Episode 29: Bringing out the Best in Princesses and Superheroes with Dr. Sarah Coyne

Episode 29: Bringing out the Best in Princesses and Superheroes with Dr. Sarah Coyne

We help you bring out the best in princesses and superheroes in your books – whether they are for you or your children!

We know. You don’t know what to think of your toddler trying to climb walls like Spiderman and your daughter singing “Let it Go” for the bajillionth time. Luckily Dr. Sarah Coyne has done the research and spills all for ways we can bring out the best in princesses and superheroes using books about these beloved characters.

This week we are joined by Sarah Coyne, professor and a director at the School of Family life at Brigham Young University where she studies gender, body image, children, and adolescence. Her studies are vast and varied, but she joined us today to chat about a topic that many people have strong opinions about- superheroes and princesses. 

In this episode we talk about:

1. How an experience with her then-three-year-old daughter asking if she was too fat sparked Dr. Coyne’s interest in the scientific study of princesses and superheroes.

“[A colleague] said, ‘I don’t really have any research to back me up here in terms of scientific studies,’ and I thought, ‘well that’s what I do for my job, so I think I’ll do a study on Disney princesses!’”

2. What some of the results of Dr. Coyne’s studies on the effects of both princesses and superheroes on young children have been.

3. Some of the criticisms of princess and superhero stories, but also how they are changing with time and thoughts on how we can consume them rather than simply give up on them.

“There’s all these beautiful themes that are mentioned in the princess movies, like loyalty or defending your family members or following your dreams or how to work really hard and not give up when people are mean to you…I think if we focused on those messages and those themes we would do a lot better than generally focusing on appearance or how pretty they are, which is sometimes what we do.”

How to focus on the good using books

4. How we can focus on the good in these stories and characters using books.

“If you’re watching a movie, it’s hard to pause it and be like, ‘okay, let’s talk about what’s going on here,’ but with a book it feels more natural to do that… It’s a really beautiful opportunity to be able to talk about some of those good themes we find in princess movies as opposed to watching a move.”

5. How we can take a child’s more superficial interest in a character or story and help them see different aspects and attributes of those beloved characters that we would love for our kids to emulate or internalize. 

6. We dip just a bit into Dr. Coyne’s studies about aggression in children and adolescents and the role superheroes might play in that. She had some great thoughts on using those stories to start conversations and using them to learn and grow.

“I’m not a big fan of banning things just flat out; I really believe that media can be such a valuable tool in all sorts of different ways… Media is just a tool and you can use a tool for both good and evil.”

In Bringing out the Best in Princesses and Superheroes we mention:

We are so grateful to Dr. Coyne for taking the time to talk with us! More information about her and her research can be found in the following places:

Websites: 

Social Media Curriculum for 5-8 graders-

Freakonomics Episode (Dr. Coyne is a contributing guest)

Does Hollywood Still Have a Princess Problem

Books we mentioned:

My Little Pony Friendship Adventures (series) by Olivia London

One Page at a Time’s princess book recommendations

We give you a list of some of our favorite princess books and some ideas for positive themes you can talk about with your child.

One Page at a Time’s superhero book recommendations

We give you some of our favorite, wholesome superhero books, along with some starting points for positive themes to get the conversation going with your child.

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