The incredible impact of stories and media on children
BY SYLVIA BINSFELD
We live in a media-saturated world. We are kept busy wading through stacks of misinformation and unending dialogue—so much so that we may no longer pay as full attention to what the children are watching. At a time when media is being used more and more to manipulate, it is extra important to pay attention to what our children and teens are absorbing.
Even if we are somewhat good about screening what kids are exposed to, much can slip by our radar. Films and TV shows are so inundated with bad behavior, it has become normalized.
I founded the Conscious Media Movement to encourage filmmakers to create content that is better for society and to raise audience awareness as to the powerful influence what we watch day in, and day out has on our thinking and our lives—and to come up with some tips and solutions.
CALL OUT: What grandparents and other audience members don’t realize is that there are subtle and subliminal messages in films that create harm, without us realizing.
We have discovered that the violence children watch on television increases the risks of violent behavior, as confirmed in a multitude of studies, and shared by The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Some media companies have tried to disprove this relationship. There have been enough well-respected scientific studies showing this strong connection. Besides the studies, after decades of warnings, we can now see the results in society.
Parents and grandparents are encouraged to become yet more proactive with screening what their little ones and teens watch–and for better results, they are encouraged to call and get other parents and grandparents onboard, so the peer pressure is lessened.
What grandparents and other audience members don’t realize is that there are subtle and subliminal messages in films that create harm, without us realizing. Once we know about the issues, we can make better viewing choices.
The gender disparity in front of and behind the camera greatly affects the world we are seeing on screen, a world with far fewer women and girls, than boys and men.
- Women make up 50% of the population, yet we view a warped onscreen world. Geena Davis has worked hard for over 16 years to improve the situation. In 2008, the Geena Davis Institute researched 5,554 speaking character roles and found that females were cast in only 29.2% of those roles, and the rest of the 70.8% of the roles were cast male.
- We see 2.42 men and boys for every female on screen. A world was created where women and girls didn’t exist as much and rarely were they the characters doing exciting things or solving problems. Part of the issue is that women were only given 4%-7% of the directing positions in studio films.
- All the stories, even the family films, were being told by men. Women filmmakers, mothers, and grandmothers were not allowed onboard to tell their stories, their way.
If we think back to the movies of our day, women were mostly cast as someone’s girlfriend or wife in the movie. They were eye candy. Imagine the seeds that plant in the brains of little
boys and little girls. Girls saw boys and men living the full life, abundant with opportunities, while they hung out on the sidelines. Even very young girls were often sexualized. The over-sexualization of girls and women in film is another issue. All the above teaches girls as well as boys what to expect from life.
Fast forward to current times and Geena Davis has made improvements in front of the camera. There are more women pushing the story forward as the main character in films, solving problems and we even have female superheroes. But are we out of the woods? Not by a mile. The research from last year, 2021 shows the ratio of male to female character roles as 2 to 1 now—2 men for every 1 female. This is an improvement from the 2.42 to 1 ratio.
Many stereotypes still exist, such as women needing to be substantially younger than men. Older men still get top roles in films. Women over 50 are a rare sight in leading roles. They are invisible. What does that tell our grandchildren? All this could change with more female directors, which is improving at a snail’s pace. In 2021, the studios hired women to direct 12% of their top 100 films.
“If women and girls don’t see themselves on screen as STEM professionals, they’re less likely to pursue those career paths.”
What can we do as grandparents? Now that we are aware–of a healthy life outlook for both girls and boys, we need to watch for these types of subtle but powerful messages in films and be selective, as to what is watched since it will form our grandchildren’s lenses of perception. This matters for both genders. Look for films with healthy gender roles and healthy gender relationships. Makes sure to view a balanced blend of male and female lead characters and protagonists.
Storytelling, especially storytelling by wise elders, has been used for over a thousand years to impart life wisdom, teach principles, build character, and enhance our time here on earth. With all that’s going on in the world, it is time that the power of film is used in that way Meanwhile, grandparents can utilize sites such as Common Sense Media to find and support the films that help build a stronger, healthier foundation for our grandchildren.
Read more about children and media in GRAND here
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sylvia Binsfeld is the grandmother of three, the owner of DreamWeaver Films, LLC, with a special interest in children’s films, and the founder of the Conscious Media Movement. You are warmly invited to sign-up for the Conscious Media Movement newsletter