When does responsibility trump fun?

Some frank discussion of Santa follows. You’ve been warned.

I’m going to do kind of a short post today because I hope to generate some discussion. Ooooh, aaaah. In my various Googlings today, I came across this children’s book about Maritime monster legends, aptly named Maritime Monsters: A Field Guide (by Steve Vernon).

Here’s the description from Amazon:

This children’s picture book is a field guide to Maritime monsters, taken from local folklore and legends. The monsters described include Prince Edward Island’s Old Hook-Snout, New Brunswick’s Acadian Werewolf, Nova Scotia’s Parker Road Phantom and Newfoundland’s Not-So-Cuddly Kraken! Each entry includes a short story featuring the monster and a field guide entry: location, diet, size, frequency, description, and special monster-hunting advice. An indispensable resource for the young Maritime monster hunter!

After seeing that I had several reactions at once:

  • Concern.
  • “Lighten up, you watch Supernatural, what’s the difference?”
  • “But I’m an adult indulging in fantasy, this is a children’s book treating monsters as if they are real.”
  • “But this might be a good opening for skepticism and they like fantasy too.”
  • “But it might undermine critical thinking by pretending it’s real, why can’t it be a story book or a history book, why a field guide?”
  • What do I do?! WHAT DO I DOOOO?!!!

Ahem…

So should I take the title tongue-in-cheek? Is half of me overreacting? When is the line crossed between creating fun for children and accidentally making them gullible? Not necessarily with this book — I honestly don’t mean to pick on this guy, this is just an example — but with any form of children’s entertainment.

What about Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, etc? Do we think these are a healthy and harmless form of fun because they are, or maybe we were raised with them and they’re familiar so we can rationalize them? What are some ways to have fun and pretend/fantasize without misrepresenting things as real?

I plan to have kids somewhere in the near future and I’m still wrestling with these questions. I don’t want my kids to have a boring life of no fun, but I don’t want to purposely lie to them either. In my opinion, there’s a difference between fun pretend and going out of your way to convince someone of something that isn’t true. But then I worry I’m “ruining” something (mostly because of the people telling me I am and not because I necessarily agree), even though I think there are ways to participate in things like Santa et al without lying or treating them as objectively real.

So ponder those questions and tell us what you think in the comments. How do you (or plan to) help your kids develop critical thinking skills while maintaining a kid’s sense of fantasy and play? Any perspective welcome (teacher, parent, babysitter, whatever!).

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  • Kim Hebert

    Kim Hébert is an occupational therapist. She is interested in the promotion of science and reason, particularly regarding therapeutic health interventions. She blogs occasionally about occupational therapy and other health topics at Science-Based Therapy. Her hobbies are art and astronomy. **All views expressed by Kim are her personal views alone, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of current or former employers, associations, or other affiliations. All information is provided for discussion purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for consultation with a licensed and accredited health professional.