Academic journal article Social Education

Using Digital Resources to Explore the Role of Children in the Framing of Social Issues

Academic journal article Social Education

Using Digital Resources to Explore the Role of Children in the Framing of Social Issues

Article excerpt

In 1964, Lyndon Johnson's famous presidential campaign ad titled "Peace Little Girl (Daisy)" aired only once, but the image of an innocent little girl counting flower petals incited strong emotional reaction. As the girl calls out numbers, her voice is drowned out by a countdown to a nuclear explosion. At the termination of the countdown, the young girl looks at the sky, and a large mushroom cloud replaces the image of her face. At the conclusion of the ad, a message appeared: "Vote for President Johnson on November 3. The stakes are too high for you to stay home." (1) This controversial ad was a persuasive way to suggest that Johnson's opponent could not be trusted to protect the innocence and safety of the nation.

The first campaign commercials were aired on television in 1952, and from their inception, children have played a critical role in the framing of political ads. Understanding these frames provides important insight into a powerful communication element that is used to influence opinions by connecting with deeply held beliefs about American principles and ideals.


Deborah Tannen explores the concept of framing:

   People approach the world not
   as naive blank-slate receptacles
   that take in stimuli ... but rather
   as experienced and sophisticated
   veterans of perception who have
   stored their prior experiences as
   an organized mass. This prior
   experience then takes the form of
   expectations about the world, and
   in the vast majority of cases, the
   world, being a systematic place,
   confirms these expectations, saving
   the individual the trouble of
   figuring out anew all the time. (2)

Framing is a communication process that assists people in quickly making sense of the world. Shared cultural cues are used to trigger deeply held values and subsequently influence perceptions and opinions. Effective communicators strategically select words and images so that intended messages are conveyed through a lens that directs the viewer's judgments about social issues. These frames are used by news media, political movements, and organizations for information dissemination. The technology relied upon to communicate public affairs has evolved over time, and whether via the modality of radio, television, or the Internet, political leaders, corporations, and advocacy groups recognize the power of strategic communication to influence constituents and inspire the desired response to messages conveyed.

However, communication is a complex process because ideas are expressed through both verbal and nonverbal cues that activate preconceived notions about the world. As people try to process overwhelming amounts of visual and auditory information, they will ignore some cues and infer meaning from relevant frames based on their own life experience. People rely on these established frames as mental shortcuts to integrate and digest the vast information that bombards them everyday. This process occurs automatically unless there is incongruity in the message (which creates a shift in the frame) or purposeful study of frames reveals the meaning that is attributed to the constructed communication. Although frames are intended to direct people to a predetermined understanding, some frames may be confusing or subject to misinterpretation.

The importance of frames in communication has led to intensive study and analysis of these mental shortcuts) Research has revealed that frames can be triggered by purposeful use of words, messengers, or visual images that promote issues or influence the public toward a political cause or candidate. Subsequently, these communication elements may attract attention amid the din of excess information and sway decision outcomes.

Framing Children in Political Discourse

Why have children been employed in this iconic role? Historically, candidates for political offices have included children in their ads, but the trend recently has intensified. …

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