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Parenting in the Park
Tips and ideas for the traveling family
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Adrienne Krock, editor
Disney via Kid's Eyes

Spoiler warning: My column today discusses the It's Tough To Be a Bug! attraction at Disney's California Adventure theme park extensively.

"...I so TOTALLY disagree with you that you shouldn't take your children."

When you get email like that, you take notice.

The note came from a gentleman named Richard, who felt that my cautionary note about taking young children in to see the It's Tough To Be a Bug! Attraction in Disney's California Adventure theme park was too severe. My warning, from a previous column, read:

If you are not familiar with the It's Tough to Be a Bug! attraction, although there is no height restriction on this attraction, the show inside the theater has very intense moments. Disney has a small sign to alert parents that this attraction may be too intense for some children, and I highly advise parents to heed this warning. If you have any doubts, you can do what Doc Krock and I did. Go on It's Tough to be a Bug! once yourself, without the kids, so that you can make up your own mind.

Richard went on to write:

When I was a kid, my parents took my on the Haunted Mansion and Snow Whites adventure...was I scared? Yes! ... But, are not these attractions not meant to frighten? What is the purpose of horror / suspense? Why not break a child in early and have him / her enjoy the thrills of being frightened? Why deprive him? DO you feel the child will become mentally affected by this? If the child is raised correctly, and is not socially isolated or continually told "this isn't for you, it's too scary" (which will, in the long run, make him/her more frightened of horror), the child will come out of the attraction fine and will become more accepting and loving toward a great part of Americana, horror and suspense. Fear is fine, as long as the resolution is ok (as is in BUGS LIFE / MANSION, etc.)

This led to a lively correspondence, during which Richard (who tells me he is a father of a two, four, and eight- year- old) suggested telling a child that "the big bug is simply pretending... he's just being funny."

The bottom line for Richard was that my suggesting to parents to view the attraction first, could lead to readers simply refusing to attend this attraction, and that "a parent can make anything scary / wrong / intense. Conversely, a parent can make anything happy / fulfilling or enjoyable."

As a child care provider, teacher, and mother, I strongly disagree with Richard. In fact, I think that many people who bring their children to Disney parks would probably disagree as well. Heck, even the Disney marketing department would also disagree.

Young children are concrete thinkers. This means that they don't distinguish between real and pretend. "Imaginary" concepts are very abstract to them and require higher thinking skills that they are still developing.

Cinderella and Princess Erin
Cinderella and Princess Erin

The Princess they met at Disneyland last weekend was not a senior at UC Irvine trying to support herself by working at the park, but the actual girl who rode on a magic carpet with Aladdin, or the book-loving, village girl who taught Beast how to love. When the "big bug" comes to life in It's Tough to Be a Bug the bug is very real to a young child.

Richard asked, "What difference is their (sic) for Matthew with a loud bug making noise and Loud Barney noises on the TV?", referring to the bug characters in the It's Tough To Be a Bug show and Barney, the big friendly purple dinosaur in his own TV show. Yes, there are physical differences between Barney and insects, but there are some profound differences.

One of the show's main characters is Hopper, the main nemesis in the original movie. Hopper is not merely a screen character at It's Tough To Be a Bug, but he is a three-dimensional Audio-Animatronic in the theater who looms menacingly at the audience, with a loud, booming voice. Hopper uses a score of insect assistants to taunt and torment the audience, such as black widow spiders that slither from the ceiling toward your head, and hornets that "sting" the backs of audience (accomplished by a a sharp stick-like object poking guests from their seat backs).

Young children are very egocentric. When characters on children's TV shows talk to their audience, children believe they are the only ones being spoken to. Young children's egocentric viewpoints make it difficult for them to accept someone else's point of view. For this reason, children are not necessarily capable of accepting of understanding when they are told they are "wrong," or in this case, that Hopper isn't scary. Using adult logic and rationalization with a young child is often futile. I can tell children that Hopper is being funny but when they see the bug threatening them, they cannot believe it. They see a tangible bug yelling and creating a scary environment. They know what fear is, they know it is not funny.

Pirates of the Caribbean's Treasure Room
Pirates of the Caribbean's Treasure Room

Life is full of emotions. And the reader who wrote the above comments and I do agree on this one issue: Children should have the opportunity to experience suspense. However, where we disagree is how this should be introduced to a child. My son may be young, but he knows what is scary. He can already identify happiness, sadness, and scariness. He doesn't like the dark portions of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, which make him cry and pull back. I don't dare try to "make anything happy" that isn't, like telling Matthew that the dark areas aren't scary. I believe that trying to convince Matthew that Hopper isn't menacing (when everything Matthew can comprehend leads him to believe the contrary) would cause Matthew to mistrust me ("I know that's scary, why is Mommy trying to tell me other wise?") and / or to misidentify or dismiss his valid emotions.

The world is full of balance. Without fear, we can't fully appreciate security. We can embrace joy because we have felt sadness. Emotions are important and I believe should not be diluted, dismissed, or made confusing.

Life's reality is that there are scary things in the world. Children need to know to be cautious crossing streets because cars drive fast and can hurt them. Children are hurting other children by mimicking wrestling on TV, because they see that wrestling is pretend and no one gets hurt. Yes, I feel that strong parenting can help prevent these tragedies. For me the foundation of that parenting includes not misleading my child that a scary bug is "just being funny," but instead, allowing him to experience authentic emotions.

Back to my earlier points: Why do I think that Disney marketing understands these concepts of child development? With their campaign slogans, such as "Remember the Magic!" and "Believe, there's Magic in the stars!", Disney expects children to believe in their "Magic!" Disney has filled its parks with characters that to children are real. Cast Members are trained to keep the magic alive by referencing the pixie dust used throughout the parks.

And as for the guests in Disney parks, we take our children there because we want them to experience the Disney Magic. I don't need to force my son into situations that are scarier than he is ready to encounter. All too soon, my son will be ready to visit It's Tough to be a Bug!, and I'll be longing for the days when it was too scary for him. For now, there are plenty of other scary experiences in his life. In the meantime, I am not sheltering Matthew by deceptively telling him when scary things are fun or enjoyable, I am instead guiding him.

Aladdin's Storytelling in Adventureland
Aladdin's Storytelling in Adventureland

Meanwhile, my son can appreciate the simple and magical joys of seeing the "real" Mickey Mouse in person. As his mother, I get the joy of watching his wonder as bears and birdies sing, or as he and his friends personally steer steamboats and jungle cruise excursions. Along the way, Matthew may experience the suspense of dark pirate caves or thunderstorms brought on by angry Tiki gods. Or he may decide that he doesn't want to go back on those attractions yet. Perhaps one day, Matthew will magically pull that sword from its stone in front of the King Arthur Carrousel!

When I wrote my original column about Disney's California Adventure, I titled it, "What is DCA's target audience and is my family in it?" Well, we're not DCA's target audience, but that's OK. In the meantime, we'll be over at Disneyland experiencing lots of attractions that work for our demographic.

Wanted: Your questions and feedback! They will help me plan future columns! Write me at:

Disneyland Resort Stroller Update

I think I've received more email in the past several months about my stroller columns than any other topic. I must confess that for various reasons, our family rented a stroller at Disneyland this past Monday (although I told my companions, Ms. Kruse and Exceptional Mom Mary that if they told anyone about it, I would deny it- now I'm confessing about it to all of you!).

Why did Adrienne Krock rent a stroller at Disneyland? It was raining on Monday and I did not want to get our stroller wet.

Was it worth renting a stroller?

Yes and no. The Disneyland stroller was still much less convenient. Our diaper backpack did not hang easily from the handles like it does on our strollers. The baskets were awkward and difficult to use. But when it rained, our personal stroller, left back in our car, did not get wet!

A new development in stroller rental policies

In my original reviews of the Disneyland strollers, one of my reasons for disliking them was that the strollers had to remain inside the park. Since Downtown Disney and Disney's California Adventure have opened, there appears to be a new policy in place.

On Monday, we were allowed to leave Disneyland with our rental stroller. In fact, we took it across Harbor Blvd to a local motel. Later, we returned to Downtown Disney with the stroller. At the end of our visit, we chose to re-enter Disneyland and leave the stroller there before we left to go home. Along our way, we spotted strollers left along the Lion King tram pick up area and even abandoned at off-site motels!

Frankly, I do not see this as an overall advantage in the stroller rental policy. With this new policy, I see rental charges increasing. Disney would either "need" this increased revenue to pay Cast Members to collect abandoned strollers from the local motels, or they could justify the cost to replace the "lost" strollers. What is to prevent a person from taking the stroller home even? Will Disney begin requiring deposits for stroller rentals as they currently do for wheelchairs? This solution seems difficult because frequently rental strollers are "borrowed" by other guests. How would guests whose strollers were lost or stolen get their deposits back?

I think that Disney should go back to their old policy: Keep the strollers inside the parks. I would suggest that if guests leave Disneyland for the day in order to visit DCA (with a park hopper pass, using 2 days of a Flex-Pass or Annual Passport,) they could show their receipts at DCA to get a "free" rental. Then, perhaps, Disney could require Downtown Disney guests to submit a deposit if they choose to rent a stroller there.


Adrienne gathered experience taking kids to amusement parks when she worked as a day camp counselor and director. She was an elementary school teacher before she started her favorite job, being Matthew's Mom.

Adrienne and Matthew visit Disneyland several times a month, usually with Daddy, too.

Besides Matthew, Adrienne and her husband Kevin created and maintain The Happiest Potties on Earth website.

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