How Do Children Form Stereotypes?

Written by scott cornell
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How Do Children Form Stereotypes?
Children are highly impressionable and vulnerable to forming stereotypes at an early age. (Ezra Shaw/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

According to the University of North Dakota, stereotyping is defined as a generalisation about a group of people where one attributes characteristics based on their appearance and their own personal assumptions. Children are exposed to certain stereotypes at an early age through a variety of mediums. While some stereotypes are formed by children as a result of their own development, others are influenced by the media and their peers.

Cognitive Development

One way children form stereotypes is by observing the world around them as they naturally develop. For example, according to Utah State University, children will classify people into groups based on common attributes. Many times they won't interact with certain groups that they classify people into, and therefore obtain a distorted view of a particular population. According to research from the University of Alberta, children as young as 5 years old can develop stereotypes. In this particular case, it found children often develop negative stereotypes of senior citizens at this age.


Children often form stereotypes based on their parents' attitudes toward a particular culture. For example, if parents make negative comments about a particular ethnicity around an impressionable child, it's likely that the child will echo those feelings throughout his life as well, rather than attempt to learn and interact with the particular group of people and form his own educated opinion. Negative stereotypes can lead to prejudices, which can lead to discrimination. One way for parents to prevent this is to educate the child about different cultures.


Stereotypes against cultures are often displayed through mediums such as television, movies and music. For example, in the animated movie "Lady and the Tramp," Siamese cats are featured that negatively portray Asian people as sinister and manipulative. "Aladdin" portrays the Arab villains with thick accents, while the hero and heroine speak in near-perfect English. Children pick up on things like this and begin to form their own stereotypes. A way for parents to prevent this from happening is to help identify such stereotypes and talk to children about how what they're watching is the opinion of a writer, producer or director.


News stories are influenced by the backgrounds and attitudes of reporters, editors and photographers, according to Media Awareness Network. According to the site, sometimes these stories can portray a distorted view. For example, the site states that in the case of young people and minority groups appearing in the news, it's normally in a negative context. Over time, people begin to associate certain demographics and ethnicities with these negative attitudes.

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