Fairy Tales: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

kid toy on mattress

A recent article surfaced on the Internet about the rejection of fairy tales by British parents who deemed them too scary and not politically correct. In a poll of 3,000 parents, the survey said that 25% of mothers will not read the traditional fairy tales to their children any longer.

Reasons cited were that, “Rapunzel is too dark,” “Cinderella is treated like a slave,” and to use the term, “dwarf” in the story of Snow White is just not politically correct.

Now, on a positive note, two-thirds of the parents interviewed said that the old fairy tales had stronger lessons on morals than the more modern stories available to children. Still, the scary outweighed the moral in the end.

I have to agree that some of the old fairy tales are pretty scary in nature. After all, it is disturbing that a witch entices children into her candy-cottage so that she can imprison the boy and make the girl her slave while she “fattens them up,” not to mention the abandonment of the children in the first place because the parents were too poor to care for them (”Hansel and Gretel”).

“It is disturbing that a witch entices children into her candy-cottage to imprison a boy and make a girl her slave, not to mention the abandonment of the children in the first place because the parents were too poor to care for them!”

I faintly remember being afraid of wolves when I was a little girl because I didn’t want one to eat my grandmother or blow my house down in the middle of the night (”Little Red Riding Hood” and the “Three Little Pigs”). And I hated the story of Rumpelstiltskin and didn’t ever choose that one to be read to me. So, I think there is some validity to this whole “fairy tales are too disturbing” claim.

However, if we throw out fairy tales, then I would venture to say the television must be banned from our homes as well. The article doesn’t say whether or not these parents watch TV in their homes. I would be interested to know if they do. Look at shows like CSI, NCIS, and Cold Case. These shows are supposedly on during “prime time”, when children are in bed, but more often than not children are coming and going from bed during this time and catching glimpses of violent sexual crimes, murders, decomposed bodies….

What about the news that is on during regular family hours? That in itself is just as disturbing and terrifying as any trolls or witches in a fairy tale. Maybe more so, because in this case, it’s not made up; it’s real — so real that even adults find themselves living in fear these days.

If fairy tales are scary, then I guess Disney moves are, too. Goodness knows that Ursala in The Little Mermaid can be pretty horrifying, and we all know the metamorphosis of the evil step-mother-queen in the animated movie Snow White was done with enough evil flair to give even an adult goosebumps.

I’m not boycotting Disney movies. All I’m saying is, if we’re going to harp on fairy tales, then I think we need to take a good look at the movies we’re letting our kiddos watch just before bedtime, too.

Too Far or Too Hypersensitive?

As far as fairy tales being politically incorrect goes, frankly I think that’s taking the PC thing a bit too far. Sure, we need to extend respect to those of different belief systems and lifestyles, but it’s also time for everyone to quit being so easily offended. They’re fairy tales, stories that were written years ago before being politically correct was something people stressed over.

I for one, have no issues with reading my daughter stories that portray girls as princesses and boys as heroes. In my eyes, my daughter can be both and I’ll always tell her that. If anything, I’ll use stories like that to teach her she should be treated as a princess but princesses can have as much courage as a boy can.

If I have a son someday, I want to encourage him to embrace being a noble hero! I find no shame in that. At the same time, I will teach my son that he doesn’t have to be so brave that he can’t ever show his emotions or enjoy beauty in life.

I don’t need fairy tales (or the lack thereof) to teach my children that they can be whoever they were meant to be, and I am not threatened by stories typically painting them as just one way or another.

As far as the term “dwarf” goes, I’m not a little person, so perhaps I’m missing the point here, but again, I think we’re forgetting what year the story was written in. (I’ll have to ask my friend, who is a little person, if she is offended by fairy tales that have mention of dwarves in them). If anything, parents can use a story that contains a dwarf to talk about how God creates all kinds of people, and teach them that dwarves in stories are not the same as little people in the real world.

Do we need stories written today that correctly portray dwarves as little people, girls as doctors, and boys as kind-hearted men who sometimes would rather write poetry than go fight a dragon? Absolutely! But do these missing elements mean fairy tales need to be thrown out entirely? In my estimation, no. The world has enough controversy in it, let’s not make a simple story, written years ago for the purpose of entertaining children, one of them!

So Let’s Hold Today’s Stories to the Same Standard

The truth is, we can probably find a problem with every book our children have if we look hard enough. I have in front of me a couple of books from my daughter’s room. Let’s see here….

The Bernstein Bears Get in a Fight

Brother Bear tells Sister Bear to get “her dopey face out of his face” and Sister retorts back with a “Shut up!” I might have to throw that book out; too emotionally abusive.

The Poky Little Puppy

That’s about a little puppy who is disobedient but never seems to get properly caught or disciplined. Instead, his brothers and sisters get disciplined while he gets off scot-free. In the end, his brother and sisters take revenge on him by tricking him. Can’t say that’s entirely healthy either; very manipulative in fact.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

This book was actually cited as one of the top books parents will read to their children, but as a professional counselor for eating disorders I’m afraid this one teaches my daughter about binging on food. I think this one needs to go as well.

I’m not serious of course. My point is, we can find criticisms with just about everything in life, and that includes our children’s books. The issue isn’t so much what is too scary or isn’t politically correct, but whether or not we are we providing our children with safety and security on a regular basis.

Sometimes security does mean purposefully not reading certain stories (or having boundaries about what’s on the television) but most of the time, it means our knowing that mom and dad will always love them, always be there for them, and always do all they can to protect them from scary things.

Parenting is more than the books we read, or don’t read, in this case. It’s teaching our children about stranger danger and that it’s ok to say “No!” to people that scare them. It’s teaching them about morals and right and wrong and it’s teaching them to accept people of different sizes, skin colors, and disabilities. It’s about helping them learn that every individual should be treated with dignity and respect. Parenting is all about teaching our children to be the best that they can be, whether it’s a garbage collector or a scientist that wins a Nobel prize, a janitor or a famous movie star. It’s modeling healthy, loving marriages and loving parenthood that they can then live out themselves someday.

The most important thing is not about the books we do, or don’t, choose for our children. It’s how we help them write their own stories — the story of life.

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