All That Glitters Is Not Disney

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Disney. Is there a word more divisive in all of parenthood?

When you are raising your children five hours north of Walt Disney World, you quickly learn that you cannot be an isolationist.

“Have you been yet?”

“Are you all planning a trip?”

And, my personal favorite: “You’ll love Disney!”

But, let’s be honest, it isn’t just about the annual pilgrimage to Neverland – we’re talking the entire culture that Walt Disney may or may not have known he was building. If you are not yet a parent, it’s that feeling you get when you walk into Walmart only to be entirely consumed by a Frozen display…only there is a little one at your side who cannot take their eyes off of the glitter.

It is all too easy to hand over the reigns to the conglomeration – to buy the products; to sing the songs; to encourage children to dance to the beat of their favorite characters.

Except, of course, if you belong to the 1% who remain in the shadows. And, here, this is where you will find our family.

Long before my husband and I had children, we did our research. Screen time, the evidence suggested, would not benefit a developing mind and could actually pose harm.

How does this relate to the Disney debate? It further supported our decision to abstain from the highly commercialized princess and superhero narratives. Additionally, it afforded us the freedom to let our children be little: they get to pursue their own interests.

You can imagine my raw emotions when, earlier this week, I walked into our gym’s childcare area to find a small chair – mere feet from a flat screen – holding my son. In the span of 60 minutes, three concerted, movie-free years were undone.

I tried to tell myself to get over it. I tried to look away from the screen. But, worst of all, the Disney choice had been Mulan. And the images that had so enraptured my son? A battle.

I wish the hours that followed had delivered on Disney’s promise of eternal magic.

There was attitude. There was violence towards Little Sister. And I saw a cloak of darkness come over my son. Was it the screen time, the movie, or a combination of both?

Two days later, the experiment was repeated. This time: Finding Nemo. Same gym. Same length of time. After yoga ended, my crestfallen heart spotted a single chair with my favorite blonde boy. Think positive thoughts.

Ten minutes later, my two-ager reprised his role as the ultimate mommy nemesis and was promptly sent to his room.

In our glimpse into the other side of Disney movies this week, I can tell you that distracting your child is a guarantee…as is the work that follows. A heart-to-heart after Nemo with my son aided us in moving forward: But, Momma, I wanted to keep watching. You took me away from it.

Disney is tricky. I would compare it to taking your entire paycheck to Whole Foods and trusting a cashier to work toward meeting your long-term health goals with the items they choose. They’re not technically paid to do that, and, if you aren’t careful, your family can become a pawn in a much greater game with very little accountability.

For now, we will try to request small changes in the towering culture in which we live while encouraging our children to embrace the beautiful stories only their growing minds can create. And, yes, we will allow for an occasional episode of Curious George.

When the road does one day lead us to Disney, our greatest hope is that our children will see that magic – the kind of which dreams are made – can never be sold or purchased. That it waits for us in dull and often boring shadows where not even the glow of Walmart can reach.

::today’s daily inspiration::

15 thoughts on “All That Glitters Is Not Disney

  1. As a huge disney fan, I just cannot relate to this. We vacation there annually, and it does feel magical to our family.
    It may not be for everyone, and I get that. But there are many great lessons weaved thru those movies.
    Mulan teaches girls they are just as tough as boys. Girls can also be heroes, and save the day.
    My old school favorite pocahontas has a message of acceptance and to not discriminate based on racial difference.
    They must cater to the masses, so there may be some things not all parents approve of. But there are also good life lessons in there.
    Again, I understand not everyone loves disney the way I do.

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    1. I can respect your position without sharing it. My post really explores not just Disney, but also the medium itself, begging an important question for our parenting generation: Are screens even a good idea in the first place? But back to your point. More and more research is emerging that the Disney stories that they have marketed so well to us can actually have undesirable consequences (e.g. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/cdev.12569/abstract;jsessionid=924D9070A56AA16F5BD7A0C748E53199.f01t04). While one can certainly find at least one redeeming quality in nearly every story told, I would argue that the ones that feed the masses (and generate so much money for so few stakeholders) should be viewed with a healthy level of caution. And I would like to add that our children can enjoy characters like Pocahontas that have been able to withstand the test of time, but perhaps we might share the historical stories vs. the highly commercialized, often oversexualized ones. That would be my hope 🙂

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  2. I grew up watching Walt Disney Presents on Friday nights, with my parents and my sister. Black/white TV, about an 8″ screen. We all enjoyed it, and I’m glad I got to be apart of that before all the female characters started blossoming bosoms that distracted and waists that disappeared. Sexualized, for sure.

    I’ve seen lots of photos of the princesses at Disney World, protrayed by lovely young women, but minus the over-siliconed sexual assets, and I’m glad for that. I think I lean more toward the conservative–no, there’s no question that I do–and I share concerns about plopping our kids in front of pixelated pictures and cartoons that do weird things to their eyes and brains. Besides, I have wonderful childhood memories of actually playing. Outdoors. With other kids. Using nothing but our imaginations. Good times.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, the low-tech days! Yes, indeed things were different, especially – as you note – access. When parents didn’t have so many options, the outdoors stood ready for the challenge…as did other children just down the street, who were likely just as “bored”. Some things may be different now, but I am inspired by my own experiences to preserve them for my own kids. It’s exhausting but SO good!

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  3. I totally agree with you about the message of Disney – especially for girls, it is still very sexist. Most of the villains are women (why is the step-mother or witch always to blame?) and the “princesses” are beautiful yet passive and always need a male to save them. Some of the stories are scary especially for younger kids. And a lot of the themes are adult in nature.

    My kids don’t watch Disney movies but we do watch Disney JR channel sometimes – but together and only certain shows. I always “debrief” them after a show to see if they have questions and what their understanding is. I am more comfortable having them watch PBS alone. And don’t even get me started on the commercials on the Disney Jr channel.

    One last note – as my kids get older, I will not let them watch the Disney shows (the main Disney channel, not Disney Jr) with real kids. Those kids are whiny and entitled and the adults are portrayed as buffoons. It isn’t realistic and I don’t want my kids to think that that is how older kids behave even if it’s supposed to be “funny”.

    I know there are some people that love Disney. I can even enjoy the Disney theme park rides without buying into the hype or commercialism. It’s hard to keep it away from my kids totally because Disney is everywhere but I feel as long as they understand why we make different choices and don’t “do Disney” (or why we limit their screen time), that we can protect them until they can make the choice themselves.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your thoughts here. Yes, yes, and yes! I don’t think 100% PC exists, but sometimes it’s like they’re not even trying (or even trying in the wrong areas). I am not too familiar with Disney Jr., but what you say makes sense and further perpetuates stereotypes teachers like myself try to break down in the young adult years. I absolutely agree that we parents play an important role that must change as the child grows. We must be engaged if we are to know what is shaping our kids – and find a way to balance that with reasonableness.

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  4. I hear ya! We are a limited screen time family. I have seen the same behavior in my son after watching and have had similar experiences. The nerd in me would love to be on a research study about it! Emotions, behaviors, addictions, suppression oh my!
    I agree with iidorun about commercials on the kids channels. I don’t turn them on. When I first turned on a “kids channel” (I believe it was Disney Jr.) I was surprised to realize how upsetting I found marketing to children. I was also upset with how early we push the notion of good guys and bad guys. It embodied for me the lack of attention our society has for building each other up. I explained to my son why we turn off commercials. Commercials recommend something without knowing if we need it. Doctors or mommies suggest things we need after knowing us. In that discussion with my son a dilemma emerged. I am raising my son to be a part of this world: to relate to his peers (many of whom with watch TV or play video games), to navigate it and to uplift it. Enacting the implication of that shift is difficult. I do limit the screen time, the violence, the commercials, the shows with “bad guys.” But I also realized I didn’t want to parent to protect him from the world. I’m trying to help him frame it, to impact the voice he will hear in his head long after I’m gone. Every day I second guess myself. How much of the world to show him or hold back. I am preparing him, one step at a time, like all moms do. I’m trying to we’re prepare him for the world he lives in instead of preparing a person who might be disillusioned or unprepared because I believe I was taught to build fences and I don’t want that for him.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Absolutely. The balance between protecting but also safely exposing is tricky, and, of course, includes more than just movies. I see it on the playground, in the grocery store, and in preschool. I agree that preparation should be our focus, but being our children’s biggest advocates along the way is equally important. Thank you for sharing your thoughts – it is always nice to be reminded that we are not alone, even when we deviate from the cultural norm!

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  5. Emily Sands

    Dear Lauren, I was literally surprised to have met a mom a bit like me me when I saw your comment on the Washington Post article about princesses. I was raised in a Disney-free house and had a screen free childhood. I have kids too and I get the same questions.

    Actually these questions are easy to deflect. The person asking them doesn’t really care what we say in response. Does my daughter love the Snow Queen? I smile noncommittally and mutter something polite. She is 3 and utterly oblivious. The person asking the question doesn’t even notice my neutral response.

    Just as when I was 9 and had to explain to an interrogation by another 9 year old about whether I watch X. Generally these conversations, I learned, are easy to get around (possibly because the interrogators are so limited in imagination.) First one learns to lie politely, which is a life skill, and then later, as one gains self-confidence you can be tactful and/or truthful as you see fit under circumstances, also a life skill.

    Euro Disney is near us here in Paris and we get this stuff A LOT. french parents here are as nuts as in the US.

    It’s so mysterious how parents buy, literally, into this. And then they say “all little girls are obsessed with Elsa…” (ummm…. isn’t that because you bought her the dress, the dolls, the jogging suit, the underwear, the birthday cake, the figurines, the sheets…”)

    Same with the iPad. DON’T give them the iPad, and then they won’t ask for it. my daughter sees iPads as adult things. Don’t buy them video games, and they will find other things to do with their time.

    I read voraciously, I played Barbies and dolls all day long. I had friends, played varsity tennis. I love clothes. I always had friends and I make friends easily, most of whom don’t feel as I do about these things. I am a working mother of 2 girls, raising them in a screenless household. I love to watch my daughter play by herself singing and talking. I don’t need help with this from a bunch of guys in suits. I hate that Disney has somehow become essential to childhood and to our culture. There was Winnie the Pooh – charming black and white drawings with hilarious, sophisticated stories that we all enjoy in my family – before there was Disney.

    You can be a full person, and not be inundated in Disney.

    Don’t beat yourself up over it. Just rid yourself of it if you don’t like it. Your kids are going to be fine. Michelle Obama’s kids had severely limited screen time. So did Steve Jobs for his kids. All parents do who value creativity and difference in their kids.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your note, Emily – what an encouragement. You really capture here what I experience on a daily basis. “You can be a full person, and not be inundated in Disney.” Absolutely! That is what I wanted my post to communicate because, just like you, I believe in raising my children away from the glow projected by screens and Disney. To be honest, the reception of my post among my FB friends has been mind-blowing. Several mothers have felt the need to defend their mothering. I think we should all be able to be part of the conversation – wouldn’t our kids want that, too? 🙂 Thank you, again, for sharing.

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  7. pryan51

    I love Disneyland, and had a great time my one trip to Disney World. Want to go back. But my granddaughter was 11 when we went, and two of the things she enjoyed most were the Princess breakfast at Epcot and a Kim Possible [? I think] game where the players were given hand-held devices and had to follow clues to find things. I think I saw as many – or more – adults playing as kids! The princess breakfast was fun as a granddaughter/grandma bonding time, and the princesses do a very good job of being warm and welcoming to everyone.

    I DO NOT think Disneyland is for kids under, say, six. It is too much – and it is too expensive for parents/grandparents to want to leave early for exhausted, over stimulated kids. The last few times I went I was disturbed to see so many little girls with the entire outfit and all the accessories for their favorite princess, being treated to the VERY expensive spa/party treatment. And the brothers being dragged along looking bored and bewildered because there isn’t something comparable for them.

    I think if parents/grandparents are prepared to have a low-key experience, they can and the kids will have a wonderful time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for sharing your experience and perspectives. I definitely think my husband and I would enjoy Disney – only perhaps without small children. Disney World is similar to the whole Disney franchise in my mind: acute exposures can be fun and even special, but moderation is helpful, especially for small children too young for extensive screen time and all-encompassing role play. Luckily, I’m not tasked with making decisions for all little people – just my own 🙂

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