Saturday, 16 August 2014

Where Do Kids Get These Ideas?

     I suppose it is now time for something not so serious. A few minutes ago I was laughing myself sick revisiting one of the more interesting and humorous websites, I Used to Believe. The brainchild of a webmaster called Mat Connolley, it is a forum where grown-ups can confess the bizarre ideas they had about the world when they were too young to know better. Please, check it out. Once you're there, click on "Best Beliefs". The one I like was the child who believed there were little ant people dressed as peasants in huts in his/her stomach. Then you can go to the strange ideas under the heading, "Common Beliefs".
     Some of them are obviously just natural childish misinterpretations of the world around them, such as "Anon" being the name of a person (well, I used to believe that), that chocolate milk comes from brown cows, or that guerrilla warfare is fought with gorillas. Similar explanations apply to the beliefs that people live inside the TV set, that the people inside the TV can see you, or that people killed on TV or at the movies are killed in real life. Perhaps because I was ten years old before television was introduced to my state, I never came to such conclusions. I was also brought up in a world where black and white movies still vied with the coloured ones at the suburban cinemas (which have now almost completely vanished), so I didn't believe, as many of the following generations did, that the world was black and white before colour film came along. You may remember Calvin's father mislead him about that in the cartoon, Calvin and Hobbes.
     At lot of small children assume that the clergyman taking the service at church is God, especially if they are too small to see over the pew, and can only hear his voice. Others independently assumed that when a couple got married the bride immediately got pregnant at the wedding. Indeed, one assumed that it was the groom putting the ring on her finger which did the trick, and that if the couple wanted another baby, he would have to buy her another magic ring. (Laugh, if you like, but did you ever work out by yourself how babies were conceived?) A lot of kids also assumed there was a parallel universe behind the mirror.
     I must admit, although I was a naturally curious kid (and grew up to be a naturally curious adult), it never occurred to me to attempt to unravel the mysteries of the universe by myself in this fashion. However, it turns out that quite a few children have independently reached the conclusion that the crescent moon is God's fingernail or toenail clippings. Others also concluded that thunder is caused by God or the angels playing bowls in the sky, and sometimes the belief was reinforced by parents telling them the same. Although this might sound amusing, remember that there are many societies where the idea of sky spirits is considered a perfectly respectable explanation for natural phenomena. Eskimos, for example, often conceived of the northern lights as the ancestors dancing around heavenly campfires.
     But the beliefs that really intrigue me are the ones which are based on no evidence at all and no misinterpretation of the world, but which lots of children have apparently adopted without hearing them from other kids. Examples are:
  • that their toys came alive whenever they went to sleep, an idea that predated the movie, Toy Story. No doubt there is a certain amount of wish fulfillment here, but some children were actually frightened by it.
  • monsters under the bed. As a teenager and adult, whenever I read references to children being afraid of monsters under the bed, I used to think this was just a device of fiction, a meme with no basis in real life. It was only when I discovered this website that I learned that a terrible lot of children really do terrify themselves in this manner. Where do they get this idea?
  • that they themselves are part of a real life Truman Show, that the whole world was organized to watch their every move. In many cases, it was the film which inspired the belief, in others it predated the film. Well, we all assume at the beginning that the world revolves around us, but this is ridiculous.
  • Even more bizarre is the idea held by many that they were the only human being on the planet, and that everybody else was a robot. As I said, where do the kids get these ideas?
     Well, there you have it. Feel free to browse Mr Connolley's site and laugh. But when you're finished, don't forget to return to this site, which is the source of much more serious and edifying information.