• Orientation and Fascination

    Through the use of media children meet different media characters every day which influence them to some or great extent. This is due to the fact that the children's interests and needs are reflected in their individual world of experience and life and are closely associated with their growth and development.

    In this respect, media heroes influence their social behaviour and cooperation, as well as their acting and thinking.

    Through their favourite hero(es) one can see how they feel and what entertains them. Media heroes indirectly offer suggestions and may influence children’s orientation in their everyday life. Although there may be almost no long-term impact on the behaviour and character of a child, short-term effects, in connection with the empathetic role-play related to action and moods, can be detected more frequently. Children of preschool age are also often fascinated by the abilities and qualities of media heroes.

    For parents and teachers, stories in the media can be valuable tools to teach young children how to face and overcome challenges in the real world. Along with the obvious entertainment that these stories offer, parents and teachers can have conversations with the children about more profound meanings in each story thus engaging in useful interaction with them. This can help both parents and educators to find out about the children’s emotions, ideas, perception of the characters, evaluation of the characters’ actions and also about the strengths and weaknesses of these characters.

    ECEC teachers can use characters of heroic stories in books or in videos to instil values in children. Due to the fact that stories often depict the challenges that humans encounter in their life journey, media heroes can inspire children in many ways.

    Media Heroes for Children

    A simple way to understand how young children feel and think about various aspects of life during their development is to encourage them to draw their favourite heroes. Then parents and/or educators can use these drawings to generate a discussion with the children about the reasons why they like these characters, and what these characters’ strengths and weaknesses are.

    The Roles of Media Heroes

    Media heroes can be a projection screen for preschoolers. They can help children express feelings, concerns or needs. In addition, unconscious thoughts can be clearer and easier for children to deal with when inner problems are transferred to media characters. For instance, if a child is angry or sad, the feeling can also be projected onto a media character. If necessary, the child can identify the reason for his/her anger or sadness, but also understand and accept the feeling itself.

    Media heroes can be an identification character for children between the ages of three and six as their interest in media content increases when stories are related to their everyday lives. Particularly exciting are the characteristic and central themes of childhood, such as dealing with fears of loss or the feeling of self-efficacy, as well as the distinction between good and evil. Media heroes can help children follow the events of a story and understand its context. Especially the participation in actions and feelings are important: for example, if tomcat Findus from "Petterson and Findus" opposes a frightening situation with a lot of sense and humour or little witch "Bibi Blocksberg" uses her magical power to prevent herself from tidying up her room, children follow the actions of heroes with interest and feel addressed because of the reference to the world they live in.

    Evil and Good Characters

    The assumption that powerful and strong figures that fight against injustice are preferred by children is a myth. Also, the characters with evil traits or the vulnerable ones play a role for the children, which should not be underestimated.

    Evil characters, for example, offer children the opportunity to deal with feelings of revenge or every day taboo aggression. If characters are in need of protection, children can deal with the role of victims. In a form of unpunished problem-solving, the children, represented by the media character, recognise and experience possible reactions and consequences to behaviour from a safe distance and can compare these with their own needs and goals.

    In a conversation about children's favourite characters, you can collect together which traits of the characters children particularly like and which they do not. Together with you, children can collect the positive and negative characteristics of their media heroes in a collage. Experience has shown, however, that it is harder for children to name negative characteristics of their favourite character, but it is not so difficult for them to identify negative features in characters they dislike. Another idea is to make posters of well-known media characters with positive and negative traits (using different colour markers for ‘good’ or ‘bad’ traits) and display them in the classroom as visual stimuli. Look at this example:

    This way, individual character traits, external features and certain behaviours of a media character can offer children between three and six years of age suggestions and orientation for their own behaviour. This imitation should not be confused with the role play of media content. In role play, the children dress up as a media character and perform certain action scenes, or they make up new stories for the characters in order to process media experiences.

    Children between the ages of three and six often use role play to process their everyday experiences. It can be helpful if you let them play characters from children's media and question which characteristics of their favourite heroes would be useful and desirable in everyday life.

    Strengthening of Relationships

    If you take a closer look at children's favourite heroes, you can see that there are clear similarities in the popularity of certain types of characters. Most children are fascinated by superhuman abilities and magic (e.g. being especially strong, being able to change or fly). Such characters are portrayed as independent, responsible, successful and strong, and these traits are desirable for children.

    Their peers’ preferences and enthusiasm about certain characters often have an influence on their choice of favourite characters. Different opinions about different characters in the media trigger communication among them and provide impulse for exchange. Among friends, the favourite media heroes can strengthen internal ties within the group and offer chances of talking and playing. Shared knowledge about certain characters can also serve as a boundary between the group and the outside world, which again strengthens the internal group relationship.

    Media characters enable children to be experts in their field, which also has an impact on their social cooperation and interaction.

    It can encourage agreement and build respect from other children if a child is particularly well informed about certain media characters and media content. Games and conversations about favourite characters, in turn, increase a child's popularity among their peers.

    Comprehension Questions

    1. What general features define the children’s media heroes?

    2. What do the children learn from their favourite media heroes?

    3. How can you use the “hero” characters for day-to-day work with children at ECEC?