Whether it’s a podcast, book, magazine, series or movie – true crime and true crime cases are all the rage right now. The “true crime” genre is also exciting for young people. But where does the fascination come from and what should you pay attention to as a parent?
True Crime is not a fictional story, but a retelling of real criminal cases. The crimes described, often missing persons or homicide cases, are often unusual or have received special media attention because the legal decision was controversial. The fact that the cases actually happened makes them seem authentic in the eyes of the viewers. The criminal cases are told in very different ways: There are documentaries that portray the cases rather factually and close to reality. Other representations look like a movie – in them scenes are re-enacted or details are invented to make the stories even more interesting.
For users, the excitement lies above all in being “there” when a true crime is solved or explained. Real people did these things for specific reasons, and you want to know more about the motives for the act and the closer circumstances. In most cases, investigators or relatives of the victims also have their say and describe what happened from their perspective.
Telling exciting and, above all, real stories triggers thrills in many people. Putting themselves in the victim’s shoes, fathoming the motives of perpetrators, puzzling along and interpreting deeds – children and young people are attracted to reliving real criminal cases. Especially for young people, the study of the human psyche and personality development is interesting. Also attracting the penchant for the “forbidden” and unusual of these stories. When children reach puberty, they want to test their limits. This also includes watching or listening to things that are not actually suitable for their age because they can be stressful or frightening. While many older children and adolescents experience true-crime stories as entertaining and, for example, use “their” crime podcast during long train rides or while cleaning their rooms, younger children are often overwhelmed by the crime cases narrated.
The popularity of the genre means that there is an ever-increasing supply. Young people who particularly like the format may watch little other content. This can narrow their view of the world, which seems to be nothing but bleak and violent.
The depiction of real acts of violence can make children and young people afraid of becoming victims of crime themselves. Young people are particularly affected by scenes that they can identify with, such as violence against children or stories about relationships in families and partnerships. Younger people in particular often fail to recognize that a crime occurred many years ago or that a depiction is deliberately exaggerated to create suspense.
Not every series or podcast is equally carefully researched. Stories are circulating that may not have happened that way. In part, reality is distorted or simplified because it would be too costly and uninteresting to depict the real processes of a case with lengthy court hearings, interviews, etc.
Often, the perpetrator or the perpetrator is the focus of a true crime story. This can lead to viewers being fascinated by that person, which in turn can trivialize the acts themselves and diminish compassion for the victims.
The handling of gender roles within the genre should also be viewed critically. In many stories, the victims are female. Women are often portrayed as powerless and defenseless rather than empowered and strong.
Every story told touches children and young people differently. There are elements in true-crime stories that can overwhelm, unsettle, or frighten young people. Therefore, you should make sure that the true-crime show or podcast is also approved or recommended for your child’s age. Keep an eye on what your child is looking at and seek conversation.
Educate your child about the fact that not all true-crime formats are fact-based and how to verify their truthfulness – especially when it comes to trash TV shows. Ask what fascinates your child about True Crime. Whether the focus is on thrills, guesswork, or interest in investigative work: Don’t lose sight of the fact that this is True Crime, real crimes that have caused real suffering.
Read more: The project “True.Crime.Story” by Selbstkontrolle Fernsehen e. V. (FSF) and the JFF – Institut für Medienpädagogik (Institute for Media Education) investigated how young people view true-crime formats. Videos with voices of the interviewed young people and a report can be found on the website of Medienradar.