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Thursday, December 26, 2013

But My Children Understand That Dogs Don't Really Talk

What if you talk about it with your kids and you swear that they understand the difference between fantasy and reality?

Maybe they do! Kids mature at different rates. That being said, most kids won't fail the "Now, Mary, tell me the difference between real trains and pretend trains" question the day they were exposed to the pretend trains, they will fail the question a week later, sometimes a month later.

It's the way our brains work. It has to do with information storage. (And this is about all fiction, not just fantasy fiction). I remember reading about an experiment done on adults in which a "psychologist" suggests a memory to the subject (that never happened, in this particular experiment it was "remember that time your mom lost you at the mall when you were little? She found you by the fountain.") A year later, when the subjects were asked if their moms had ever lost them as kids, almost all of them told the story they had been fed about being lost at a mall and found at a fountain.

Most people don't need a science experiment to tell them that their memories can be faulty. Most of us have had the experience of swearing something happened to us only to realize a while later that the memory actually came from a movie or book.

But back to children and fantasy.

Children becoming confused about reality is the biggest reason to question the idea of exposing a child to fantasy, but there are other reasons too.

One reason is time. A friend of mine, Andrew, pointed this out to me. He said he loved seeing what my two-year-old chooses to do with his time, like mastering how to make scrambled eggs, practicing jumping or trying to read. Every minute of his day is spent acquiring those skills he has judged as important for life. This is very different from the Standard American Two-Year-Old who thinks it is extremely important to learn the names of all the super heroes and then practices how they fight bad guys. The way I state this same idea in my Main Idea 2 essay is: the reason why children in the past were so much more mature/competent than ours is the same reason why hunter-gatherer children today are capable of so much more than ours--math. Time. They have simply spent more time learning real life skills than our children have. Eight years spent practicing being a princess or a superhero is a lot of time spent not acquiring other skills.

But perhaps real life skills aren't that important to you! Perhaps you find it adorable when Jonny pretends to be Batman and you would't trade that for the world. As a parent, you get to decide what makes parenting the most fun for you. (This is assuming the child does understand the difference between reality and fantasy though.)

Another reason, the main reason I personally don't expose my son to fantasy, is our relationship. I find my son very easy to relate to. I love hanging out with him! I love what he has to say about things. When we talk, I feel very connected to him. When I work with fictionalized kids who announce to me that their name is "Ariel" or tell me their friend Fluffy the Elf will be hanging out with them today... I don't know what to say. I lose connection with them. I can smile and call someone Ariel and I can offer someone's elf tea too, but... I am not connecting with a person. I am playing with / entertaining an adorable (stupid) pet.

For more information on this subject, see my Main Idea 2 essay. Also, John Holt writes about this well in his book Escape from Childhood. Maria Montessori writes about how children prefer to be taken seriously as well in her book The Child in the Family. Alison Gopnik writes about how children remember things (and the experiment on adults I mentioned above) in her books The Scientist in the Crib and The Philosophical Baby. 

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