The amount of time children spend in front of television screens, their self-esteem is affected...unless the child is a white male. These are the findings of a new study published in the journal Communication Research by Nicole Martins, an assistant professor of telecommunications at Indiana University, and Kristen Harrison, professor of communication studies at the University of Michigan.
"Regardless of what show you're watching, if you're a white male, things in life are pretty good for you," Martins said of characters on TV. "You tend to be in positions of power, you have prestigious occupations, high education, glamorous houses, a beautiful wife, with very little portrayals of how hard you worked to get there.
"If you are a girl or a woman, what you see is that women on television are not given a variety of roles," she added. "The roles that they see are pretty simplistic; they're almost always one-dimensional and focused on the success they have because of how they look, not what they do or what they think or how they got there.
"This sexualization of women presumably leads to this negative impact on girls."
With regard to black boys, they are often criminalized in many programs, shown as hoodlums and buffoons, and without much variety in the kinds of roles they occupy.
"Young black boys are getting the opposite message: that there is not lots of good things that you can aspire to," Martins said. "If we think about those kinds of messages, that's what's responsible for the impact.
"If we think just about the sheer amount of time they're spending, and not the messages, these kids are spending so much time with the media that they're not given a chance to explore other things they're good at, that could boost their self-esteem."
Martins said their study counters claims by producers that programs have been progressive in their depictions of under-represented populations. An earlier study co-authored by her and Harrison suggests that video games "are the worst offenders when it comes to representation of ethnicity and gender."
Image: Boy watching television, via Shutterstock.