PARENTS are rejecting traditional bedtime stories because they believe they are too scary or politically incorrect.
Children's fairytales are being phased out in favour of modern alternatives, as research published on a parenting website reveals one in four parents or carers has ditched old classics such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Rapunzel, in favour of The Very Hungry Caterpillar or The Gruffalo.
Snow White has fallen by the wayside because the Wicked Witch is deemed too frightening – but a handful will not read it because they feel the dwarf reference is not PC. One in ten politically correct parents even say Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs should be re-titled Snow White and the Seven Vertically Challenged People.
Rapunzel is also considered "too dark" and Cinderella has been dumped because she is forced to do the housework and sit on cinders.
The poll of 3,000 British parents, conducted by www.thebabywebsite.com, revealed that 66 per cent believe traditional fairytales have stronger morality messages than many of today's popular bedtime stories. But many parents feel this type of reading is inappropriate when the aim is to comfort children before bedtime.
A spokeswoman for the website said: "Fairytales take children to a land of make-believe where they can use their imaginations and where generally the goodies beat the baddies.
"Children love being read a variety of stories and it's a great shame that so many of today's PC mums and dads are rejecting fairytales which have stood the test of time, entertaining children for hundreds or thousands of years.''
The survey finds a third of parents will not read Little Red Riding Hood because she walks alone through woods and finds her grandmother has been eaten by a wolf.
And almost one in five adults says they have steered clear of Hansel and Gretel because its subjects are abandoned in a forest.
A fifth of parents don't like to tell their children about The Gingerbread Man as he gets eaten by a fox.
However, education experts say it is crucial that a child is introduced to darker aspects of life as a normal part of development. Sue Palmer, a child development expert and author of The Toxic Childhood, said: "Bedtime stories like these are an ancient custom.
"The world is not all brightness and light and children need to know that. An obvious one is 'don't talk to strangers', so they (parents] can't shield children completely from these things. These stories have been used throughout all cultures to help children get to grips with the world."
Julia Donaldson, author of The Gruffalo, which came third in a poll of the most popular children's books of 2008, says traditional stories continue to play an important role and she would hate to see them replaced because of political correctness.
"I think the stories that have lasted for generations have some resonance. They have something more powerful about them. I'm really against political correctness … it's so deadening. I would just choose a variety of books. The question is whether they are a good story or not."
A fifth of parents say fairytales are no longer politically correct, whilst 17 per cent worry the traditional stories will give their children nightmares.
It also emerged that 65 per cent of parents prefer to read their children gentler tales at bedtime, such as the Mr Men and Winnie-the-Pooh.
The most popular book read at bedtime is now The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle.
The simple tale, of a greedy caterpillar eating too much food, was written in 1969.
HANSEL AND GRETEL: A tale of two hoodies who are given an asbo for throwing litter in the woods. The local press reports a "scene of destruction" after they are found with hundreds of discarded pizza boxes, leaving a trail of litter to their drug den. Things go from bad to worse when they start experimenting with psychedelic drugs at the "House of Sweets". They pull off a pensioner's front door, which they claim resembles a giant Liquorice Allsort.
PG rating: six. Warning: violent scenes, including decapitation of a jelly baby.
CINDERELLA: Cinders leave home in Romania in search of a better life, after answering an internet advert for a cleaner. Her dreams turn sour when she is forced to work 14 hours a day on the minimum wage. Her fairy godfather comes good with a ticket for the ball. The horse-drawn carriage is replaced as the council says the use of Shetland ponies breaches health-and-safety rules. Instead, she walks to the ball, raising 5,000 for charity and highlighting the problem of childhood obesity.
PG rating: eight. Warning: parents may find scenes of domestic servitude disturbing.
LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD: A teenager decides to visit her grandmother on the other side of town. It's far too dangerous to venture out alone – after all, she is only 14 – so she is accompanied by her parents who guide her through the woods.
Although they do see a Big Bad Wolf on the way, its owners complied with health and safety legislation and the animal is kept muzzled and on a leash. Grandma has a good innings and enjoys her final days in the Shady Pines retirement home.
PG rating: ten. Parents should have no worries about nightmares with this one.
RAPUNZEL: A beautiful maiden with long, blonde hair is trapped in a tower by an evil witch. With only her pet dog for company, she wiles away the hours brushing her golden locks. She had considered lowering her hair down and showing it off to a handsome prince. Sadly, braiding her golden hair and dangling it down to her hero would be too hazardous and may give children dangerous ideas. Rapunzel cuts it into a short bob and starves to death.
PG rating: two. Warning, not for those of a nervous disposition.
SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS: Snow White is an idle teenager who spends all her days gazing in the mirror. Obsessed with her looks, she heads for London in search of a modelling contract. She finds work in Pantoland and stars in Snow White and the Seven Vertically Challenged People. After rave reviews the show is cancelled following complaints from the Disability Rights Commission. The commission threatens legal action after a number of tall men failed to get an audition.
PG rating: Seven. Not suitable for small children.