Parenting Lessons From Disney Movies

There is no doubt that Disney films have a unique place in our culture. They are truly generational; the films we watched as children are the same ones that we show to our kids now. Unlike so many other aspects of culture, they don't lose their magic over time - today's kids love Cinderella just as much as the original watchers back in the 1950s did. The stories get updated, take on a new meaning and inspiration for a new generation, but they never lose their gloss.

Given that many of us who are now parents were raised on Disney films, it's fun to look back at them. You know you have crossed the adulthood Rubicon when you hear Ariel's speech to her father from The Little Mermaid:

"I'm 16 years old! I'm not a child anymore!"

And you find yourself thinking: "are you kidding me? 16 and able to make a life-changing decision? Yeah, that'll go well..."

So what lessons have our generation learned from Disney films? It's worth thinking about, given the continued presence of the genre in our lives. We inundate stockists for information on Frozen merchandise (and have the occasional meltdown on social media when they run out), we strap our kids into the Minnie Mouse stroller, and we pack lunches into Tangled lunchboxes. Disney is still ever-present. So what does it have to say about parenthood?

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Fun fact: the Lion King is a retelling of Shakespeare's Hamlet, only with far better songs. The Lion King was an instant classic upon its release in 1995, and if you've got through this so far without humming "I Just Can't Wait To Be King" you've done well.

What Does It Teach Us About Parenting?
Erm... don't die in a stampede of wildebeest, because your unpleasant sibling will try and ruin everything for everyone? So. Yep. Watch out for those wildebeest.

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With all of its aforementioned problems and one of the best villains of all time, The Little Mermaid was an adaptation of the Hans Christian Andersen fairytale. Only a far nicer one; in the original, the mermaid dies at the end. Cheery stuff, Hans.


What Does It Teach Us About Parenting?
There's actually a proper lesson here! In the film, King Triton tries to prevent Ariel from making a disastrous mistake. That's good parenting right there. However, his way of doing so is damaging. He restricts Ariel so much that her natural curiosity leads to making terrible choices. Sometimes, you need to loosen the slack on your kids so that they can learn from their own experience rather than being dictated to.

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Tangled is a wonderful film that has been overshadowed by Frozen, which is a real shame. The character of Flynn Rider was created to make the film appeal to young boys and, for once, it is an addition that really works. At the heart of the story however, Tangled is just an update on the well-known Rapunzel story.

What Does It Teach Us About Parenting?
Rather than a direct lesson in the text, there's more of a metaphor at work here. Kidnapped by Mother Gothel as a baby, Rapunzel ultimately makes her way back to where she belongs.

There comes a time for any parent where we feel our children are pulling away from us. They want their independence, to live their own lives without our guidance shining over them. The feeling of "empty nest syndrome" can only make that a harsher experience. What Tangled can be read to teach us, however, is that our children will always find their way home to us. They may be different from how we imagined them to be, but they will remain the same no matter how much they grow up.

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It's impossible to examine Disney films without bringing up the biggest grossing Disney film of all time. Who hasn't been the dead-eyed parent sitting listening to "Let It Go" for the thousandth time?

What Does It Teach Us About Parenting?
Anna and Elsa's parents don't feature much in the story of Frozen; they die in a shipwreck during the first act. However, what we do know of them teaches a great lesson for all modern parents.

When Elsa displays the power of "ice magic" (whatever that is - it's never clarified), her parents restrict her life. They keep her away from their subjects and, most importantly, her sister Anna.

While it's unlikely you're dealing with an onset of ice magic as a parent, it does make the point that you should encourage your kids to be whatever they want to be. Telling them to behave in a certain way at all times just means that, when they do ultimately have the power over their own destiny, they will build a huge ice castle which -

Hang on, that's the film. Oh, that's it: when they have power over their own destiny, they might not be able to control themselves as they revel in their freedom. So give them a taste of their own choices rather than dictating to them how they should be according to what you find acceptable.

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It's a classic; perhaps the classic, the epitome of the Disney princesses.

What Does It Teach Us About Parenting?
Be nice to your kids because they might marry a Prince.

... Yeah, Cinderella isn't so great for the parenting lessons really.

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Mulan is one of the few Disney princesses to actually have both parents in her life, so well done Disney for that change! A celebration of an ancient story, Mulan is rich in lessons for both parent and children.

What Does It Teach Us About Parenting?
In the film, Mulan takes her father's place to fight the Huns in an attack on China. This is a great way of showing that, sometimes, we need to let our kids help us. It's difficult when the roles are reversed, but ultimately - as it is for Mulan - it can be the making of our kids, as they learn the greatness they are capable of.

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