I grew up on Disney movies, princess stories, and nursery rhymes. The Little Red Riding Hood I remember was eaten by a wolf, and so was her grandmother, but there was a woodsman who arrived just in time to hack them out of the wolf’s belly, whole and intact. I never understood how that was supposed to work, but that’s how the story went. They were make-believe, after all. Besides, I’d like to think that despite growing up with these stories, I came out alright.
I tell a lot of these stories to my toddler; thus far, he likes The Three Little Pigs, Hansel and Gretel, and Peter and the Wolf, and he’s particularly fond of Jack and the Beanstalk. He may not have a broad comprehension of them yet, but he giggles and claps at the way I tell the stories using different voices, changing my inflection, jumping at suspenseful moments—it’s all for fun and our story time is special to us.
But recently, I read that many parents find fairy tales too scary for young children. I’m an English Literature major at Golden West College, and as a literature student, I will say a few things about fairy tales.
FAIRY TALES NOT FOR KIDS
First, they weren’t originally intended for children. They were tales of the oral tradition, passed from person to person and served a dual purpose as cautionary tales and entertainment (which tended on the side of bawdiness). In fact, children-specific literature is a relatively new genre which took root in the 18th Century. Even the Perrault tales, many of which are the most recognizable versions of favorite fairy tales, were not intended for children but for the French Court.
Secondly, all history lessons aside, fairy tales resonate with us as illustrations of the human condition, especially as cautionary and morality tales. Yet the sheltering habits of new-age parenting dictate the covering of delicate ears as a protective measure from the harsh realities… of fairy tales.
We know these parents. These are the same parents whose kids can’t deal with losing at musical chairs. No one can play because if everyone can’t win, no one should win.
Don’t get me wrong: an egalitarian society is a grand aspiration, but that’s not the world we live in. When kids aren’t taught to win graciously or congratulate the winner when it isn’t that kid, they’re going to have a lifelong coping problem in a society that isn’t centered around this child’s success. Similarly, children who aren’t exposed to the social patterns inherent in fairy tales lose the opportunity to learn from and synthesize them with the patterns in their own reality-based lives.
EL CUCUY, LA CHUPACABRA AND INSECTS, OH MY!
I remember growing up with el cucuy (or cuco depending on the region, which is the equivalent of the Latin American boogeyman—my sister mistook this for flying insects, but as we learned from Monsters, Inc., everyone’s boogeyman is different) and the chupacabra (who my brother convinced me would come after me because I was whiny. I reasoned that he was pulling my leg because the chupacabra ate goats, but my brother, being clever, reminded me that there were no goats where we lived). These folk tales existed FOR THE EXPRESS PURPOSE OF SCARING THE CRAP OUT OF KIDS, and lemme tell you—it worked. The chupacabra stopped my whining and el cucuy got my sister in line for my abuelita… at least until she saw a nearby wasp. And really, to this day, she is still absolutely terrified of flying insects.
So what these parents are complaining about is beyond me. Sure, some fairy tales are on the rustic side, but that’s the beauty of tales of the oral tradition: you can tell your own version. But sheltering kids from them outright just deprives them of cultural references they’re going to be embarrassed not to know at some point. Besides, it’s our job to teach our kids the differences between reality and fairy tales.