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Thursday, March 16, 2017

Beauty and the Beast: Romantic Movies Influence on our Daughters

I'm envious of my daughter tonight.  She is spending the night at a friend's house so that they can go and see the premier showing of Beauty and the Beast tonight.  I'm literally green with envy.

See, as a parent, I wouldn't normally allow my children to spend a school night over at a friends house.  It's just one of our (probably too many) rules that keeps things simpler.  But, the grading period is almost over and my terribly smart little over-achiever has straight A's and her friend's mom is making a whole big thing out of the adventure (taking her friend's younger sister and one of her friends and making a whole "girls night" thing of it).  And, being from the generation that went to see EVERY Harry Potter Movie at midnight on opening night (yes, I was one of THOSE), and knowing what the impact those opening nights had on me, I thought "what the heck" and told her she could go. I figured it would be a good experience and maybe something that she could look back on as a cherished memory.

But it worries me too.  Not the staying up late and going to school the next morning part.  Not the fact that she'll be under another parent's supervision or that she might use the opportunity to rebel (she is 13 after-all), but to be honest the actual movie itself worries me.

I grew up watching Beauty and the Beast.  It's a classic story that, along with many other chic-flick movies, impacted my life.  The story of a woman (a book worm, lost in her own imagination... which was also how I classified myself and how I classify my teenager who can devour a 400 page Science Fiction Fantasy book in one sitting) who falls in love with the "bad boy" (in this case a beast with a terrible temper) and through her love and patience changes him (literally and figuratively) into a goody-too-shoes handsome price (and all the mushy-gushy lovey-lovey stuff that comes with it).  It's inspiring!  The idea that we can take the roughest-edged boy and turn him into a picture-perfect man.
But is that REALLY a reality? Is that really teaching us something that is useful?  Is it setting an attainable example for our lives?

Have you ever seen that movie "He's Just Not That Into You"? The star-studded cast that shows us that real life situations are in fact much less complicated that we all build them up to be in our minds.  That's one of the few movies that changed the way I think about relationships because of this one quote "We are all programmed to believe that if a guy acts like a total jerk that means he likes you"  and we are told about those stories where a girl dated a total jerk but somehow miraculously after all this pain and anguish he "changed" and they lived happily ever after.  And we all take that to be totally true and possible for each jerk that we meet.  In fact, we are so programmed to believe this story that some of us actually seek out the jerks so that we can give the guy our miraculous fairy tale cure for his jerkiness.  

And it's not just movies.  It's TV Shows (think Vampire Diaries Steven and Damon and their perpetual drama or if you want to go further back Gilmore Girls and the ever rebellious but excessively gorgeous Jess and Rory's continual efforts to reform him) and books (think The Mortal Instruments and the ever insurgent Jace or even the unattainable Edward from Twilight).  

Well it's just NOT OK!  It is NOT OK to teach our daughters that they need to be treated like dirt in order to be treated well.  It's NOT OK to teach them that they can reform a jerk to make him into a prince.  It is NOT OK to show them that they can throw all their love into a guy who isn't worth their time, attention, or effort.  These stories are NOT REAL and they warp and twist our opinions about what love should be.  What kind of an almost-impossible-to-mimic example are they setting?

But none-the-less, we watch them.  We oogle at the love story.  We admire how she could turn his heart around.  We get wrapped up in the story of the good girl who turns the bad boy good.  We allow our daughters to watch these unattainable love stories and let them dream that one day they will find their Happily Ever After story fairy tale ending too.  

So what are we supposed to do?  Not watch TV, movies or read?! Certainly not! Boycott Disney and all the other companies that create these stories?  Banish the thought!!  These stories are socially and culturally significant!  They provide entertainment, create a since of excitement, get us all together and interested in the sames things, provide family time, and especially in the case of movies like Beauty and the Beast give us incredible and iconic musical experiences!  So what should we do?

If your like me and you don't WANT to avoid these kinds of stories there are a few things we can do as parents to make sure that these fictions don't warp our daughter's views of love:

1.  Be in a healthy relationship yourself.  The first and most important example you can set for your daughter is to be in a healthy relationship yourself.  Make sure that your daughter sees the reality of your marriage.  The ups and the downs.  Don't allow an illusion of a "perfect" marriage make her think that there are no rough spots.  That's just not real.  Are you a single or dating mother? Take care to not expose your daughter to the guys you date until you know they are a "keeper".  I was a single parent once and it was a constant struggle, but it's possible to keep your child separate from your dating until your in a serious and committed relationship.  
2.  Expose her to other love stories.  Make sure that your daughter sees a diverse range of love stories in their books, tv, and movie choices.  Even those sappy-lack-of-excitement plots can show your daughter a more realistic version of love.
3.  Talk about it.  That's right, something as simple as talking about the stories and discussing the reality or lack-of-reality will help our daughters not fall victim to the imitation.  
4.  Expose her to other REAL couples.  Make sure that the people's houses she visit have a healthy relationship (at least on the surface that she will see).  Meet her friends parents and decide whether they represent a relationship that you would like her to see.  
5.  Point out things you want her to notice.  "Isn't it nice how he holds the door open for her?" or "Did you see that cute couple and how they smiled at each other?"  Yes, these things seem superficial and they cannot truely be a judgement on a real relationship, but those tiny details are ones that she will notice when she is in her own relationships IF she knows what to look for.
6.  Relax.  She'll probably have a bad guy relationship or two.  The best thing you can do is take a deep breathe and trust that you have taught her well enough to recognize a bad relationship when she's in one.
7.  Be Involved.  Meet her friends.  Meet her boy friends.  Spend time with the group she hangs out with.  Invite them to your house.  Take them places as a group.  You can use your knowledge of her social circle to draw her attention to healthy relationships and unhealthy situations.  Knowledge is power.  
8.  Intervene when necessary.  Think your daughter is in a bad relationship?  Does he make her do things that she doesn't want or talk badly to her or act as if she isn't there?  Intervene.  Really.  She'll hate you for a while, she might even rebel against you.  But it's worth it in the end to save her from a bad guy.  
9.  Pay Attention.  Sometimes things look "normal" on the outside but are saturated with turmoil behind closed doors.  You may not be able to see a bad guy, but there will be subtle clues.  Trust your instincts and notice any changes in your daughter's behavior, attitude, or school work.  
10.  Pray.  I like to reserve my prayers for truly important things.  I don't pray for world peace or answers to my daily questions or any of those typical things.  But I do pray for my children's happiness. 

Do you have any other suggestions?  What ways to do you help your children see truthful realities in a world of fictional fantasy?  Please share your RESPECTFUL comments below.


  1. I loved He's Just Not That Into You, and got so much out of that movie,

    1. It was so eye opening! I think many of us just need to accept "He's Just Not Into You" and THAT'S OK! not every match is perfect, so move on :)

  2. These are really good tips! I don't have kids but they are very observant! I think a lot of times they're able to see the differences between real life and fantasy on their own!

    1. Agreed, they are very observant and often see the differences... but something to remember is that these images are in their face ALL THE TIME now. It just wasn't like that when we were young. It's worth the time to make a conscious effort to make sure your child sees the difference :)

  3. I think #1 and #3 are key. While I loved movies like Beauty and the Beast and the original Vampire Diaries book series (and loved Damon, but not with Elena), it would never occur to me that being treated like a jerk meant that a guy liked me. I think it's because my parents have a really great relationship and I was able to see that growing up. When I think of what I want in a relationship, I think of one like my parents. That's what was modeled for me, so that's the expectation I have. And my parents also talked to me about things like that.

    1. Communication and good role model relationships are sooooo key! But unfortunately there are so many children that don't get either. It just perpetuates the problem cycle.

  4. This is really interesting - beginning to think if i should introduce this to my niece -shes dying to see it!