Disney: Shaping a Childhood

By: Emily Hulbert

7951-disney-disney-charactersChildhood is one of the most memorable times in a person’s life. It brings many changes that shape who the child will grow up to be. Children unconsciously look for role models adults. For most kids, these role models can be found through Disney. People of all ages enjoy the heroic and adventurous movies created by this famous franchise.

From princesses to heroes to villains, children are attracted to the qualities of each character. Recently, a new idea about Disney has been brought to light. Some people question whether or not Disney is a good influence on children’s lives. Within many Disney films, there are stereotypes that can affect the way in which boys and girls view themselves.

For my research, I conducted an anonymous survey that I shared with a variety of students from Long Beach High School. I asked students to rate the influence Disney had on their childhood from 1-10. Seventy – eight percent (29 out of the 37) of students rated the influence a score of six or higher.

Disney has an immense opportunity to make either a beneficial or negative impact on children all across America. Characters are more than just fictional cartoons. These characters are crafted and designed so children easily relate to them. Many young children can imagine themselves slaying dragons or living under the sea. According to my research, the Disney characters with the highest impact on children are:

  • Aurora
  • Belle
  • Mulan
  • Ariel
  • Stitch
  • Aladdin

By looking at the qualities the students listed for each of their favorite characters, it was clear that Disney had a positive influence on how these teenagers grew up. The qualities listed were all qualities people want to have in themselves, such as compassion, determination, and strength. These characteristics will benefit the children when they grow up and have greater responsibilities, like having a job or taking care of a family.

Eighty-three percent of students believed that Disney characters were positive role models. More than three quarters of the students interviewed thought that Disney characters were positive role models to children.

Along with promoting a strong character, Disney characters also always try to “do the right thing”, teach children how to express themselves, and show the importance of self worth. In times when children start to feel different, Disney shows that each person is unique and special in his or her own way.

However, some students believed that Disney was a negative influence because the films promote gender roles through characters. According to one student “They [Disney] don’t promote negative things. Yes, it could be construed as a woman waits for a man but only if you reinforce that idea. It’s Disney’s job to entertain and make a relatable story not teach feminist ideas (even though I love what they’ve been doing lately with Tiana and Merida and Elsa and Anna).” Disney is just providing a means of entertainment for young children. The idea that they are enforcing gender roles and stereotypes comes solely from the observer.

Although many people believe that Disney creates characters that enhance gender stereotypes, it is clear from my collected data that most kids overlook the negative and focus on the positive qualities that characters teaches. Recent Disney princesses, such as Elsa and Merida, have shown that not all princesses are “Damsels in Distress”. This change shows how gender does not determine an individuals potential in life.  If the children growing up now are introduced to these types of ideas through Disney, than maybe there is hope that future generations will be able to experience equality between both men and women.

One aspect that all Disney movies are known for is their happy endings and important life lessons. Although it’s obvious that not everything has a happy conclusion in the real world, watching characters achieve happiness gives children hope that they might be able to reach the same feeling. Also, Disney teaches children the importance of being kind to others. Many of the high school students said that they still carry lessons that they learned from Disney throughout their life. Whether caring about inner beauty or respecting others, Disney’s thematic ideas still resonate with many teens today.

 

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