You're Smart to Let Your Little Boy Play 'Princess' -- Here's Proof

Anna and Ilsa Frozen

Experts have longs discussed how overexposure to "princess culture" can have a negative impact on girls. But what about our sons? After all, they watch Disney movies, too. A recent study backed up theories about the negative effect too much princess time can have on little girls. But, one surprising finding? Those same researchers found that boys who are exposed to princess culture on a regular basis receive some pretty awesome positive benefits! 


It's no secret that too much of anything can be a bad thing, even Disney princesses. The study, published in Child Development, reveals that girls hooked on princesses have been shown to become "hyperfeminine" -- and while being feminine is in no way a bad thing, it actually can limit experiences and opportunities of girls as they grow up.

But what about boys?

Not a ton of research has been done on boys and princesses, mostly because of the stereotypical notion that boys don't want anything to do with princesses. However, many parents (like me!) can easily break that fallacy, as they have sons who adore the various Disney princesses and their movies. And some (like me!) may even have sons who've enjoyed dressing up as their favorite princess.

More from CafeMom: 15 Awesome Little Boys Rocking Disney Princess Dresses

So, it is incredibly encouraging that this newest study shows that there is actually some positive outlook when it comes to boys and princesses.

The study, helmed by Sarah Coynes, an assistant professor of family life at Brigham-Young University, found that preschool aged boys who were heavily exposed to princess culture were more likely to have balanced interests, which could help them relate better with a wider population of people later in life.

Those boys also exhibited more "pro-social" behaviors, like offering to help more and sharing toys. And, when it comes to toys, princess-watching boys were less likely to ignore more "girly" toys for things like play guns. 

These are all super positive outcomes from letting your kid soak in a little Elsa or Belle. Much of the media directed at boys -- even young boys -- can trade heavily on hypermasculine stereotypes. This can reinforce some toxic aspects of male culture in young boys such as violence, not expressing emotions in a healthy manner, and the idea that men are always the ones in charge. (Hi, no.)

Look at some of the newest princess movies to come from Disney and you'll notice that it's the women who are the ones saving the day, and boys are starting to pick up on that. From Elsa in Frozen, to Merida in Brave, boys are able to see strong female leads who take charge and don't rely on a man to ride in on his white horse to protect them. And even the older princess movies have a lot to tell our little boys about values like bravery, showing emotions, following dreams, and, yes,   believing in magic.

More from CafeMom: Telling Our Daughters to Play #LikeAGirl Isn't Helping Them -- or Our Sons

When my son was younger and found himself immersed in the world of princesses, many people outside our family chastized me. They felt it would make him "weak" or "weird." They didn't understand why a boy would enjoy movies that focused on princesses. I'm glad I stuck to my gut and allowed him to watch movies he was interested in, because it truy did widen the narratives he was exposed to.

Bottom line to this mom: If you look around at the media kids consume, the majority of it still has strong male leads. Our boys do not need more images of themselves in society -- those are out there in abundance (although we can certainly critique the types of images and how positive they are...). What will help them is seeing images of girls and women.

And now, we actually have a study to back this up! And even though many have written about this topic before, this weight of this study is so important.

"Like any piece that is critical of princess culture, this study has been pretty divisive," Rebecca Hains, author of The Princess Problem and a media studies professor at Salem State University, explains to CafeMom. She says that some people seem to be dismissive of the study because they feel that it's redundant (haven't we heard this before?). 

But, she says, "It's incredibly helpful to have the knowledge we've amassed from a qualitative, interview-based, cultural studies perspective validated by quantitative, longitudinal, social science research like Coyne's study." No single study can "prove" anything, she adds, "But when separate studies support the same hypothesis, finding similar patterns using different methods, we can feel more confident that the findings are accurate."

As a mom of a boy, I find that the study is both uplifting and frustrating all at once. I'm glad that princesses may have a positive impact on my son, but it bums me out that there are still negative effects on girls. Listen up, media makers: Can we create some awesome, kid-friendly content that doesn't play into outdated gender stereotypes, but also doesn't pander to our children? Get on it, stat!



Image via Lane

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