Gender in children's and youth television

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Who do you identify with? How children use “The little Prince”, ”Mia and me”, and “Robin Hood” (2017)

In a reception study, the IZI investigated how girls deal with programmes in which boy characters play the leading role. And conversely, how do boys deal with programmes where the central roles are largely played by women and girl characters? Primary school classes (a total of just over 100 children for each show) watched an episode of the animated programmes Robin Hood ‒ Mischief in Sherwood (n=101), Mia and me (n=103) and The little Prince (n=102). They were filmed during the viewing and completed a questionnaire afterwards. 

Results: A surprising finding revealed in the children’s answers is that the protagonist of a programme is not necessarily the main character children identify with. Thus eponymous characters such as the little prince or Mia the elf are not the characters the children want to be. Animal characters such as the fox (from The little prince) or the unicorn (from Mia and me) have considerable potential to appeal to both sexes. Their attraction lies in their humour or in particular skills. Girls are mainly looking for female characters to identify with, characters who have agency and are not just princesses. They want characters who act autonomously, who are independent, active and strong, and who enjoy having adventures. They do not want characters who are merely beautiful, and from a certain age they reject the excessive attribution of typical gender stereotypes. Too much pink, for example in Mia and me, provokes a negative response from girls in years three and four.