With Halloween just a couple of weeks away, unless you are staying home and keeping your lights off, there is a very good chance that your child will see something that would be classified as scary.
This is a perfect time to assess your own, and whoever is raising your child with you, view on “scary.” In my psychotherapy practice I have come to understand that some people actually like things that are scary. Since I don’t fall in this camp AT ALL, it has led to me being very curious about what is happening at the intersection of fun and fear. But since most probably aren’t interested in the physiology of it all, let’s just hit on a few highlights.
Scary things that lots of people like and lots of people don’t like:
·Haunted house tours
·Ghost Hunters – TV
·Documentaries about violent crimes
·Being startled during a peaceful shower
·Horror pranks (anyone seen the one with the alien in the elevator??)
·Many video games
Hmmm…what have I left out?
Some people get an adrenaline rush and it feels really strong and really good. Others get a rush that feels really bad. It is no different for children, EXCEPT this. Some children fall into the category of the feeling being really bad, but….the person they are with at the time sends either a direct or indirect message that either, (1) they are acting like a baby, (2) tries to convince them that it’s just a joke and it is really funny, (3) gets mad at them…..
I’m not necessarily referring to a young child seeing something “horror.” I’m referring to the “regular scary,” a child who sees another child with a mask on, even if the mask is not a “horror” character. Next, the child gets a lecture that goes something like, “This is Halloween. If you want candy you just have to deal with it. It’s not that bad. We can’t go (i.e. no fun for you) if you are going to act this way.”
Many readers might be saying, “Not me. I’m not that kind of parent.” That’s great. I hope everyone will take the opportunity to think about how they are going to handle this Halloween with their child, whether they love scary or scary scares them.
For those loving scary, I’ve seen some parents get a real kick out of their child who gets a real charge out of scary. Of course, parents love to give their child things they know the child likes, and for some fathers and mothers, having a child who isn’t scared by scary is a real sense of pride. “My kid’s not scared.” “Tough as nails that boy (or little princess) of mine. Just like me.” Just think it through, what liking scary looks like through the years and stages of development, particularly in our increasingly scary world.
On a more “common” level…how are you going to handle scary parts of a Disney movie. Here’s my best example. Around the time that Finding Nemo came out, I was teaching Kindergarteners and First Graders Sunday school. In a spare moment, I asked if any of the children had seen Finding Nemo. Of course, they all said yes. I asked, were there any parts that you thought were scary? There was a brief silence while the children waited for someone to reply and then they all chimed in with their proud, “No. I wasn’t scared at all.” I said to myself, “A Sunday school class full of liars.”
The makers of all things scary, especially Disney, are packaging it so well, with amazing animation that even very conservative adults when it comes to exposing children to scary will overlook the fact that that scene nearly made them jump out of their pants!
The most common response of parents, “(S)He wasn’t scared. He didn’t act scared. He didn’t say he was scared. He seemed fine.” This is from parents who bring their children in to counseling with me with anxiety and fears that can’t be explained.
Let me tell you why. The most common response for a child watching something scary is to sit (or stand) motionless, staring at whatever it is. Sure, some children run away, cover their eyes, cry, or let you know in some other way that they are uncomfortable. But MANY children look as if in a daze and just take it all in. They were almost as if in a daze, so really there is nothing to talk about after. The image has just been etched in to a neat and tidy place in the brain.
It is a good idea to teach your child, if you are scared, turn your head or cover your eyes and tell someone. A sensible adult will fast forward the scene to turn it off altogether. If your child is at a friend’s house and the older sibling wants to “show them something on YouTube, your child should be instructed to say, “I’m not allowed to watch anything on YouTube that my mom or dad hasn’t already seen and said I can watch.” The same goes for movies or TV shows.
The numbers of children 10 and under who have seen all or parts of “Walking Dead,” played “Call of Duty” WITH headsets online, and the like is simply appalling. Mix that with some of the real life war news, even uplifting stories about soldiers who have been wounded and lost limbs, or the real life horrific beheadings in the news….I’m voting for “less scary is better!” I’ve worked with children who have blown off countless heads or limbs or entire bodies on video games, who have come into therapy because the thought of our people being involved in a real life war scares them to death.