My first-grader recently stumbled on a new Disney cartoon about a family of monsters who seem ironically pleasant.
The main character, Summer, was singing:
Your smiles are lovely and very, very sweet.
But hearing you laugh is the most special treat.
I couldn’t help myself.
“Aren’t monsters supposed to be scary?” I asked my daughter.
“No, not all of them,” was her reply.
“Then why are they monsters?” I ranted. “Why can’t the characters be teddy bears or unicorns or fluffy bunnies instead of cherubic Frankensteins?”
That’s when I noticed my 6-year-old has been taking eye-rolling lessons from her teenage sisters.
My nonsensical protest came on the heels of a very hard parting of 10 dollars for a birthday present for her friend’s “Monster High” themed party. For those of you as unfamiliar as I was, just imagine lavender-skinned Bratz dolls with more Franken-bolts coming out of their heads.
I get it: Monsters were de-growled in favor of laughter in Disney’s “Monsters, Inc.” a few years ago, but the creative trend has been snowballing out of control ever since.
I still cling to the more traditional view of fierce monsters who growl, such as those in Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are.” Although deep down they are tender-hearted beasts, they still roar their terrible roars, but the valuable lesson comes when the little boy has more power by using the word, “No.”
If our commercialized society now proposes that monsters are stylish, cute and even cuddly, then we’re left to teach our kids to conquer fears of real, not imaginary, threats.
I, for one, have been amazed watching my toddlers successfully overcome fears of darkness, monsters in the closet and hot lava on the carpet beside their bed with such tools as mother’s hugs and prayers. If no imaginary fears can be conquered, then all that is left is to watch them fear and tremble over real threats. I can’t imagine the conversations:
“Mama, I said my prayers and I wasn’t kidnapped today!”
“Yeah!” mother replies with a hug and a kiss. “You are so brave.”
It just doesn’t work for me.
Fear at any age is so debilitating and can be magnified exponentially by anxiety. Having a daughter with such a medical diagnosis, I have spent the last decade or more helping her and my other children discover coping skills for fear, anxiety and overwhelming worry. I can attest that small successes build into more brave hearts and peaceable minds, but it takes vigilant practice and micro-managed benchmarks.
It would help us as mothers of those growing up in a sometimes scary world, if we had a few beastly enemies to conquer while they’re young.
So I beg, all those with power to create commercialized characters: Let the monsters roar. Allow our children to discover personal avenues to be the strong ones.
Then, when they encounter true beasts — like bullies at school or adults who may do them harm — they will have practiced saying a prayer, standing strong, and saying “No! You will not steal my peace.”