Discussions & Rambles // Does unrealistic fiction influence our expectations?

Some people think that if kids experience “unrealistic” stories from a young age, they will grow up thinking that those stories accurately represent their future lives. But is any of this true?

As a young child, I was regularly exposed to fantasy stories, both in the form of books and movies. My parents never prevented me from reading anything because it was unrealistic, and I appreciate that. However, it has come to my attention that some parents don’t like for their children to read or watch unrealistic stories, so that’s what we’re here to talk about today.

What kind of stories, if at all, actually influence the way we percieve our future lives?

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THE MAGICAL AND MYSTICAL: 

I think I went through a period of life when I prefered to read, rather than go out and experience things… and I believe that some people told me that things like magic and monsters weren’t real, and that real life was real. But here’s the thing: I don’t think I ever believed magic was real, and I don’t remember ever believing in monsters and such. 

However, I did believe that some little things could be possible, and that not everything was the way that adults said the world was. Yes, I did believe in fairies for a while because… well, can you prove that fairies aren’t real? Can you prove that mermaids aren’t real? Can you even prove that I won’t meet the love of my life in my teens? (I mean it’s kinda too late now, but how was anyone supposed to anticipate that??) The short answer is simply, no, you can’t prove it. At least, you can’t prove things like this to a child.
(And I firmly believe that we haven’t seen everything in the ocean yet, so mermaids are still on the table.)
(And don’t even get me started on aliens, haha!)

As for mermaids and fairies: I never had ambitions to go out hunt these mythical creatures, or anything. Wanting for magic to be real did not effect my real-life interactions, so it wasn’t doing any harm. Believing, in or wanting to believe in, things like that is okay! I don’t see anything wrong with imagination.

But of course, everyone’s childhood is different… and I’m not ruling out the possibility of other people taking their fantasy beliefs a little too far.

The difference between believing things are real and that anything is possible is hard to explain, but there is a difference. For example, I believe that aliens could possibly exit because we simply have not explored enough of the universe to determine there is nothing else out there. I mean, how could humans possibly be the only other beings in the entire universe? It just seems unlikely to me.
(Although, I do NOT believe we have seen a true alien sighting on Earth. That’s different.)

In the end, I believe that being exposed to stories with magical, fantasy elements helped me develop a sense of creativity and imagination, but I do not think it caused any large expectations for my future reality. 

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RELATIONSHIPS:

The same thing goes for relationships.

I’ve heard about people, particularlly parents, speaking against Middle Grade and Young Adult books, and even some movies, which promote finding “true love” in your teens.

Yes, stories tend to take this route a lot, but I think there’s a reason for it. Let me explain with an example: If you read a book series which included some of the main characters falling in love with each other over the months/years they spent together, but then a later book just breaks you the news thay they’ve broken up and moved on, how would you feel?

I don’t know about you, but I would throw the book. Like, excuse me, I didn’t just spend weeks reading this series only for you to tell me that they broke up forever.

In other words, as a child, I didn’t expect for relationships to be 100% realistic. I mean, not everyone had a girlfriend/boyfriend by the end of the series, right? *casually shoves Heroes of Olympus away for this argument* But still, if an author includes the beginning of what looks like a romantic side-plot with a potentially healthy relationship, wouldn’t you want that couple to get together? It’s just plot logic. Those characters, who have chemistry and like each other, seem like they deserve each other for the rest of the story. 

Notice how I said “the rest of the story”, and not “the rest of their lives”? This is because 1) books and series don’t usually end with the complete, long life story of the characters, and 2) these characters aren’t real, and therefore, don’t have actual lives. 

That being said, I believe good stories include a beginning, middle and end. In real life, however, there is no “beginning”, “middle”, and “end”. Our reality is one huge plot, and we are the story, for years and years until the day we die. Throughout our lives, it’s only natural that we build friendships and romantic relationships (if we want to), and the span of those relationships don’t necessarily fit within the time span of your average novel. Great relationships, between friends or partners, can last for years or decades, and it’s hard to convey those kinds of relationships in one plot. 

Anyway, my point is that I never personally thought that my relationships would play out as they did in movies and books, nor did I think that movies and books portrayed realistic relationships. But… that didn’t keep me from seeing some fictional relationships as ideal. 

Sure, it would be nice to fall in love with a childhood best friend, and then we would eventually get married and live happily ever after. In a perfect world, that would be great! However, I never expected this to happen. I just knew it would be cool if it did. 

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SCHOOL:

Now, I know all of us have had different school experiences. However, I wanted to make a section about school because… well, fiction portrays school a bit unrealistically, too.

Middle School: 

In the United States, Middle School (also referred to as Grades 6, 7, and 8) is the school system between ages 12-14. Ever since I was eleven, I was well-aware that Middle School was supposed to be “the worst years of my life”. Based off of what I knew about books like Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney and Middle School, the Worst Years of my Life by James Patterson… it seemed like a pretty terrible time. And now, with movies based off of these books, and movies like Bo Burnhams’ Eighth Grade, I can’t help but think that today’s young kids might think that Middle School really is torture. 

In truth… it wasn’t all that bad. I wasn’t scared going into Middle School, either, but I wondered if it was the terror that fiction had made it out to be. 

Overall, your Middle School experience depends on your school and your surroundings. The worst things I experienced during this time were self-esteem problems and slightly bad grades, which is pretty good, considering all of the other really bad things that could happen around that age. 

Now that I think about it, and I continue to see the media portray Middle School as The Worst Time Ever, I’m worried that other kids could get scared of this school period. I mean, sure, I hated Middle School, but everyone has different experiences, and most people come out just fine. 

And really, it’s High School and College you have to worry about. 

High School:

Okay, I admit… it never occured to me that High School would be unlike High School Musical. And boy, it was so unlike High School Musical, and also very much unlike Glee.

High School, for me, consisted of mainly studying, a few school clubs, and maybe reading one book per semester. And that’s it! It went by very fast, and there was absolutely no singing.

And let me just say… I know I was an innocent bean in High School (and even now!), but I still don’t think any of the books I’ve ever read were anything close to my High School experience.
(But if you’ve seen Gilmore Girls, I am pretty much just Rory for the first few seasons.)

College: 

Honestly? College is a lot like Fangirl for me, just because I relate to Cath so much. So there you go, Rainbow Rowell was spot on with something.

Otherwise, my college experience has been a lot like High School so far. I still stress out about grades, and I still worry about whether or not to go out and do things, but it’s just a little more adulting than before.

I’m not done with College yet, but I don’t think it will eventually be much different than it already is. But hey, what do I know? It hasn’t happened yet!

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In conclusion, none of these fictional stories really influenced my expectations. At least, not in a bad way.

I think fiction is great, and of course, we shouldn’t throw it out the window for being slightly unrealistic. However, I also think it’s a good idea for kids to learn more about realistic portrayals throughout their lives. It’s always nice to feel represented, and I support seeing all kinds of different representations of what life could be like in the one’s future. 

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What do you think about fiction and unrealistic portrayals? Did any piece of fiction ever change or create your life expectations? 

Let me know, and chat with me about it!


You can also be my friend on Goodreads! 📚

Happy reading, everyone! 😀Starry Sky Books-13

 

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24 thoughts on “Discussions & Rambles // Does unrealistic fiction influence our expectations?

  1. Interesting discussion! I definitely knew kids who weren’t allowed to read fantasy books and the likes. It’s sort of a Miracle on the 34th Street situation (idk if you’ve seen that Christmas movie haha) where the mother tells her daughter that Santa isn’t real and neither is the tooth fairy, Easter bunny, and so on. But, it made the daughter too practical, and the mother saw that it was actually unfortunate her daughter was that way because childhood is one of the only stages in life where you’re allowed to be naive and hope for something unrealistic.
    I was like you growing up. I knew that the things I was reading in fiction stories weren’t real and wouldn’t necessarily come true, but there was that idea that they had some sort of basis in reality. So, “unrealistic fiction” never seemed completely unrealistic haha. It was nice reading about things that could become true, even if they never happened to me—and I still feel that way 🙂.

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    1. Thank you, Belle! I have seen Miracle on the 34th Street, and I agree – even if something isn’t real, people should be free to imagine and have fun spreading creativity. A lot of my childhood consisted of being creative, but in a sensible way, and I always new what was real and what wasn’t. But it was fun!

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  2. The idea of parents not letting kids read unrealistic and magical stories makes me so sad! Those stories gave me such an imagination and made the world feel magical when I was little!
    And haha I agree with your thoughts on how school is often portrayed in stories. I remember being in middle school and watching shows like Glee and Degrassi and being like “high school sounds so scary and dramatic!!” and then like nothing at all happened lol.

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    1. Exactly! I think it’s wonderful for children to be allowed to grow creatively and use their own imagination however they want, and I would be so different if someone had taken that away from me when I was younger. And yeah, I literally did nothing dramatic in high school. 😂

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  3. I couldn’t wait for high school and college when I was younger and let me tell you it was hella disappointing😂

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with letting children read ‘unrealistic’ stories. Unrealistic is not synonymous with unhealthy, not at all! Plus, adults/parents have very different ideas of what’s unrealistic compared to a child. I don’t think parents should have a say on what is and isn’t realistic for their child. The child should get full responsibility for building their own reality and only they decide what can and can’t be done within it. Reality is malleable especially for kids and I don’t think anyone has the right to take that away from them, parent or not!

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  4. Oh gosh back when I was 12 and started reading YA contemporaries I thought high school would be amazing parties every night hanging out with all the boys minimal studying but still aceing classes getting a boyfriend I’m totally in love with…yeah graduating in a week and it definitely wasn’t like that LMAO. Still enjoyed a lot of those stories though lol they let me escape how shitty hs really is

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    1. Yay, congrats on graduating! But same, my high school experience wasn’t like that. In fact, I was /scared/ of too many parties and boys or whatever (I went to an all-girls school, so boys were even scarier when I saw one on occasion), but thankfully, I never had to step out of my comfort zone. It would have been nice to get away from all the studying sometimes, though, but at least I stayed out of trouble! 😂

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  5. Really like the points you brought up. I think sometimes people can forget that most of us read out of enjoyment, rather than using it as a handbook for our lives. However, I do think that a lot of the stories contain a fair number of valuable lessons, fantasy in particular, about loyalty, friendship, staying true to yourself, etc which can sometimes be more inspiring than simply being told to be so by someone else.

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    1. That’s true, we should try to just make the best out of what we have and the way we’re living, rather than just hoping that everything turns out like in movies and books. A lot of stories have lessons and examples of good behaviors, and I think fantasy (like fairy tales and fables) can often teach kids a lot about skills and behaviors they should use on their own.

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  6. I think this is kind of a nuanced topic. In general, I would want to say “no,” that fiction doesn’t change expectations and that people (even kids!) can tell the difference between fiction and reality. However, I ALSO believe that books can influence how people think and what they believe, and I think more avid readers do, as well. It’s one of the beauty of books.

    I think, as a kind of stupid example, I came away from watching movies with the expectation that prom/homecoming/other school dances were these hugely glamorous affairs where the school went all out with a fancy venue and decorations because, you know, that was the only example of a school dance I ever saw as a child. Movies don’t generally show the reality of an undecorated gym with music coming from someone’s iPod when they depict school dances.

    I am also 90% sure one of my friends broke up with her long-term boyfriend partially because she expected life to be like fiction. She had this whole thing about how he wasn’t fighting for her and doing grand romantic gestures…after they’d been dating for like five years and everyone assumed they were getting married. The long-term relationship that still fun but more on the “content” side rather than the “exciting” side is something that just doesn’t get shown in fiction, particularly YA, a lot either.

    Finally, I write a post about menstruation in YA once, and I think the absence of something in fiction can also influence expectations. If I read, say, 100 YA books a year, and maybe *one* of them mentions a girl having a period and certainly not *gasp* cramps, I think I would come away with the idea that cramps are unusual and if I have them, I’m the outlier. That’s not the case, but fiction would make you think so, especially if you don’t really go around Googling things like “How many women experience period cramps” to get the facts.

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    1. I agree. While reading fantasy and other fiction stories, it didn’t really change a lot of my expectations, but it did shape my reading preferences and what I felt comfortable. Reading those stories also influenced some of the ways I thought about certain topics, but I usually became more open and accepting after reading such stories.

      I used to think that prom was supposed to be one of the biggest nights of my life, and while it was fun to be there, I eventually accepted that it didn’t have to be like it was in the movies. I wasn’t asked to prom, but I did go with friends, and my experience was “different” than in movies but nice all the same.

      I’ve never been in a relationship before, but I have a lot of friends who have had relationship problems because they wanted everything to be perfect or something it would never be. But I do think that relationships should be more about loving the other person and enjoying their company, rather than about grand gestures.

      Now that you mention it, I don’t think I’ve ever read a book which included menstruation. Which is sad to me, since I was so scared of that natural occurrence when I was very young. Authors should not be afraid to include a mention of cramps or some other experience, since it is such a common thing that most women have to experience.

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  7. I’m totally with you. I think that what we see in media doesn’t truly play a huge part in our expectations for reality, assuming humans are born with basic common sense lol. It’s the same thing for gun violence in media: parents are concerned that playing violent video games and movies will increase likelihood of gun violence, but studies showed just the opposite. It really comes down to your personal experiences that shapes your views imo. 🙂

    Buuut I will say that I’m iffy with the portrayal of high school in movies! I feel like most of these movies have that “popular mean kid” stereotype vs. the “underdog angel,” and I think it reinforces the idea that popular people all stuck-up and judgmental, which feeds into our misguided preconceptions. That is one thing I do feel does affect teenagers’ expectations of each other.

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    1. You’re right, after age eight or so, we begin to have common sense, but little kids still believe in mermaids and stuff when they’re little! It’s fun to think about those things, but it’s also important to acknowledge what exists and what doesn’t. I do think that in some cases, video games can change the way that kids think about violence, and I also think that some kids may become desensitized to violence because of games, but if they learn about what is right and wrong, it should be okay. 🙂

      Yeah, I think it’s weird that there are so many stereotypes about high school, but I experienced none of that at all. I mean, some people might deal with that type of drama, but I might have just gotten away from high school completely drama-free, and that’s probably a good thing.

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  8. Girl!! This is SO on point! I read so many vampire novels and stories when I was starting at age 9 and then read other books that had supernatural creatures. Did I think these things were real? No, but they were what I gravitated towards. Same thing with anime like Sailor Moon. I believe that fiction really expands our imagination and even helps us find interests we might not have known we’ve liked. As long as we balance both fun fiction, but also knowing how life really is, then I think we’ll be fine. AMAZING post 🙂

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    1. Exactly! It’s fun to read about fantasy and related fiction, and as long as you didn’t grow up hoping to hunt vampires or something, you’re good to go! Fiction is good for creativity, and everyone should be free to imagine things 🙂 Thank you!

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  9. Oh God! This discussion 🙂 I know many parents who shy away from letting their children read about the ‘other worldly’ creatures for they may get the wrong idea but what they don’t know is that the children are smarter than they think. I think reading the fantasy genre makes a person more accepting of people who are different from them and make them more open minded. For my part I was never very impressed upon by the social life of the protagonists( keyword – very). I loved this post.

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    1. Yes! I have some family members who didn’t want their kids to read Harry Potter because there was too much magic or something, and that made me sad because reading fiction like that can expand a child’s reading abilities and creativity. A lot of children’s stories, fantasy or no, can also teach children about life lessons and good/bad behaviors.

      Thank you! 😊

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  10. Xandra, thank you so so much for sharing, because I feel like this is a very important topic and yet, we hardly ever talk about it.
    I think, truly, fiction can be as crazy and unrealistic as it wants. I love watching rom-coms and reading romance books, especially because I know things like that will never happen in real life. What are the chances that you’ll meet a handsome guy during a random ski trip, just to find he’s your classmate when you move to a new school? But that’s what makes fiction so endearing to me; the fact it doesn’t matter if it’s realistic or believable, because it can still happen.
    With that being said, I’ve always been very good at knowing what is real and what’s not and not growing unrealistic expectations due to my fiction. I think it’s not a book’s fault that people can grow them; it’s definitely something personal. As you said yourself, I’d be incredibly frustrated if I read an entire series just to have the couple break up at the end. Even if that’s the “realistic” route to take, it’s so disappointing. I’d much rather have unrealistic endings than frustrating ones!

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