Around 2 million people follow the heute-show on Instagram, while Postillon has 1.3 million followers. Both formats make satire and thus reach a huge target group – including children. But do children even understand this satire? Can they tell the joking messages from “real” ones?
Satirical depictions show people, conditions, situations and grievances in exaggerated form. Means of satire are: Exaggeration, distortion, defamiliarization and irony (an obviously false statement intended to ridicule an actual statement). Through the use of satirical means, for example, misconduct is to be mocked and criticized. Thus, it is often the behavior of powerful and famous people, – for example, from politics – that is depicted in satirical forms. Precisely because satire is often used to criticize, it is protected by our constitution, the Basic Law. Satire falls under the freedom of art and expression. But be careful: Other people must not be offended, even in the context of satire.
We encounter satire mainly in the media. Satirical depictions are disseminated in poems, novels, cartoons, caricatures and films. Artistic performances or programs on television can also show satire. This content is also shared in online media and social platforms. More and more famous is the representation as hoax: this is fake news, that is, made-up news. The Postillon is known for this in Germany. The “news” from politics and society that is reported here is all made up.
If one accepts the messages (especially hoax) as true, this can be problematic. After all, they are false reports or exaggerations. Children develop humor between the first and second year of life. Irony, exaggeration or alienation are more difficult to understand – here children often still need hints that it is not the truth. Basically, it can be said that children understand and laugh at irony when they have information about the context, understand what the statement actually means, and realize that irony is not true. So in order to recognize satire, children must already have quite a bit of prior knowledge.
The point at which a child can handle satire therefore depends on social, cognitive and linguistic knowledge. Every child is different and brings different skills as well as prior knowledge. Some studies have shown that children as young as six understand simple ironic remarks. From the age of nine to ten, it can also already be recognized that such statements are meant to be funny.
Scientific studies on children’s understanding of irony are still very imprecise, so it is not possible to say correctly from what age children understand satire. So parents need to keep an eye on whether their child encounters satire on TV or the Internet and how they understand it. Watch the series or cartoons with your child and discuss what you have seen. Make your child aware of what the actual statement is and what it means – the satirical portrayal should not be left without context.
Special caution applies to deliberate false reports (hoax). Here it is important to inform children that the message does not correspond to the truth and is intended to be funny or to draw attention to grievances. Especially for older children, you can also explain how to recognize false reports and check facts.
Satire is meant to expose ills in our society and make us laugh – don’t leave your child alone with this and laugh together.