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Head of School Responds to Criticism After Claiming Fantasy Books Cause Mental Illness

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After his blog post claiming fantasy books contribute to poor mental health in children went viral, Graeme Whiting, headmaster of The Acorn School in England, responded to critics who said — in fact — his opinion was the fantasy.

Whiting wrote:

I am not making a judgement (sic) of literature that has dark or difficult elements; I am claiming that exposure to such themes should be age appropriate. I am not attempting to pitch modern bestsellers against old classics nor am I discouraging children from reading; I am concerned with the exposure of young children’s minds, to things that are scary and dark. A child’s view of the world is much smaller than that of an adult, and I believe that emotionally charged impressions have a lasting effect in their subconscious minds.

I am aware that I included some sweeping statements in my blog and I apologise for my lack of eloquence there. I am well aware that mental health is a huge and multi-dimensional subject and I am not claiming that there is a direct link between literature with dark themes and mental illness. I am merely pointing out that young brains are especially sensitive and therefore vulnerable to strong personal experiences that may create or amplify a sense of insecurity.

My mission has always been to protect the sensitive minds of young children from negative experiences that can create deep, lasting imprints in their subconscious minds.

His original blog post, “The Imagination of the Child,” sparked controversy after claiming fantasy books such as “Harry Potter,” “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hunger Games” contain “deeply insensitive and addictive material which I am certain encourages difficult behaviour in children.” He added literature of this nature can “damage the sensitive subconscious brains of young children, many of whom may be added to the current statistics of mentally ill young children.”

According to the most recent data available, one in 10 children between ages 5 and 16 have a a diagnosable mental health disorder in England. This number is one in 5 for children ages 13 to 18 in the U.S.

The causes of mental illness in children, like in adults, are a combination of genetics and biology — which can influenced by psychological traumas such as severe emotional, physical or sexual abuse.

Author Ben Galley, in a blog response to Whiting’s letter, quoted a fellow fantasy writer Joanne Hall about the issue:

As someone who’s suffered from a number of mental health issues over the years, I’d like to say that the times when I have felt the healthiest, and the lease anxious and / or depressed, have been when I’ve been immersed in a fantasy book (either writing or reading). Fantasy has helped me recover from mental health issues, and to suggest that a child who might have, say, depression or anxiety should be prevented from reading something that might make them feel better, or more connected to something, is not only stupid, it’s irresponsible.

What do you think? Tell us in the comments below:

Originally published: May 13, 2016
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