Why Disney, Pixar And Netflix Are Teaching Your Children The Wrong Messages About Pain

Why Disney, Pixar And Netflix Are Teaching Your Children The Wrong Messages About Pain
At critical developmental periods when young children are learning about themselves, others and the world, they are frequently seeing pain portrayed unrealistically in kids’ TV shows and movies.
(Shutterstock)

Mass media exert an enormous influence on children’s development and is very likely how they learn about pain. Understanding the powerful influence that media has on preschoolers and kindergarteners is important because this is a crucial developmental period for socio-emotional development and is precisely the time when fears about pain (especially needles) develop.

Like it or not, pain is an inevitable part of childhood. In Canada, children receive 20 vaccine injections before the age of five. From the time that toddlers begin walking, everyday pains or “boo-boos” — minor injuries that result in bumps and bruises — are extremely common, occurring nearly every two hours.

Media can be powerful influence on preschoolers and kindergarteners at a crucial period of development when fears about pain (especially needles) develop.
Media can be powerful influence on preschoolers and kindergarteners at a crucial period of development when fears about pain (especially needles) develop.
(Pexels/Ketut Subiyanto)

By the time they reach adolescence, one in five youth will develop chronic pain. This means pain lasting for three months or more, like headaches and stomach aches. Chronic pain is a rising epidemic around the world, especially in girls. If these youth do not receive proper treatment, chronic pain during adolescence can lead to pain and mental health issues (PTSD, anxiety, depression, opioid misuse) into adulthood.

Simply put, pain is a big part of childhood. Yet, as a society we avoid, undertreat and stigmatize pain. Despite decades of research showing how to effectively manage children’s pain (for example, using numbing creams or distraction techniques), studies show that many clinicians still undertreat children’s pain, and neither acute (short-lasting) nor chronic (lasting three months or more) pain is well-managed.

Children who experience chronic pain are also stigmatized and often disbelieved by peers, health-care professionals and teachers. These deeply ingrained societal beliefs about pain likely influence how children learn to experience, respond and empathize with pain.

So where does this social stigma of pain come from? What do Disney, Pixar and Netflix have to do with your child’s pain?


 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

Children’s media exposure

Children are growing up saturated with mass media and rates of screen time are rising. The COVID-19 pandemic has only fuelled this further. While the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that preschool-aged children watch no more than one hour of TV per day, the majority of children far exceed this recommendation.

In our study, we used popular culture lists to capture the most popular movies and TV shows seen by millions of four-to-six-year-old children. The final list included Despicable Me 2, The Secret Life of Pets, Toy Story 3 and 4, Incredibles 2, Inside Out, Up, Zootopia, Frozen, Finding Dory, Sofia the First, Shimmer and Shine, Paw Patrol, Octonauts, Peppa Pig and Daniel Tiger’s Neighbourhood.

We watched all 52.38 hours of media and all instances of pain were captured. We used established coding schemes drawn from the procedural and everyday pain literature to code details of the pain experience, including both the sufferers’ and the observers’ responses, the type of pains depicted and the degree to which observers showed empathy to the characters in pain. We examined gender differences in the pain experiences of boy versus girl characters.

The results were shocking. Pain was frequently depicted, approximately nine times per hour. Seventy-nine per cent of pain instances involved characters being seriously injured or experiencing pain due to violent acts. Although everyday pains are the most common pain experiences young children experience in real life, everyday pains comprised only 20 per cent of the pain instances. Medical and procedural pain, like needles, as well as chronic pains were depicted less than one per cent of the time.

When characters experienced pain, they rarely (only 10 per cent of the time) asked for help or showed a reaction, perpetuating an unrealistic and distorted perception of pain that shows pain as being quickly swept aside. Although 75 per cent of pain instances were witnessed by observers, they rarely responded to characters experiencing pain, and when they did, they showed very low levels of empathy or concern toward the sufferer.

Across the media, boy characters experienced the vast majority of pain, despite girls experiencing higher rates of pain problems in real life. This underrepresentation of pain in girl characters could be teaching young children that girls’ pain is less frequent, real and worthy of attention from others. Indeed, we found that girl characters were less likely to seek help when they experienced pain than boy characters.

Boy characters experienced more severe and distressing pain than girls; however, observers were more concerned about, and likely to help, girl characters. Observers were more likely to show inappropriate responses (laughter) to boy sufferers. Boy observers were more likely to laugh and offer verbal advice to sufferers, whereas girl observers were more empathetic toward sufferers.

Frequent and unrealistic portrayals of pain

These findings reveal that popular media are perpetuating unhelpful gender stereotypes about pain, with girls being depicted as damsels in distress who show more caring and empathy and require more help, and boys being portrayed as stoic and uncaring towards others.

At critical developmental periods when young children are learning about themselves, others and the world, they are seeing pain frequently portrayed in their favourite TV shows and movies. In children’s media, pain is frequently depicted (nine times per hour), it is unrealistically and often violently portrayed, empathy and helping is rarely depicted, and unhelpful gender stereotypes abound.

These messages are potentially harmful as we know that children turn to their favourite characters to understand and make sense of their everyday experiences such as pain and importantly, to learn how to respond to their own pain and pain in others.

These findings highlight a pervasive societal stigma around pain that is being communicated to young children. This highlights the responsibility that we all have in dismantling and changing these societal narratives about pain to ensure that this powerful social learning opportunity is not missed and we are raising more prepared and empathic children for the inevitable pains they will encounter throughout their lives.


This story is part of a series produced by SKIP (Solutions for Kids in Pain), a national knowledge mobilization network whose mission is to improve children’s pain management by mobilizing evidence-based solutions through co-ordination and collaboration.

About the AuthorsThe Conversation

Melanie Noel, Associate Professor of Clinical Psychology, University of Calgary and Abbie Jordan, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, University of Bath

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

You May Also Like

AVAILABLE LANGUAGES

enafarzh-CNzh-TWnltlfifrdehiiditjakomsnofaptruessvtrvi

follow InnerSelf on

facebook icontwitter iconyoutube iconinstagram iconpintrest iconrss icon

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

Marie T. Russell's Daily Inspiration
 

INNERSELF VOICES

What Does Our Authority Rest Upon?
Transitioning from Authoritarian "Outer" Authority to Spiritual "Inner" Authority
by Pierre Pradervand
For thousands of years, ever since mankind started settling in cities, we evolved in rigid,…
The Birthing of A New World Which Is Struggling to be Born
The Birthing of A New World Which Is Struggling to be Born
by Ervin Laszlo
Talk of fundamental change in the world around us is often met with skepticism. Change in society,…
Win the Battle In Your Head: Perspective Matters
Win the Battle In Your Head: Perspective Matters
by Peter Ruppert
We all experience positive and negative self-talk on a regular basis. Whether you realize it or…
Horoscope Current Week: April 19 - 25, 2021
Horoscope Current Week: April 19 - 25, 2021
by Pam Younghans
This weekly astrological journal is based on planetary influences, and offers perspectives and…
If You’ve Contracted COVID: Healing and Moving Forward
If You’ve Contracted COVID: Healing and Moving Forward
by Stacee L. Reicherzer PhD
If you’ve contracted COVID, you not only had health problems that may have been life-threatening,…
Awakening to the Dream of the Earth and Loving the World
Awakening to the Dream of the Earth and Loving the World
by Bill Plotkin, Ph.D.
The most important question is not how to survive biodiversity loss, climate disruption, ecological…
4 Ways to Build Your Tolerance of Ambiguity—and Your Global Career 
4 Ways to Build Your Tolerance of Ambiguity—and Your Global Career
by Paula Caligiuri, Ph.D.
Even if your tolerance of ambiguity is lower, there are proven ways to build this important…
How To Use Family Stories To Build Young People's Resilience
How To Use Family Stories To Build Young People's Resilience
by Mary J. Cronin, Ph.D.
One approach that addresses the challenges families face today comes down to a familiar but often…

MOST READ

Is Your Bedroom Sacred?
Is Your Bedroom Sacred? Honoring Your Personal Sanctuary
by Jon Robertson
The bedroom is home to our prayers and dreams, our solitude and sexuality. In this inner sanctum,…
Domestic Violence: Calls For Help Have Increased – But The Answers Haven't Gotten Any Easier
Domestic Violence: Calls For Help Have Increased – But The Answers Haven't Gotten Any Easier
by Tara N. Richards and Justin Nix, University of Nebraska Omaha
Experts expected the increase in domestic violence victims seeking help last year (2020). Victims…
4 Ways to Build Your Tolerance of Ambiguity—and Your Global Career 
4 Ways to Build Your Tolerance of Ambiguity—and Your Global Career
by Paula Caligiuri, Ph.D.
Even if your tolerance of ambiguity is lower, there are proven ways to build this important…
How to Meet the Ambitious Target of Conserving 30% of Earth by 2030
How to Meet the Ambitious Target of Conserving 30% of Earth by 2030
by Matthew Mitchell, University of British Columbia
Fifty-five nations, including Canada, the European Union, Japan and Mexico have pledged to meet the…
Baby Bees Love Carbs – Here's Why That Matters
Baby Bees Love Carbs – Here's Why That Matters
by James Gilbert, University of Hull and Elizabeth Duncan, University of Leeds
Wild bees are essential for sustaining the landscapes we love. A healthy community of wild…
Win the Battle In Your Head: Perspective Matters
Win the Battle In Your Head: Perspective Matters
by Peter Ruppert
We all experience positive and negative self-talk on a regular basis. Whether you realize it or…
COVID-19: Does Exercising Really Reduce The Risk?
COVID-19: Does Exercising Really Reduce The Risk?
by Jamie Hartmann-Boyce, University of Oxford
A new US study shows that people who are less physically active are more likely to be hospitalised…
What Men’s Roles In 1970s Anti-sexism Campaigns Can Teach Us About Consent
What Men’s Roles In 1970s Anti-sexism Campaigns Can Teach Us About Consent
by Lucy Delap, University of Cambridge
The 1970s anti-sexist men’s movement had an infrastructure of magazines, conferences, men’s centres…
What Does Our Authority Rest Upon?
Transitioning from Authoritarian "Outer" Authority to Spiritual "Inner" Authority
by Pierre Pradervand
For thousands of years, ever since mankind started settling in cities, we evolved in rigid,…
At What Age Are People Usually Happiest? New Research Offers Surprising Clues
At What Age Are People Usually Happiest? New Research Offers Surprising Clues
by Clare Mehta, Emmanuel College
If you could be one age for the rest of your life, what would it be? Would you choose to be nine…
How To Use Family Stories To Build Young People's Resilience
How To Use Family Stories To Build Young People's Resilience
by Mary J. Cronin, Ph.D.
One approach that addresses the challenges families face today comes down to a familiar but often…
3 Ways Music Educators Can Help Students With Autism Develop Their Emotions
3 Ways Music Educators Can Help Students With Autism Develop Their Emotions
by Dawn R. Mitchell White, University of South Florida
Many children with autism struggle to find the words to express how they feel. But when it comes to…
Oscars 2021: COVID-19 Has Rekindled A 'Back to the Future' Love of Movies
Oscars 2021: COVID-19 Has Rekindled A 'Back to the Future' Love of Movies
by Kim Nelson, University of Windsor
Cinemas were not how people originally watched movies. There are signs that home viewing will be be…

New Attitudes - New Possibilities

InnerSelf.comClimateImpactNews.com | InnerPower.net
MightyNatural.com | WholisticPolitics.com
Copyright ©1985 - 2021 InnerSelf Publications. All Rights Reserved.