Valentine’s Day Media Literacy

My five year old had a little Valentine’s Day party in her Pre-K class this week, and she was uber excited to pass out her cards to her 15 classmates. She had worked hard the night before writing her name 15 times. She had done a great job picking out a red wrap dress and turtle neck to wear, topping the outfit off with stripey tights. We’ve lucked out with a class full of really sweet kids, and I love how freaking cute all the kids in her class are. It is a good group of buddies for her to learn and grow with.

When she got home from school, we sat down to go through her cards. I needed to help her read them while she tore through all of her candy. She cared very little about the actual valentine, and more about the candy. I, of course, was immediately analyzing the cards.

The images our kids see, the messages they are exposed to, and the depictions of beauty as value all matter. They matter a lot. So I pay attention.

The images our kids see matter. The visual cues of gender, gender roles, beauty, and body image all impact our kids.

Here they are…..and I saved the best for last:

The gender neutral cards. Amelia's is in this bunch.

The cards from girls...accentuating the Beauty Myth, Thin Ideal, and Princess Culture.

The cards from boys...focusing on power, force, war, and overweight ogres.

The only card of 16 with a child depicted, and looking anything like the actual preschoolers handing out the cards. Bonus points for being bilingual.

Where do I even start? And the poodle is creeping me out.


  1. Sue Carney says:

    Aaack! Are those teenagers headed to a prom!? I’m afraid to ask what the attached tattoo was. I’m just SO GLAD there even ARE neutral valentines (we got dinosaurs and puppies). Good job finding the sea creature valentines 😉

  2. One of the girls in my daughter’s 1st grade class gave out rollerball flavored lip gloss with the Valentines for the girls. My husband couldn’t figure out why I was so bothered about it… until she’d reapplied it a thousand times by dinner, each time with a big *smack* exaggerated kiss.

  3. Personally I think when you buy into the whole Valetine’s Day hype, you are setting yourself, and your child up for disapointment.

    It’s such a non-event for children, where I live – and to be honest I’m kinda glad. I couldn’t stand to think that Dora the Explorer was the pick of the bunch – she truly is an annoying character (even if she is multilingual and a pretty close reflection of `real children’) She yells all the time, OMGoodness Dora, do you have an inside voice????.

    But I do agree – that poodle is creepy

    • We celebrated a really fun Valentine’s Day, and weren’t disappointed at all. Amelia loved making homemade valentines for our family members and sending them off in the mail. She had a great time passing out her cards, and was extremely proud of how well she had written her name on each card. She was really excited to share her cards with her friends, so I’d say she was pretty into the holiday. I think she would have been more disappointed and confused if she had been made to sit out.

      I’m not the one setting her up for disappointment, that falls on the manufacturers of unimaginative and stereotypes children’s products that sell our children short.

      I don’t dislike Valentine’s day at all – a day all about love, friendship, and caring? And chocolate? Bring it on!

      I greatly dislike gender stereotypes and sexualization, and those are unfortunately around every turn and corner in childhood. I’m not going to make my daughter sit out her childhood, but I am going to require that she think critically about the media that she encounters.

      We really like Dora at our house. Nearly all the other toy lines marketed to my daughter are about sitting still and being pretty, or shopping and being sassy, I’ll take a loud-mouthed, excitable, advernturous Central American toddler and her little blue monkey any day of the week. Dora isn’t “ladylike”, and she takes up space in the world. I like that message for our girls.

      • Cultural perspective is the missing factor here!

        Down south (Australia south) we are a pretty sceptical and cyncial bunch when it comes to Valentine’s Day. We recognise that it is an opportunity for florists, chocolate makers and card manufacturers to make big money (in saying that there is a large contigent of our population that willingly and knowlingly support these endeavours) – and good luck to them I say, if that’s your thing!)

        However, it it not the `thing’ that we put upon our children (and yes we are all about love and friendship and caring_ – but we can see how easily these wonderful themes can be twisted:your daughter’s experience a good example.

        So we have yet to follow our American cousins down that road – and to be honest I hope we don’t. But if we do, then like your dughter Amelia, my son and my daugher (if they want to, that is) will take over the kitchen table with their cardboard, and textas and glue and glitter and other stuff and be making their own cards.

        As for good old Dora, like you I must defend my position on this character. It’s not that I see her behaviour as `unladylike’ I just have an issue with being constantly yelled at – it’s unpleasant, regardless of the gender. I get that she is a wonderful role model – but I just can’t stand the yelling!

        We have Dirt Girl here in Australia, she’s much more my style.

        Finally, I just wanna say `Thank you’ for such an amazing and passionate blog, as an educator and a mother your articles stay with me and consistantly thread their way into my mothering and teaching.


        • Your comments about Dora crack me up because my husband feels that way about Diego. He usually mumbles “WHY is that kid always yelling and running!?”.

          We haven’t gotten into Dirt Girl yet, but I think that is a wonderful show. My daughter loves science and nature, so I think that show will be a hit with her this spring when we start gardening again.

          Thank you so much for your kind words about the blog. It means a lot to me 🙂

      • Hey there,

        Can I edit my previous post? Sleep deprived mother = spelling/grammatical mistakes : (

  4. I am completely with you on the offensive valentines – my 3 daughters got a ton of them. No lipgloss fortunately, although my Kindergartener’s friend got lots of that at her birthday party…

    However I’m not sure Shrek counts as a ‘boy’ card. It’s just a cartoon character, dancing as far as I can tell. The penguins from Madagascar are boys too I believe. Rather, I think these represent the way that any non-princess protagonists of cartoons are generally male – princesses are the only role models girls can have according to marketers.

    We just made our own valentines with potato prints and glitter… at least we managed to avoid the whole gender-stereotyping thing this time!

    • The caption on the Shrek photos reads “cards from boys” not “boy cards”. However, it is obvious that Shrek is a male character, thusly grouped with the other male cards. Shrek has a noticable difference in body size than the female characters. We’d never see Barbie with a gut like that.

      The Madagascar Penguins are male, but if you weren’t familiar with the cartoon, you wouldn’t know from looking at them if they are male of female. Same with the dolphins, which were my daughter’s cards. And soccers balls don’t have a gender. Hence, these were all gender neutral.

      The valentines you made sounds super cute! My daughter has recently discovered the joys of glitter art projects. 😉

  5. Just seeing this one today. I could leave one of those annoying “we made our own” truisms (yah, we did, but that didn’t last long, only at that grade level and for the love of blow pens, and the giant foam stamp phase) —I DO recall making a concerted effort to ‘listen’ to the “why to buy” message usually centering around marine life or golden retrievers “because people know they’re from ME that way” (yep, self-identity at the early phases)

    Always remember MY winces when I’d see some of the inbounds similar to what you’ve noted here. And yep, same ‘kapow/superhero’ bit and ‘pink princess/sparklefest’ just reflecting the latest media d’jour…great capture, you should do an animoto of these over the years as a media literacy archival keepsake for when your book comes out! 😉


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