The Disney Princess study and the parenting conundrum

Unknown-1_0If you’ve been online this week you’ve likely seen the new study about Disney Princesses. Part of the study not being talked about presents an interesting challenge for parents.

When parents ask me how to help their kids best respond to media content, I usually tell them to start talking about the content, and to talk, talk, talk some more. I and my fellow co-authors on the aforementioned study wanted to see if that advice held true when dealing with Disney princesses.

What we found was that princess engagement was related to female gender-stereotypical behavior for kids who parents talked with them a lot about TV content. Yes, you read that right. The findings were opposite of what I tell parents, and I admit I was disappointed with this finding. Then we took a step back and looked at how we measured parent-child conversations about TV. In the study, we didn’t measure parent-child conversations specific to Disney princesses. We simply asked about the frequency of parent-child conversations about TV in general.

Parents need to know, then, that just talking about TV in general is not enough to help kids avoid negative media effects. In fact, I think that the more specific the conversations can be, the better off our children will be. In other words, if I want to help my child learn how to play basketball, it’s not enough to teach her about sports in general. I need to have specific conversations about basketball, how to pass, dribble and shoot. Similarly, if I want my child to avoid the effects of Disney princess exposure on female gender-stereotypical behaviors, I need to address those behaviors specifically when they appear on the screen.

Being a parent is tough, and I realize you might be reading this thinking that I’ve just made your job harder. Do you really have the time and energy to pay such close attention to the content your children are watching? Dedicating even more energy to your kids is a sacrifice, to be sure. But the longer I’m a parent the more I’m convinced that to be a parent is to sacrifice. To be a parent is to commit to constantly changing who I am. A small change we can make is the specificity of our conversations about undesirable media content. Tough? Yes. Possible? Yes. Worth it? Absolutely.

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