You know what frightens me? A generation of kids raised in a bubble that keeps out anything scary.
With Halloween upon us, and a number of recent family movies such as Frankenweenie and Brave pushing the creepy crawly boundaries of what today’s most overprotective parents deem acceptable, it seems to me like the perfect time to suggest that we all relax and let the little ones enjoy a good scare.
Now, I don’t believe young children should watch The Exorcist. And I’m not sure humans of any age should watch the likes of Saw III. So we all have our opinions, and some are more easily agreed upon than others. That’s always how it will be. But as my generation of kids has turned into the parents, we’ve made a virtue out of sheltering our own children from any ghoul or ghostie less friendly than Casper. That can only lead to kids growing up to fear their own shadows. Generation X is raising Generation Ahh!
There’s a reason we crave scares, whether it’s the free-fall of a roller coaster or the dread of a Stephen King novel. As we clutch the edges of Pet Semetary, reading about a father resurrecting his deceased little boy, it’s the actual terror of losing a child that underpins the horror. The supernatural elements, if anything, are like those cushioned roller coaster straps that lock us in and make us safe before the plunge – this just feels dangerous, but it’s all pretend. It’s a defense mechanism as our psyches seek out the worst-case scenario.
My wife and I have a 3-year-old little girl who, like all kids, gets scared from time to time. And although we’re not perfect parents, one thing I’m proud of is that she knows Mor’du the demon bear from Brave and Monstro the terrifying whale from Pinocchio are just characters on a screen who can’t really hurt her. Other things out there in the world can. Real things. As she gets older, I want her to know the difference.
I’ve heard stories of parents yanking their kids out of Frankenweenie during some of the movie’s harmless jump-scares, and imagine that only scared the hapless youngster more – and for real. One of my fondest memories of childhood is coming out of Raiders of the Lost Ark in a state of serious freak-out over the melting Nazis, and having my father reassure me by explaining movie special effects, and how it was all done with wax dummies. What message would hustling me out of the theater in a panic have sent instead?
Yes, we have to think about what’s appropriate for any given age, and yes, all kids are different. But to deny them access to the macabre entirely only creates a mind with a false sense of security. If we don’t let kids safely poke around the dark corners of their imaginations, how will they ever find out what’s hiding there?