Skip to content

How Are Children’s Issues Portrayed in the News? A Media Content Analysis

What is the role of the news media in influencing public thinking about children’s issues? And how can recognizing these media frames help us build engagement and increase support for the actions necessary to ensure the wellbeing of children?
Luis Hestres , Abigail Rochman , Andrew Volmert , Daniel Busso
November 4, 2021

All stories are framed. The ways that news media frames and narrates our stories shapes our collective mindsets about key issues and what needs to be done to address them. When it comes to children’s issues, the role of the news media in influencing public thinking can’t be underestimated. Recognizing the frames in play and their impact is essential in shifting mindsets and building support for the actions necessary to ensure the wellbeing of children.

Funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Children’s Hospital Association, the FrameWorks Institute and Leading for Kids analyzed a sample of 186 current and historical print news articles to identify framing strategies used to discuss children’s issues. Our resulting report highlights seven key findings and recommendations for those striving to elevate public discourse on—and action for—children’s health and wellbeing.

According to our analysis, the media tends to do the following:

  • Hold government responsible for children’s wellbeing
  • Use a “broken systems” narrative that portrays government as ineffective in safeguarding children’s wellbeing
  • Portray children as vulnerable and in need of protection
  • Rarely discuss racial equity in relation to children’s issues
  • Avoid talk about child development
  • Focus on the effects of policy on parents, not kids
  • Compare the United States unfavorably with other countries on children’s issues

Taken together, the insights in the report offer opportunities to create and communicate salient counternarratives that bring children back into the story and make child wellbeing and issues of equity top of mind. This report follows the project’s previous reports, How Are Advocates Talking about Children’s Issues? (August 2021) and Why Aren’t Kids a Policy Priority? (June 2021). In the next phase of the work, we will be designing and testing new narratives that motivate people to take action for kids in our country.

Please download the full report