Child Psychology: Children’s films leave a pronounced footprint today on the personalities and development of a child’s emotional, cognitive, and social development.
This page has been edited and reviewed by psychologist R. Y. Langham, M.M.F.T., Ph.D.
Many young girls relate to Disney princesses. The characters in Disney movies are often well developed, impressing young admirers. Many children watch these movies over and over again until they memorize the dialogue and songs in them.
Almost all, if not all, Disney movies consist of a hero and a romantic fantasy. For instance, Cinderella’s rescue by Prince Charming can significantly influence a female’s psyche, including her ability to make wise relationship decisions as an adult.
Why do parents encourage their children, especially their little girls, to watch Disney Princess and similar movies?
For one, Disney movies provide children, parents, teachers and daycare workers with a little breathing space. While the children are busy watching these movies, parents and others can complete chores, etc. Moreover, these movies can help strengthen children’s communication, language, problem-solving and coping skills. Some Disney movies can even teach children words in foreign languages. Furthermore, these movies are used as a social tool, in which parents and children can come together over a common interest or activity.
Some parents feel the need to provide their children with regular or constant entertainment or to indulge them with what they feel makes their children happy. For others, it has almost become reflexive ("Disney is for kids"); movies have become an American way of life from childhood, and of course, this does not exclude other countries.
However, there is evidence that child-based movies have become significantly more violent in recent years, and that parents have increased the amount of time they allow their children to watch them. In the past, children watched a limited amount of television and movies. Most children in the '60s, '70s, and '80s tended to go to the movie theater to watch child-based movies, but since the advent of the VCR, child-based movies have become a constant. In fact, in the past, "going to the movies" was an exciting event for most children. Why? Not only to watch a movie, but the chance for them to socialize with friends. With the VCR and CDs, Netlix and the like, movies can also become a solitary, isolative way of life.
It is important to note that a passive lifestyle that consists of spending large amounts of time watching movies and television can influence a child’s thoughts and behaviors. If a child sees violent, sexual, and/or unrealistic child-based movies and cartoons, he or she may internalize these images and concepts, which can contribute to them acting these out in school or at home. Emotions from movies and music can also be internalized.
Belief systems in children and teens are also influenced by movies, especially in the absence of an already established belief system. Many times, present-day, child-based movies and cartoons are based on an element of aggression, which counteracts what the children might learn in school or at home. It is this extreme or constant attachment with television and movies that can lend itself well to depression, in particular, as well as other mental health issues. Not that it is necessarily causal—though it can be in some instances—but it can be one contributing factor among several.
Moreover, with DVDs and Internet-streaming, child-based movies and cartoons are readily accessible, which means that some children watch them over and over again, every day. In fact, child-based movies and cartoons are often used as "substitute babysitters". According to a 1996 survey, eight out of 10 child-based cartoons are violent in nature.
Why are these violent and/or aggressive movies and cartoons shown to children? Primarily because children often lose interest in tamer movies. Movies with at least some violence have more "hook". Violent or aggressive child-based movies and cartoons or child TV programs or movies spiced with a little sexuality may hold a child's attention longer, so that is what the market sells. Sexual adults create children’s movies, so if a little sexual innuendo finds itself in a Sponge Bob movie for children or a DreamWorks kids flick, it shouldn't be surprising.
As for violence, even many five and six-year-olds are familiar with horror movies like The Chainsaw Massacre, Scream, Friday the 13th, and Chucky, standard staples on cable television, and in some communities, the vast majority of children ages eight and and up.
In fact, most children are very familiar with Chucky, a movie about an evil doll that comes to life. For instance, a female second-grader was having a hard time paying attention in class; and her teacher asked her if she was having problems concentrating. The little girl replied, "Yes, I can't stop think about that movie, [with] Chucky.”
Child-based movies and cartoons not only leave a lasting impression on the minds of children, they also influence children’s behaviors.
Children's Movies - How are Children Affected by Disney Movies & What is the Psychology Hidden Within Them?
Child-based movies are more powerful than most television
sitcoms or TV shows for children. Why? Because there is more time (i.e. 2 hours) to develop characters and influence thought processes than with 30-minute television sitcoms.
Because the characters are more developed, people tend to become more emotionally bonded to the characters and storylines. Children’s movies from years ago also exhibited well-developed characters, and those characters tended to have a deeper emotional significance to the viewer.
Disney movies have been accused of contributing to childhood abuse through the promotion of violent scenes in children’s movies, especially in the case of very young children.
Some critics have emphasized movie scenes that hint at childhood physical abuse. For example, one scene in Pinocchio strikingly resembled Walt Disney’s own childhood experience of being beaten by his father that Walt Disney may have consciously or subconsciously reenacted through his interpretation of the classic story.
The deep wounds of child abuse often stay with the victim long into adulthood. Bambi, a novel written by Felix Salten, an Austrian Jew who lived in Austria before the Fascist occupation, was also adapted into a children’s movie. The novel itself is a deep-seated emotional piece that resembled the works of George Orwell (Orwell, 1984). Bambi was originally intended for adults, but was later adapted and introduced to children.
The original story closely parallels the experiences of Jewish people, who were unmercifully hunted and killed by the Nazi troops, 12 or so years later. There are underlying subtle sexual messages (i.e. incest) hidden within the original Bambi novel. According to Steven Spielberg (2007), in the Disney adaptation, the intensity of some scenes in the Disney version of Bambi created a powerful emotional experience in him as a child (Spielberg, 2007).
Psychologists have noted that separation anxiety is often used as an emotional hook in Disney films for children.
Peter Pan, another child-based movie, was originally created in 1904 as a play, and may also invoke strong emotions in children. The roots of the original Peter Pan story is the result of a tragic real event of a mother’s attempt to emotionally heal from the death or her son, Peter. The name Peter was chosen because he was a “real child,” while the name Pan stemmed from the Greek god of music.
When Walt Disney produced Bambi after WWII, it was the only movie produced by Disney Studios at that time. During WWII, Disney studios were used to producing war propaganda films for the U.S. After the war, Disney studios went back to making children’s movies. After WWII, desperately in need of a money-making film, Disney critics and historians claim that, although he toned down the "darkness" of the Peter Pan story by making it more palatable for children, he deliberately turned up the violence in it to create more box office appeal.
More modern fantasy-based children’s movies (i.e. Monsters Inc.
) can also have a deep psychological impact on its intended audience – young girls.
Children and Extremely Violent & Sadistic Movies
A large percentage of children
(i.e. from kindergarteners to teens) watch extremely violent movies (i.e. R-rated slasher and/or violent horror movies). These movies tend to leave psychological scars on a child’s psyche. Child-based movies
do influence the thinking and behaviors of millions of 21st century children.
Can Children Benefit from Creating Works of Art?
Yes, children can benefit from creating works of art. In fact, very young children often enjoy creating their own little art masterpieces. Parents and teachers should encourage children to tap into their creative
side. In other words, provide children with art-based opportunities at home, school, and during private lessons. For more information see - How to Interest Children in Art
When children engage in creative activities like drawing and painting, their moods are improved and positivity is increased in their lives. In other words, such activities help children concentrate, provide them with wholesome, educational recreational activities (i.e. free from violent and/or sexual overtones), and contribute to their peace of mind and self-esteem.
Art also helps calm children down, develop their self-respect, and enhance their cognitive potential. Art activities help parents, teachers, and babysitters to limit the amount of time that children spend watching television
and movies, and/or playing video games.
Moreover, art may help children and teens develop certain life skills that can benefit them later in life, including skills needed to be self-sufficient adults (i.e. coping skills). It also teaches children to learn how to develop their abilities to analyze and reason. Furthermore, art can be used as a form of psychotherapy (i.e. art therapy), self-help for mental health disorders
Art therapy is very effective with children
, especially those who have an interest in art.
Overcoming ADHD Without Medication: A Parent and Educator's Guidebook
This guidebook helps parents and educators learn how to incorporate positive lifestyle changes into children’s lives. It also teaches parents and educators educational remediation techniques that can help children overcome symptoms of ADHD and depression, without the use of psychiatric medications.
“Mommy, I'm Scared”: How TV and Movies Frighten Children
This is a truly wonderful book for parents, teachers, and grade school principals because it highlights the tremendous impact "scary" television sitcoms, cartoons, and movies have on children’s emotions, thought processes, and behaviors. R-rated and G-rated movies, as well as everything in between, can leave a deep emotional footprint on a child.
What should parents focus on when selecting television movies, cartoons and sitcoms for their children? Since television and movies are a reality, what can parents and teachers do?
The best thing that educators and parents can do is monitor what children watch on television. Take an interest in the viewing preferences of children, set guidelines on how long they can watch movies, cartoons, and television sitcoms, and monitor what types of shows they watch.
Best Teachers' Books & Library Books
The Effects of Child-Based Movies on a Child’s Psychology
TV Alternatives: Children and Art
- Ideas for parents (and teachers) that can encourage children to take an interest in art!
Over 200 of the Best Books for Children
– Positive ideas for today's parents
Mental Health for Infants and Babies
Children and Television
- TV violence
- For teachers and principals
Educational Strategies in Public Schools