Sunday, April 19, 2009

What are you afraid of?

Today I read this article about depriving our children of scary stories (and potentially the opportunity for their development). A few years ago I went to see a theater production of Struwwelpeter. At thee time, I thought it was pretty disturbing that this was the kind of story that people used to tell to their children. But when I was studying to get my degree in information and library sciences (the new hip version of librarianship) my specialty was children and teen services and I was fortunate to take some wonderful classes about children's literature and my thinking has changed. Once upon a time "children's literature" didn't even exist. I swear to you I did not know this. The books that were intended for children often carried moral messages about how to act or not act and often relied on fear to motivate children to obey their parents, go to bed, eat their supper and the like. It's perhaps not surprising then that scary books for children were once quite common and were endorsed by parents!

Believe me, I get that there's a time and place for everything and that developmentally some children aren't ready to hear the gruesome details of the 11:00 news. However, when I look back on some of the books I loved most as a child there was a lot of violence and scary stuff in there. And I'm not just talking about picture books here, (although I too read Babar and In the Night Kitchen - stories referenced in the article). No, I mean that I had a children's Bible that I loved and it was full of some gruesome stories about the beheading of John the Baptist and the slaughter of the innocents and all kinds of stuff that at the time, didn't bother me in the least. Those were some of the most vibrant and interesting stories as far as I was concerned.

Peanut is really too young to be encountering too many books with scary themes these days; she's still reading board books with one word per page. But it could be an issue for us as she gets older and I found the article to be a great reminder to me that editing what she reads isn't really what I'm all about as a parent.

Are you selective about what scary things you read to your kids? Are some topics okay while others are just too intense or off-limits in your household?


  1. For parents having the "Shinning" in the background had me sleeping with the light on .... well.. hm I still do that.

    I think they should be aware of things around them, even somethings which are tabu but using a CLEAN method to introduce certain topics.

  2. Our daughter was scared of NOTHING when she was younger. She watched Friday The Thirteenth movie when she was five and LAUGHED! My son, on the other hand, is more scared of things. Although I think his cousin influenced him. He looks up to his older cousin, but unfortunately his cousin is afraid of EVERYTHING! We're slowly trying to break him of his fears.

  3. That's an interesting topic. Champ is still too young for scary books - although he does have a board book of the Children's Bible and it talks about killing (David & Golliath) and punnishment (Adam & Eve - you will experience painfull child birth - WTF?!).

    I guess I'll just see how he reacts as he gets older, if he copes well with it then I don't see the point in sheilding him TOO much.

  4. You know, I have never thought about it! Partly because he's only 13 months, of course. I don't think I read "scary" stories until I was a preteen (R.L. Stein, for example), and I don't recall any moral lessons in those stories.

    I wonder if there is a gender bias here. Am I more likely to let my son read those books than if I had a daughter? Or perhaps the opposite, if the daughter was more mature (because girls seem to be). Interesting thoughts.

  5. Hmmmmm. I have to say that when we read the Children's Bible, I don't state clearly that everyone was killed and the whole town was destroyed. Though, as a kid those words/stories never bothered me.

    I turn off NHK TV too when it shows witches, red masked demons, etc. on kiddie TV. I guess I want to teach Jun what our family does and doesn't watch. Yep - shaping my kid's belief system.

    Hmmm. I guess I'll have to read that article!

  6. I heard an interview with Niel Gaiman about a similar question. He had been told by many parents that Coraline was just too scary for their kids, but kids loved it (I haven't read it yet, but I want to). He said that as adults, we instinctively want to keep kids from harm and so reading about a child in danger is horrifying to us. But for kids, it's empowering to read about a child their age who was in danger and was courageous and triumphed over the danger. Of course, I was always a timid and very easily frightened girl (and I still hate scary movies), so I'm not sure if that's true or not - though I did love the Greek myths and original Grimm's fairy tales, and those are pretty gruesome and scary in parts.

    More to the point of this article, my mother in law gave us a copy of a nursery rhyme book that my father in law had as a child in the 50s. It's hilarious the changes that were made to make it more palatable (Jack and Jill don't fall, little Miss Muffet wasn't frightened, the bough never broke on the rock a bye baby) - and those rhymes just aren't nearly so compelling.

    So far we're not selective, but Zoe's still too young for it to be much of an issue. I definitely don't want to be selective for her, I don't want to ever tell her she's too young for something, but I don't know what I'll do when it comes up. Though recently we got a "Happy baby, sad baby" book from the library, and I was a little worried that she would take suggestions from the book - the baby is sad at bedtime and sad in the bath - I had to fight to not editorialize those parts.

  7. I will be selective in that I don't want to read her things that will make her scared of "bad men" or petrified of going outdoors for fear of being abducted. She needs to be educated about dangers but not over-scared. I was really really scared of being chased as a kid...that and psychic powers - both of which I read about when I was in elementary school and really REALLY stuck with me. I'm STILL kind of scared of those things!

  8. I just read a quote that Einstein said that reading your child fairy tales is the best preparation for science. I don't know if this is apocryphal or not. I googled it quickly and couldn't find it.
    Anyway, yes, I do read scary stuff. I prefer the non-scary fairy tales and stories, but who in Japan you take what you can get.

    Has anyone else done the Japanese fairy tales books I and II? Our library has both books, so I read them to my son.