Disney’s latest animated feature, Turning Red, in which a teenage girl struggles with puberty, cultural expectations and her newfound tendency to turn into a giant red panda when overtaken by emotion has viewers buzzing.
While critical reviews of the film have been mostly positive, some viewers—particularly parents—have had a rather different take on the film. Some were baffled that the film is about menstruation; others dislike the exploration of romantic crushes and sexuality; and still others are upset that the main character, 13-year-old Mei Lee, is rebelling against her parents by repeatedly lying and sneaking away.
An amateur reviewer wrote on the website Rotten Tomatoes that the film “suggests that being rude to your parents and family is okay if you’re an adolescent going through puberty.”
Still, child psychologists say the film is unlikely to promote bad or lascivious behavior, or harm younger children who may not understand its adult themes. If anything, they note, the film could bring families together by sparking age-appropriate conversations about important issues and values, as well as validating the struggles teens often experience.
The film gives “a really good portrayal of adolescent-parent relationships and adolescent development,” said Judith Smetana, a psychologist at the University of Rochester who studies parent-adolescent relationships. The problems are real and offer ‘an opportunity for discussion’.
We interviewed child and adolescent psychologists, a sex educator, and a handful of parents to learn more about how parents could use the film as a starting point for constructive family conversations.
GUIDE YOUR CHILD THROUGH THE MOVIE THEMES
Before watching Turning Red with her five-year-old and nine-year-old, Jenny Wang, a Texas psychologist, explained to her children that they can see scenes of situations or experiences they’re unfamiliar with — and she’ll be there to help them understand. .
Conversations like this “allow our children to feel confident and empowered to navigate the world regardless of the types of problems that may arise,” said Dr. Cheek. They send “the message that there’s nothing we can’t explore more deeply or understand when we work together as a family.”
Parents don’t necessarily have to explain everything in detail — they need to share information they see fit for their children’s maturity level, said Charissa Cheah, a psychologist at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, who studies adolescents’ socio-emotional development. studies. For example, parents might frame Mei’s strange behavior around the teenage shop assistant as being rooted in fear or insecurity about how to talk to him after realizing she likes him.
“The reality is that our children are exposed to these themes to some degree, with or without our control,” said Dr. Cheek. Watching a movie like Turning Red with the family and checking in during and after the kids can help kids develop a “willingness and openness to share their confusion with us. I think that’s where the transformative conversations can happen.”
TALKING ABOUT BODY, PERIODS AND PUBERTY
When Mei first turns into a red panda, she hides in the bathroom and her mother brings boxes of sanitary pads, assuming she has had her first period. While some parents are upset about the nod to menstruation, experts say it’s good for both girls and boys — even young children — to learn about body parts and normal body processes.
“Of all the things parents should worry about when it comes to raising children, normal bodily function like menstruation shouldn’t be one of them,” says Elizabeth Schroeder, a New York sex educator. “There’s so much shame in how bodies work when we should be celebrating them instead.”
The film normalizes menstruation, and “that kind of openness can make girls feel so much more confident and accepted during adolescence,” said Annie Tao, a clinical psychologist who treats children and teens at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. York.
If your child watches Turning Red before learning what menstruation is, you can use the scene as an opportunity to explain the concept to them, said Dr. smetana. Lauren Tetenbaum, a social worker from Westchester, NY, said she explained to her five-year-old son that Mei gets her period “because that’s what happens to girls when they become teenagers. He was like ‘OK, cool.’”
Parents can also share their perspective on how other characters in the film reacted to the idea of Mei’s period. “I talked to my eight-year-old about how the father was embarrassed about menstruation and that’s not okay,” said Terrae Weatherman of Saint Paul, Minn. “My husband was there during the discussion and helped reinforce that men need to know about menstruation, because that’s how some bodies work.”
The period scene also provides an opportunity for parents to talk about their own experiences. Chloe Caldwell, a Hudson, NY writer, shared her struggles with premenstrual dysphoric disorder with her 11-year-old stepdaughter as they watched the movie.
“I never quite knew how to describe PMDD to her, but now, with this fluffy red panda, who was experiencing completely the same symptoms, such as anger, paranoia, depression, I got a common language and something concrete for me to point out,” said Mrs. Caldwell, whose upcoming book The Red Zone is about menstruation.
ASK QUESTIONS ABOUT THE CHARACTERS’ CHOICES AND RELATIONSHIPS
After we saw the movie, I asked my seven-year-old daughter what had stayed with her. She pointed out that although Mei and her mother loved each other, they didn’t always get along. This sparked a conversation about the fact that it’s normal to disagree with family members — and that fights don’t undermine unconditional love.
dr. Wang said asking questions about the characters’ interpersonal choices is a powerful way to interact with children about our values. “We could ask our children, ‘What do you think prompted her to lie to her mother?’ And how about what happened after she lied? What were some of the consequences?’” she suggested.
Experts also said parents’ concerns that the film will lead their children to bad behavior is overblown. “Is this movie going to teach your kids to lie and sneak away? Absolutely not,” said Dr. Tao. Rebellion is typical during adolescence, she said, but severe rebelliousness often stems from problems in the parent-child relationship, and it’s not something that kids are going to do it just because they saw it in a movie.
If parents really don’t like the movie or the plot, that’s also “an opportunity to talk to your kids,” said Dr. Cheah, about what you didn’t like. Parents may find that their children also have reservations about Mei’s behavior – Dr. Cheah said he didn’t think Mei had to hide so much from her mother.
Whatever parents think of the film, the plot confirms the problems children often face during adolescence and provides fodder for meaningful conversations. “It can talk to a lot of kids in a lot of different family circumstances,” said Dr. cheah. “And to use it as a point of discussion to cover a whole range of topics – I think that’s really helpful.”
By Melinda Wenner Moyer © 2022 The New York Times
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.