Should children be shown the dark side of life as well?

While the West is increasingly humanitarianizing educational methods, social relations and law, these are not common trends in other civilizational circles. From early childhood on in Russia, China or in Muslim theocracies, people are taught that life is a ruthless struggle, and that the winner is the one who takes advantage of the enemy's weakness.

Modern interpretations of famous fairy tales tell us a lot about the times we live in. I thought about this while listening to a story of a friend of mine. He was dismayed by the performance a group of children, his daughter among them, put on for their parents in kindergarten at the end of the year.

It was a fairy tale about Little Red Riding Hood. The children did a great job in their roles. However, the content of the performance differed from what Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm had contributed to the canon of world literature. When the wolf reached the grandmother's hut, instead of eating the hostess he scared her to the point where she ran away and hid. The same happened with the principal character. Subsequently, the hunter, instead of killing the predator, told him off. Once the wolf expressed remorse and promised to be good, Little Red Riding Hood and her Grandma came out of hiding.

And so the story, which usually is quite fearsome and bloody, has been reworked into something reflecting the spirit of our times. The performance my friend saw turned out to be an "ecological" and "human rights" version of the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale.

The anthropomorphization of the wolf has come a long way. The animal was treated as a criminal who should not be punished but rehabilitated.

On the other hand, it is worth noting that according to various currently popular theories (of the left-wing provenance), when someone commits a crime, the fault should be sought not in him, but in the social conditions that shaped him.

Of course, I'm not advocating that children drill themselves with horror images. However, raising them to believe that violence in the world, including inter-species violence, is all about scaring, leads nowhere. Children should therefore learn fairy tales in their original versions -- those that also realistically reflect the dark side of life.

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However, it is also necessary to look at the phenomenon cited above in a broader context. And in this context, light is shed by the book entitled " The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure". Its authors are two Americans -- publicist Greg Lukianoff and social psychologist Jonathan Haidt.

They argue that we live in the era of the "culture of safety", a neologism that invokes a belief system in which safety is considered sacred. “This means,” they explain, “that in the face of everyday challenges, both practical and moral, we are less and less ready to give it [safety] up: Safety above all, no matter how remote or unlikely the threat is."

The consequences of this approach are deplorable. Raising children in a culture of "safety" is about instilling in them the belief that they should always be "emotionally safe" and at the same time protecting them from any threat. And very often it is not about the actual threat. It happens that a man, facing a difficult challenge, considers that the bar has been set too high (becoming a source of suffering like depression or some other ailment). Then, rather than confronting the inherent difficulty and dealing with it, he complains that he is being hurt.

  Authors Lukianoff and Haidt warn against getting sucked into a vicious circle at the onset of the upbringing process, noting that "children become more fragile and less resilient, so adults increase their protection, which makes them even more fragile."

Stressors are essential to life

They point out that evolutionary psychology offers a hint. Children are complex adaptive systems. Therefore, they should not be spared stressors (i.e. stress-inducing stimuli). Although, of course, the level of stress deemed appropriate should be properly calculated and measured in accordance with the child's specific age, keeping in mind that without stressors, children will not become strong and fit adults, capable of facing the challenges life throws at them.

In "The Coddling of the American Mind", the authors strike at a powerful myth that has taken root in the West by paraphrasing Friedrich Nietzsche's famous aphorism that "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger" into "What doesn't kill you makes you weaker." This view suggests that stressors should be eliminated from everyday life since they are the cause of various misfortunes -- especially diseases, both of the soul and the body.
The book translated by Filip Filipowski was published by Zysk i S-ka Wydawnictwo, Poznań 2023
The fact is that depriving a person of difficult experiences can be compared to weakening the immune system. For example, Lukianoff and Haidt cite the results of a study published in 2015, which was triggered when an increase in food allergy to peanuts was observed.

The researchers asked the parents of 640 infants (aged four to 11 months) to participate in the study. These children had skin rashes. Thus, a high risk of peanut allergy was identified. Half of the parents were requested to exclude this product from their children's diet, while the other half was advised to give their offspring special peanut butter crisps three times weekly. Once the children reached the age of five [years old], they were tested for allergies. The results turned out to be surprising. In the group of children "protected" from peanuts, 17 percent of five-year-olds were allergic. In contrast, in the group in which children were given this product, the result was only three percent.

Lukianoff and Haidt commented on these results as follows: “The immune system is a true gem of evolutionary engineering. Since there is no way to prepare for all pathogens and parasites -- especially in the case of such a mobile and omnivorous animal as man -- it has been 'designed' (through natural selection) in such a way as to learn from previous experience as quickly as possible."


Reverting to where this text began, when my colleague finished talking about the performance in which their daughter took part, the thought that sprang to my mind was, well we'll never win this way with Putin. While the West increasingly humanizes educational methods, social relations and law, there are not such trends evident in other civilizational circles. In Russia, the People's Republic of China and Muslim theocracies, from childhood on, people are taught that life is a ruthless struggle, and that the winner is the one who, among other things, exploits the enemies' weakness.

In the eyes of Russians, surely humanitarianism that goes hand-in-hand with the culture of safety represents a weakness on the part of the West? Of course it does. Concern for "emotional safety" is not about raising people to be brave. It is about nurturing narcissistic personalities within them. And for the Russian political elites, it's a perfect scenario when their state’s enemies turn out to be societies that are unwilling to take up a fight.

– Philip Memches

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and jornalists

– Translated by Agnieszka Rakoczy
Main photo: Performance of the fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm "Little Red Riding Hood" directed by Jerzy Jan Połoński at the Andersen Theater in Lublin. Photo: PAP/Wojciech Pacewicz
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