Are Fairytales Too Scary for Children? Of the 3,000 British parents polled by the TheBabyWebsite.com, earlier this month, 50 percent said they would not read fairy tales to their children until they were at least five-years-old. Of those, 20 percent said they rejected the oldies as politically incorrect, while close to that number, 17 percent, said the stories would give their children nightmares.
It's interesting how the standards for what is considered acceptable in children's entertainment can change over time. Just a moment ago, I read an entry on Jerry Beck's excellent CartoonBrew.com blog about a program taking place tonight at L.A.'s Silent Movie theater that features cartoons that were once considered acceptable all-ages entertainment that would likely horrify many parents today:
(If you're interested in seeing a really weird and twisted old cartoon, search for “Swing You Sinners” on YouTube.)
The standards for what is considered acceptable in children's entertainment can vary across cultures too. I remember reading in a book by translator and Japan expert Frederik L. Schodt (I think that it might have been The Astro Boy Essays) that Japanese culture makes fewer distinctions between children's entertainment and adult entertainment than American culture does.
I'm not a parent, so my views on this topic might be different if I were, but I can't help but think that if we no longer read children stories with dark and disturbing parts, our culture has lost something.
As a parent of a 4 year old and a 6 year old, I am sensitive to the issue, but have never come down on the side of withholding. I have found that a dose of responsible parenting can ameliorate any issues with 'scariness' or 'political incorrectness' and can stimulate discussions to a good end. I think the main problem is when parents are not involved, don't know what their kids are reading or seeing and are unable to help the kids manage the input. Even then, I am not sure the 'right' answer is to put the kid in a box, but admit it can be a more challenging problem to solve.
What an interesting discussion. It is striking how much less bloody those tales tend to become over time. And I'm not a parent either, but yeesh, part of me still trembles when I think of parts of the Hansel and Gretel story I heard as a kid–a couple of those stories really creeped me out, and I know that these stories supposedly let children express fears, but still, I didn't like the experience at all.
Some Fairy Tales are more graphic and scarier than others, and then there are all sorts of different versions. Grimm's Fairy Tales are quite different from those of, say, Hans Christian Anderson. There are the exciting and funny Persian tales, such as Aladdin, and many fine children's tales from China and Japan. Let's not forget Aesop's Fables, and so many more from all over the world. Also, there is a wealth of contemporary children's Fantasy and SciFi literature that may rightly be called modern Fairy Tales. I don't think it's difficult to find an endless supply of good Fairy Tales for kids of all ages and sensibilities.
When my son was young, he was seemingly addicted to Stine's Goosebumps, which I thought were a bit beyond the pale, to be honest. But he grew out of them by age eight and began reading some good stuff, like Crichton's Jurassic Park. Now in his twenties he's reading stuff that I don't normally touch with a ten foot pole, like James Joyce. When my daughter was young (but old enough) I had the bigger challenge of explaining the shenanigans of our then president Bill Clinton, which eclipsed any concerns I felt over her choice of reading material, such as Harry Potter. I suppose one could say that politics is a Fairy Tale unto itself, and often enough some of the very scariest.
About 6 years ago my wife was volunteering in our youngest sons pre-school in a 6 year-old class. The story for the day was Hansel and Gretel. A teacher had taped an index card over the paragraph near the end where the witch is burned up in the oven after being shoved by the Gretel, and replaced it with a few lines of her own explaining that the bad woman (mysteriously) had run away out the kitchen door. Considering the valuable lesson on the dangers of a hot oven, I think the children were cheated, and not just out of the end of the story…
I'm wondering if it was the teacher or school policy that called for the alternate telling of Hansel and Gretel? And anyway, even if the witch wasn't burned in the oven, how did the teacher deal with the parts about the parents abandoning the kids in the forest and the witch wanting to eat the children? It seems to me that the killing of a child-eating witch is the least offensive part!
If you think current fairy tales might be too scary, check out the Brothers Grimm in the original! Would you believe talking severed horses’ heads? I thoroughly enjoyed the BBC Radio Four program In Our Time on the topic. You can listen at http://tinyurl.com/dh3gya
I read a little article on GreenCine Daily (http://daily.greencine.com/) about a new horror movie from Korea (I think that those folks have made some of the most brilliant and disturbing movies of recent years) based on Hansel and Gretel, and it reminded me of this conversation:
My general position is that if we no longer read scary story to children, our culture risks losing a little bit of its ability to dream. However, I might add the corollary that if a story has a Korean horror movie based on it, it might be a little too creepy for the young ‘uns.
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