Kids and Social Messages About Crime

Posted on March 11, 2012 by


Image: photo of magazine spread taken by CrimeCents for commentary purposes.

It’s completely normal for kids to be interested in cops and robbers, superheroes and supervillains. In fact, identifying with these kinds of characters and their common story arcs is a way to learn about good and evil and the nuances of morality. Identifying with Wonder Woman might help a little girl negotiate harassment she is experiencing at school.  Similarly, booing the Big Bad Wolf in a fairy tale is a way for younger children to negotiate fear of strangers.

But these story lines deserve closer attention. While we seek to support kids as they develop emotionally and psychologically, we should be careful about the hidden narratives that are threaded throughout the social crime story.

The image above is a photograph taken of an advertisement spread. It sells games, but it also sells a story about crime, a statement about the world we live in, and suggestions for how kids can make sense of crime. Some of the text in the advertising images invites kids to contact the company about their game play. The topics include talking about what led the pirate captain to send four of his crew to walk the plank, and “who wins and why.”

There are hidden narratives too. Crime is by and about males – there is not a single female game piece pictured or feminine pronoun in the text. Crime is fun – aside from the fact that this advertisement sells crime as a game, the text supports this notion with language like, “All the tension and excitement of a big heist…” Human life is expendable – the text about the four pirates walking the plank asks, “Who will make it and who’s shark feed?” Crime is cool – the game play invites kids to adopt the roles of both the heroes and the villains; to try on, and enjoy, these conflicting identities of power and control.

Some hidden messages are inherently problematic while others are damaging only when they are not carefully explored with the guidance of nurturing parents, caregivers, and teachers. Which of these messages do you find problematic? And do you see any other narrative strands in this advertisement?