Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Cinderella Story

I was recently pointed to this article about a study which shows a strong correlation between girls raised on fairy tales and commitment to relationships marred by domestic violence. This quote, I think, sums up the findings:
"They believe if their love is strong enough they can change their partner's behavior," Darker-Smith said. "Girls who have listened to such stories as children tend to become more submissive in their future relationships."
It seems that this research has some correlation to my thesis on raising kids with Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny. In the case of the Easter Bunny it is a more metaphysical lie, whereas here the issue is providing little girls with a template for submissiveness.

The results make sense, at least psychologically. If you're raised with the idea that you can change another person by love alone, or with the idea that even though your man is a beast (literally) he can still be a wonderful prince then obviously you're going to act on those preconceptions later in life. In fact, I would hazard a guess that the majority of failed marriages are not an issue of people changing or growing apart, but rather an issue of couples thinking that they can change their partner.

Fairy tales ignore the reality of life, plain and simple. People don't change, there is no Easter Bunny, and Santa Clause is your deceptive parents. When we raise our children on lies and fiction, especially when we masquerade them as truth, they are bound to grow up with problems.

What do we do, then? Abandon the tooth fairy? Burn Beauty and the Beast? Forget Rapunzel?

Furthermore, where do we draw the line? For as much as we like to assure our children that it is possible, kids cannot, in fact, become whatever they'd like as they grow older. Some people just will never be astronauts. Additionally, each person is not special in the way that we affirm to kids again and again, as they can simply be replaced by another worker in the real world. These inspirational stories, quips, and cliches are simply falsehoods, and why should we raise children on falsehoods?

I am not sure that everything in this vein needs to be abandoned. Rather, we must be aware of the story and principles that we tell our children, whether it be in inspirational sound bites or in fairy tales. Maybe stories with such morals that become so obviously harmful in practice, like Beauty and the Beast, should be abandoned altogether. Likewise, children are in for a rude awakening when then enter the real world and find that everyone doesn't love them, that they aren't special or unique, and that they cannot, in fact, have whatever profession they would like. Still, we can tell them that they can strive to be whatever they would like, we can tell them that we personally love and appreciate them (even if no one else in the world does), and we can tell them that hard work and effort pay off, sometimes in getting what it is that we want.

By paying attention to what we're raising children on, we can influence the sort of conception of the world that they create. A worldview based on lies and fiction can only lead to an inability to function practically in the real world. A worldview based on reality will lead to an ability to take on the world exactly as they find it.

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