Diversity in children’s media provides representation and fosters compassion

In recent years, efforts have been made to include a wider range of people in media. Be it in movies, television, books, games or other media, audiences have called for more characters in media with whom they can relate. New voices are being heard and new perspectives shared, providing an opportunity for people to better understand each other and celebrate their unique differences.

While diversity in media has come to the forefront in discussions of social justice, many parents may not be aware of its significance for their children. Media isn’t just entertainment for children—it shapes their understanding of the world around them and their place in it. Research shows us that at just 3 months old, babies can recognize race and develop racial biases by the age of 3. And when children see harmful depictions or no representation at all of people who look like them, there can be long-term, negative outcomes, like lower self-esteem and racial prejudices.

For young children, being able to see people who share their skin tone, name, disability, language, religion and even hair in various media shows them that they belong, that they matter and that their stories deserve to be told. Representation means that children of all backgrounds have someone to look up to and recognize that they too can be a leader, an innovator, a loving parent, a hero, a doctor or anything they dream. For children who have been historically underrepresented, seeing positive and meaningful representations also reaffirms their identities as points of pride.

Some children are fortunate enough to see themselves already represented across a wide variety of media. But they too can benefit from seeing diversity in the media that they consume. Experts hypothesize that “aspects of racial bias later in life may arise from our lack of exposure to other-race individuals in infancy.” By reading stories about someone from another culture or watching a movie about someone who faces different challenges in life, children can gain perspective and develop empathy for others.

More and more effort is put into producing media that is created by, tells the story of and portrays historically underrepresented people in recent years. As a result, parents have possibly more options than ever to introduce their children to diversity in media. If you’d like some guidance on where to start, Common Sense Media has recommendations for children’s books, TV shows, and even apps and games with diverse characters.

All content in this article, including any advice or commentary from Southwest Human Development staff and/or others, should be considered an opinion and is provided for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for medical or other professional advice, diagnosis or treatment.  Always seek the direct advice of your own trusted professional with any questions or concerns you may have regarding the child/ren in your care.  Southwest Human Development does not recommend or endorse any specific tests, products, procedures or other information that may be mentioned in this article.  You may contact Southwest Human Development’s Birth to Five Helpline at 1-877-705-KIDS (5437) to speak with one of our early childhood professionals for personalized assistance.  Birth to Five Helpline specialists are available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.