Children need objectivity, not moral wisdom.
On Saturday, my six year old son presented me with a story he’d written and illustrated about a murdered koala. Slightly concerned about the subject matter, I asked him why he’d created some sort of fluff-ball massacre? His answer: he was inspired by the Crimelines anthology.
Oh dear. If you follow me regularly on social media, you are no doubt sick of hearing about Crimelines: the anthology that includes my first ever published story. It was launched a few weeks ago at Manchester’s John Rylands library, and after discussions with the Editor, I figured it was fine to take my son along to listen to the readings. Yes, the stories were pitched at an older age group, but the content was far from graphic. It would be fine.
But after the murdered koala, I did wonder if I’d made the right decision? I’d set my son to work on producing a comic. I thought it would be fun. He wrote about murder in the animal kingdom. What had I done to my baby?
However, after several hours of worrying that I had turned my son into a koala serial killer, I had a change of heart. I decided that this awareness of the fact that everything’s far from Rosie, was a good thing. (Sorry BBC, but you lie.)
My son lives in Manchester. The sound of sirens is a feature of every day life. Crime, both petty and serious, is a stark reality. He needs to know this. I don’t want to frighten the pants off him, but equally if he grows up naive to the realities of life in our major conurbations, he grows up vulnerable. I know my son better than anyone. He is a pragmatic little boy: give him the facts and his response will be a level headed and logical one. Explore that response with him, and you will see he is equipped to handle more than rainbows and fluffy bunnies.
Writers, have through the centuries, been aware of this durability in children. Think about the fairy tales that have transcended generations: poisoning the step daughter, roasting children in the oven and swallowing up grandma; our kids are raised on death and destruction. In making sense of this, they make sense of reality.
After all, the perpetrator of the terrible koala crime, was apprehended and appropriately punished. My son made no attempt to glorify the villain. Nor did he draw gratuitously violent images of the victim. He processed the stories he had heard and he concluded that, yes, crime is a reality, but it is also wrong. He made his own moral judgement: no need for censorship.
Other children, exposed to age appropriate stories, will make their own judgements too. Those who call for censorship, who wish to filter the information that young people are exposed to, down play their intelligence. They also downplay the complexity of childhood.
My job as a writer is to tell stories that reflect this complexity. To make a connection with my readers. They need objectivity, reflections of reality, not moral wisdoms. The murdered koala was a good thing.