With stories like the sex abuse scandal involving the U.S. gymnastics team making headlines in recent years—former gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar was accused and eventually convicted of abusing multiple young women—the discussion of consent with our children feels more relevant and urgent than ever. In a recent interview, actress Kristen Bell revealed the clever way she's opening up conversation about the topic with her kids.
Kristen told Parents that after she reads the popular Disney fairytale Snow White to daughters Lincoln, 5, and Delta, 3, during bedtime, she always makes them question certain things in the story, in an effort to teach them to be careful with trusting adults. "Every time we close Snow White I look at my girls and ask, 'Don't you think it's weird that Snow White didn't ask the old witch why she needed to eat the apple? Or where she got that apple?'" she said. "I say, 'I would never take food from a stranger, would you?' And my kids are like, 'No!' And I'm like, 'OK, I'm doing something right.'"
But that's not the only moment in the story Kristen uses to teach her kids about consent. She also makes her children question the time the Prince kisses Snow White while she's sleeping. She told Parents she asks her kids, "Don't you think that it's weird that the Prince kisses Snow White without her permission? Because you cannot kiss someone if they're sleeping!"
Since making these comments expressing her concern about the Disney story, there's been some backlash. According to Popculture, one Twitter user called her a "hypocrite" for criticizing the fairytale since Kristen voiced Princess Anna in the Disney film Frozen back in 2013. The user wrote, "I'm disgusted with Hollywood hypocrites. They didn't have an issue signing contracts to play Disney princesses, cashing their huge checks. Why the outrage now?"
But in Kristen's defense, Frozen is a much more progressive story than Snow White, which Kristen implied in her own reply to the user. She wrote, "It's cute that you guys are making jokes about something that I feel is very important. I'd be happy to send you copies of Snow White and Frozen and you can see the differences—how far the example set for women has come. It might enlighten your point of view," Popculture reports.
Indeed, Disney has stepped up their game from fairytales involving princesses getting rescued, and living happily ever after with a prince, to stories like Frozen, or The Princess and the Frog, from 2009, which aren't traditional fairytales. In the former, for example, Anna didn't rush into a relationship with the first man she met, and in the latter, Tiana doesn't lose any of her ambition to follow her dreams simply because she fell in love. And Moana, well, spoiler alert, there isn't even a romantic storyline.
As Kristen reminds us all, we don't have to give up telling our kids classic fairytales. We just need to make sure that after sharing those stories with them they think critically about the messages—and that teaching kids about consent and using their best judgment about when to trust adults can start earlier than expected.