In modern society, children are surrounded by the media from an early age and exposed daily to a variety of media content that affects their behavior patterns, opinions, attitudes, values, and that shapes their perception of the world. The objective of this doctoral dissertation is to determine how children in middle childhood understand various television content and programs intended for children, and whether they recognize and how they interpret the social differences and gender roles presented in them. The main (general) hypothesis of this research was that children in middle childhood recognize the portrayal of social differences and gender roles in television content but understand them in significantly different ways and cannot fully critically evaluate them. Due to the incompletely developed ability to put something into perspective, children of this age will consider themselves more like those characters whose age, race and gender correspond to their own. Through the narrative analysis of selected television content intended for children and with the additional application of focus group methods and semi-structured interviews, the reception of media content in children in middle childhood was examined. For the purposes of this dissertation, the following research questions have been posed: 1. Do children in middle childhood recognize in children’s television characters the social differences presented in the watched television content and how they interpret them? 2. Do children in middle childhood recognize in children’s television characters the gender roles presented in the watched television content and how they interpret them. 3. Can children in middle childhood critically evaluate social differences and gender roles related to children’s television characters in the watched television content? 4. Do children in middle childhood compare themselves to television characters and according to which characteristics? 5. Which activities shown in the watched television content children in middle childhood consider unacceptable in terms of gender roles and how they explain it? In addition to its contribution to the verification of media content reception in the Croatian cultural and social context, this doctoral dissertation also contributes to the understanding of decoding media messages (Hall, 1993) which is subject to various implications that certain meanings create in the audience. Children’s behavior and the shaping of their attitudes and values are particularly influenced by the media’s portrayal of social differences and gender roles. According to the available research results which include media content analyses and particularly those of television narratives, it is confirmed that the manner of portrayal of race, gender, minority social groups and / or cultural and class differences of individual groups is uneven or that they are unevenly represented (Lugo-Lugo and Bloodsworth-Lugo, 2009; Croteau and Hoynes, 2014; Lemish, 2015 and others). The portrayal of social differences is frequent in media content, including television genres and formats, and racial stereotypes have been frequently recorded (Dixon and Melican, 2008 in Lee and Thien, 2015: 29), which can further reinforce the existing stereotypes about a certain race among the audiences (Dalisay and Tan, 2009; Dalisay et al. 2009 in Lee and Thien, 2015: 29) as well as those about religious and national minorities or about demographic and geographical differences (Potter, 2016: 64). Gender roles are often presented in media content, often through the portrayal of men and women, their appearance, character, jobs and roles in the family and society. Gender roles in media content are most often traditional, mostly in depictions of men as more dominant than women (Croteau and Hoynes, 2014: 205). In this context, it seemed especially relevant to examine whether children in middle childhood have the capacity to recognize, and then understand and critically comprehend the portrayal of social differences and gender roles in children’s television content and programs, which was the main contribution of this doctoral dissertation. It is theoretically based in an integrative approach that combines the classical theory of media audience, the reception theory (Hall, 1993), social and cognitive approach to media content reception (Livingstone, 2013) and some postulates of Piaget’s theory of children’s cognitive development. The necessity of an integrative approach is indicated by the paradigmatic development of audience theories as well as the developmental specificity of children as the ultimate recipients of media content. Earlier theories in the field of media studies such as the theory of media hegemony, emphasized, namely, the main responsibility of the sender of information who by creating the content and by the manner of address determines the content reception of a passive audience (Silverblatt, 2014: 58). The role of the active audience was first pointed out by Hall (1933) in his classical reception theory according to which the audience decides how to understand the final message and this form of reception may differ from the expected reception by the sender. In other words, the text itself or TV content does not form a preconceived, ultimate reception, but provides a schematic framework in which the active recipient can fill in the gaps and offer his own understanding of the content, i.e., can accept, modify, or completely reject the message. A newer social and cognitive approach in the field of media studies is an upgrade of the classical reception theory, postulating that the activity of the audience is manifested not only in filling the schematic gaps offered by media content, but also using their own schemes based on personal history and knowledge structures, thus providing a personal interpretative aspect to media content (Livingstone, 2013). Since children represent a developmentally specific research population when considering the effects of media content regarding social differences and gender roles, it was necessary to consider theoretical perspectives arising from the field of developmental psychology, primarily Piaget’s (1936) theory of cognitive development, according to which children assign meaning to the content presented in the media in accordance with their age and previous experience. Based on those factors, they manifest their behavior, opinions, attitudes and values in their everyday lives and the reality that surrounds them (Valkenburg, 2004; Van Evra, 2004 in Lemish, 2015: 42). In a certain way, children select, interpret, and use the information they have received, and ultimately, consciously, or unconsciously, they make a judgment or decision, i.e., a social cognition. According to Piaget (1936), the period of middle childhood is characterized by concrete thinking, which still does not offer the advantages of formal thinking characteristic of adolescence, which is more rational, flexible, systematic, critical and includes the ability of considering different points of view as well as of setting and testing hypotheses. However, children in this period of middle childhood still have a consistent logical and classification system and can focus on several aspects of a situation simultaneously when solving problems. Their ability to take perspective, understand their own and others’ thoughts, emotions, their ability to empathize and consequently their tendency to identify with similar characters (Harris, 2006) will depend on their developmental stage of social cognition. As a result, children react more intensively to content that portrays their peers and thus approach the interpretation of content differently than, for example, adults do. Taking all this into account, it is assumed that children, who due to their age still do not possess developed detailed knowledge structures and cognitive schemes related to the concepts of social differences and gender roles, will be able to recognize such content in media programs on a general level in accordance with the stages of concrete thinking, especially if social differences and gender roles are manifested through characters similar to them, but they will not be able to fully understand all their aspects and implications or evaluate them critically. It seemed interesting to examine the specificities of their understanding of such content since previous research had shown, according to the assumptions of social and cognitive approach in media studies, that although children, even the youngest ones, could not demonstrate adequate understanding of certain narratives due to the lack of adequate schemes, they have not found them meaningless but had offered their own story according to the existing schemes (e.g. Collins, 1983; Collins and Wellman, 1982; Hodge and Tripp, 1986). In the research part of this dissertation, the first method of narrative analysis was chosen to describe the ways in which these concepts are presented in children’s television content (sequences), selected according to the criterion of containing children’s characters and portrayal of social differences and gender roles. This method describes the values assigned to these concepts as well as behavior patterns to which these values are connected. Another method used in this research is the focus group method, which is used in media studies as a qualitative method of researching media audiences and involves gathering people in one place for a discussion led by a group moderator to gather information and opinions according to a predeveloped discussion flow (Lunt and Livingstone, 1996: 4). Since this is a qualitative research method, the objective is not to generate a large amount of data but to gain insight into the opinions and attitudes of participants, to examine interests and to address the existing problems depending on the topic and area of research. In the focus groups, a structured discussion was first held with the children on the frequency of watching television content and programs for children as well as on their personal preferences and habits. The children then looked at sequences from the selected television content (the same ones previously analyzed by the method of narrative analysis) and discussed them with the research leader according to a prestructured questionnaire. The task in the discussion with children was to try to determine their opinions and attitudes about certain perceived social differences and gender roles: how they recognize them, what values they attribute to them and what other descriptive characteristics they assign to this content. To avoid the beehive effect, possible mutual influence of children and suggestions or repetitions of others’ reactions and answers, i.e., to make the research as objective as possible (because some children in the group are silent and some are louder, despite the moderator’s instructions), another qualitative research method called the semi-structured interview was used. Focus groups and semi-structured interviews are used together in research with children in media studies because they are compatible methods and are adapted to children’s developmental competencies as well as their behavior within the group and individual behavior (Gibson, 2012). One of the important objectives of the semi-structured interview is the additional verification of collected data and gaining a more comprehensive insight into this insufficiently researched area. Using a semi-structured interview method, participants experiencing a particular phenomenon, or an occurrence being researched are examined for their experience with it. This order of research methods is desirable in media studies and research involving children (Vaughn, Schumm and Sinagub 1996; Barbour and Ktzinger, 1998; Gunter, 2000; Hutch, 2007; Tylor, Bogdan and DeVault, 2015; Punch and Graham, 2016). Respecting the ethical rules of scientific research, and especially those of studies involving children and respecting the GDPR (the EU General Data Protection Regulation), which refers to the European standards and rules on data protection, prior to conducting this research, a written consent of principals, parents and children to participate in it was requested along with the affidavit from the research leader about the protection of data and the identity of children as well as about the use of recorded content exclusively for the purposes of this research (Ethical Code of Research with Children, 2003). The sample for narrative analysis also used in the focus groups consists of four sequences of television content for children, two in which gender roles are present: a sequence from the animated children’s series Winx (episode The Princess’ Ball) and a sequence from the children’s show Laboratorij na kraju svemira (Laboratory at the End of the Universe), episode Autić (A Little Car), and two in which social differences are present: a television commercial by Hrvatski Telekom (Croatian Telecom) for new computers in which a child participates and a sequence from the children’s feature film Duh babe Ilonke (The Little Gypsy Witch) with a girl from the Roma national minority in the lead role. The research results have shown that children in middle childhood recognize the portrayal of social differences and gender roles in the watched television content but qualitatively understand them differently and cannot fully critically evaluate them. The main premise of this research was their underdeveloped ability to take the perspective necessary for accurate and critical evaluation, and children in middle childhood in accordance with this premise considered themselves more similar and closer to those characters whose race, age and gender are similar or identical to their own, i.e., they identified with their most similar peers. By combining the three qualitative research methods, an insight into the children’s ability of perception of selected television content in terms of social differences and gender roles was gained. Thus, this research addressed the five posed research questions. (1) It was first found that children in middle childhood recognize social differences in children’s television characters and ways in which they interpret them were established. All children recognized social differences but some differences in their interpretation were noticed after watching a sequence from an advertisement in which a child participates, in which the issue of poverty in society is raised and which children commented on in different ways. While some showed empathy for the boy from the commercial, others felt the boy humiliated his father by showing him an old computer they have at home in front of garbage collectors, whereas others thought that the father was likely to be angry at the boy, especially because of the loud ridiculing of the garbage collector or that the boy might want a new computer instead of the one he had. (2) Furthermore, it was found that children in middle childhood recognize the gender roles of children’s television characters but interpret them differently, which was especially evident when answering and commenting on questions after watching the sequence from the children’s show Laboratory at the End of Space from the episode A Little Car. Based on the physical appearance (hair, clothes, glasses), some children concluded, namely, that the boy was smarter and more adept than the girl due to his tidier way of dressing, while she was only an assistant and a rebel, and that she was clumsy because she had a messy tail and tousled hair and as she was wearing a black leather jacket, some children concluded she was a rocker. Additionally, the interpretations differed based on the behavior or manner of communication between the boy and the girl. Thus, the boy was characterized as strict and serious due to his serious facial expression as well as concentrated and adept in making science projects, while the girl who was either joking or sarcastically replied to the boy’s questions and comments was characterized as disobedient and untidy and therefore less adept and smart. Through some answers, the children identified the boy with Nikola Tesla and Albert Einstein because he wore glasses, which is also an important and valuable indicator and a research result that indicates how children interpret gender roles and what they base their thoughts and attitudes on. Furthermore, there were answers in which some children thought that the girl was much more relaxed and cooler than the boy because of her appearance. (3) The third research question sought to determine whether children in middle childhood can critically evaluate social differences and gender roles related to children’s television characters in the watched television content. The children could not fully critically evaluate the children’s television characters but did so only superficially, which can be supported by the comments that the Roma girl from the children’s film The Little Gypsy Witch is strange and probably few of her peers who are not of the same ethnicity played with her. Next, epithets related to Roma were mentioned, such as that they are violent, poor, often begging on the street, that they live in dilapidated houses, that they are untidy and smell bad. However, a small number of children emphasized despite the mentioned epithets that they would socialize with a peer of any other ethnicity than theirs and would give them the opportunity to socialize and play. Although the results showed both positive and negative opinions and attitudes of children about social differences, it cannot be fully established that they have developed the ability of comprehensive critical evaluation. Additionally, the result related to gender roles did not show that this ability was developed but only showed a superficial evaluation based mainly on personal experiences of children so the boy who said he had a girlfriend thought that boys were stronger than girls and that girls were weaker, while the girls pointed out that they were smarter, and the boys were more playful, disobedient, and less successful in school than them. (4) The next step was to determine whether and according to which characteristics children in middle childhood compared themselves to television characters, and the results showed that they did, mostly according to the characteristics of similarity with a television character. This was especially evident in the responses that contained children’s statements that they also have the same characteristic or trait or that they know someone who is, for example, of Roma ethnicity, or is a boy from their class who studies a lot and is also the smartest student, then that girls who actually have long hair have almost the same hair like the characters from the animated series Winx, that they once had an old computer like the boy from the commercial or have a leather jacket or another clothing item as the girl from the show Laboratory at the End of the Universe. The dominant traits were those that children found similar to themselves, especially the identification according to gender and physical characteristics that they could see in the watched sequences of children’s television content. (5) Finally, the research tried to determine which activities shown in the watched television content children in middle childhood consider unacceptable in term of gender roles and how they explain it. By interpreting the answers obtained through focus groups and semi-structured interviews, namely, we came to the realization that it was extremely unacceptable in term of gender roles for children that the girls’ characters from the animated series Winx cared only about external beauty and physical appearance to please boys and even imagined how their encounter and dialogue with them could look based only on the chosen dress, hairstyle, and overall appearance. Furthermore, it was unacceptable for the children that the boy from the show Laboratory at the End of the Universe gives orders and warns the girl in a raised voice about every joke or when something falls out of her hands just because he is elegantly and neatly dressed and combed, wears glasses and makes various items. Not all children thought that was the reason why boys were normally more adept and smarter than girls but thought that the girl did not stand out enough and that she never made anything in the mentioned show but only handed objects to the boy. However, it is worth mentioning that such unacceptability in term of gender roles was not emphasized by children of the same sex as the characters from the selected television content, but opinions were divided (for example, that a boy agrees that boys are not necessarily smarter but that everyone can be equally smart or that in some situations girls are more resourceful and vice versa). Nonetheless, in stating the examples it was noted that there was a division into "male" and "female" activities so some of the conclusions were that girls were better and tidier in writing, calmer in class, while boys were better in a garage using tools or playing football, which is also an indicator of the influence of stereotypical opinions on male and female activities. Along with this result, the necessity of developing critical evaluation and recognition and critical attribution of acceptable and unacceptable gender roles in social reality can be emphasized. Through this dissertation, we tried to show through the literature review including the most recent but also basic, fundamental research and by citing changes shown by recent research in the field of media studies, the connections and ways in which the media can have an impact on children. Additionally, the fundamental theories in the way of perception of media content in children as a separate media audience and the understanding of media and information literacy and transliteracy as basic forms of literacy for understanding the media in the 21st century are presented. The above-mentioned forms of literacy aim to increase participation in a democratic society and to create future responsible adult citizens who will participate in the creation of public opinion and decision-making. With special emphasis on television content in the field of social diversity and gender roles, in this dissertation an insight was gained into the importance of teaching children about these areas and related topics to respect and accept diversity, and to break prejudices, stereotypes, marginalization and other long-term harmful consequences that can lead to the erosion of a culture or society if they are systematically practiced rather than prevented. Special emphasis in this type of prevention and the progress of society is placed on the education system and all the opportunities that new technologies and the media offer. In conclusion, all open issues as well as an overview of the current state in all mentioned and socially relevant topics presented can be resolved in several ways, especially starting from the responsibility of the individual, then the responsibility of the society and all its members regardless of differences in the broadest context. Furthermore, one of the solutions is a developed ability of critical thinking in the interpretation of numerous media reports, especially when it comes to the consequences that threaten the individual with emphasis on those members of society who differ in any determinant of their identity from the dominant majority in a society and culture. Inclusive media coverage and media reports and equal representation of all members of society lead to integration, inclusion, and freedom as well as more equal exercise of the rights that the citizens of democratic societies should have, whether it is decision-making or any other socially responsible process. Prevention programs at all levels are also one of the possible solutions to prevent devastating consequences for the society such as the creation and spread of stereotypes, prejudices, marginalization of members of society or negative generalization of entire social groups. In all the above, naturally, literacy types such as media and information literacy, visual literacy, and as an umbrella concept, transliteracy, play a key role for all citizens, i.e., members of society. Without the awareness of personal and then collective responsibility, it is almost impossible to talk about equality, the understanding of diversity as richness and opportunity to learn and get acquainted with new cultures, people, and customs and in the broadest context the right to freedom of all members of society. In the guidelines as part of the scientific contribution of this dissertation, special emphasis is placed specifically on the importance of developing critical evaluation of television content in the education system from an early age.