Children's Media: What Is It Saying?
Rebecca Rose Taylor
The Montreal Review, September 2010
It is natural for children to love having bedtime stories read to them but have you ever really thought about what it is that you are actually reading them. There are many stories and famous fairy tales out there, which undermine values, which you may be trying to teach a child. The same applies for other types of children's media, like music and movies.
For example, there is "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer." This is a story of hypocritical reindeer. Most of the reindeers refuse to or are forbidden from playing with Rudolph because he is different. He has a red nose. However, when Christmas Eve comes and it is storming out, Rudolph becomes a hero because he has a gift, his red nose can lead Santa Claus' sleigh through the fog so that all the children receive their visit from Jolly Old Saint Nick, and not be disappointed come Christmas morning. After Rudolph saves Christmas, he is accepted, and allowed to "play in any reindeer games." (
Words from song "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" by Johnny Marks, 1949.) What lesson is being taught here, that being a hypocrite is okay? It needs to be duly noted that in the original "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" book by Robert L. May, Rudolph was much better treated, but why is it that this original story is not what children know?
In the popular tale, "Goldilocks and the Three Bears," Goldilocks breaks into the Bears' home while they are out taking a walk. She steals food, breaks furniture and sleeps in Baby Bear's Bed. In today's society, Goldilocks would be considered a juvenile delinquent. She would be accused of breaking and entering, stealing and destruction of property. Does Goldilocks get punished in this story? No, she doesn't, she goes out the window and runs away. What is this teaching children, that it is okay to do something wrong as long as you as you run and hide from it?
In "Rumpelstiltskin," a woman is locked away and asked to do the impossible (spin straw into gold) because her father lied about her abilities. She is threatened with death if she cannot accomplish this. A dwarf helped her by spinning the straw to gold, and then blackmailed her for her first-born child unless she can guess his name. It is not until someone hears Rumpelstiltskin singing, and tells the woman about what the dwarf's name is that she is able to keep her child. If you are reading this to children, what are you teaching them? Yes, the woman gets to keep her child but she never should have been in the situation that she was. The lesson here would be?
When I was a child, my mother would change the ending to many stories and someday I'll probably be doing the same thing when I have children because the lessons these stories are teaching are not what I want to portray. I could refuse to share the media that I disagree with to my children but then they would go to school and learn about fictitious characters like Rudolph. Ignoring the issues, will not solve anything, new endings should be written to these stories, for example, maybe the police would be called on Goldilocks, to figure out the best solution to the problems. If nothing else, Goldilocks needs to be told that she did wrong and that it is inappropriate behaviour. The same applies to the other examples given. There needs to be an add-on or discussion questions at the end, teaching about the issues in these stories. I believe in fiction but I also believe that there needs to be a moral to a story so that children do not get the wrong ideas.
These are only a few examples of the media which children are subjected to. The next time, you pick up a movie, CD or book, think about the actual content of it, consider what it is really saying. And if you decide to still give it to your children, as entertainment, please talk to them about it afterwards. You can discuss what the characters did wrong, and how they could have fixed it. The choice is yours.