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What is the Value of Children’s Television Classics for Children? – A Qualitative Study (2015)

In total, 429 children from Bavaria and North Rhine Westphalia were asked to choose a character who was particularly significant for them from among the classics Pumuckl, Maya the Bee, Vicky the Viking and Pippi Longstocking. They drew and described the subjective significance of the character in response to open questions. What was special about this was that the children became actors of their own pasts, retrospectively exploring their experiences with the character, the significant moments, and the practical value of these. They were also asked to evaluate, from a third-person perspective, the effect of the character on younger children, and the way their parents dealt with the character. The aim of this phenomenological approach was to illuminate the essence of classic television characters, taking into account the children’s perspective.
Results: With Pippi Longstocking, it is primarily the character’s uniqueness that makes her appealing to children. By identifying with her, children can think of themselves as special and unique. In the eyes of the recipients Pippi remains boundless. She makes it possible for children, whose everyday lives are constantly restricted by rules as well as physical and cognitive shortcomings, to experience what it would be like to have – as a child, not as an adult – no limits. Pippi invites viewers to experience the world of a child who has the means and resources of an adult. This ambivalence creates an interesting tension, which is what makes Pippi stand out.

With Pumuckl, the children are fascinated by the everyday stories that are close to their realm of experience. They recognise themselves in Pumuckl’s impulsiveness, and they use him to imaginatively test their limits. Particularly appealing here is the kobold’s ability to make himself invisible. This means he can play better tricks on people, and when unpleasant consequences ensue he can just disappear. Children can use Pumuckl to define their experiential horizons. Over the course of the stories Pumuckl is quasi-socialised like a child, with a lot of patience and sensitivity. Children can vicariously experience this process and decide themselves – based on their age and their stage of development – which position to adopt.   

For fans of Maya the Bee the focus is primarily on the character herself. The character of Maya the Bee is central; she is always self-confident and has great self-efficacy. The series fulfils children’s main basic psychological need for recognition, autonomy, response and perceived self-competence, and it offers a clear orientation towards prosocial values and the constant assurance that Maya will always be involved, competent and never really alone or in danger. The character is symbolic material that children can use productively in their identity development, particularly in early childhood.

Many children see their own lives reflected in the character of Vicky the Viking: they are little people surrounded by nothing but big, powerful adults. Not letting anyone get them down, and instead showing the big people that problems can be solved with intelligence, gives children courage and a point of orientation. Furthermore, occasionally being allowed to be wild and scurrilous appeals to boys in particular. The ambiguities deriving from Vicky’s androgyny open up scope for the imagination.

Holler, Andrea: Children's identity issues in a Viking animation. Vicky the Viking from the children’s perspective. TelevIZIon 29/2016/E, 47-49
Haager, Julia Sophie: What makes Pippi Longstocking a classic of identity empowerment? TelevIZIon 29/2016/E, 44-46.
Götz, Maya: Maya the Bee: nice, helpful and self-confident. Munich: 2016.