In a time when it feels like children can be pretty much exposed to anything thanks to the internet, many parents take comfort in the Disney brand as a safe form of entertainment. While these moms and dads view their little one's love of princesses as an innocent interest, there might actually be more to worry about beyond the mounting costs of the dolls, costumes, and accessories.
According to a new study from Brigham Young University, you might want to reconsider your child's interaction with these characters, whether you have a boy or a girl. The research, which was led by life professor Sarah M. Coyne, illustrates that exposure to Disney princess culture can cause kids to be more likely to fall into potentially limiting stereotypes. While the stereotypical view and behavior toward males and females isn't necessarily damaging on its own, the research shows that it can be harmful in the long term for young women.
"Parents think that the Disney Princess culture is safe. That's the word I hear time and time again — it's 'safe,'" Coyne explained. "But if we're fully jumping in here and really embracing it, parents should really consider the long-term impact of the princess culture."
For the study, researchers observed 198 preschoolers and evaluated how much interaction they had with Disney princess culture from watching movies, playing with toys, and other sources. They found that 96 percent of girls and 87 percent of boys had viewed princess media and assessed each child on gender-stereotypical behavior.
For both boys and girls, more interaction with Disney princesses predicted increased female stereotypical behavior the following year, which means these girls could avoid opportunities or life experiences as they get older because they don't view them as feminine or appropriate.
"We know that girls who strongly adhere to female gender stereotypes feel like they can't do some things," Coyne said. "They're not as confident that they can do well in math and science. They don't like getting dirty, so they're less likely to try and experiment with things."
The study also showed another potentially damaging effect: girls with worse body esteem engage more with Disney princesses. "Disney princesses represent some of the first examples of exposure to the thin ideal," Coyne explained. "As women, we get it our whole lives, and it really does start at the Disney princess level, at age three and four."