Fairy tales continue to cast their spell

Although the times, and children, have changed, fairy tales continue to excite youngsters’ imaginations and to hold the fort of storytelling as the army of images charges forward. The role of fairy tales in children’s everyday lives was the subject of a recent research project run by the doctors at the Pediatric Clinic on the island of Kos with the collaboration of private pediatric doctors and teachers. The group studied children living on the island from ages 3 to 5. They drew up 500 anonymous questionnaires (438 were completed) on children’s preferences and habits where fairy tales are concerned. The results of the survey showed that four in 10 children (37.8 percent) would be told a fairy tale every day, while 95 percent would listen to a fairy tale at least three times a week. The role of narrator is mostly undertaken by parents (84.3 percent), followed by teachers (54.8 percent) and video or DVD narratives (39.7 percent). Grandparents came in at 31.3 percent, older siblings at 10.6 percent and other relatives and friends at 3.2 percent. The classics outweigh modern-day fairy tales by an impressive 80.6 percent, both in parents’ and children’s preference, with «Little Red Riding Hood» and «Snow White» enjoying the top spots on the popularity list. Parents choose books firstly on the basis of the subject and story (65.9 percent), secondly according to the child’s own preferences (46.5 percent) and lastly by the illustrations (24 percent). The ritual of telling fairy tales right before bedtime appears to be on the wane, the study showed, as just 17.4 percent of parents use fairy tales to lull their children to sleep. According to Pelagia Tsitsani, head of the Kos clinic, «children today need fairy tales probably more than past generations did. Children’s environments today are defined by rationalizations. They have a schedule that is almost military in severity and fairy tales can help them to form some defenses against it.» It is worth noting that the average age of the parents of the children in the study’s age group was 33 for mothers and 37 for fathers and that 47.9 percent of the parents are high school graduates and 38.7 percent are university graduates. Nine in 10 children do not spend mornings with their parents, while 6.5 percent are also deprived of their presence in the afternoon. This means that just a small percentage of children (2.3 percent) spend all day with one or both parents. Most children spend their mornings at day-care centers and nursery schools, while grandparents care for 28 percent. However, eight in 10 parents said that they were told fairy tales when they were children and 92.2 percent believe that fairy tales are «quite important» or «extremely important» as an educational tool. Another 94 percent believe children benefit psychologically from fairy tales. The majority of parents (60 percent) admit to putting aside less time than they’d like for story reading, indicating another major problem of contemporary life: a shortage of free time. Children show active participation in the story reading process, according to the Kos clinic study, as most will ask the reader to explain or clarify certain parts, or will correct the reader when he or she strays from the text. The study showed that 66.8 percent of 4-year-olds are completely entranced by fairy tales and will pay close attention when being read to. Furthermore, about nine in 10 children (87.6 percent) will not settle for being passive participants in the storytelling process. Also, 48.8 percent are relieved and happy when the bad guy is punished in the end, while 30.4 percent feel pity for the baddie. Tsitsani notes that children like seeing very clear roles and having a sense of certainty that each character will get what he or she deserves. She notes that 15 percent of children become frightened when the baddie is punished too harshly. Two in three parents use fairy tales to illustrate a point or to convince their child of something, while 49.8 percent of parents turn to fairy tales as a way of comforting a distressed child.