The Effects of Disney Cartoons on the Education of Kindergarten-Age Children
It is true to say that technologies and industrialization has become an integral part of everyday life. Every sphere, regardless of its character, depends on the way media and global interaction affects people. That is why even small kids from their earliest stages of development in life have close contact with media. In most cases, this process is represented through cartoons, special animated films for children of fantastical character. Sometimes cartoons have some moral lessons in order to teach children to do or not do a particular thing, or they are just a method for entertainment. In a busy world where everyone follows the dream to earn more money and achieve their goals, children are often left without their parents’ attention, making the influence of cartoons even more powerful.
In the 21st century, children choose to spend more time consuming different kinds of media than playing outdoors. That is why it is impossible to evaluate the process of education of kindergarten-age children without cartoons, especially Disney cartoons. First of all, Disney cartoons form a system of values for young children using examples of good and evil. Typical plots and characters shape the attitude of children towards maintaining relationships and their perception of other people. The characters become role models for kindergarten-age children and influence their model of behavior. For example, while positive characters are always beautiful, negative characters are usually ugly and unattractive. However, various researches prove the fact that Disney cartoons have a positive effect on children’s development and education. Referring to social life, a good cartoon can teach a child how to behave in various situations, how to analyze and make decisions; cartoons act as a source of knowledge about politeness, obedience, friendship, and love. Although the positive qualities of Disney cartoons include social development and choosing the model of behavior, they can have a negative impact as well, considering the appearance of cultural stereotypes, following false role models and their behavior, nightmares, and fears connected with demonized images and violent scenes.
Today, children have free access to any cartoon they want, and the popularity of this method of spending free time grows every year. “65.2 percent spend daily 1 to 3 hours in watching cartoons on television in their leisure time” (Habib and Soliman). According to numerous studies, TV is on most of the time at home, so children of 2-5 years watch cartoons at least 32 hours a week. And Disney is the most famous company, being a “major world producer of full-length animated feature films that children watch in large numbers” (Fouts et al.). On the one hand, such an opportunity is quite comfortable for parents who have a lot of duties and affairs. When their children sit at the front of the TV, both parents can work on their household chores or tasks connected with their job. On the other hand, children more often choose sitting at home and watching cartoons instead of communicating with peers or developing their skills and talents. The reason lies in the fantastical character of innocent cartoons, which attracts children’s attention and makes them fully involved in the story. Kindergarten-age children are at such a stage of development that their perception of the world is the most active. They absorb external factors like emotions, feelings, and behaviors, and they face such a fantastic world in Disney cartoons; as such, they are more likely to teach some important things from them.
Although a lot of parents perceive all the cartoons as equal and with the same level of impact and character, the reality is quite different. While there are cartoons that propagate moral values and an appropriate model of behavior, there are still those that are focused on the commercial side and ignore the risks they can cause for the audience. It is true to say that the cartoons of Walt Disney are the ones that relate to the second type. Although Walt Disney’s childhood was full of painful and difficult moments, his primary aim in creating cartoons was success-oriented. Following the direction to “give the people what they want” (Bryman), he wanted to make money with the help of pure art. That is why most cartoons are full of violent scenes mixed with action that helped to grab a child’s attention and make the animated films more popular. According to studies, 8 out of 10 Saturday morning cartoons contain violent characters (Fouts et al.). As a result, observing violent scenes affects the mental, psychological, and emotional state of children, leading to different problems, disorder, and even depression (Coyne and Whitehead). What is more important, watching Disney cartoons as a daily habit can form emotional and behavioral patterns that can exist even in adulthood. At the same time, “while violent content influences children’s behaviors, contents that don’t include violent scenes with low-quality educational value may also negatively impact children’s attention and cognition” (İvrendi and Özdemir). As kindergarten-age children often cannot differentiate reality from fantasy, they tend to imitate the behavior of their favorite characters that influence their education.
Disney cartoons are examples of the ones that present positive and negative characters using content that demonizes bad behaviors as being demonic or monstrous. According to a study, “a majority (74%) had instances of demonizing” (Fouts et al.). A lot of characters and scenes in the cartoons are connected with demonized words and phrases that “may influence children’s acquisition of demonizing labels and stereotypes as well as subsequent imitation of the use of such labeling behavior when observing people engaging in inappropriate or ‘bad behavior’” (Fouts et al.). The fact that children constantly rewatch the same cartoons makes the process of perception of false concepts even more powerful. Following the research, such words as “evil,” “wicked,” “devil,” and “demon” are the most frequently used ones. It is interesting to admit that “the two most demonized principal characters were the Horned King (Black Cauldron) and Beast (Beauty and the Beast), while the most demonizing cartoons appeared to be The Simpsons, Megababies, Digimon, and Butt Ugly Martians” (Fouts et al.).
The effect of demonizing leads to labeling some patterns of behavior. Such a process separates a child from others because they do not learn to perceive different types of behavior. As a result, it can lead to dehumanization and failure in understanding evil and bad behavior. Referring to different words connected with demonizing, “labels such as ‘twisted,’ ‘monster’ and ‘evil’ may attack the self-esteem and self-concept of the victims of the labeling and may have long-term consequences for their development” (Fouts et al.). Moreover, demonized characters from Disney cartoons can form some special fears that can result in nightmares, phobias, and thoughts that it is dangerous to live in the world. Cartoons are a primary factor in creating the bias that can exist even in adulthood. Such children focus on typical patterns of behavior and evaluate people according to them. However, in real life there is no clear differentiation between good or bad; everything depends on the conditions and situations. While some actions are perceived as negative in one case, the same type of behavior can be chosen as the best for another case. So, using the example of Disney cartoons with demonizing elements, children do not learn to analyze the behavior of others from different angles, which immediately spoils rapports.
Disney cartoons have a direct influence on children’s body image, creating negative feelings concerning their appearance. According to the characters and plots of the most famous Disney cartoons, they “convince girls to be thinner and boys to be more muscular” (Asawarachan). Such stereotypes are connected with the links observed by children between appearance and traits of character. For example, well-built and handsome boys are always kind and happy, while ugly and physically unattractive characters are usually bad and presented as evil in the movie (Klein and Shiffman). Many researchers admit that Disney movies play the role of social standards supervisor, which dictates the way they should behave and look. For instance, young girls adore princesses and often follow their manner, behavior, and, of course, appearance. “Children idolizing Disney princesses want to be treated like and look like Disney princess, Barbie dolls, or supermodels” (Asawarachan). Those who have body shapes and weight considered unacceptable by society have lower self-esteem and feel uncomfortable while being among peers. Moreover, such stereotypes presented in Disney cartoons create a kind of bullying that influences the psychological and emotional state of a child (Klein and Shiffman). Following various interviews connected with the issues of the impact of Disney movies on young girls’ body image, a lot of them admit their shape as imperfect:
If I compare myself to Belle, my favorite princess, I think I am fat. But I am not fat for real. Belle has a small waist and beautiful shape. I want my shape to look like Belle, so one day I can wear Belle’s dress. I want to be Belle more than my mother because my mother is fatter than her (Asawarachan).
Such answers prove the fact that idealized characters in Disney movies become role models for kindergarten-age children and define their attitudes and behavior in a negative way. According to a study, such cartoons affect the way children feel themselves and perceive others. Referring to the results, “girls as young as five years old are experiencing some level of body image dissatisfaction and low body esteem” (Asawarachan). Unfortunately, the emotions and feelings from early childhood can have a direct influence on adulthood, creating problems with self-concept and self-perception.
It is important to mention the connection between Disney cartoons and the stereotypes of different cultures and their peculiarities. In the movies, the characters of other nationalities are portrayed as the ones realizing the strongest stereotypes referring to the country or nation itself. As Disney films are usually the first teachers that let children have a look at other cultures, it is important to admit the negative concepts formed after watching cartoons. For example, African Americans are usually represented as lazy men or women who lark about and do not think about their responsibilities. Such a representative of the Arabic world as Aladdin is shown as a thief (Shaheen). The main ideas of the culture itself are focused on the magic lamp, limiting the perception of the nation. In the case of the cartoon about Pocahontas, Indian women who are generally considered to be devoted to their families and communities according to historical facts possess quite different qualities. In the case of Disney’s representation of Pocahontas, she is sacrificing herself and her tribal community for the white lover. She rejects the love of the stoic Kokoum and chooses the European man (Shaheen). Such innocent cartoons and their stereotypes form the primary beliefs and ideas about other nations that influence the attitude of children to people from other countries and of different cultures.
In contrast, numerous studies prove the positive influence of Disney movies on children’s social behavior and development of moral values. On the one hand, innocent cartoons are created for entertainment and have the aim to make children laugh with the help of comic characters and funny situations. However, even the simplest plots usually have a more profound sense and can propagate some values. Following the Disney Corporation, “We like to have a point to our stories, not an obvious moral but a worthwhile theme. Our most important aim is to develop definite personalities in our cartoon characters… We invest them with life by endowing them with human weaknesses which we exaggerate in a humorous way” (Bryman). For example, such cartoons as Lion King form the primary concepts of social awareness and moral duties. The movie teaches to sacrifice for friends and promotes the feeling of social balance between different classes using the example of animals. The Disney cartoon is considered to be the main source for creating the concept of hope in children’s lives. Almost all the characters in the movies are poor and have a lot of problems and obstacles in their way to achieve their dreams. They evince devotion, honesty, and kindness as the main tools for overcoming all the troubles, which is why children get the idea of appropriate moral values and behavior that can help to achieve their goals. They learn from a very young age that everything is possible, but it depends on their traits, attitude to others, and behavior. Furthermore, Disney cartoons teach the fact that some people do not accept your views, talents, and skills does not limit your chances of success. For example, such characters of Disney cartoons as Remy from Ratatouille are not perceived as talented by the society they live in, but later their exceptionality leads to success and glory.
Referring to the primary goals of every cartoon, Disney cartoons are focused on the principles of safety and environmental awareness, which prevent children from getting in trouble. First of all, almost all the cartoons (for example, Alice in Wonderland) highlight the importance to be obedient and follow the rules set by their parents (Pjekny et al.). The mermaid Ariel in The Little Mermaid also ignores the pieces of advice her father gives and faces risks and dangers to her life. Disney cartoons emphasize the primary rules for safe living in the world, referring to children’s interest in everything that is typical for the age. The movies present “dangers of the surrounding environment like the heights, fire of the oven, danger of electricity, crossing the streets also could teach Scouts skills” (Habib and Soliman). It helps to discipline children and make them think about safety as well.
It is impossible to imagine, but Disney movies are reported to help children who are on the autism scale and have problems with communication and interaction with others. There are numerous examples of artists who learned primary communicative skills from the world of Disney. What is more, even teenagers and adults who watched the cartoons were reported to have improvements. “Animation has been their world growing up. It’s taught them everyday skills, and has been a friend to them in so many ways” (Barnett). That is why a lot of children with autism find their calling in creating animated films because of their special connection to cartoons.
Evaluating the positive and negative effects of Disney cartoons, it is essential for parents to control what their children watch. Without a doubt, it is worth monitoring the development of children according to the appropriate moral standards and principles. It is true to say that “Children and grandchildren of parents and grandparents who were once children themselves when movies were first released continue to enjoy watching their films today” (Pjekny et al.). Some parents like watching Disney cartoons themselves, so watching some interesting movies together with a child can help to construe the main massage and sense in the right way.
To sum up, it is difficult to discuss the development and education of kindergarten-age children without analyzing the influence of Disney films. From very young ages, children have free access to any cartoon they like, which is why the fantastic and idealized world of Disney became a favorite choice for spending leisure time. The ideas and values presented in Disney cartoons are studied and discussed by many researchers with the aim to evaluate their effect on children’s psychological and emotional state. Referring to the negative influence of Disney cartoons, a lot of studies highlight the creation of a false body image leading to low self-esteem and self-perception. Idealized characters are those who possess positive qualities and are physically attractive. The traits of characters represented in the cartoons are always connected with the appearance, so it has an even more powerful impact on body image. Disney cartoons are full of violent scenes and demonized images for commercial purposes that create fears, nightmares, and even depression. Furthermore, Disney movies can create a false perception of other cultures and nations, such as with the depiction of African Americans and Indians. However, at the same time, there are positive effects of Disney cartoons as well. They form children’s social behavior and moral values. Following the example of the characters, children learn that everything is possible if they work hard and treat people in an appropriate way. There are no obstacles for those who believe in themselves and their talents. Furthermore, Disney movies focus on the primary principles of safety and social awareness that teach children to obey their parents’ guidance. Some studies even prove the fact that the cartoons help children with autism to overcome the problems in communication and interaction with others. Referring to all positive and negative aspects of Disney cartoons, it is important for parents to take control of the entertainment their children watch.
Asawarachan, Tanawan. The Disney Influence on Kindergarten Girls’ Body Image. University of North Texas, 2013, https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc271773/m2/1/high_res_d/dissertation.pdf. Accessed 30 June 2018.
Barnett, David. “How Disney Films Help Children with Autism Interact.” The Independent, 2016, https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/disney-films-help-children-autism-owen-suskind-ron-suskind-life-animated-a7477716.html. Accessed 30 June 2018.
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Klein, Hugh, and Kenneth S. Shiffman. “Messages about Physical Attractiveness in Animated Cartoons.” Body Image, vol 3, no. 4, 2006, pp. 353-363. Elsevier BV, doi:10.1016/j.bodyim.2006.08.001.
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