Winnie the Pooh, Peppa Pig, Peter Rabbit. Animals across children’s television shows, movies and story books is everywhere and it’s abundant. The way that children are exposed to animals has through our media can be seen to affect the way in which children interact and respond to animals in the real world. Is this a positive or negative? Depending on what we are teaching them about animals, representing animals in a way that children can connect to them as well as in a way that demonstrates their natural biology is important. It is finding the balance between the two that determines its effectiveness.
It is difficult to deny the role that animals have in our media representation towards children. An article by Megan S. Geerdts called ‘(Un)Real Animals: Anthropomorphism and Early Learning About Animals’ (2016) explores this notion. Geerdts states that more than half of children’s book represent anthropomorphic animals that are represented through language and imagery. She believes that anthropomorphic representations of animals do help the efficiency of children’s learning however the key factor was the language. When anthropomorphism was mixed with anthropomorphic language there was a reduction in their factual understanding of the animals.
What this demonstrates to us is that the extent to which anthropomorphism is used throughout the media that children consume is critical when helping them understand animals. Allowing them to both connect to the animal through an emotional way as well as ensure factual knowledge of animals is a key balance to maintain.
The article The Representation of Animals on Children’s Television by Elizabeth S. Paul also noted that the representation on animals is focused on the nurturing animals and very little is represented in regards to meat consumption of these animals. Paul believes that this is heavily due to the paradox amongst society in which kindness and nurturing towards animals is advocated, society still finds the consumption of meat acceptable. This raises the question of whether it is acceptable to represent the meat consumption industry to children from a young age.
In a journal by Nora Timmerman and Julia Ostertag discuss the message given to children through the media’s portrayal of animals stating that “Anthropomorphism can have its benefits; indeed, children’s literature often uses anthropomorphism to teach moral lessons about how to recognize the self in the other”. It is also important to understand that there is a spectrum of anthropomorphism throughout children’s media. This ranges from animals that are the central characters and are separate from human character, to the relationship between humans and animals, to animals that have human qualities and principles.
This separation is important to make and affects the way that animals in the media are represented towards humans. Establishing a point of connection between a child and an animal can help develop a meaningful connection while anthropomorphising animals to a greater level can create confusion between the differences between animals and humans.
Does the representation of animals in children’s media have a negative effect on children? If so do these negatives outweigh the positives?
I believe that the issues that may arise from anthropomorphism are heavily outweighed by the positive affects it can have on children. Children’s television represent to children a positive way to view and treat animals and furthermore, view and treat people as well. While borders between what is real and what is not may create confusion for children this can be separated by introducing both anthropomorized animals as well as real animals to create a distinction between the two. The representation of animals especially towards children is vastly different from the way animals are viewed by adults and allows for connections to nature around us to be found early in our development.
Geerdts, MS 2016, ‘(Un)Real Animals: Anthropomorphism and Early Learning About Animals’, Child Development Perspectives, vol. 10, no. 1, pp. 10-14. Available from: 10.1111/cdep.12153