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Monday, March 31, 2014

Raising Kids Without Fiction Q & A

Recently I was emailed the following questions and thought I should post my answers to them on the blog!

Q: I think it's interesting that you are not exposing your son to fantasy and I am curious when you anticipate his ability to understand fantasy without it confusing his perception of reality will be?

A: A paper that I read recently on fantasy and the "folkloric realization" in children has led me to believe that he may be pretty clear by the time he is 4 (as compared to average American children who become clear around 9). But the study only covered children's understandings of anthropomorphic animals, not of things like magic. So when he is 4, I will start sharing stories about anthropomorphic animals with him and see how that goes, but I plan to hold off on the stories with magic until later. 

Q: And do you think that it would be beneficial to be honest and clearer (knowing the limits of this) with young children when they encounter fantasy as an alternative to not exposing them to it?

A: I have a friend who raised his kids that way, explaining to them all the time real and not real. He thinks it helped and at the time was happy with his solution to the problem, but he says if he had it to over again he would have done what I am doing because even if the child understands there is "something" about the princess in the movie that "isn't real", that does not change what the child will now be interested in and passionate about. The child will who gets clear explanations, assuming he does fully understand them and it doesn't dammage his self-esteem, will still spend the first 8 or so years of his/her life planning and practicing being either superman or a princess, planning and practicing for a life that will never happen and for living in a world that does not exist.

I notice that kids at my camp who are, for lack of a better word, "fictionalized" tend to think about the world in terms of "good guys" and "bad guys". This makes them act differently than the non-fictionalized kids. For example, if Anders is feeling mad, he says, "Feel mad!" whereas if a fictionalized kid is feeling angry they say, "I'm Lex Luther!" (or some other bad guy). My son understands that he feels mad. The other kid understands that if you feel a certain way, you are a bad guy. It's similar when the fictionalized kids are angry at another child. Anders will say, "Mad! I take toy!!!" and perhaps he will try to grab the toy back. The fictionalized kid will say, "Bad! Bad! I kill you!" and again, perhaps try to take the toy back.

I don't think it's helpful for children to be conceptualizing people they feel angry at as "bad", rather than being aware of what that person did and what they are feeling. Many adults think that way for their entire lives and it does not serve them!

Now, that begets the question: can you spend a lot of time explaining to your child reality and fantasy and also explaining to him that the language used in fictional stories about good and evil is not helpful... yes, you can. But it will still change his psychology, sense of life and the universe and how he thinks about life. Nathaniel Branden writes about how Ayn Rand, in her philosophy, writes about having great respect for emotions but the characters in her books only ever model repression of emotions. Her readers, almost 100% of the time, will model themselves after her characters rather than her philosophy.

A new realization on my part that I had thanks to all the reading I have been doing about fiction and fantasy is that when I get in touch with my subconscious, my inner 4-year-old, I am terribly sad that this is life. I have such a strong desire to be in long gowns and live in a castle and go to balls.... When I get in touch with my inner 16-year-old, I am heart broken that magic isn't real, that I wasn't chosen by the fairies or whoever to suddenly be told I had magic and was really a princess or a witch who got to go live in a reality far more cool than this one. It doesn't feel like a big deal from where I am sitting now, but if I really let myself focus and feel it--it is a big deal. I don't wish that on my kids. I want them to envision and practice and be excited and plan for life as it is. It is one thing to fantasize about alternate realities when you are older and really enjoy it. It is another thing to really, deeply believe in them and then find out they are not real (at least that is what I have concluded at this point).

Other notes: 
Anders, and this should be needless to say, does not attempt to talk to trees and has never named one of his toys. The fictionalized kids do both of these things.

When we wrap Anders up in a towel we continue to be clear:
Mama: Can I pretend you are a burrito?"
Anders, shrieking: Yes!!!
Mama: Can I pretend to eat you?!!!
Anders, giggling: Yes!!!!
[And then I pretend to eat him.]

For this reason, Anders is already fairly clear on the difference between pretending to do and be things and really doing and being things. This will be very helpful later when he is exposed to fiction. It is also helpful for him to conceptualize now. He can tell me he wants to "pretend make eggs" and then I know that he does not need me to turn on the stove.

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