Edited for bedtime: Parents making fairy tales ‘safer’

for Brooklyn Paper
Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook

Don’t miss our updates:

Little Red Riding Hood went into the woods to take a basket of bread and jam to her ailing grandmother. On her way there she met a wolf, who asked where she was going, and when Red Riding Hood told him, the wolf replied, “Oh my God, I haven’t visited my grandmother in, like, a month!” Guiltily, he slunk off to gather some nuts for his vegan grandmother, who was delighted to see him, and asked him why he was still single.

On the way home the wolf and Red Riding Hood ran into each other again and agreed: Visiting grandma is something you should do.

And that, my friends, is how some people, somewhere, are introducing their children to the fabulous world of fairy tales.

A study of 2,000 parents commissioned by a British website called “musicMagpie” found that one quarter of moms and dads change parts of the story when they read them to kids.

Generally, this is because they think the original tale is too disturbing for tots to handle. And at the top of their “to alter” list is Little Red, because in the original version, the wolf runs ahead, gobbles granny up, and dons the lady’s clothing. Little Red Riding Hood comes by and marvels, “Why grandmother, what big arms you have!” and feet, and eyes, etc., etc., right down to the big teeth, which are, of course, the issue at hand.

Depending on which version you read, quick-thinking Little Red Riding Hood dives into the closet and stays there until a passing woodsman saves her, or, slower-thinking, Little Red gets gobbled, but then a woodsman slices the wolf open to liberate both the girl and her grandmother (both miraculously unchewed, despite said teeth). Or if you read the version I grew up with — “The Blue Fairy Book,” by Charles Perrault — Little Red gets devoured and that’s the end of the story. And her.

What does it mean when parents find this too cruel a fate to expose their kids to? After all, this same study found that about a fourth of all parents abhor the Gingerbread Man for the same reason (being eaten alive) even though the Gingerbread Man is, you guessed it, gingerbread!

Three in 10 hate on Hansel and Gretel because the kids are left alone in the forest. (Without cellphones!) And 25 percent feel the Ugly Duckling encourages body shaming.

Which of course it does — if you are a duck.

What is galling is not that parents ad lib. What’s galling is that they think fairy tales are not supposed to be disturbing.

Obviously, a tale where a child gets devoured was never meant to be sweet. It was meant to scare the crackers out of any kid who doesn’t do what mama says. (Little Red Riding Hood begins with her mom instructing her to go straight to grandma’s. Instead she not only talks to the wolf, she picks flowers and generally dawdles her way to disaster.)

Aside from basic “Listen to your parents” instruction, telling our kids scary stories is the bedtime version of letting them go outside — another classic childhood activity being curtailed for “safety’s sake.” Fairy tales, like life, are sometimes surprising, and sometimes a little frightening, but the more that kids encounter them, the braver they become.

Or think of climbing a tree. Kids go up a little higher each time, as they acclimate to the challenge. Reading and re-reading fairy tales, they acclimate to fear. Then they triumph over it.

Once upon a time, humans understood that. The original version of Little Red Riding Hood can be traced to about 1000 A.D. What does that say about us that only this latest generation of kids can’t handle it? Or rather, we think our kids can’t handle it?

Should every fairy tale start out with a boy and a girl going into the woods, accompanied by a background-checked nanny, wisely avoiding the candy house (Cavities! Sugar rush!), gathering some leaves for a class project, and hurrying home so they have time for homework and lacrosse before a dinner of braised quinoa? How didactic do we have to be?

I recently read about a children’s bible that tells kids, “And then Jesus went away.”

To where? Paris? Acapulco? A cruise? Did he enjoy the trip?

If parents find an age-old story so traumatizing that they don’t want their kids to read it — fine. Tuck it away for a later date. But treating this generation as more fragile than any other is insulting and untrue. Kids are as fragile as we make them.

If generations have heard a story and turned around and told it to their own kids, it’s probably a tale that should live happily ever after.

Lenore Skenazy president of Let Grow, and founder of Free-Range Kids.

Updated 5:44 pm, July 9, 2018
Today’s news:
Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook

Don’t miss our updates:

Reasonable discourse

Andrew Porter from Brooklyn Heights says:
Fredric Wertham, in his book SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT, wrote that reading comic books led to juvenile delinquency, crime, and lots worth things. Alas, Congress believed him, and banned lots of comic books.

Later it turned out that Wertham made up statistics and, yes, lied to Congress. But by then it was too late.

Let kids read those comics, and listen to the original fairy tales, not the censored ones.

This ties in to the current trend to replace all those "safe" playgrounds with ones that challenge kids.
May 20, 2018, 10:55 am
Gina Rogers from Brooklyn says:
My child was born without an immune system and has to be in a plastic bubble out of MEDICAL NECCESITY ! And you just go on stereotyping people like him, or using him for a joke because parents don’t want to tell a three year old that Jesus had nails hammered through his hands to be attached to a wooden cross, so he could be left in the desert to die from expisure?!?
May 20, 2018, 10:59 am
Old time Brooklyn from Slope says:
Gina - hilarious - you should have a laugh track
May 20, 2018, 12:26 pm
SCR from Realityville says:
Even,when I was a child of eight,in 1966,there were already versions of"Little Red Riding Hood";
in which neither Grandma,nor(Riding Hood);were eaten alive- by the"Big Bad Wolf"!! By the age of ten,I learned from my mother and the movies,that today's pet dogs,are direct decendants;of the wolf. And by early 1971,my then 6th.grade teacher,transformed wolves from terrible villians,to an"endangeed species" As for,"Hanzel&Gretel",I was evermore informed,of how the the Nazis,NOT just fictional evil"Old Ladies"methodically burned little child,as well as adults,to death"!! Thus,by about the age of 14,I found such evil"fairytales";to be rather outdated and obsolete.
May 21, 2018, 8:38 pm

Comments closed.

First name
Last name
Your neighborhood
Email address
Daytime phone

Your letter must be signed and include all of the information requested above. (Only your name and neighborhood are published with the letter.) Letters should be as brief as possible; while they may discuss any topic of interest to our readers, priority will be given to letters that relate to stories covered by The Brooklyn Paper.

Letters will be edited at the sole discretion of the editor, may be published in whole or part in any media, and upon publication become the property of The Brooklyn Paper. The earlier in the week you send your letter, the better.

Keep it local!

Stay in touch with your community. Subscribe to our free newsletter: