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Hopster reports on representation and screen stereotypes in kids TV

Our new research finds that top preschool TV shows in the UK poorly represents disability, LGBT+, the working class, have high rates of gender stereotyping, and push ethnic minority characters into the background.

hopster - July 17, 2019

Report from Hopster finds that top preschool TV shows poorly represents disability, LGBT+, the working class and has high rates of gender stereotyping, pushing BAME (Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic) characters into the background.

  • Disability representation is minimal, and some negative stereotypes persist, e.g. disabilities on evil or threatening characters.
  • Working class families were severely underrepresented, appearing in just 9% of episodes, whilst being 50% of the actual population. 
  • Gender stereotypes are numerous. Female characters were seen to be objectified and, in some cases, undermined by male characters.
  • No same-sex parent families were represented and there was little evidence of LGBT+ representation in any shows.
  • Ethnic minorities were only included in around half of the content examined, and often in the background. Only 6 shows (out of 50) had BAME characters as the ‘stars’ of the shows.
  • Many additional negative stereotypes were also portrayed: from incapable single mothers to greedy/lazy overweight people and ‘nerds’ wearing glasses.
  • Pre-schoolers are more likely to see negative cultural, social or gender stereotypes on streaming and subscription services than free-to-air channels.
  • CBeebies has 3 of the top 5 most inclusive and representative shows.
  • Popular YouTube series ‘Webs & Tiaras’ was the lowest scoring show.

Read our full report: Is Kids TV Making Your Child Prejudiced?

Research conducted into the most popular content that pre-schoolers are watching has found it to be severely lacking in representation. The report involved analysing 50 of the most popular shows aimed at pre-schoolers on public service broadcasting channels, streaming and video on demand services, assessed through desk research and qualitatively, evaluated and scored by an independent specialist children’s research agency.

Our research found that there were no ‘lead’ characters with a disability in the top 50 preschool shows despite 22% of the UK population having impairments or disabilities. Furthermore, over half of the programmes featuring disabled characters used them either in a tokenistic way (they were not central to the storyline), or their disability was used negatively (e.g. to make them appear sinister or threatening). For example, in ‘Dinotrux’ a villain is shown to have Tourette’s Syndrome and muscle spasms, whilst another character is teased for his small size and colour. In ‘LEGO Ninjago’ a villain, the Iron Baron, has prosthetic limbs and is partially sighted.

Working class families were severely underrepresented, appearing in just 9% of shows, while being 50% of the population. Palaces, castles, mansions, and ‘privileged’ families are being presented, through pre-school content, as the norm. Negative social stereotypes often persisted, as demonstrated in ‘My Little Pony’ where the unintelligent, ‘working class’ goat characters are given strong Southern US accents and ‘Beat Bugs’ where a wealthy character is claimed to be beautiful because of their wealth. Shows that do not conform to this stereotype include ‘Little Princess’ and ‘Apple Tree House’, which is set in London’s Tower Hamlets. 

Only 6 of the 50 shows from the study had ‘lead’ BAME characters. In just under half of the cases where BAME characters were included, they were background characters/ tokenistic e.g. ‘Horrid Henry’ and ‘Ranger Rob’. ‘The Wiggles’ episodes featured an entirely white leading cast. Just three out of the 50 shows analysed had a BAME character as a consistent lead: ‘Apple Tree House’, ‘Go Jetters’, ‘Blaze and the Monster Machines’ as well as three of the YouTube nursery rhyme channels ‘ChuChu TV’, ‘Mother Goose Club’ and ‘Little Baby Bum’.

The in-depth report found that representation of LGBT+ was extremely lacking, with little evidence of LGBT+ representation in any shows, only 7% of the episodes involved in the study alluded to an LGBT+ character, usually very fleetingly. 

Over a third of the episodes viewed during the study included gender stereotyping, this included female characters being undermined by males, or males presented as the knowledge bearers. Additionally, male characters were often found to be given the more ‘powerful’ roles, as seen in, ‘Engie Bengy’, ‘PAW Patrol’ and ‘Octonauts’. In the most extreme examples, female characters were shown being undermined by males.

Many additional negative stereotypes were also portrayed: from incapable single mothers in ‘Fireman Sam’ to greedy/lazy overweight people in ‘Smurfs’ and ‘nerds’ wearing glasses in ‘Alvin and the Chipmunks’.

A considerable amount of objectification was noted in the 50 shows examined, ‘My Little Pony’ and ‘Shimmer and Shine’, show stereotyped femininity, e.g. through their long thick hair and over-sized eyes. A pre-occupation with female body ideals can also be seen through younger pre-school content such as ‘Barbie’s Dreamhouse Adventures’.

Streaming and subscription services, including Netflix and Amazon, were found to be more likely to stream negative cultural, social or gender stereotypes than free-to-air channels. Popular YouTube series ‘Webs & Tiaras’ was the lowest scoring show of those included in the study. Created by a group called ‘Toy Monster Compilations’, the show currently has almost a million subscribers and over 179million views and features ‘actors’ dressed as Elsa (from Frozen) and Spider-Man living in a suburban environment. Episodes may incorporate other well known characters and, whilst the popularity of each varies, the majority receive millions of views. CBeebies has 3 of the top 5 most inclusive and representative shows, with high scoring programmes across most categories. 

Nick Walters, Founder & CEO of Hopster says:

“Many shows aimed at pre-schoolers are entertaining and educational, but it’s clear from our research that stereotypes still creep in. At Hopster we use our own curriculum, based on the Early Years Foundation Stages, to select content. Teaching kids about diversity and inclusivity is part of that curriculum – and we want to deliver content that addresses that need. A great example is our recent Pride themed content – where we commissioned a slate of LGBT+ content to represent a diverse range of families. All of the content focuses on positivity, love, family, friendship and trust – with the topics introduced in a way that’s easy to understand even for the youngest audience. It’s so important that kids from all types of families see themselves represented in the shows they watch.”

Laverne Antrobus child and educational psychologist added:

This study by Hopster shows how easily stereotypes and a lack of diversity can creep into the content children are watching. Pre-schoolers as the next generation need to view programmes that invite them into a world, where the rich layers of difference are celebrated and crucially seen within their favourite programmes. Parents need to be mindful of the content their kids are watching, as seeing themselves and others reflected on screen will nurture their sense of a society in which everyone is represented and can feel they belong.”

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For more information please contact: prteam@platomedia.tv or caroline.head@platomedia.tv

Research for Hopster conducted in partnership with specialist kids research agency Dubit Limited.

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