Instilling Fear

“That was really cool!” a student announced after our recent reptile program where we showed his class our DVD of different snakes eating.

The DVD consists of four different snake species recorded at the Denver Zoo as they were offered a mouse, a rat, or a rabbit during their weekly or monthly feeding. While some students cringe when viewing a scaly critter consuming a furry critter, most realize that this is part of the food chain – part of nature.

Introducing the Video

Chuck introduces the video by asking what snakes like to eat. “Do they eat broccoli?” he asks, and the students respond with a resounding “NO!” “Do they eat mac and cheese?” “NO!” “How about meat?” “YES!”

Then Chuck continues to explain that the animals fed to the reptiles are already dead. “The keeper,” he says, “wiggles the mouse or rat in front of the snake to make it appear alive because snakes prefer eating live animals.”

Watching the Video

Prepared, then, for the video, most students watch it with fascination. After all, how often does a person get the opportunity to see a snake eat? And most teachers view this feeding time along with their students. If a student shows concern over watching an animal being eaten, teachers generally reassure them by saying, “It’s nature. It’s part of the food chain. Every animal eats!”


After twelve years of presenting this DVD to thousands of students and hundreds of classrooms in many schools in several different states, we’ve only encountered one teacher who stopped the video presentation shortly after it began. “If any of you are afraid,” he told his fourth-grade students, “you can go outside and have recess until it’s over.”

When no child budged from his chair, the teacher began pointing at individual students. “Are you scared?” he asked the girl nearest him. When she shook her head, he proceeded down the rows to ask each student if they were bothered by the sight of snakes consuming their dinners.

Only one student left the room, enticed, we felt, by the lure of playtime. When the video continued, the remaining students watched with interest.

Instilling Fear

To us, it was obvious that the only person in the room traumatized by the images on the screen was the teacher. And his effort to “protect” the students was merely another example of adults who instill fear and preconceived notions in young impressionable minds.

We wondered how this teacher would react to his students viewing a dog attack or a gruesome murder portrayed in TV and movies or a man falling from a ladder shown on the nightly news. Children witness many events in person, on TV, in the movies, and on the news that are more harrowing and less natural than a snake eating its meal, and yet children are often exposed to these incidents without regard to their welfare. Why would watching a snake eat be considered an event too disturbing for a child?


The boy who thought our video was “cool,” by the way, was a kindergartner. His teacher had prepared the class well for our program and every student paid rapt attention and was armed with good answers to our questions as well as good questions of their own. If the fourth-grade teacher was truly concerned for the reactions of his students, he would have followed the examples of other teachers like this one by preparing the students in advance and helping his class understand the basics of nature.

4 thoughts on “Instilling Fear”

  1. This is why I prefer animals over people! The children are easy to school without parents near. spiders are a curiosity and not to be feared but respected, snakes aren’t evil. I always tell them coyotes didn’t ask to be born coyotes.

    • Thanks for those comments, Robyn! Yep, kids have to be taught to fear as well as being taught to love and respect things different from us. Education is always the key to understanding.


Leave a Comment