Never Talk Rot To Children

More than occasional readers of these pages will know that I loathe the very sight of a child. Nonetheless, I am a vigorous opponent of the common adult practice of talking bollocks to children. The young human being takes what it is told at face value, and has not yet grasped the notion of politely according significance or credibility to total balderdash.

I was moved to pick up Carl Jung‘s Memories, Dreams, Reflections this weekend — a copy from my library so old I don’t recognize my own handwriting in the name scribbled on the flyleaf.

Certain persons who had been around previously would suddenly no longer be there. Then I would hear that they had been buried, and that Lord Jesus had taken them unto himself.

My mother had taught me a prayer which I had to say every evening. I gladly did so because it gave me a sense of comfort in face of the vague uncertainties of the night.

Spread out thy wings, Lord Jesus mild,
And take to thee thy chick, thy child.
“If Satan would devour it,
No harm would overpower it.”
So let the angels sing!

[This is a fudgy translation but it will mostly do. – S]

Lord Jesus was comforting, a nice, benevolent gentleman like Herr Wegenstein up at the castle, rich, powerful, respected, and mindful of little children at night. Why he should be winged like a bird was a conundrum that did not worry me any further. Far more significant and thought provoking was the fact that little children were compared to chicks which Lord Jesus evidently “took” reluctantly, like bitter medicine. This was difficult to understand. But I understood at once that Satan liked chicks and had to be prevetned from eating them. So, although Lord Jesus did not like the taste, he ate them anyway, so that Satan would not get them. As far as that went, my argument was comforting. But now I was hearing that Lord Jesus “took” other people to himself as well, and that this “taking” was the same as putting them in a hole in the ground.

This sinister analogy had unfortunate consequences. I began to distrust Lord Jesus.

In light of interpretations like this, Mama Sled rises to suggest raw candor on the part of those who face the daunting task of discussing unpleasant truths with the young. Perplex them with a gentle metaphor and it is anybody’s guess what will come out at the other end.


11 thoughts on “Never Talk Rot To Children

  1. My mother was quite honest and straight-forward with us about death. Our father had died when my brothers and I were very young. She could have told us all sorts of nonsense, and I’m sure the temptation was great. But the closest she got to such stuff was to say that she “hoped” he was in heaven.

    • I think that there is a dangerous temptation in the credulity of children: adults can tell the young whatever they choose, and enjoy the dishonest satisfaction of seeing others convinced of what they wish to be true. So people who resist that temptation, especially in the face of immediate grief, deserve a gold star of sorts.

      I have always been disturbed by the observation that adults, whose job you would think it is to elucidate the world to the inexperienced, seem to take such pleasure in feeding the young illusions instead: Santa Claus, und so weiter, things that cannot even be excused by an extremity of emotion.

  2. I do agree, here, that deluding children is damaging for their development. However, a careful balance must be kept between no fantasy and all hard facts. We presently have a tendency to remove wonderment from children education and that is also wrong.

    • I would never take away fantasy and wonder (as you would probably extrapolate from my interest in Jung). What winds me up is the adult tendency to bullshit children, for lack of a nicer word — simply because they can get away with it, and it gets them off the hook in some emotionally difficult situation or another. I see this happen with adults who want to avoid talking about death, as in Jung’s story (I have some angry recollections of evasions on this subject, as if the death of one’s close friend could be kept out of the conversation the way you would avoid mentioning a loud fart). In the same vein, grown people can spin the truth like press secretaries when they haven’t got the guts to do the respectable thing but want their children’s respect anyway, and my observation is that it never fools the kids.

      Honest fantasy isn’t evasion or lying, it’s a way of telling the truth. If a child confronted with death comes up with his or her own story about the loss, that is one person’s truth, of a sort, and no one should try to take it away. And if there are fairies in the garden, I’m all for it. Santa and the like, however, have kind of lost their status as a child’s tale and become co-opted as commercial symbols and ways for parents to elicit cuteness from their kids for their own delectation. I say feh.

  3. We couldn’t do the Santa thing with our children and death was discussed from various view points as my mother was a Christian and we are not. They made up their own minds … well, they’re still only in their 40’s now so they’re probably still thinking about it.

  4. Yikes! I’m 40 and made up my mind about death when I was 12. I didn’t like what I decided, but it made the most sense. I’m old enough that Santa was fun, not commercial, when I believed in him – and watching my parents still try to keep up the charade was fun, too. But I didn’t have the type of parents who would say what I think is the worst rot ever: “Why?” “Because I told you so.” We always got a reason, and that taught us logic at an early age.

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