Once upon a time, there was a generation of parents who decided not to read their children fairy tales.
This fairy tale is too scary. This fairy tale is too offensive. Happy-all-the-time stories are just right!
British parents are skipping bedtime readings of “Snow White,” “Cinderella,” “Little Red Riding Hood” and other classic fairy tales, saying the stories are too frightening for little ones and aren’t always politically correct, a survey found.
The poll, by thebabywebsite.com, a UK-based operation, concluded that most parents would rather send their youngsters off to lullaby land with less danger-plagued pals like “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” “Winnie the Pooh” and “Thomas the Tank Engine.”
Among the findings in the survey of 3,000 parents:
•Some 65 percent of parents prefer to read their children generally happy tales than anything from the Brothers Grimm repertoire.
•A fifth of parents complain fairy tales aren't politically correct (The depiction of Snow White’s pals, the dwarfs, offended some, for example).
•Some 17 percent worry fairy tales will give their children nightmares.
•A third of parents banned Little Red Riding Hood because she walked alone in the forest, and because of her grandmother’s unfortunate wolf encounter.
•A fifth of parents don’t like “The Gingerbread Man” because it ends with the title character in a fox’s belly.
The website offered dueling Top 10 lists of favorite bedtime stories and fairy tales that no longer get read (strangely enough, “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” made both lists).
The survey has spurred a bit of a kerfuffle on the other side of the pond. Even the website operators gently chided British parents:
“TheBabyWebsite think that 'Fairy Tales' take children to a land of make-believe where they can use their imaginations and where generally the 'goodies' beat the 'baddies.’ Children love being read a variety of stories and it's a great shame that so many of today's PC mums and dads are rejecting fairy tales which have stood the test of time, entertaining children for hundreds or thousands of years.”
Even a bear of very little brain like Winnie the Pooh could figure out what to do here: Mix up the bedtime story selection, a little Thomas the Tank Engine here, a little Cinderella there. When you get to the parts of the fairy tale that suddenly seem scarier than you remembered, or elicit a frightened look, improvise a little and tone it down. Or just read the Disney version.
In moderation, the good-and-evil scenarios in fairy tales can help foster a lifelong love of reading, and ready little ones for the next level of stories families can share, like “Narnia,” “Alice in Wonderland” and “Harry Potter.”
Sadly, in some ways the “goodies” and “badies” in fairy tales also may be preparation for real life, reinforcing lessons like don’t talk to strangers. Only in the fairy tales, everything usually ends happily ever after.
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992.