Social constructionism is used as the theoretical framework for this thesis which primarily analyses the relationship between the media and the concept we have about children as a social group. Hence, the thesis begins with the introduction of the most significant theorists and fundamental ideas of social constructionism. The first idea is the process of social construction and deconstruction by which the products of society acquire the assumption of naturalness and objectivity. The second idea refers to the production of knowledge, that is, of what is experienced as objective knowledge in a society. The key element of the theory and one of the fundamental starting points of this thesis is the idea that an individual is an active participant in the construction of his reality. Social constructionists also give special importance to language and discourse in their theory and they identify power relations as an element that contributes to wider acceptance of a discourse.
Social constructionist perspective is also used to give an overview of the historical development of childhood as a period of life and the related changes in the position of children in society. Special emphasis is given to the emergence of romantic images of the child as a creative being and childhood as an integral developmental stage during the period of Romanticism as well as the creation of developmental psychology theory which in the 20th century empowered the image of the child as an adult in the making which was previously dominant in the Enlightenment period. Both images are still present in pedagogical theory and practice.
Further, fundamental ideas of the "new" social studies of childhood created as a space for the mutual collaboration of researchers from various disciplines of social sciences, are presented. Based on these ideas and recent research on child development, the leading contemporary pedagogical concept of the child is created according to which the child is a competent actor of his own development. This image of the child and the new paradigms of childhood also require changes in the process of education that needs to, in order to respond to these requirements, become extremely flexible, adapted to the specific possibilities, needs and interests of a child, as well as to the context and culture of the environment in which it takes place. But, the existence of the new understanding of the child and the new paradigm of childhood does not mean that this discourse in the modern society is dominant. Ideas about children and childhood differ not only in spatial and temporal context, but also at the individual and institutional level within one society. Different disciplines, professions and environments construct different versions of childhood and images of children shaped by their theories, understandings and perspectives. The end of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st century bring ambivalence in discourse about children. One discourse in which a child is a competent social actor whose rights to self-determination and autonomy must be respected is shaped by the influence of the new understanding of the child and the new paradigm of childhood, while the other in which the child is viewed as an innocent victim to be protected from exploitation and manipulation, is a consequence and legacy of the Enlightenment image of the child. But this ambivalence does not include all the different ways in which children and childhood are constructed in modern society. Some of the other contemporary constructions are identified and explained in the second chapter.
Next, the media is viewed through the social constructionist prism as the contributor to the construction of reality so the dominant constructions of children in the media are identified using the findings of previous analysis of media content. Most of the previous research of media constructions about children identified a distinct duality in the way children are represented. On the one hand, they are shown as perpetrators of crimes, violent children, super-predators, while on the other they are constructed as passive, innocent and vulnerable. Duality is also visible between substantial interest in children when it comes to commercial motives and the complete lack of interest in the everyday reality, the problems and the wishes of children. Also, the construct of the "competent child" which is the result of new interdisciplinary research of children and childhood and dominantly present in pedagogical theory is virtually non-existent in media discourse. The main starting point of this thesis, that children in media are stigmatised, is based on the results of previous research and conclusions and generalizations drawn from it.
Chapter four introduces the theoretical basis of stigmatisation of children in the media by defining stigma and identifying the origin of stigmatisation. Stigmatisation is linked to social constructionism and stigma is defined as a social construct that does not refer to an attribute of the stigmatized person but to the relation of social surroundings towards the attribute. Stigmatisation is based on preferences of members of a particular group who also share widespread stereotypes and evaluations that become the basis for exclusion or avoidance of people. Therefore, stigmatisation does not occur because people are negatively evaluated or possess a spoiled identity, but because they possess certain characteristic that is considered as a basis for exclusion in a particular community. Different types of stigma and its functions are presented using an extended model of Pryor and Reeder (2011), which divide stigma into public stigma, self-stigma, stigma by association, and structural stigma. The last part of the chapter defines and explains age stigma through the identification of the process of labelling of children and stereotypes that exist about children and which are often considered to be the logical basis for the belief that labelled persons differ significantly from those who do not carry the same label which makes the separation between “us” and “them” necessary. Separation and marginalization are reflections of social processes that suppress individuals or entire groups in lower status positions and separate them from the rest of the society.
The fifth chapter begins with an overview of EU and also Croatian and Bosnian and Herzegovinian anti-discrimination laws and continues to define discrimination and identify and explain the various forms of discrimination covered by laws, but also those that have been part of the academic debate and have only recently found their way into legal practice. After that, the chapter focuses on the narrow area of age discrimination and ageism that came into focus only twenty years ago, primarily as a result of accelerated aging of the population. Although the theory of ageism is applicable to children, there is a tendency to research discrimination against these two age groups separately, so the last part of the chapter focuses on age discrimination of children and adultism.
In chapter six the results of combined (quantitative and qualitative) content analysis are presented. The aim of the research was to determine pedagogical implications of the way children are presented in two most widely read daily newspapers in the Republic of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina over a period of one year, to analyse the presence of stigmatization of children in print media and to identify the difference in the way children are presented in the two countries. The research answered set research questions: does the presentation of children in daily newspapers contribute to the stigmatization of children in the society, are children in daily newspapers discriminated on the basis of their age and is there any difference in the stigmatization of children in daily newspapers in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.The construct of the child which dominates in Croatian and Bosnian and Herzegovinian media is an antipode to the new pedagogical image of the child, which is why pedagogy has to raise awareness and question dominant personal theories of people who work with children through education and training, but also it has to affirm more strongly the construct of the competent child in media discourse.