Richard Dawkins: 'fairy tales are bad for children'

Jun 5, 2014

Stories about the supernatural world could hold back young children, says Richard Dawkins


Reading fairy tale stories to children may harm them by enforcing a false belief in the supernatural, according to evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins.

Speaking at the Cheltenham Science Festival, Dawkins, a professor of the public understanding of science at Oxford University, warned of the dangers of teaching children "statistically improbable" facts from fairy tales by encouraging a belief in Santa Claus, wizards and princesses.

He suggested children should be taught scientific facts rather than fictional fantasy at a young age. "I think it's rather pernicious to inculcate into a child a view of the world which includes supernaturalism," he reportedly said. "We get enough of that anyway."

Dawkins questioned whether the delight of fairy stories might hold children back, according to the Daily Telegraph.

"Is it a good thing to go along with the fantasies of childhood, magical as they are?" he said. "Or should we be fostering a spirit of scepticism?" 

Dawkins told the audience he had stopped believing in Father Christmas when he was just 21 months old after realising a man called Sam had donned a costume.

Dawkins also described his 'flirtation' with religion until the age of eight. "I think I did believe it up to the age of eight or nine, when preachers said if you really, really pray for something it can happen," he said. "Even moving mountains – I believed it could really happen."

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As chair of the Society for Storytelling I find it disturbing when ideas such as this are percolated. I see from Twitter that Dawkins is disavowing the report, but even in his responses he seems to miss the large body of research on the importance of telling children traditional tales. Study after study has shown that they help deal with the psychological changes of growing up, promote imagination and critical thinking skills, and even lead to a reduced susceptibility for PTSD in later life.

Absolutely! Fairy tales are the starting point for children, helping them fall in love with reading at an early age. Listening to stories promotes a positive attitude to reading and encourages children to read themselves when they are older.

I cannot think of many things more damaging for future generations than fostering a spirit of scepticism..Plus I can't believe that a man like Dawkin (with whom I essentially agree on his views on religion) is missing the point of analogy in fairy tales