Albert Einstein famously said, “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”
Einstein isn’t alone in his view. The brood of advocates for fairy tales for children includes Charles Dickens and Rudolph Steiner, among others. However, modern day parents do not subscribe to this theory. A recent study revealed that parents these days prefer not to read fairy tales to their children up to a certain age as they consider them too scary or find them condoning qualities they wouldn’t want their children to grow up with.
While it is true that some of the stories by the Brothers Grimm are indeed very grim, fairy tales have been an integral part of growing up for many generations of children. So, even though parents today don’t read Goldilocks to their children because they think it would teach them to believe it is okay to steal, parents of the older generation have a completely different take on the tale.
Personally, I don’t understand why each new generation complicates the simple joys of life so much. Our parents and their parents raised children on a healthy dose of fairy tales, folklore etc and most of us have not done too badly for ourselves, as far as emotional stability and morality are concerned. Or, put it this way, I don’t think anybody who turned out differently can blame the wolf in Red Riding Hood for teaching them violence or Hansel and Gretel’s father for the sense of abandonment they felt.
If anything, fairy tales have their own way of imparting some invaluable life lessons. These stories tell us we are not immune to hardships, even if we lead blessed lives at the moment (like the princesses who fall prey to the evil witches). Then again, they tell us that good always triumphs over evil. So, no matter how big the dragon is or how powerful the wizard/witch is, you will find a way to overcome difficulties if you stick to the path of truth.
By teaching us this and more, fairy tales make us emotionally resilient. In their own fantastical ways, fairy tales introduce us to the ways the world functions from an early age. Also, they work as a bridge across cultures. For the more literally inclined, fairy tales are our first lessons in the art of storytelling. They teach us to create atmosphere and setting, to sketch out characters well, to pace the stories appropriately etc.
But most importantly, fairy tales develop imagination like nothing else can.
To address the concerns of the modern parents, yes, some of these tales can be a little scary but to deny your little ones the sheer joy of getting lost in the magical world of fairy tales is harsh, extreme and unnecessary. Exercise caution and reserve the grittier tales for later but do not judge the content for them – let them be their own judges.