New Common Sense Initiative to Tackle Impact of Media and Gender Stereotypes on Kids

Driven by Strong Concerns from Parents, Comprehensive Program to Produce Guidelines Based on Child Development and Media Messages Around Gender

Common Sense Media
Wednesday, March 15, 2017

San Francisco, CA -- Responding to high parent interest, Common Sense announced a new initiative to develop research-based guidelines on gender stereotypes in the media. This first-of-its-kind resource will help parents, kids, and educators identify which television shows and movies have healthy gender role models and avoid gender stereotypes or imbalanced gender roles. Common Sense user research finds that gender stereotypes for both boys and girls are a tremendous concern for parents and that the demand for gender-specific media guidance is extremely high.

The announcement was made at South by Southwest (SXSW), followed by a panel discussion with Common Sense Gender Advisory Council members Meredith Walker, co-founder with Amy Poehler and executive director of Smart Girls; Kevin Clark, professor and director of George Mason University's Center for Digital Media Innovation and Diversity; TV writer and producer Allison Abner; and Common Sense Vice President of Strategic Programs Olivia Morgan.

The initiative is fueled by extensive qualitative and quantitative consumer research. For a year, Common Sense conducted a series of analyses, surveys, and interviews with parents and kids to better understand what information they want -- and feel is lacking -- around media portrayals of gender.

  • Ninety percent of Common Sense users say they think the ways movies and TV shows portray girls/women and boys/men influence how children see themselves and their gender (52 percent say they influence kids a great deal).
  • Eighty percent say they consider portrayals of girls/women and boys/men when choosing media for their child.
  • More than three quarters say they are extremely concerned about violence against girls or women when they see it in movies or on TV.
  • About 60 percent say they are extremely concerned about boys or men being shown as hyper-violent or primarily interested in sex.
  • Analysis shows that not much attention has been paid to male stereotypes. And parents -- especially the parents of African-American boys -- express great concern about role models for boys.
  • Parents of African-American children are particularly concerned about beauty trends' impacts on their daughters' self-esteem and the lack of positive role models for their sons.
  • Half of U.S. kids say that when they see African-American or Latino people in the news, they're usually doing something violent or illegal.
  • Only one third of U.S. children agree that the news treats men and women equally fairly, with girls being less likely (29 percent) to think so than boys (40 percent).
  • Whether they know transgender children in their communities or only follow debates about bathroom policy, parents are looking for guidance on how to discuss transgender identities with their kids.

"For more than a year, we have been listening to parents and kids talk about gender stereotypes in our society. They are paying attention and asking for help," said James P. Steyer, founder and CEO of Common Sense. "We are going to spend the next year developing resources for them, under the leadership of Olivia Morgan, who has an extensive background in developing gender research to have immediate and real-life impact."

The Common Sense Gender Initiative will include:

  • A literature review analyzing and synthesizing existing research on gender, media, and child development
  • A national survey to take the pulse of parents' thinking on gender and media in today's society
  • Development of up-to-date media-literacy curricula based on parent concerns and child development research
  • Extensive trainings for teachers on the impacts of gender portrayals in the media
  • Training for Common Sense editorial experts and reviewers on how media images and messages around gender affect children at each age and stage of development

"Understanding what kids are absorbing when they see media stereotypes gives parents the ability to avoid certain content or talk about it in a smart way with their kids," said Olivia Morgan, director of the initiative. "This research may also give movie and TV writers and producers some aha moments that lead to more authentic storytelling. This could be a game-changing cultural media moment."

The work will be guided by a Common Sense Advisory Council on Gender and Media. Members include:

  • Claire Shipman, author, The Confidence Code (chair)
  • Allison Abner, TV writer and producer
  • Nancy Armstrong, senior producer, Makers
  • Gary Barker, president and CEO, Promundo
  • Julie Burton, president, Women's Media Center
  • Kevin Clark, Ph.D, co-founder, Diversity in Apps, and founding director, George Mason University's Center for Digital Media Innovation and Diversity
  • Patty Kerr, co-executive director, ANA Alliance for Family Entertainment, #SeeHer
  • Jean Kilbourne, activist, speaker, and writer
  • Dafna Lemish, Ph.D, associate dean for programs, School of Communication and Information, Rutgers University
  • Jennifer Siebel Newsom, founder and CEO, the Representation Project, and filmmaker, Miss Representation and The Mask You Live In
  • David Plouffe, president, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative Policy and Advocacy
  • Rachel Simmons, co-founder, Girls Leadership, and author and educator
  • Jennifer Aubrey Stevens, Ph.D, associate professor, University of Arizona
  • Rachel Thomas, president, Lean In
  • Meredith Walker, co-founder and executive director, Smart Girls
  • Monique Ward, Ph.D, psychology professor, University of Michigan
  • Eun Yang, anchor, News4 Today, NBC Washington

Council chair and veteran newswoman Claire Shipman commented, "We have serious concerns about the long-term impact of gender stereotypes in media. Those portrayals affect so many aspects of children's lives, from imagining their future professions to feeling comfortable expressing a range of emotions."

"Common Sense is committed to listening to parents and creating information that helps them make the best possible media choices for their families," added Common Sense President and Chief Operating Officer Amy Guggenheim Shenkan. "Concerns about gender stereotypes cut across families of all races and ethnicities, because they seriously impact how children measure their own success and potential. Through this initiative, Common Sense will be able to provide parents with research-based information developed by true experts to help them determine what is appropriate for their kids."

Common Sense is used by more than 68 million people, including over 485,000 educators, as they navigate today's media environment for children. Common Sense's research, such as its annual surveys on child and parent media use, and focused literature reviews on topics such as technology addiction and body image, informs the national conversation on raising healthy kids in a media-saturated environment, from newsrooms to boardrooms to living rooms across the country. In 2017 Common Sense will include a focus on gender and media in its national research program.

Common Sense's prior work on gender includes:

Sex, Gender, and Body Image study (2015)

Media literacy for educators (Grades 6–8): Recognizing gender stereotypes

Media literacy for parents: Tips for talking about gender stereotypes with kids

And our related resources for parents include:

Gender-Neutral Apps

TV That's Good for Boys (TV that avoids stereotypes)

Positive Role Model TV for Girls

Why Media Role Models Matter

About Common Sense
Common Sense is the nation's leading independent nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a powerful voice for kids and families in the 21st century. Millions of families, educators, and policymakers turn to Common Sense every day to access our independent ratings, unbiased research, and trusted tools and advice to help navigate a rapidly changing digital landscape at home and at school. Learn more at


Press Contact:
Corbie Kiernan
[email protected]