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Children: A Plea For Fairy Tales, Myths and Legends

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

Friends and family recommended I read the trilogy by Suzanne Collins, “The Hunger Games.” I was told it was written for adolescents but that adults enjoy it as well. It came at an interesting time for me when I was contemplating writing an article about the importance of fairy tales, myths and legends for children.

The timing was interesting because, in my research, I found some controversy about whether fairy tales and other myths should be read to our kids. It seems that some people are convinced that fairy tales are too violent.

These same critics object to the tales being politically incorrect. They site the fact that mothers are never present, only evil step mothers and witches. “Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs” is found to be offensive because the 7 are called “dwarfs,” and not “little people.” I guess that means it should be entitled “Snow White and The Seven Little People?” Somehow, that doesn’t have the right ring to it, at least, not for me.

If you want validation that many parents are eliminating fairy tales because they are politically incorrect, go to this web site:

http://www.thebabywebsite.com

So, this brings us to Suzanne Collins and “The Hunger Games?” This novel, directed at kids, is filled with violence. If this book is not too violent for kids, why are fairy tales? In fact, I just learned that it is being made into a movie. Well, we have lots of violent movies, television programs and super heroes. Is there really any difference?

Actually, there is a very great difference between the events that happen in these tales as compared to the things kids read and view today. Fairy tales have stood the test of time because they appeal to something deep within ourselves. The Brother’s Grimm did not create the stories in their collection. Instead, they put into book form stories from all over the world and dating back to pre-history. These were were handed down from generation to generation through the oral tradition. The most diverse societies from every culture have remarkably similar stories and myths.

As Bruno Bettleheim, the great twentieth century child psychologist, discusses in his book, “The Uses of Enchantment,”  fairy tales allow children to grapple with their fears about abandonment, death, witches, injuries and body intactness, in remote and symbolic ways. These fears would be too threatening for kids to deal with directly. The characters in these stories live in mythical and distant places and that actually prevents them from being overwhelmed.

If you think about it, these tales not only describe death but rebirth as well. The prince kisses sleeping beauty who then reawakens and lives happily ever after. This and other aspects of these stories stimulate kid’s imaginations. Bettleheim asserts that, left to their own thinking and imaginings, kids work out the meaning of fairy tales for themselves.

It’s important to add that the struggles depicted by Little Red Ridinghood, Cinderalla and others, represent the struggles that go on in all families. Sibling rivalry is a well known family dynamic. Competition between emerging beautiful daughters and their proud but jealous and aging mothers is another familiar dynamic. Then, the fears and angry impulses that are aroused within children, have a safe and creative outlet through these tales.

It seems to me that the violence found in kid’s novels, such as “The Hunger Games,” video games, movies and television, are all too real for youngsters. The characters look very real while the action takes place in very familiar places. There is very little left to the imagination.

As far as political incorrectness goes, that has little or nothing to do with this mythology. The “Seven Dwarfs” are not real people and, if anything, may represent the small child himself. The image of the mother is protected for the child by having the “step mother” become the target of the child’s anger and frustration instead of the treasured real mother. These are just a few examples.

Your comments and questions are encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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