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TV Shows for “Tweens” Encourage Gender Role Stereotypes

Update Date: Apr 22, 2014 02:55 PM EDT
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Television shows and movies can have a huge effect on young children and teenagers. In a new study, researchers examined the age group of eight to 12, which they called "tweens." The researchers found that this particular "in between" age group tend to watch more TV than other age groups. They also discovered that the popular TV shows targeted at this age group tend to promote gender role stereotypes.

"Tween viewers are undergoing an important developmental stage and actively seek cues about gender. Television programming can play an important role in that development, so we examined tween television programming," said Ashton Lee Gerding, a doctoral student in the Department of Communication at MU. "Overall, girls were portrayed as more attractive, more concerned about their appearance, and received more comments about their appearance than male characters. However, female and male characters were equally likely to be handy with technology and exhibit bravery. This sends the message that girls and boys can participate in and do the same things, but that girls should be attractive and work to maintain this attractiveness."

For this study, the researchers focused on two main genres, which were "teen scene" and "action-adventure." They analyzed 49 episodes taken from 40 different tween TV programs that aired on American TV. The shows appeared on the Disney Channel, Disney XD, Nickleodeon and the Turner Cartoon Network in 2011. From these shows, there were more than 200 characters.

When examining the types of characters, Gerding and Nancy Signorielli, professor of communication at the University of Delaware focused on levels of attractiveness, gender-related behaviors, and a wide array of characteristics, ranging from intelligence to courage. The researchers found that in the "action-adventure" shows, which tend to be targeted at young males, there were more male characters than females. Male and female characters from both genres tended to act out gender role stereotypes most of the time, which the researchers believe can have a great influence over how these tweens behave.

"Tween television programs may help to shape the way kids think about the roles that are available for them," Gerding said in the University's news release. "Therefore, we advise parents to watch these programs with their kids and talk with their tweens about their roles in society. We also advocate for media literacy programs that could mitigate some of the potential negative effects of these programs."

The study, "Gender roles in tween television programming: a content analysis of two genres," was published in the journal Sex Roles.

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