Last week I had the privilege of interviewing Evangeline Lilly for Parents. She's written a new children's book series called The Squickerwonkers. (I just LOVE that name. Silly. Sinister. Boom.) Her book is creepy-looking—think a slightly gentler Tim Burton.
In preparation for the interview, I read up on Lilly's firm belief that there is value in sharing the scary and ugly parts of life with little readers. She feels we shouldn't shield children from stories and images that might be spooky. In fact, she thinks this sheltering has led to a huge problem in our society's younger generations:
I look around and I see a lot of young people who are very entitled and who are very confused when life isn't perfect—when life throws difficult things at them. They don't know how to deal with them. They sort of feel like "Excuse me this isn't supposed to be happening to me." Especially if they've done nothing wrong. There's this idea that somehow if I've lived a good life then only good things will happen to me, and I think that often comes from some of the messaging we receive as children from our stories. But that's really not life.
When she puts it like that, I have to agree. Growing up, it really was hard for me to understand why bad things happen to good people. Even today, I try my best to put good out into the world and I sort of expect good to come back to me. Yet when a roadblock pops up, my first thought is often "This isn't fair! I'm a good person! The universe should know that!" Life is not always fair or trouble-free.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying I'm going to stop being nice or that anyone should stop acting with kindness. We should behave well with the hope of good things coming back, but with the knowledge that sometimes life isn't always fair. Struggles come along.
Moreover, it's important to understand that people have faults and sometimes we can be the victims of others' flawed behavior. Lilly brought up the example that sometimes the kid who is minding his own business is the one picked on in the sandbox. How does a kid come to understand that? Children (and adults, for that matter) can begin to makes sense of these situations by accepting that people are not perfect. There are ugly traits in each of us. Sometimes being picked on is just a manifestation of someone else's flaw. It may have nothing to do with us. But it's our job to do our best to grapple with those characteristics and accept people (and ourselves) for who we are. We need to push for the ideal, while accepting the reality. Life isn't always fair, but just as is true with our stories, there are always lessons to learn and that is what makes life so exciting to live.
How Not to Raise a Bully
Photograph: The Squickerwonkers cover art