Dr. Jennifer W. Shewmaker

Parent, Educator, Author

“I Make the Path”: Adventures in Wonderland

I saw Tim Burton’s version of Alice in Wonderland with my girls last summer. I actually wasn’t looking forward to seeing it, because, well, his movies are weird and dark. We’ve avoided several of his darker movies because I just didn’t think they were appropriate for my kids. I’m glad that I took a chance on this one, because it has some important messages to share.

The theme that I was struck most by in this movie was that of choosing one’s own path. This theme is so important to share with kids when they are constantly overwhelmed with media messages that tell them what they need to do or be in order to be valuable. They’re often told that they need to fit into a certain narrowly defined set of standards to achieve true value.

Think of Alice’s constant growing and shrinking, as she strives to fit into the world around her. The character at the beginning of the movie is a pale, worn out girl who feels trapped in following the path that others have chosen for her. But there’s something inside of her that just can’t go along with that. When faced with the pressure to make a life altering commitment, Alice refuses to give in.

Throughout the movie, there is a constant refrain of “stay on the path,” “follow the path.” At first, Alice goes along with this idea, thinking it’s the best plan for her. But somewhere along the way, she decides that she doesn’t want to follow the path that others have laid out for her anymore. The most memorable line in the movie for me is when Alice responds to one last plea for her to stay on the path by saying, “I make the path.”

If you’ve seen the movie, you know that in the end, the path that Alice chooses leads her from a nervous girl surrounded by pressure to fit into a certain mold to a bold warrior who chooses a life of adventure. After seeing this movie, my daughters and I spent a lot of time talking about how others try to make you fit into their ideas of what you should be. It was so interesting to hear them give their own examples of how they sometimes feel pressured to be this or that. Of course, this lead to conversations about the choices that Alice made NOT to fit in, and how they can do that as well.

One of the ways that we teach our children to be critical consumers of media is by encouraging thoughtful conversations about the media we consume. What did you like about that? What didn’t you like? What message do you think the creator was trying to send? As each of us grows in our ability to evaluate what we’re seeing and hearing through the media, we begin to choose the way we interpret and respond to these messages, rather than just accepting them. This is how we learn to make our own path, to become world changers.

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