Toads and Diamonds: Why Fairy Tales are Essential to Childhood

More and more I’m finding that traditional fairy tales aren’t being read to children. In fact, almost half of parents won’t read Rumpelstiltskin to their children. They consider the kidnapping and execution themes in the story too gruesome for kids.

5220792492_faaf941f9b_oAs for Cinderella, fifty-two percent of parents believe that the fairy tale’s protagonist doesn’t present a good message to children, since the protagonist is a young woman, who does housework all day long.

I grew up on fairy tales, from the happily ever after Disney versions to the traditional Grimm Brothers’ Tales and stories by Hans Christian Andersen. One of my favorites of Andersen’s stories is The Little Mermaid. This version diverges greatly from the Disney version, and brings with it a much deeper meaning.

Realizing how many parents refuse to read traditional fairy tales to their children is surprising and saddening. Fairy tales present hard truths. In many traditional fairy tales, there is no happily ever after. Horrible things happen to good people. People make mistakes and aren’t always forgiven. The princess doesn’t always get the prince. I believe that by either not reading fairy tales to kids at all or by only sharing the Disney versions, kids may be developing a lopsided view of the world. They start to think that their lives will turn out perfectly. Everything will work out in the end. While this is a wonderful belief, it can help prevent kids from learning how to prepare for and negotiate the real world. C.S. Lewis stated, “Sometimes fairy stories may say the best what’s to be said.”

Fairy tales distill complex worldly truths down to their most raw form. They give kids insight and help them better prepare for reality. They open the door for kids to ask their parents and other adults questions. A fourth of parents won’t read fairy tales to their children because the tales encourage uncomfortable questions. While two-thirds of parents won’t read fairy tales that could give their kids nightmares, half of parents believe that traditional fairy tales present a stronger moral message than modern fairy tales.

Fairy tales not only present hard truths; they also show children how to handle problems. Kids read fairy tales and learn from what the protagonist did. They take what they read and implement it into their lives. Fairy tales are vital to helping kids learn how to navigate life. G.K. Chesterton stated, “Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”

So much in today’s society is focused on sheltering children, protecting them from every little perceived harm, no matter how far-fetched that harm may be, such as the instances where parents are seen as endangering their kids “in a manner that is totally disconnected from any statistical realities about the actual dangers faced.” It’s to the point where some parents are shielding their kids from the hardships on Sesame Street. In Jennifer Senior’s TED Talk, “Why Is Parenthood Filled with So Much Anxiety,” she states that while purchasing a DVD of the first few Sesame Street episodes, the DVD came with the warning “that the content is not suitable for children.”

If we don’t give children a chance to ask the hard questions, if we keep them from the uglier parts of reality, how are they going to end up healthy, intelligent, independent individuals?

As Albert Einstein said, “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”

What do you think about reading fairy tales to children?

(Photo courtesy of chiaralily.)

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