Ah, the dreaded "Princess Syndrome." So many of us have had that startling moment, usually some time after daughters start preschool and they become aware of cultural expectations and gender norms (not to mention surrounded by licensed products), where our active, strong-minded little girls tell us that what they want to be when they grow up is ... a princess.
You know, the sort of glittery, pink fairly-tale damsel in distress who is rescued by a handsome prince from life's evils (sometimes represented by an ugly, old woman who is jealous of said damsel's beauty and youth) -- that sort of princess. What's a parent who wants her daughter to grow up to be independent, self-sufficient, and self-confident to do?
Well, you could smile benignly and shrug it off and wait for it to pass. (Not such a bad method, when it comes down to it. In my experience, the Syndrome often eventually clears up all on its own.) Or you could take some steps to actively combat it. Writing in Babble, Jennifer L. Hartstein, PsyD, offers a few tips on battling your daughter's princess obsession. My favorite:
Question the media: Teach your daughter to be an educated consumer and to think about the messages she receives. Start to help her formulate questions about the things she wants, why she likes certain celebrities, and why appearance may be so important. Help her to develop her own ideas about what it means to be strong, independent, and confident, and to seek out similar things within the media.
Great advice. We try to teach both our children (our son and our daughter) about the imagery they're being fed by the media -- especially by advertisers who are trying to create an appetite for their products. But when, about the time she hit 4, my active, outdoorsy daughter suddenly switched her favorite color from red, which it had always been, to pink, which was the favorite of all her friends, and told me she wanted to be a princess when she grew up, I decided to take more drastic measures. (My friend Lynn Harris wrote about the topic here.) I punctured the fantasy.
Here's how our conversation went.
My daughter: I've decided I want to be a princess when I grow up.
Me: (Deep breath) OK, great. But just so you know, being a princess is a lot of work, hard work. And you may want to start preparing now. You'll have to study a lot of languages, as well as history, foreign relations, and diplomacy. And you'll probably want to think about getting a graduate degree in international studies.
My daughter: You know, maybe I'll be a ballerina or butterfly instead.
My daughter now wants to be a baker or car-service driver -- "because I want to help people," she said. Was it wrong of me to deprive her of her fantasy? Perhaps. But it's really no different from the message I gave my son, who wants to be a professional baseball player. Sure, it's OK (even desirable) to aim high -- for goals that others may believe are unachievable. But if you're going to accomplish those goals, you need to work hard to do so. And if she suddenly saw being a princess as not worth the effort, well, I'm cool with that. After all, those crowns are probably heavier than they look, and castles can be drafty!
How have you responded to your daughter's "Princess Syndrome"?
Image via The Consumerist/Flickr