“In children you should never let such angry passions rise; their little hands were never made to tear each other’s eyes.” ~ Isaac Watt
We use fairy tales to teach young children morals; however, these fairy tales have a negative effect on children's psyche. The fairytale is often an entertaining story of miraculous and supernatural happenings. Its purpose is to galvanize the depths of our minds in such a way as to make us a part of the landscape, bound only by the limits of our own imaginations. However, it is this very ‘free-for-all’ fantasy land that poses a very real threat to its intended audience – children. Both traditional and contemporary fairytales experienced by children can have harmful effects on a child’s psyche. This is especially true when children are exposed to these fairytales during the early stages of psychological development.
When do we most often expose children to the fairytales? More likely than not, we use the tales to ‘comfort’ children, perhaps to calm them down, in the form of bedtime stories. But, have you ever really thought about the messages given to a child through the words of these fairytales? ‘Snow White’ advocates divorce and black magic. There’s justified homicide and cannibalism in ‘Hansel & Gretel’, mass murder in ‘Blue Beard’, as well as betrayal and pre-meditated murder in the ‘Lion King’. Is it any wonder, then, that the child comes running or sits screaming and crying because he’s afraid to be baked in the oven - or maybe he feared that since Cruella DeVille is so persistent to skin those little puppies, that she might be apt to do the same to little boys! We try to reassure them that it was just a fairytale – that it was just make-believe. But how can we expect a child to take our word that it’s not real? Especially since we constantly portray ourselves as hypocrites when we threaten that we will “get the boogie man after you if you don’t eat all of your peas, young man!”
Since the early 19th century, many fairytales have been the center of stark criticism causing heated discussion among the world’s leading personalities of the time. Each having opposing views, Dr. Karl Oppel, a German psychologist, and Dr. Bruno Bettelheim, a child psychologist from the United States, were two of the most voiced fairytale experts. Though theses two men were three generations from each other, Dr. Bettelheim drew most of his protests from Dr. Oppel’s most publicized findings and opinions in a 1903 debate. In his book, The Parent’s Book: Practical Guidance for the Education at Home, Oppel made his strong argument against telling fairytales to children. He states that we should “shelter children from the ugly, illogical, overly violent, and frightening – All of which are carelessly portrayed through the fairy tale [fairytale]” (Oppel, Should children be…). In the text, Oppel goes on to recount a childhood story in which a young man is passing the time away under the gallows, and is amusing himself with several hanged corpses. Later, he takes the corpses from their coffins and lays them with him in bed! Surely this is not the type of image that we want to share with our children. Nor is that of the evil step-mom portrayed as being a blackened sorceress, giants living in the sky that are apt to eat you, or a little man that rips himself in two when you guess what his name is! Think about it: It’s a warm summer night and the children are all tired from the day’s events. Mom comes in, hushes them, and begins to tell a story of two young children who have become too expansive for their parents to support. This, therefore, justifies the stepmother’s decision to murder the two of them. She sends her husband to carry this out; however instead, he abandons them deep in the woods, where, by the way, they are lured to a cabin made entirely of sweets. This cabin, though, just happens to be the home of an evil witch who savors human flesh and whose only intention is to fatten the children, bake...
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