In Defence Of Fairy Tales
Remember when we were young, and bedtime meant story time, most often a fairy tale about a prince and a princess, or mischievous, wandering children? Kissing frogs, poisonous apples, glass slippers, and other enchanted items dazzled our dreams.
Today, in an era of political correctness, parents are choosing not to pass that magic on to their own kids. According to a recent study by British Television channel Watch, many parents are boycotting classic fairy tales like Rumpelstiltskin, Rapunzel, and Red Riding Hood because of their depictions of violence. Not only do parents consider these stories too scary, they also want to avoid gender-stereotyped characters like Cinderella, who either does housework or fusses over what to wear to a ball.
At a time when parents have started to question everything they know about raising kids – even the methods by which they were raised – we advise a little sanity check when it comes to reading material. True, some children’s classics portray situations and characters that might frighten a young mind, but don’t discount the benefits of these tales on children’s emotional development.
The evil witches and dark twists of a tale allow parents to introduce their children to the concept of evil and fear in the comfort and safety of home. These characters and situations frame unpleasant realities in an age-appropriate manner: Little Red Riding Hood cautions against befriending strangers, while Goldilocks warns that breaking and entering can get you into a sticky situation. Children are likely to consider what they would do in such a situation and discuss it with a parent, because those imaginary worlds are more tangible to them than reality, and the lessons they learn through those discussions have a long-term impact.
It’s time we hold up Bollywood movies, which haven’t faced as much flak as fairy tales, to the same standards. Kuch Kuch Hota Hai had a deceased mom communicating with her daughter from the afterlife, to encourage her to set up the widowed dad with his old college sweetheart. Dostana makes a mockery of homosexuality, and Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham espouses the absurd idea that a little song, dance, and clever trickery can bring estranged families together. Raanjhanaa is another Bollywood hit that seems like a harmless love story on the face of it, but isn’t quite; the main character obsessively stalks a girl who does not reciprocate his affections.
And it’s not just the plot lines. Famous item songs like Sheela Ki Jawaani, ChikniChameli, and Fevicol have kids grooving to misogynistic lyrics, while parents cheer their sense of rhythm. One of the lines from Fevicol, from Dabaang 2, goes: “Main toh tandoori murgi hoon yaar, gatka le saiyan alcohol se” (I’m a piece of tandoori chicken, devour me with alcohol).
Now don’t get us wrong; we’re not anti-movies for kids. Positive messages are hidden in even the movies with questionable themes: lessons of friendship and forgiveness can be found in Dostaana, for instance, and we learn about the selfless nature of love in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. (Though we’re still looking for the ray of light in Fevicol…)
The important lesson for us is that as parents, we can influence how our kids will absorb the information around them: Your child will understand a movie – or a fairy tale – in the way you frame it. As the parent, the impact and responsibility of a story is all in your hands—as is answering uncomfortable questions and dispelling myths. (If your goal is to blot out bad messages from your children’s lives entirely, know that eliminating fairy tales isn’t enough; you’ll have to boycott the movies as well.)
Let’s not deprive kids of the joy of magic because a bit too much reality might seep in. Albert Einstein once 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.”