Q: I went into a party store to look for decorations for my son’s upcoming birthday party and everywhere I looked, the choices were either Star Wars or Disney princesses. Are we raising our boys to be violent and our girls to have Cinderella expectations of the world?
Pondering Party Supplies in Tulsa, OK
A: Dear Pondering Party Supplies,
That’s a great observation and a great question, I see the same pattern with clothing and toys these days. The problem is that these media characters portray a very narrow and extreme version of what it means to be an adult man or woman in society.
As you noticed, a lot of the commercial products designed for boys feature media characters that are aggressive, competitive, and violent. These images encourage boys to use violence to resolve conflicts and to be in constant competition with other men, rather than learning to peacefully problem-solve and cooperate with others.
The beauty-focused messages that girls see on their tea sets and Halloween costumes teach them that they are valued not for who they are, but for how they look, and that their goal in life is to be an object of male desire. It starts with princesses in fairy tales and carries all the way up through fashion magazines, advertising, and beauty pageants as they get older. Research has shown that these images can lower self esteem and even lead to eating disorders.
So, what can you do to minimize these effects? For one thing, you can expose your kids to media that portray the kinds of women and men you’d like them to become. Such images can help give them other ideas of who they can become and how they can act. In addition, watching media along with your kids can allow you the opportunity to challenge images you find problematic and highlight those that you consider to be positive. Pay attention to the lessons that these media are teaching, and talk about those lessons with your kids. By addressing them directly, you help your children think critically about what they see and you send the message that what they see is not necessarily the only way things can be.
Enjoy your media and use them wisely,