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Bettelheim argues that fairy-tales offer important lessons for children’s development. In the book, The Uses of Enchantment: the Meaning and Importance of Fairy-Tales, he argues that fairy-tales help to improve children’s cognitive development.
Although some people disagree with this fact, this paper supports his arguments by showing how fairy-tales guide children’s development. Furthermore, after considering my personal experiences, I find that his arguments are convincing because fairy-tales help to deconstruct life and teach children important skills about it.
How Fairy-Tales Guide Children’s Development
Bettelheim says fairy-tales are useful in inculcating important values among children. For example, he says they teach children how to handle problems because, unlike many modern stories, fairy-tales introduce them to evil as an omnipresent feature of life. This is why many fairy-tale writers talk about an “evil character” from the start to the end of their narratives. For example, “snow white” has an evil character – the cunning queen.
The same is true for fairy-tale stories that have powerful witches and mighty dragons, which symbolize evil. Similar to Hollywood movies and other modern films, these evil characters temporarily prevail over the hero in the story. For example, in “Cinderella,” the evil sisters temporarily prevailed over the protagonist, but, eventually, Cinderella “won” by marrying a handsome prince.
Since these villains do not receive any punishment at the end of fairy-tale stories, the narratives have a moral appeal to children, as opposed to a legal or criminal value (as would be the case in crime drama series and similar stories). Similar to real-life, fairy-tales show that punishment is only a temporary deterrent to crime and evil. This is why at the end of fairy-tale stories, the villain always loses.
Although virtue appears to supersede evil in most fairy-tale narratives, the stories aim to make children like the heroes. The writers package the personalities of these heroes into traits that improve the children’s personality development. For example, in many fairy-tale stories, the heroes are persistent, honest, and humble (desirable qualities for children to learn).
By associating the audience with these heroes, the children can share the successes and failures of the protagonists (children often associate with the heroes almost automatically because writers appeal to their innocence). Such skills are useful to children because they learn life skills for navigating through life.
Particularly, this is true because fairy-tales help children to connect with their lives, dreams, and anxieties, through the fictitious characters in fairy-tales. This way, they expand their imagination through fantasy. This process helps children to appreciate the value of positive thinking, which is vital in their adult years. Through such lessons, children learn how to handle problems.
Fairy-tales are effective tools for imparting such values to their audience because writers design the stories simplistically for children to understand. They do so by explaining complex life issues, briefly and pointedly. For example, writers rarely mix the personality traits of the villains and the heroes (a person is either good or bad). Therefore, there is little contradiction about how the audience should perceive a character.
For example, in “Cinderella,” the sisters are evil, while the protagonist is good. In “Beauty and the Beast,” the man is ugly, while the woman is beautiful (complete opposites). Using character polarity helps the children to understand people’s differences. In real-life, this analysis is false because people could have different characters that neither identifies them as good or bad people.
However, exposing the children to this reality may confuse them. Therefore, using character polarity (this way) helps children to understand the main issues about a narrative. In fact, if writers explained fairy-tale stories using complex narratives, they would confuse the children.
Therefore, their simple plots help to explain complex life issues. Lastly, fairy-tales also eliminate unnecessary information in their narratives to help children to learn important life lessons. Comprehensively, such stories help children to understand real-world issues in ways that (only) they can understand. This way, they could live a more satisfying, truthful, honest, and independent life.
Credibility of Bettelheim’s Arguments
I agree with Bettelheim’s arguments about fairy-tales because of their emotional and symbolic importance to children’s growth. Explaining complex life issues through simple stories help children to grapple with everyday issues by inculcating important values in their personalities. Indeed, life is too complicated for children to understand, if writers included its complexity in the stories.
Therefore, fairy-tales help to simplify important lessons that would be useful to a child’s life. Particularly, it helps them to understand important virtues, such as honesty and patience (among others). Furthermore, it helps them to prepare for “adult” problems. For example, the fairy-tale, “Hansel and Gretel” helps children to prepare for isolation.
This way, they would be better equipped to manage anxiety disorders and other problems that may affect them in their older years. “Snow White” also teaches the same lesson because it helps children to understand the natural order of transferring attachment. Similarly, it teaches them about loyalty and its benefits to human relations.
The author of “Snow White” teaches these values by highlighting the plight of a girl who ran away from her evil stepmother and lives with a group of strangers. Like “Snow White,” “Hansel and Gretel” also teaches about the dangers of greed. This way, children learn important virtues that would help them to become responsible citizens.
Fairy-tales have taught me important virtues about human behavior. For example, I have come to learn how to act appropriately when I am around other people (mostly when I am around people who do not like me). I learned this virtue from “Cinderella” because she learned the same behavior when people around her treated her unfairly.
Despite the harsh treatment, she was kind and thoughtful (virtues that later paid off when she met the fairy and the handsome prince). Fairy-tale stories have also taught me how to appreciate my self-worth. When I was a child, I looked like a boy.
I had short hair and never wore skirts. My peers never thought I looked pretty and neither did I. However, one day, my grandmother told me the story of “The Ugly Duckling.” The story taught me that despite what people thought of me, I was still valuable and beautiful. I have used this principle throughout my life.
People always strive to find meaning in life. Advanced cognitive skills adults help adults to easily comprehend its meaning, but children cannot. Therefore, children need to understand life through fairy-tales. Such narratives highlight human flaws and make children aware of them. Consequently, they develop important life skills, through their curiosity and imagination.
For example, this paper shows that character polarity stresses the difference between right and wrong and helps children to understand the differences between the two extremes. Based on these arguments, Bettelheim is convincing.
Therefore, fairy-tales are important tools for children’s cognitive development because they help to deconstruct life and highlight useful life lessons (in ways that they can understand). Overall, through the lessons I learned from fairy-tales (coupled with Bettelheim’s credibility), the stories are essential tools for children’s cognitive development.