Dumbing Down or Growing Up Too Fast

Posted on: Friday 05 July 2013 3:52pm by Samuel Hutchinson


As a parent of 5-year-old twins, this was really helpful. The discussions concerning limitations for children in television and literature are day-to-day issues for me.
Alexander Lentjes (3D Revolution Productions).

My biggest concern around this issue is that no content is being produced for 11-year-old girls. They are forced to watch shows for older teen girls and they are not ready to take on board many of the themes. 
Alix Wiseman (Aardman Animation).

Top 10 takeaways

  1. Children have a desire to explore and discover, and this has to be realised in the television and theatre that they view and the literature that they read.  However…
  2. There are increasing regulations and considerations for children’s content.     Such as…
  3. Health and safety issues, with the need for children to be seen to be responsible and safe , are prominent  Or…
  4. If they aren’t being safe or responsible, there needs to be clear CONSEQUENCES for the children, as to set an example
  5. There is often the requirement for the content to have a soft education purpose beneath the story
  6. This is slightly more extreme in the US, where content is more actively driven by educational purposes and learning is generally more fact-based.                     The Important things to remember are:
  7. Use a clear and simple structure. Rhythm and repetition within the text can aid learning without imposing education purposes upon the story itself
  8. Encourage parental involvement. Simple additions such as effective images within books can influence the way in which the parent reads to the child
  9. For 0-2 year-olds, it’s best to keep the story very simple, with just an A plot and basic language. However, when pushing up to 3-6 year olds, you can think about introducing a B plot and slightly more advanced language. Don’t think of it as writing for children.
  10. And finally… and I love this one…  Naughty characters are important! Children love them, but never want to be them. They must be shown to suffer consequences for their actions. This is the “Safety Net” for children. Know matter how bad things get, they know that everything will be okay!

This session sparked gentle debate over what content is suitable for children in which age-ranges and the matter of children being aspiration Vs the desire not to expose them to something that may not yet be suited to them, and the damage this could potentially do. However, what emerged most prominently, as indicated by the top 10 takeaways, was a series of wonderful nuggets of advice for writers looking to explore writing for children across stage, theatre and screen. Although the above can be taken as nothing more than guidelines (if there’s one thing this conference has taught me, it’s that there are rarely definitive answers), they were incredibly helpful nonetheless in aiding writers looking to be considered in the world of Children’s Media and who may have been in the dark about avoiding these moderations and restrictions before this session.

As for the debates surrounding what’s suitable and what isn’t for different age groups, and the effects of children seeing content before they are prepared, recurring topics included a lack of content for 10-12 year old girls, who will turn to more sexualised teen dramas as a result, and “dumbed down” adventure stories for boys due to danger-related regulations. Fiona MacMillian of Random House UK provided a colorful example of the later as she discussed a popular book she had trouble getting the word “fart” on the front cover of.  There are also issues in regard to the re-invention of classic fairy tales, due to modern standards. Fiona spoke of her frustration at the slim chance of see a new version of “Hansell and Grettell” in print, as it includes many frightening themes.

A game audience pitched in with a couple of challenging questions, such as inquiring about when we’re likely to see the presence of same-sex relationships within children’s media and, indeed, why we currently don’t. The panel agreed that these were adult prejudices being applied to children’s content, but that the future is likely to bring further changes.

And someone also pipped up about pop-up books! What better way for children to learn and explore but to literally touch and feel! Do these still have a place in a world of ebooks? The panel seemed to think so.

And I certainly hope so too.

Louise Lynch (MD – Libra Television).

Dr. Carla Engelbrecht Fisher (Games Designer and Founder – No Crusts Interactive).
Miranda Larson (T.V. and Theatre Writer).
Fiona Macmillan (Children’s Color and Licensing – Random House UK).

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Samuel Hutchinson

About the author

Samuel Hutchinson

BBC, Script Reader

Upon graduating from Bournemouth University's Scriptwriting degree in 2012, Sam started working as a Script Reader for BBC Continuing Drama. He has since also become Development Executive for independent film company, Silver Leaf Pictures, and is currently developing further feature film projects with We Move Pictures, who will be taking… Read more