Media constructions of children: Tragic victims or evil monsters
Adultification. Tendency to see children and young people as possessing
similar capacities of reasoning and knowledge as adults.
Dangerousness. Sums up widespread fear of individuals and groups who
appear to pose a significant threat to order or to
individuals’ personal safety.
Doli incapax. Principle that children under a certain age are incapable of
understanding the difference between right and wrong,
and therefore cannot be held criminally responsible for
Evil monsters. Postmodern version of folk devils whereby media,
politicians and legal discourses intersect to construct
serious offenders in essentialist terms as absolute others
and beyond the normal values that bind the moral majority
Imagined community. Suggests collective identity based on, and encompassing
attitudes to, class, gender, lifestyle and nation.
Infantilisation. Social, political and economic forces resulting in many
young people having to delay the ‘rites of passage that
have traditionally marked the transition from adolescence
Social constructionism. Perspective that emphasises the importance of social
expectations un the analysis of taken-for-granted and
apparently natural social processes. Avoids the
conventional binary opposition of representation/reality
by suggesting that meaning is conferred according to
shared cultural references and experiences.
Tragic victims. Frequently used in binary opposition to evil monsters,
whereby the innocence and vulnerability of a victim
becomes the primary aspect of their representation in the
News values and children as tragic victims
Crimes stories featuring children are eminently newsworthy.
o Children killed by a stranger get more coverage than children killed by
a familiar person.
Whether children at the centre of the story are victims or offenders.
Media’s concentration on children linked to media’s commitment to morality
o Morality campaigns – focus is not against homosexuals and religious
deviations anymore, but against the figure of a stranger/paedophile.
o No longer about porn and human sex trafficking, but on child
pornography and child sex trafficking.
Sexual abuse in the home still stays relatively low on the journalistic radar in
comparison to stranger danger.
o When children commit serious crimes or kill other children, they’re
crimes are also eminently newsworthy. Example – James Bulger:
o First case where media depicted children not as innocent, but as evil.
o First time you saw a focus on dangerousness.
o Was followed by a raft of CJ and crime prevention initiatives to deal
with this problem – the potential for children to commit such heinous
o Presented an almost unprecedented dilemma for the mass media.
o The idea child innocence gives way to the idea of children/childhoods
as horrific and evil.
Media disproportionately report crime stories involving children killed by
Example of how our fears tend to get projected onto particular issues as a
result of this kind of media focus.
Media exercise a preference for crime stories involving children killed by
strangers (rather than the familial context).
Is a consequence of media’s obsession with randomness of crime and
tendency to locate dangerousness in the public realm.
Dominant theme in British press is ‘paedophiles in the community’.
High profile cases often followed by enactment of various pieces of
Moral panic over paedophilia perpetuates notion that sexual dangerousness
resides in strangers.
Public fears aren’t manufactured and yet governments benefit from the
invocation of evil to justify a particular policy or legal response.
The concept of childhood is a construction
Prior to mid-19 century, children were seen as equally culpable adults when
they committed crime and liable therefore the same penalties.
In Victorian society, a new conception of childhood as a separate stage of
development prior to adulthood emerged.
o Wasn’t always a concept of teenage hood.
First time in modern history, children seen as in need of protection through
o Couldn’t be treated the same because they weren’t thought to have a
sense of right and wrong.
o Laws and legislation came out e.g. working, pay, etc., to protect
Constructions of ch