The Role of Media Literacy in Resolving Children’s Role-Identity Conflict: a Case Study of the Children’s Audience of Spider-Man Cartoons



Received: 3/04/2017

Accepted: 04/09/2017

Introduction and Problem Statement: This paper attempts to provide an understanding of the role-identity conflict among children who watch Spider-Man superhero cartoon. The paper will also provide an analysis of some sample children’s media literacy skills and how they apply it to overcome such conflict. Since children use their media experiences in their everyday lives, it seems that Superhero cartoons play an important role in shaping children’s identities and thoughts.

Conceptual Framework: to deal with the problematic of the research the paper looks at the process of media framing which involves “salience” and “selection” in two stages of production and consumption. It seems that the frameworks of media products play a role in constructing the personality/identity traits of the individual children. When an individual/child highlights and selects some particular media products, he/she indicates that the individual tends to experience such products. According to Goffman (1963), the identity that individuals define themselves with are “virtual social identity”. The personality type that manifests itself in everyday interactions and practices of the individual is in fact his/her “actual social identity.” These two personalities/identities are not always the same.

Not only does a child's attempt to imitate superheroes reveal how they frame the story but also they show their virtual social identity; i.e. what a child would like to see in cartoon characters and how he/she would want to be like them. In other words, the actual social identity is the attributes that can be proven in reality. The inconsistency between these two identities in children can cause a role-identity conflict.

It seems watching superhero cartoons intensifies such conflict. Children’s skill in understanding the media framework is critical in overcoming this conflict. Faith Rogo’s media literacy model is useful in studying and analyzing how children are exposed to manipulation of the media and their realities and conflict management.

Faith Rogo suggests three areas from which to start educating children in media literacy: a) understanding stories; b) identifying storytellers; and c) learning the language.

Methodology: Methodologically, this research is carried out with a qualitative approach, using phenomenological methodology and conducting in-depth interview technique to collect data. Interview questions based on the trio model of Faith Rogo that includes understanding stories, identifying storytellers, and learning the language was designed after watching ten episodes of “Final Spider-Man” cartoon series and the first Spider-Man movie. To ensure the correctness of interview questions, they were approved by Rogo. By analyzing children’s responses, we expect identify the existence or lack of children’s media literacy skills based on Rogo’s model dimensions. In addition, children’s interpretative frameworks are identified using Entman’s method.

The selection of sample interviewees is based on three criteria:

A) ages 4 to 7 years,

B) watching Spider-Man Cartoon,

C) participating in art, creativity and storytelling classes.

Results and discussion: Some of the findings of data analysis indicate that children have a relatively good performance at the first level of media literacy, i.e., understanding stories. The results also show that children have a good understanding of the plot of the story. They follow three stages of the plot including exposition, climax and denouement in their retelling the story of Spider-Man. Another aspect is that most children perceive the unreality of Spider-Man and do not consider his actions and behaviors as real ones.

However, the results of the interview with the children show that none of the children performed any necessary skills at the level of identifying narrators, and this can be considered to be set in children's media literacy training programs.

Three children had inquiry regarding the meaning of the scene in response to the question “What is your favorite scene?” But seven others talked about their favorite scenes well and even represented them with their facial expressions and body language. In the case of the genre, all of them used the words “bump” and "horror" something that shows the meaning of the genre at their perceptual level.

This study shows that children have a little skill in detecting visual effects of films and cartoons. This issue can be considered to be added in teaching media literacy to this age group.

Conclusion: Regarding children’s interpretations of Spider-Man cartoons, it's important to understand how Spider-Man affect children’s perception of themselves. It seems even though the children know Spider-Man is not real, they reconstruct an ideal and virtual identity similar to Spider-Man through watching the superhero and interpreting his reality or unreality.

This situation can lead to a conflict between the children’s actual identity and their virtual identity which is unreal but as lovely as Spider-Man. In order to achieve a balance in such a situation, the children present alternatives which transform superhuman behaviors into human behaviors. The children's responses to the questions based on their media literacy show four “logical alternatives”: (a) doing exciting movements in a smaller and more secure scale such as climbing furniture at home instead of climbing high buildings, b) simulating war and fighting with their peers instead of fighting enemies who have super-powers; c) using the Spider-Man-costumes such as mask, clothes and rope to look like him; and finally d) presenting a new narrative in which children play the heroine and they regulate various aspects of Spider-Man role in terms of their actual abilities.

Keywords: media literacy, identity, framework, superhero, children, Spider-Man

English References

Browne, K. D., & Hamilton-Giachritsis, C. (2005). The Influence of Violent Media on Children and Adolescents: A Public-Health Approach. The Lancet, 365(9460), 702-710.

Buckingham, D., Banaji, S., Carr, D., Cranmer, S., & Willett, R. (2005). The Media Literacy of Children and Young People: A Review of the Research Literature. Centre for the Study of Children Youth and Media Institute of Education University of London, London Knowledge Lab 23 Emerald Street London WC1N 3QS E-mail:, retrieved from:

Cupit, C. G. (1996). Superhero Play and Very Human Children. Early Years: An International Research Journal, 16 (2), 22-25, DOI: 10.1080/0957514960160206 to link to this article:

Dworkin, S. L. (2012). Sample Size Policy for Qualitative Studies Using In-Depth Interviews. Arch Sex Behav. 2012 Dec; 41(6):1319-20. DOI: 10.1007/s10508-012-0016-6.

Entman, R. M. (1993). Framing: Toward clarification of a fractured paradigm. Journal of communication, 43 (4), 51-58.

Goffman, Erving. (1963). Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity. London: Penguin.

Pietra B., M. (2010). Digital Literacy as Framing: Suggestions for an Interactive Approach Based On E. Goffman S Frame Theory. Nordic Journal of Digital Literacy, 4 (03-04), 131-142.

Ratner, K. A. (2013). The Role of Parenting and Attachment in Identity Style Development, Doctoral dissertation, University of Central Florida Orlando, Florida.

Ray, M., & Jat, K. R. (2010). Effect of Electronic Media on Children. Indian pediatrics, 47(7), 561-568.

Rogow, Faith (2002). ABC's of Media Literacy: What Can Pre-Schoolers Learn? Retrieved from

Villani, S. (2001). Impact of Media on Children and Adolescents: A 10-Year Review of the Research. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 40(4), 392-401.

Persian References

Baahonar, Naser; Chaaboki Derzaabi, Raamin. (1392). Tahlile Siaasathaye Savade Rasanei dar Se

Nahaade Farhangi va Ertebati Iran. Motaaleaate Beynereshtei dar Rasaane va Farhang, 3(6), 1-26.

Dehsoufiani, Azam. (1394). Koudak, Animayshen va Telvision. Tehran: Pjouheshgah Farhang, Honar va Ertebaataat

Dehqanshaad, Hourieh; Mahmoudi Kukandeh, Seyed Mohmad. (2012). Baresieh Zarourate Aamuzeshe Savade Rasanei Koudakaan va Nojavaanaan az Negahe Motoqasesane Aamuzesh va Parvareshe Shahre Tteharan. Motaleate Rasanei, Shomare 7, 77-90

Delaavar, Ali; Qaaniki, Haadi, & ShaahHosseini, Vahideh. (1394). Motaale Moredi Ejraye Tarhe Darse Savaade Rasaanei Baraaye DaneshAmouzan Payeye Chaahoreme Ebtedaei. Jame’e, Frahang va Rasaane, 4 (16).

Goffman, Erving, (1954). Nemoude Qod dar Zendegi Rouzmareh. Tarjomeye: Masoud Kianpour. Tehran: Enteshaaraate Nashre Markaz.