In Defense of Horror: 5 Reasons to Scare Your Kids

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Image courtesy Photostock. copyright: Kryzhov
Image courtesy Photostock. copyright: Kryzhov

Toward the end of my daughter’s fourth grade year, her teacher tracked me down to discuss an “incident.” The class had spent their weekly share-time discussing their favorite summer drinks. By the time they got around to my darling, the consensus was divided between pink and standard lemonades. Without missing a beat, my little blondie batted her blue eyes and said “blood, straight from the vein.”

I thanked Mrs. B for the head’s up and mentally patted myself on the back. I’m not saying that was my proudest moment as a parent, but I’ll be honest, it probably makes the top 10. No joke.

Knowing I’m raising a child with enough sense of self to not only think such things, but be willing to deliver it to a class of her peers is, well, awesome.

I’ve never been someone to avoid the freaky, not just because I’m a horror writer, but because I feel that genre fiction, be it sci-fi, fantasy, or horror, has a lot to contribute. Most of my parent-friends are open to sci-fi and fantasy—can you think of a kid who hasn’t seen Star Wars? But horror seems to be the sticky wicket. Just remember that not all horror is of the blood-fest Saw variety. Like all genres, there are a smorgasbord of options, which I’ve outlined in “Kid Tested, Mother Approved Horror Selections.” Including the kid-friendly ice cream with sprinkles.

So, as a proponent, let me give you five good reasons to add a little fright to the diet this summer.

• No kid wants to be the weak link.

This is the pragmatist in me speaking, but while we, as parents, might be okay with our kids being a bit timid at times, (heck, sometimes that’s preferable!) no kid wants to be the one at the sleepover who can’t handle the scary movie.

I’m not suggesting kids be forced to sit through something uncomfortable, but we all know that as our little ones grow into not-so-little ones, those trailers for the newest fright flick become more enticing. One of my daughter’s friends self-excluded from a Halloween party because she knew her friends wanted to go to a haunted house. My daughter was disappointed, but more importantly, so was the friend who couldn’t handle the scary.

From a purely practical perspective, introducing a little horror in a safe environment with a parent on hand to discuss and/or comfort goes a long way. Plus, as parents, we get a great bonding experience. I can’t think of a better way to get my tween to cuddle close.

• Horror is our cultural heritage.

Have you read any of the original Grimm’s Fairy Tales? What about Hans Christian Anderson? If not, you should. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Did you see the part where Snow White’s stepmother wants to serve the poor girl’s heart and liver for dinner? If not, what did you think about the Sea Witch cutting out the Little Mermaid’s tongue with a knife? That’s some dark stuff. One might even call it, gasp, horror.

If you want to look further back, delve into native legends or Greek mythology. Just try to avoid the gruesome. Why? For the same reason people don’t sit around the campfire telling romance stories. Nothing bonds like a little scary. These stories make up our collective consciousness. From understanding how Count Chocula connects to Bram Stoker to getting the joke when someone reels in a guppy and quips, “We’re going to need a bigger boat.” Scary stories have meat, they stick to our bones. These are the folktales and myths of our modern era.

• Horror is real. No, really.

Take a moment to think about how many off-the-cuff remarks our kids face on a daily basis.

Everything will be okay. There’s nothing to be scared of. That spider’s more scared of you than you are of it.

We’re kidding ourselves if we think they buy it all the time.

Horror doesn’t pretend. From the first page or the opening credits it broadcasts loud and clear: everything is not okay! No bluffs, no platitudes. Are there monsters under the bed? Sure there are; here’s how to fight them! And no, that spider’s not scared of you, but here’s how to kill it! Which bring us to…

• Life lessons.

Sure there are the obvious: salt and iron stop ghosts, garlic for vampires, don’t go into the basement when the lights stop working, being a busty blond in a tube-top on a camping trip rarely ends well, etc. But some of life’s most important lessons color the horror landscape as well.

Villains come in all shapes and sizes. Nothing brings home the truth of Stranger-Danger more than this little tidbit. No one is more normal than Kathy Bates as Annie Wilkes. Until she pulls out the sledgehammer.

And so do heroes. If I’m deciding on a movie for my daughter and my choices are the Jamie Lee Curtis of True Lies who needs saving, or the Jamie Lee Curtis of Halloween who saves the babysitting day… is this even a choice?

Sometimes life gets hairy, but those who keep their heads, well, keep their heads. Be prepared. Make good decisions. Horror doesn’t have the monopoly on these ideas, but it does a darn good job of making them stick.

• Childhood is scary.

Photo courtesy Photostock. Copyright: Suzanne Tucker
Photo courtesy Photostock. Copyright: Suzanne Tucker

The world of kids is too big, too complicated, and out of their control. Horror allows the littlest, the least powerful, to see themselves as the hero, to envision a way through the crisis, to plan ahead. In short, horror provides catharsis.

Even as adults the world can be a scary place. Sure, sometimes it feels good to cry. But sometimes it feels even better to jump and scream.

In short, horror has as much, or more, to offer than any other genre. But I don’t just talk-the-talk.

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6 thoughts on “In Defense of Horror: 5 Reasons to Scare Your Kids

  1. My daughter started asking about watching “scary movies” once she turned 10. Her stipulations are “not bloody, no weeping angels, and no boobs”. What would you recommend?

    1. Start her with the old black and white classics, and work your way up from there. I can’t wait to watch The Creature from the Black Lagoon with my daughter.

  2. I have a toddler at home so the extent of our scary programming is Doctor Who. But in reality it is me that can’t take those horror movies or scary TV shows like American Horror Story. I almost can’t watch The Walking Dead (my husband has to watch it with me). I will really have nightmares for weeks and jump at every little sound. I’m fine with people thinking what they do about me. If I went through life worried about that I’d never leave my house.

  3. Interesting, I don’t have kids but I have a point of clarity in my childhood. When my cousin and I were four, my aunt took us to a haunted house and while the ghosts and whatnot didn’t scare me, there was this blacklit gorilla that still haunts my dreams. Then I ran out of the theater when ET popped up for the first time. So my mother forbade anything scary. And like, I couldn’t watch Ghostbusters. As a result, when I was over Jenny Schultz’s house and her big brother convinced us to watch Nightmare on Elm Street, let’s just say, I’m still haunted by “one, two…”. Okay, and later than night we sat down as a family to watch Back to the Future and those two movies are weirdly combined in my head. My dad apparently was very dismayed at all of this and then one summer afternoon that following summer (I would have been ten) he decided I was going to be exposed and he sat me down to watch Children of the Corn and then NIght of the Living Dead. I was no longer scared.

  4. People scoffed when I told them I allowed my daughter to watch horror movies at around age 9. Sure she could watch Spongebob Squarepants but why not The Shining too?! Do we both jump and scream watching Paranormal Activity? Sure. That’s what horror movies are supposed to do. The only rule is before she watches a remake she has to see the original version. Now at 17 she can tell you every difference between Carrie and Poltergeist. She watches zombie movies, sci-fi horror and ghost possessions. In our home we say it’s the Rom-coms that are really make believe. 🙂

  5. As a little kid I was that “weak link. Even the wicked witch scenes in Wizard of Oz were too scary for me. There was no way I could handle a slumber party with horror movies, let alone a haunted house. This was probably due to circumstances in my life that racheted up my sense of threat. You wisely acknowledge that kids shouldn’t be expected to sit through something that makes them uncomfortable. Couldn’t agree more. To me it’s a little like not forcing a kid to hug and kiss relatives when they don’t want to. We honor the feelings they can’t yet articulate or understand.

    That said, one of the delights in my family is campy horror films. We add lots of editorial critique, calls for less dialogue/more rampaging creatures, and lots of laughter. Some horror film lines have become shorthand around here for the real horror shows going on in the world.

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