I recently learned of a device which promises to cure children's nighttime fears of monsters. Called "monster security system," it is a small plastic box with two battery powered diodes. The first lights up immediately; the second after about 15 seconds. The makers suggest explaining to children whose fear of monsters prevents them from falling asleep that it generates a force field which will protect the house (and everyone within it) from all sorts of things that go bump in the night.
I showed it to a number of colleagues, all but one of whom thought it was great. The one who did not thought it was incorrect to feed into the child's concerns about monsters by pretending that they exist, even if the ultimate goal is to overcome these same fears.
I've been thinking about that a lot over the last few days. While I firmly believe parents should not lie to their children, there are some instances in which many of us bend the truth. Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, tall tales, fables and stories are all employed by parents either to reward or educate their children. And while I don't think I'd tell my son, for instance, that this device generates a force field, I don't think I'd have a problem showing it to him and telling him that this is what it says it does. A subtle distinction, perhaps, but one that works for me. Sort of like what I'd say if he asked me if he should wish upon a shooting star. "It can't hurt," I'd tell him, "and some people believe that wishes can come true."
I'm curious, though, what others think.
Dennis Rosen, M.D.
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