Monday, January 25, 2016

The Princess and the Knife

      Once upon a time there was a sweet, little girl named Gracie.  She was almost three years old and she loved dress-ups, all things pink, and Disney movies about princesses.

      One day, when Gracie was playing with her toys and her baby brother, she got frustrated and told her mother that she was “very angry and needed to get a knife to cut someone.”  Mother was alarmed and she talked to Gracie but what she said didn’t make any sense to Mom.  Knives were put further out of reach.

     The next day when Gracie got up, she talked about being angry and needing to cut someone.  Mother was getting more alarmed.  She called Grandma and she called her friends.  Did anyone know where Gracie was getting such ideas?  Why would a cheerful, tiny little girl talk about knives and cutting?  No one could offer a suggestion.

      Mommy and Daddy and Gracie watched a movie one night together.  There was the witch, doing battle with the hero who came to save Rapunzel, and what did the witch grab?  A KNIFE!  The witch stabbed the hero and he was going to die, but the handsome hero was saved because Rapunzel had magic powers to heal him.

       Mommy and Daddy talked.  Let’s see, how many princess movies had a knife or dueling or stabbing?  Ahhh, lots of them.  Gracie went on Disney detox and has lived happily the six months after.

      This is cautionary tale, and absolutely true. Why would a tiny child living in a calm and happy home talk about stabbing people?  Because that’s what they did in the movies.   It wasn’t CSI or shoot’em-up  blood and gore violence, but Gracie picked up on a pattern nonetheless. 

     Adults often think kids don’t really notice or understand everything they are seeing.  They notice.  Children don’t always understand what they see, which sometimes is worse.  Grace is very observant, and she could verbalize what was going through her head so her parents at least had a better chance to figure it out.   But all children soak in so much, even if they don’t have the words to talk about it. 
      I think Disney makes some wonderful movies, and if the movies had no conflict or struggle to overcome, there wouldn’t be much of a story to them.  “It’s Another Happy Day in the Kingdom,” does not make an interesting princess movie – and it is not a realistic expectation for life, either.  There can actually be some great life lessons in seeing heroes and heroines overcome challenges.  Life in reality can be harsh and sometimes people do bad things, get hurt or even die.  It’s all right for children to know that.  If I had to watch only Dora movies with my grandchildren forever I would burn the DVD player now.

       This is the important take away from the story of Grace and the Knives: what our children watch, we need to watch, and we adults need to watch mindfully.  We need to notice what our children are seeing and  we need to talk to them about it.  We need to make sure our children understand how to resolve conflict (without knives) and to have courage even when other people make bad choices, and to remember that people can be hurt for real and no magic will make it better.  Parents need to sometimes just put away the movies.

      It’s important to discuss what is real, what is pretend, and what is okay and not okay to do. We need to listen to our children and try to understand the world as they see, not as we see it, and then teach they so they cannot misunderstand.

        And if you maybe are tempted to let the little ones watch something with the teenagers that is too much for a child, remember Grace and the knife.  That should be enough to make you want to get out Candyland instead.

© Diane Mangum 2012