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How Emerging Content Creators and Platforms Can Help Kids Thrive in Uncertain Times

Insights from Common Sense's time at the U.K. Children's Media Conference.

Topics: Quality Media
Girl watching a tablet

As kids return to school and a new "normal," many young people are being characterized as "behind" educationally and socially, and experiencing incredible pressure on their mental well-being. Media plays an enormous role in both supporting and hindering kids' emotional and mental health. So what responsibilities do content creators have in bringing our kids to a safer, better place?

I was excited to participate in the Children's Media Conference (CMC) in the U.K. recently on behalf of Common Sense. Throughout the conference, professionals in the children's media industry gathered to explore new and future developments in kids' media. This year's conference theme, "What Next 2.2," examined strategies, insights, and inspiration to help delegates bring the best possible media, of every kind, to kids and young people in uncertain times.

I had the opportunity to join discussions with delegates involved in developing, producing, and distributing content to children. My panel, "What's Next for Kids," featured experts in the kids' media space who shared insights on some of the issues that kids are facing today, the importance of creating content that kids want to watch, and what kind of content can help them navigate today's world.

This year, several key topics were explored that will serve to strengthen our focus and mission at Common Sense. We'll use these insights as we continue to research and advocate for tools and strategies to help improve the lives of kids and families.

Kids Need to Relate to the Content

Kids are navigating their way around a digital world designed by adults and for adults. Conversations about kids' media need to start with young people. Kids can be great at showing adults what and how they want things to be. Several panels brought attention to the important role that kids should play in the content created for them.

The concept of "localization" was emphasized as one key element to keep kids engaged and help them feel represented and connected to the content. This framework isn't just focused on using authentic language, but on being sensitive to cultural differences as well. A TV show based in the U.K. will use different colloquial terms, settings, and characters than a show for children in Spain, for instance. Small nuances can make a big difference to kids. Our research has shown that when they see their own cultural ideals and values represented, it has a positive effect on their mental well-being.

Kids' involvement in the media they watch now includes becoming content creators themselves. The industry should embrace entrepreneurial young content creators, as they're increasingly using innovative ways to get their content out to the world. With more and more content for kids, it's important to invest in a new generation from the beginning.

We also discussed how kids' content needs to have a balance of education and fun. Kids are nervous about the state of the world in general, but they also have to deal with all that comes with being a young person. Life is messy, and content creators need to show the mess and produce authentic content that kids can relate to. Media creators need to focus on creating content that children love and that parents and caregivers trust.

Diversity Is Key to Success

We know that families are looking for media creators to deliver content that better reflects the diversity of the world their kids are growing up in. The largest minority in the media is "kids," which makes it important to include kids in discussions about diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Audiences are shopping around for diverse content, so if platforms aren't commissioning diverse content creators, they'll miss out on opportunities to expand their audiences. Inclusivity needs to be normalized as an important requirement in all content production. There needs to be an investment from an entire organization, from the "inside out," to adhere to DEI standards.

Content creators need to reflect real people and what's happening in the real world, and detect what is missing and rectify it.

Common Sense recently added a criteria that rates diverse representations in our media reviews for parents and caregivers because of the importance of this aspect of programming. This feature has created a way for families to identify shows and movies that have the positive messages and representation they want their kids to experience.

The Opportunities in the Metaverse

We know the metaverse is a hot topic right now. "Metaverse" is the biggest buzzword of 2022, and rightfully so, as both the physical and digital worlds continue to merge. Virtual reality has been around for decades, but connectivity is better than ever, and online worlds are also bigger and better, all of which is adding to the impact of the metaverse. As the space grows, it's important to see how kids fit into the equation. One of the CMC panels focused on the metaverse and how kids are navigating these new platforms. Industry experts at CMC discussed why the metaverse matters and examined the potential dangers and opportunities presented by this new media space.

The metaverse is a wild, understudied, and unregulated place. Whether it becomes a dystopia or utopia will largely depend on how seriously we take its potential harms, particularly for young people, and how quickly we act to prevent them.

As we continue to define what the metaverse is for kids, we have a unique opportunity to get ahead of its impact. The industry has often waited for a wave to break before thinking through important issues like access, privacy, and representation. We have the opportunity with the metaverse to move earlier.

The industry should be striving to give children the best, and safest, experiences.

Good practices should be incentivized, and screen breaks incorporated, for instance. It should be designed with child rights in mind. At Common Sense, it's our mission to help kids and families thrive in the digital world, and we will continue to engage with industry leaders on how to create media that engages, inspires, and supports kids and teens.

Jill Murphy

Jill Murphy is Editor-in-Chief and Head of Distribution at Common Sense Media. Jill joined Common Sense in January 2005, built the editorial department with founding Editor-in-Chief Liz Perle, and served as Deputy Managing Editor and later Managing Editor before becoming Editorial Director in 2010. She oversees the ratings and reviews for all media channels, including movies, TV, games, web, apps, music, and books. She's responsible for all parenting advice content, from conception to publication -- including tips, articles, and recommended lists. She has developed a variety of new content products, including our parent blog. Jill also works closely with content partners including Huffington Post, Yahoo!, DirecTV, Comcast, Netflix, and more to further leverage Common Sense Media's content library. Jill's commitment to Common Sense gives her the opportunity to help families avoid the TV shows she's devoted to (she's our resident expert on any and all reality TV). When she must, she shares the TV with her two young daughters, who watch Doc McStuffins and Word Girl; her husband, who watches sports and can't wait for more Walking Dead; and her dogs, who watch the door. Jill holds a BA from San Francisco State University in Broadcast and Electronic Communication Arts, with an emphasis on writing and media literacy.