Fairy Tales Too Bleak, But That’s What Kids Need

Fairy Tales Too Bleak, But That’s What Kids NeedFairy Tales Too Bleak, But That’s What Kids Need

It’s not easy being the mom or dad of a fairy-tale character. As a recent study in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) concluded, risk of parental death was five times higher in children’s animated films compared with dramatic films for adults.

In fact, the BMJ found that on-screen deaths were generally more likely to occur in children’s movies than in grown-up ones.

Using regression analysis, the article’s British and Canadian researchers note:

Common causes of death in children’s animated films included animal attacks and falls (intentional or not), while in comparison films common causes of death were gunshots, motor-vehicle crashes and illnesses.

Should we stop letting kids watch this murder and mayhem? The authors of the BMJ study warn that “Exposure to on-screen murder could have deleterious and long lasting effects on children, especially young children. Recent evidence suggests that media exposure to real life traumas (such as terrorist attacks) can trigger symptoms of post-traumatic stress among children. In one experimental study, children exposed to fictional on-screen depictions of death reported increased worry about the occurrence of similar events and increased avoidance of situations relevant to those events.”

The truth is that most American kids today lead such sheltered lives that movies (and books) are the only times they are exposed to tragedy. It is pretty unusual to have a parent, let alone a sibling, die before children reach adolescence. Life spans are longer and less violent, and child mortality is much lower than it has ever been, says an article in the New York Post.

Yet children’s programming has gotten softer and softer. It’s hard to learn anything from “Dora the Explorer” besides “it’s important to share” and don’t take things that don’t belong to you. (“Swiper! No Swiping!”) Strong emotions are immediately smoothed over.

 Confronting Emotions

Part of what makes the Pixar films so great, and heirs to the fairy tales that came before them, is that they understand that kids grow by grappling with emotion. ‘Toy Story,’ ‘Up’ and ‘Wall-E’ all have moments of profound sadness that make them resonate with children more than bland encouragements. The studio’s new film this year, ‘Inside Out,’ promises to confront these emotions head on, by personifying them in a little girl’s head.

Just because we live in a safer, healthier world doesn’t mean children don’t benefit from learning how to deal with tragedy. Dealing with pain, loss and fear are lessons like any other — as important as sharing and tolerance.

Where else are they going to see depictions of honor in the face of tragedy, of independence, of true compassion, of bravery? When they do finally confront danger or illness or death, these movies will at least give them a sense of what’s expected of them.