Browse all articles

Representation Ratings Need to Reflect the Nuances of Kids' Ethnic-Racial and Social-Emotional Development

Common Sense Media's new ratings and reviews in Spanish will help parents find high-quality representations in media for their families.

Family watching media on a laptop

Media plays a critical role in shaping how kids understand the world around them. It can perpetuate stereotypes and bias, or it can be a powerful tool that moves us toward a more inclusive future.

We know from our research that media can be an important influence on kids' ethnic-racial development. What kids watch may meaningfully affect how they view and treat people, including people from their own and other ethnic-racial groups. Quality representation matters. Positive and well-rounded depictions of people may improve kids' views about their abilities and their place and culture in society. Exposure to negative or narrow depictions of their own ethnic-racial group may harm their self-esteem, belief in their abilities, and future aspirations.

Supporting diverse audiences through authentic understanding

Common Sense recently released new ratings and reviews in Spanish, expanding access to resources for Spanish-speaking parents and caregivers. We expect these reviews to help Spanish-speaking families find more programs and films with positively represented Latino characters, as well as other great content.

Improving representation for Latino communities is especially important, given that our research shows they're the least represented group in media proportional to their percentage of the population. For example, Latinos make up 19% of the U.S. population, but only 8% of characters in children's programming, and only 5% of characters in top grossing films.

Understanding the nuances and specific needs of families and cultures is an important aspect of our mission to ensure digital well-being for kids. As my colleague, Spanish Language Editor Mary Aviles, said in her recent post, "These new ratings and reviews are written by native Spanish speakers and specialists in Latino-focused content and parent advice. This lets us approach the material with a deeper level of understanding of Latino communities and their unique concerns."

A central aspect of our ratings is our study of the stages of ethnic-racial development, and how positive and negative representations affect kids at different stages. Our research, released in the report "The Inclusion Imperative: Why Media Representation Matters for Kids' Ethnic-Racial Development," includes a detailed breakdown of how kids—from birth through age 18—notice, perceive, and understand ethnicity and race in media. This rubric helps inform the age recommendation our editorial team makes in reviews.

How authenticity comes through in ratings

When our editors review a movie, TV series, book, game, app, or website for representation, one aspect they consider is how traditionally marginalized groups are represented, including gender, race, ethnicity, age, disability, religious backgrounds, socioeconomic status, and body shapes typically underrepresented in media.

Our team examines whether characters are realistic and relatable or shallow and stereotypical, whether they have agency or simply support a dominant character, and whether there are any problematic viewpoints or stereotypes that need to be called out. And they take into account whether portrayals are age appropriate.

For example, our review of the 2022 release of Father of the Bride highlights that the movie has positive Latino role models and that characters discuss stereotypes and misconceptions about their cultures. A review of the Netflix show Maya and the Three points out that while the show is not a match for younger children, there is breadth and depth in how the Mesoamerican people are depicted, and that the series creator and many members of the voice cast are Latino.

We provide this kind of guidance to help families find high-quality media with the potential to spark conversations and entertain families of all kinds. We also work to disrupt problematic ethnic-racial messages and stereotypes that may be present in media, rather than passively reinforcing them.

Unfortunately, what children actually learn about race and ethnicity from the media is a research area that is still largely unexplored, especially when it comes to traditionally underrepresented communities. We are committed to continuing our study of these important issues in future research, including diverse ethnic-racial representation in social media and podcasts. Stay tuned!

Michael Robb

Michael Robb is head of research at Common Sense, overseeing the development and execution of a mission-aligned research program, overseeing multiple research projects on the roles of media and technology in children and families' lives. He has published research on the roles of media and technology in children's lives in a variety of academic journals, and his work has been featured in press outlets such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, and NPR. Michael also has supervised community educational outreach efforts, helping parents and teachers make the most of quality children's programming. Michael received his B.A. from Tufts University, and M.A. and Ph.D. in psychology from UC Riverside.


Michael lives in Connecticut with his wife, two sons, and dog, Charlie. His hobbies include hiking, cycling, racquetball, escape rooms, video games, and binge watching great TV shows. Since having kids, he's now perfecting the art of picking up toys, building obstacle courses with pillows, and napping. He and his wife force their children to listen to showtunes in the car.