When do children really understand the concept of fiction?

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When do children really understand the concept of fiction?

Postby =Tamar » Fri May 31, 2013 7:15 am

Twice in the last 40 years I have met intelligent ten year old children who had somehow never been told in so many words that television cartoons, movies, etc, were not real. One I only found out about because during a visit I had put on a video that included a show about special effects in movies, including two movies she and her younger brother had seen. (The Empire Strikes Back, and an Indiana Jones movie) Afterward she asked her father and apparently he said that "some things were exaggerated." She asked me what part of "Thundercats" was exaggerated. I had a little trouble getting it across to her that every single part of it was not true - the bipedal, English-speaking cats with magic powers, the space ships, the villains, everything. Mind you, this girl had acted in a school play based on "Ghostbusters", yet she had still believed that the movie of it was real.

Now I'm wondering just how common this is. It's insidious - I know at least one intelligent adult with a science career who admitted that when watching Star Trek as a young adult he had unconsciously assumed that the starscapes shown on the viewscreens were done by going up in a space ship and taking moving pictures, even though he knew that the plots were fiction.

What do you think:
At what age do most children realize that the characters they see in cartoons are not real, that the stories are not literally documentaries? Is there an age at which they figure it out for themselves? Or do they have to be told?
I don't remember what happened in my own case; I know my family complained once that certain movies frightened me when I was about five or six, but I don't remember it. I have to assume that I was told before I was ten, because I remember knowing that it was just a story at that age.
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Re: When do children really understand the concept of fictio

Postby Tonyblack » Fri May 31, 2013 7:27 am

Isn't this more to do with the ability to suspend belief? Kids find it easier to ignore things that don't make sense. I've gone back and watched things that I loved as a kid and now see them for how tacky and unconvincing they are. I never saw the strings on the puppets in Stingray - at least I did see them, but was able to easily filter them out.

Even as adults we do this. If we sat in a cinema trying to work out how they created every shot, we'd totally miss the entertainment of the film. I often avoid watching the "making of" sections of special features because I don't want to know how my brain is tricked.
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Re: When do children really understand the concept of fictio

Postby Tonyblack » Fri May 31, 2013 7:31 am

Just to add - I used to love magicians when I was a kid, but as soon as I started trying to work out how the trick was done, it kind of spoiled it for me. You watch something apparently miraculous and know that it's a trick - it somehow takes something away from it. :think:
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Re: When do children really understand the concept of fictio

Postby Square12 » Fri May 31, 2013 10:02 am

I think it depends on the family to a degree. When the parents unveil the first "lies we tell to children" for example me and my brother three years younger both found out at the same time that
Spoiler: show
Santa isn't real don't worry the Hogfather is though
and we were told not to let our youngest brother know.
Also my dad used to make up stories for bedtime quite often and these often involved us so obv we knew they weren't real. On the flip side a lot of Spanish teens seem to completely lack imagination, might this be a result of delayed reality realisation?
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Re: When do children really understand the concept of fictio

Postby Catch-up » Fri May 31, 2013 12:09 pm

I can only offer my opinion based upon my experiences, but I think it's probably a little unusual for a 10 year old to believe that a cartoon or fantasy movie is real. Now, I say this having a 12 (almost 13 year old) who's trying so hard to hold on to her belief of fairies, but she's young for her age, more innocent than most of her peers and we are grateful for that in many ways. I also think they go through a period where they "know" it's not real, but aren't really ready to fully embrace it. Of course, every child is different and it can be great, really refreshing even, to see a child still holding on to harmless, "childish" ideas. Some of the girls' classmates just seem like they're trying to grow up waaayyy too fast. Some can be very jaded, and even a little disturbing. :?

I like the way Tony put it, suspending belief. I think a perfect example is when we're in Disney World. Do my kids know that those are people in costumes? Do they realize they've seen three completely different Cinderellas over the course of a week? They do. But, nobody ever says it. ;) We all suspend belief and just enjoy acting like kids - hubby and I included! Jeez, you should see me there, "Oh my god, it's Baloo! I wanna meet Baloo! Get my picture! Get my picture!" :oops: :lol:
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Re: When do children really understand the concept of fictio

Postby raptornx01 » Fri May 31, 2013 2:19 pm

It's part to do with what the parents tell the kids, but also the kid themselves and how well they can handle it. When I was real small I believed cartoons were real. and they encouraged that for a time. but they also never held anything back from me in terms of movies and TV. so even from a very early age I watched any kind of movie (up to and including horror films like nightmare on elm street, friday the 13th, etc), but we also watched tons of behind the scenes videos. I loved them as well, still do. by 10 (actually alot sooner) not only did I know movies weren't real, but I could tell you exactly how every special effect was done.

Knowing how the trick was done doesn't make it any less magical.

And my friends kid is the same way. he watches movies, plays games (and can kick our asses despite being 5 years old. seriously, don't challenge this kid in Gears Of War or Left 4 Dead unless you enjoy frustration). they do try to limit scary movies, only because he has bad dreams when he watches them (doesn't stop him from WANTING to watch them though). He knows they are all fake, but enjoys them just the same and is no worse off for it.
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Re: When do children really understand the concept of fictio

Postby Square12 » Fri May 31, 2013 2:25 pm

Tonyblack wrote:Just to add - I used to love magicians when I was a kid, but as soon as I started trying to work out how the trick was done, it kind of spoiled it for me. You watch something apparently miraculous and know that it's a trick - it somehow takes something away from it. :think:


I was always the other way, for me part of the fun was trying to work out how it was done and still is, to the extent that one of my mates who claims to be in the magic circle tests tricks on me because I immediately worked out how one of his tricks was done which apparently a lot of his magician friends couldn't work out. He had a specially made wallet that had a decorative part fake stitched onto it.
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Re: When do children really understand the concept of fictio

Postby jaeger » Fri May 31, 2013 7:43 pm

Catch-up wrote: . . . . like the way Tony put it, suspending belief. I think a perfect example is when we're in Disney World. Do my kids know that those are people in costumes? Do they realize they've seen three completely different Cinderellas over the course of a week? They do. But, nobody ever says it. ;) We all suspend belief and just enjoy acting like kids - hubby and I included! Jeez, you should see me there, "Oh my god, it's Baloo! I wanna meet Baloo! Get my picture! Get my picture!" :oops: :lol:

:o You; You mean that wasn't really Goofy wot hi fived me in Disneyland when I was 30 :cry:

:naughty: no no no :naughty: maddam . . . I'm suspending my belief :hand: and trust me that'll take some suspenders I can tell you !

:lol: :lol: :lol:
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Re: When do children really understand the concept of fictio

Postby Who's Wee Dug » Fri May 31, 2013 9:50 pm

jaeger wrote:
Catch-up wrote: . . . . like the way Tony put it, suspending belief. I think a perfect example is when we're in Disney World. Do my kids know that those are people in costumes? Do they realize they've seen three completely different Cinderellas over the course of a week? They do. But, nobody ever says it. ;) We all suspend belief and just enjoy acting like kids - hubby and I included! Jeez, you should see me there, "Oh my god, it's Baloo! I wanna meet Baloo! Get my picture! Get my picture!" :oops: :lol:

:o You; You mean that wasn't really Goofy wot hi fived me in Disneyland when I was 30 :cry:

:naughty: no no no :naughty: maddam . . . I'm suspending my belief :hand: and trust me that'll take some suspenders I can tell you !

:lol: :lol: :lol:

You got to allow the big kid in you to come out, it makes it all the more fun, I still love Punch and Judy it brings back good memories of my childhood well what I can remember of them. :D
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Re: When do children really understand the concept of fictio

Postby =Tamar » Sat Jun 01, 2013 6:29 am

raptornx01 wrote:It's part to do with what the parents tell the kids, but also the kid themselves and how well they can handle it. When I was real small I believed cartoons were real. and they encouraged that for a time. but they also never held anything back from me in terms of movies and TV. so even from a very early age I watched any kind of movie (up to and including horror films like nightmare on elm street, friday the 13th, etc), but we also watched tons of behind the scenes videos. I loved them as well, still do. by 10 (actually a lot sooner) not only did I know movies weren't real, but I could tell you exactly how every special effect was done.


But that's a major difference: You were told, and shown, that they weren't real. The kids I knew had never been told, and apparently the question had never come up in school or with other kids either.
Kids can learn some very complex things at very early ages if it's presented right, but if they aren't told, when do they figure it out? (I think some never really do; at least, some adults don't seem to understand that even many "documentaries" are altered "to make a better story." They tend to believe everything in "based on real life" tv movies.) I think many parents use the line "it's only a story" when kids get upset about a movie, and that may be when some of them learn it, but in my experience that doesn't work for kids under about six.

raptornx01 wrote:Knowing how the trick was done doesn't make it any less magical.
Because of that, I think that at some early ages, even being told doesn't help - but seeing the how-it-was-done videos does help, for the same reason: they see it on tv so they believe it...

raptornx01 wrote: my friends kid is the same way. he watches movies [...] being 5 years old. [...] they do try to limit scary movies, only because he has bad dreams when he watches them (doesn't stop him from WANTING to watch them though). He knows they are all fake, but enjoys them just the same and is no worse off for it.

I wonder though; knowing intellectually that they are fake doesn't stop his subconscious from creating bad dreams. Does he believe they are fake, or does he just say that so he can get permission to watch them?
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Re: When do children really understand the concept of fictio

Postby jaeger » Sat Jun 01, 2013 3:15 pm

=Tamar wrote:I wonder though; knowing intellectually that they are fake doesn't stop his subconscious from creating bad dreams. Does he believe they are fake, or does he just say that so he can get permission to watch them?
Why do we ride roller coasters ?
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Re: When do children really understand the concept of fictio

Postby =Tamar » Sun Jun 02, 2013 12:43 am

jaeger wrote:
=Tamar wrote:I wonder though; knowing intellectually that they are fake doesn't stop his subconscious from creating bad dreams. Does he believe they are fake, or does he just say that so he can get permission to watch them?
Why do we ride roller coasters ?

I don't ride roller coasters. A friend of mine used to, and she told me how she went from being frightened to enjoying them. She went on one that was totally dark. Not being able to see what was coming, it became just a ride that threw her around physically, which she found made her body respond with a generalized excitement like small children on too much sugar. After that she enjoyed roller coasters. I think that's what's going on with most people: they trust the machinery not to actually kill them, and their physical response is interpreted as pleasure. Me? I don't trust the machinery.

With regard to scary movies: I don't watch them. Intellectually knowing it's fiction ("it's just a movie") doesn't prevent it from reminding me of real stuff that I don't think about for enjoyment either.

There's a lot of inconclusive work done on the biochemical mechanisms and genetics of human fear versus human risk-taking. So far, the result seems to be that some people are genetically more likely to develop fear responses than others, while others are genetically primed to seek stronger and stronger stimuli from fear-inducing situations. It's probably an exaggeration of the risk-taking behavior which, in moderation, led to adventurous exploration of potentially better places to live.

It has been observed by mountain climbers that the body will tremble in fear before the mind notices (or will admit to noticing) danger.

All of which leads back to the question: does the 5-y-o kid really know that the movie isn't real? If not, is he watching it hoping to collect information that might help him avoid real dangerous situations (which is the purpose behind most cautionary tales)? Or is he a risk-seeker, enjoying the biochemical excitation regardless of whether the situation is real and only his subconscious registers the fear and creates the bad dreams?
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Re: When do children really understand the concept of fictio

Postby Willem » Sun Jun 02, 2013 7:19 pm

Both my daughter and my niece (almost five years old each) seem to know/understand fiction. Some examples:

My niece got told abot God at school. When my brother asked her about what He/She/It was, she explained He/She/It was very powerful, could do anything - but "it's not real daddy, it's from a book".
My own girl regularly asks if things are real, and if I tell her it's not, she says: "Except in movies and stories, anything can happen there right?"

She asks if things are real quite often, as I'm a big liar and training her to recognize when I'm making stuff up ;-)
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Re: When do children really understand the concept of fictio

Postby Tonyblack » Sun Jun 02, 2013 8:04 pm

I remember when my kids were quite young and I told them that Father Christmas wasn't real. They both rolled their eyes and said: Well duh! We only pretend to believe in it as it seems to make you happy. :lol:
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Re: When do children really understand the concept of fictio

Postby Square12 » Sun Jun 02, 2013 10:31 pm

Tonyblack wrote:I remember when my kids were quite young and I told them that Father Christmas wasn't real. They both rolled their eyes and said: Well duh! We only pretend to believe in it as it seems to make you happy. :lol:


But but but what about the Hogfather is he real?
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With sixty seconds worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a man my son.
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