Bob the Builder and Ninjago, war movies and baller games. If you think of “boys’ media,” you quickly get a lot of clichés together. It’s about strength and struggle, toughness and winning, and classic images of masculinity.
But does this media offering really suit all boys? And how can you as a parent guide your son through the stereotypical media images towards individual development?
XX or XY: Our gender is the first drawer we are usually put into before we are born. For many people, the sex they are assigned according to chromosome and primary sex organs fits. But not for everyone. Some, for example, are non-binary or trans. And even those who feel comfortable as girls or boys do not automatically want to be associated with all stereotypes. For parents and educators, therefore, the following applies regardless of media use: taking a close look and keeping an open mind are important in order to see and accompany children individually. That’s why we use the asterisk to boys* in this text – to show that every form of gender identity is meant.
More information on the topic of queerness can be found in the book “Was ist eigentlich dieses LGTBQI*?” (What is this LGTBQI*? ), which is suitable for children, and at Kindersache from the German Children ‘s Fund (DKHW), as well as at the Queer Lexicon.
Boys* today grow up with media from the very beginning. As kindergarteners, they watch videos or listen to radio plays; in elementary school, smartphones and game consoles become interesting. It is striking that boys* often develop different interests and consume different content at a very early age than girls*. This is shown, for example, by the current KIM study. They are more interested in sitcoms or cartoons, show more interest in gaming and action than girls*, and usually look for male role models – initially characters like Fireman Sam or superheroes, later comedians, musicians or athletes. Often these are characters and individuals who embody very stereotypical images of men* as strong, tough guys with power, money, and little emotional accessibility.
There may be various reasons why boys* often like programs in which exaggerated, stereotypical images of masculinity are cultivated: Their own preference, pressure from their friendship group, or a lack of alternatives.
For many parents, this is a difficult situation. They wonder how much they should counteract the stereotypes; how to deal with issues like violence or sexism – and how much stereotyping is okay in the media in the first place.
Exaggerations and clichés are also means that young people in particular use to form their own opinions and identities based on these extreme depictions. They can help children and young people to try out identities, to reflect and to come to their own convictions.
Direct caregivers such as you as parents play an important role in this. By the way you yourself live your (gender) identity and which media you use, you help shape your child. Think about how you yourself talk about girls* and boys* and what gender stereotypes are present in your life.
Especially in the uncertain phase of self-discovery, it is important for adolescent boys* to find open and loving partners in their parents. Engage in conversation with your child about stereotypes portrayed in the media. Offer your child alternatives to diverse media outlets and guide your child in finding his or her own gender identity by looking for different and diverse role models together.
If boys* can grow up with supportive, reflective adults and diverse offers – also in social media – it is easier for them to find an individual and good way of dealing with masculinity* and clichés for themselves.