Children’s Culture: Are Adults Fit to Create it?

Whether done explicitly or not, children’s culture, more specifically children’s play, has been significantly and continuously impacted by racism in American society. As Richard Flynn’s Keyword article “Culture” asserts, children’s culture can be constructed both by adults and by children themselves. Robin Bernstein’s “Children’s Books, Dolls, and the Performance of Race; or, The Possibility of Children’s Literature” discusses the potential for 19th Century children’s literature to invite acts of racialized violence and forced labor through representational play. Bernstein also describes how different forms of play were also encouraged through dolls—while white dolls were often fragile and ceramic, promoting careful play, black dolls were made and advertised to withstand rough usage and be “thrown about”. Interestingly, this discussion reminded me of the well-known and replicated “doll tests” done by psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark. Rather than using dolls manufactured to invite different types of play, the dolls in their study appeared almost identical, apart from their skin color. They found that children of color overwhelmingly associated negative characteristics with dolls of color and positive characteristics with white dolls. Although these children may not have directly been given 19th century literature or racially insensitive dolls, the findings from this study unfortunately serve as proof of racial bias’s influence on children’s culture. They compel us to ask where children are absorbing these messages and to think critically about who is granted the power to define the culture we cultivate for children. This may be radical, but perhaps it is children, not adults, who are more suited to shape and define their own culture.

Read the full article at:

4 thoughts on “Children’s Culture: Are Adults Fit to Create it?”

  1. This was a really interesting post to read! I’ve never heard of the “doll tests” before, and quite honestly I’m not surprised by the results. The “doll tests” remind me of a video I watched the other week where people of many different races and genders went through an implicit bias test. Some were surprised by their results and others were not. You bring up an interesting point that maybe children are more suited to shape and define their own culture. I’ve never thought about altering culture like this before as I always figured that children were supposed to look up to adults, but this is an interesting and thought-provoking suggestion.

  2. This is a very interesting topic and I think the question you asked can be controversial. Adding to Isabel’s comment, I too have learned that as much as we want to refute it, everyone is implicitly racist. Some more than others, and this information can come as a shock to many. Where our brains understand these thoughts may be at the beginning of childhood, most likely influenced by adults who think they are creating an appropriate culture.

  3. This is a very interesting point that you’re making here. Adults do have so much of an impact on their child’s development. Children learn from the people they spend the most time with so it makes sense that Adult’s have such an impact on children’s literature because adults are the ones writing children’s books and adults are the ones who purchase certain children’s literature. The questions here are: is this right? How can we change it? If adults continue to shape racism through literature and doll play, will the problem of racism ever really go away?

  4. Your post is very well thought out and interesting. I agree that parental figures play a vital role in how their children will view the world when they grow up. When I was young, I wanted to be just like my mom, so when she would do or say something, I would follow in suit. Parental guidance is necessary and beneficial in some circumstances, but not in all. I believe that if children are given minimal guidance, unless when necessary, they will be able to figure out life for themselves, and therefore become strong, independent people. In the society we live in nowadays, children get significant exposure to many different perspectives through media, literature, and interactions with others, and it should be up to each person as an individual to decide how they would like to use their experiences and learn from them.

Leave a Reply