Can Pinocchio teach a lesson to parents of digital natives?

Can Pinocchio teach a lesson to parents of digital natives?

Today, children have access to the same means of communication as adults. Moreover, the technological evolution has made it easier for youth and children to manage media than it is for adults, thereby bypassing the “parental filter”. It is now the children who introduce and guide parents through the virtual world. It seems as if roles have been reversed.

Communication understood as synonymous to education has seen its development in time always with a mediating figure, a moderator, in flesh and bones.

When cultures were passed on simply through oral tradition, or later through writing, a human, adult figure was always necessary for access to content. He/she was the guide in the search for the truths of life.

In the simplicity of a story, or better yet, of a fairy tale, it was indeed possible to convey wisdom to children and help them grow, to orient them in this world, in a very simple way. There are so many fables that restore, at least partially in some aspect, the true, authentic image of a father. (One needs only to recall the fable The Frog Prince, where the father leads the child to keep promises; or Tom Thumb, where the father leaves his son free to discover the world, but is immediately ready to welcome him back upon his return; or The Sparrow and His Four Children, where the father gives advice that enables the little ones to face the world.)

But perhaps one of these fairy tales really can rise to the icon and guide incarnating all of the dimensions of fatherhood. Giuseppe, the woodcarver and father of Pinocchio, is the main character of the most well-known, translated children’s adventure book The Adventures of Pinocchio. Symbolically, the story of Pinocchio is one of a child who learns to grow, with the weaknesses and defects of his age, but also with his desire to learn to grow up. The story, with all of its pedagogical value that has been recognized throughout the ages and across cultures, is the adventurous journey of a puppet that continuously puts himself in situations where each outcome is the result of his own choice; a choice that is always made between that which is good- indicated and suggested by the appropriate characters in the story (The Talking Cricket, The Blue Fairy…) and that which is bad, indicated by the evil characters ( The Fox and The Cat, Romeo…).

In the development of the story, Giuseppe has a prominent father-figure role. It is through him that the piece of wood becomes “alive”. The puppet is always tending toward his father until finally in the last scene, there is the real transition from inanimate to animate being- the object of all of the main character’s actions. As a matter of fact, already at the beginning of the story, the puppet wants to change his state. This is why between Mastro Cherry, who wants to make him into a table leg (leaving him inanimate) and Giuseppe, that instead wants to make him into a puppet that knows how to dance and go on walks with him in the world (bringing him to become animated), the puppet chooses the latter. Giuseppe therefore takes him as a son. His character is then immediately associated with one who engenders life, a father, and therefore, an educator. As such, the “father” Giuseppe sustains the puppet in his journey and comes to his aid each time he strays away from him only to return again, asking for help. This is the case when Giuseppe remakes his feet that the distracted puppet burned, or when he feeds the famished Pinocchio in jail with his only three pears. The father sacrifices himself even in order to give his own son the means necessary for his journey; he makes clothes to dress him, and sells his own clothes to buy him the alphabet. Giuseppe still warns the puppet about the future and gives him advice, while at the same time leaving him free to choose. Both are aware that for any choice he makes, Giuseppe will always be there to support him. This is how Pinocchio faces his journey in life: choosing, messing up, and starting over; building himself up until he makes no progress and then returns to his father everything that he has given him. It is in fact his father that saves him from the belly of the whale. He is the one who builds the cart to take the old, weary puppet back. It is he who works to sustain the both of them. This is how the final act ends with the fairy’s intercession- an expression of the wisdom that grows with experience, which allows the puppet to become a real boy and live in the same dimension as the father. What is more explicit than a story of growth and teaching for society than The Adventures of Pinocchio, where the father assumes that appropriate position, which seems to be lost and in need of recuperation today? Will there still be a fable to teach us the road to take in order to renew ourselves and the society in which we live?

Parents, therefore, must enter into the virtual world of children, participate in their world, and travel together with their children in the discovery of the new realities that make up the everyday life of each child. Children indeed need to regain role models, and fathers ought to reclaim their role as such. They must become guides for their children, teaching them to discern true values by being mediators between the rules to respect and the freedom to be won and managed in accordance with their age.