school textbooks that present stereotyped views of various
groups of people. In addition to stereotypes, some books present misinformation; others
exclude important information about some groups in any positive way. Television shows and
books exert undue influence when they are the only exposure a child has to certain groups.
Although some improvements have been made, it is not difficult to find TV shows that
depict some well-established stereotypes.
Oversimplified generalization about a
group of people. When people say that all members of a specific nationality, religion,
race or gender are "cheap," "lazy," "criminal" or
"dumb," they are expressing stereotypes. All groups have both cheap and generous
individuals. All groups have individuals who commit crimes. To label an entire group based
on the actions of some is to engage in stereotyping. Even when a stereotype is positive,
such as when people in one racial group are thought to be superior athletes, the
consequences of stereotyping are negative.
Children who have poor self-images are more vulnerable to developing prejudices.
They may try to bolster their own worth by finding a group of people whom they can put
down. An insecure child might think, "I may not be very good but I am better than
those people." For some, putting down others may serve a psychological function,
allowing them to feel more important and powerful than those they put down.
Some children may exclude or make fun of others because they believe it is the popular
thing to do. Children may begin to use unkind names for different groups if they feel it
will help them to be more accepted by their peers. Over time, such actions can result in
prejudice and discrimination against specific groups. All children notice
differences. This is developmentally appropriate and, by itself, not a problem; but when
negative values are attached to those differences, problems occur.
Next: Responding to Children