This article describes the impact of the mass media on the sensitive mind and imagination of a young child.
alan and graham are both ten. Each Tuesday afternoon I take their class for an English lesson whilst my own boys move across the corridor for a music period. During the half hour that we share, the boys are stimulated to act, draw or write about their daily lives freely and spontaneously. But I had not been working with them for very long before I noticed that whatever Alan drew or wrote or dramatised fell into a continuing pattern. He was absorbed by the prospect of death. He feared death intensely and was disturbed by it in the form of accident or punishment. He needed to explore the experience at the point of dying—and pulled many of his stories around to this characteristic situation . . .
“He was really scared now . . . The police shot them off one by one . . . while he was lying on the stage, half dead and half alive, he must have thought . . .”
Even in the most formal work offered to his own class teacher the controlling meditation breaks through . . .
“I was lying in bed, I was thinking what would happen when I was dead and how it would happen. And then I was thinking what the Romans, Picts and Saxons must have felt like, and now they are covered with dust. They just lie there and will be there for ever. And what it will be like when I am there and covered with dirt, and all kinds of things . . .”
I find this kind of need and perception most unusual in a ten-year-old boy. Very seldom do children sense death with such a terrible finality. Of course it invades their activities at every point. But most children seem to feel it more simply, and with a shallowness natural to their years. Being dead is a form of absence, and perhaps not radically distinct from other losses by departure. For Alan this was not so. He understood as an adult might.
This troubled and puzzled me. I grew to feel, however, that though Alan was abnormally acute in this way, his was an abnormality of health—a premonition of coming maturity. I could see in what other ways his personality could be assessed, but I came to believe that, though unusual, this was a right and not disfiguring phase for one particular child. All the same his rarer sensibilities exposed him more keenly to certain strong pressures from the adult world. He was most open to receive and learn from the images of violence that he discovered in comics or films or papers. It is for this reason that I illustrate his case.