I can never get over the excitement and elation of my children in seeing themselves mirrored in TV or digital content. Just recently, I overheard a conversation the two older brothers were and in describing a particular TV character, the explanation included “The one that looks like mommy and then there’s the other one who has hair like Malik.”
This was said with so much joy and pride and almost to say, ‘our family is on TV’, we are seeing.
What does this mean psychologically for our children?
From a psychological perspective, why is it important for children to see themselves through the media they consume? e.g. Why should a black girl see a black Princess? Or a child living with a disability see a cartoon character in a wheelchair?
In an interview with Clinical Psychologist Julia Mathabathe, who has a special interest in children, we were able to discuss the significance of representation when it comes to media and children.
She expresses that we already know that children learn through behaviour, meaning children learn more visually then when they must listen – children are kind of visual vs verbal.
For example, whether it’s cartoons, peers, adults and teachers, children learn through mimicking/observing patterns.
“Those are few techniques children use to learn from, so if or when children were to observe certain images or themes from these cartoons that relate more to them, they tend to mimic the certain cartoon and some cartoons are themed around “Bully prevention” and being kind to other children with certain physical or mental ailments, it teaches these kids not to judge and to be more inclusive,” she continues.
Children could also be watching these cartoons with siblings or older family members, who can then go onto touch on the importance of what that certain cartoon is depicting.
This is something that we recently did when watching the new short-form series called My Magic is Me on Disney Channel (See links below to the YouTube page for the content).
The children were curious… having been in a lockdown for so long and experiencing a pandemic that wouldn’t allow them to explore and make new friends has really limited them to school and home. So, seeing themselves and seeing other children that don’t necessarily look like them but have the same interests was pretty cute to watch on their faces.
“It is quite important for children to see and observe what they mostly relate to, certain feelings or circumstances that the child is going through, for example bullying at school,” elaborates Julia Mathabathe, “and to finally add, if children are able to see that maybe the problems that they are going through, they are not alone. This can kind of teach a child resilience and give them fortitude.”
Julia also shared with me that when we look at a child holistically, meaning in the context that we look at where a child spends most of their time, mostly being home and school. Programmes should include day-to-day challenges or issues that children go through.
What I loved most about the short-form series on the Disney Channel was that you could see both the cartoon and real-life superheroes and the children were properly expressing their values and their emotions and feelings. This is something Julia strongly advises – being able to dig deeper than the usual responses are important for growing children.
As parents we need to lean more towards the programmes that are tackling issues such as self-value and self-image (i.e., Phenyo knowing the meaning of her name, claiming her beauty, and expressing how other kids talk about her and she just ignores them. Absolutely magical!).
Through this series, kids are learning through cartoons and the real-life superheroes of different cultures and backgrounds, the different socio-economic issues of different backgrounds, how to handle/deal with certain issues, how to handle or learn to vocalise anything they may be feeling purely because they are represented and are validated.