It’s October! And during the Halloween season, everyone loves a good scare—especially children. But how can you tell what’s too scary for your kids? Clinical psychologist, Dr. Laurel Basbas, offers a little advice.
T&TO: What’s your perspective on “harmless fright entertainment” for kids 12 and under?
Basbas: In my view, there is no harmless horror. Horror, fright, scary movies; all depend on igniting the ANS (autonomic nervous system) so that the child (or person) reacts with an automatic adrenaline surge. Unfortunately the horror industry banks on the fact that terror is exciting (literally the ANS goes into an excited state). They bank on creating “adrenaline junkies” (people and children that love the high of the excited ANS). Allowing kids to think of the “fright response” as fun, without educating them as to its effects and the inherent dangers, can leave them vulnerable to pursuing the adrenaline rush through whatever means they can find.
Having said that, children will seek a scary story or experience to master anxiety. Facing fears in small manageable doses can be of benefit, allowing the child to learn that s/he can overcome anxieties. In small, short doses, a child faces fears and realizes he can survive the scary moment or experience.
T&TO: Why do kids crave fright entertainment?
Basbas: It is “cool” to like what their peers like. They [also] crave the adrenal rush.
Another reason kids crave fright is the need to master anxiety. As I mentioned earlier, facing fears in small, manageable doses, is helpful. To hear a scary story or see a scary show and survive does help the child. He feels, “I am OK, I can live through a fearful experience.”
T&TO: What’s too scary for kids?
Basbas: It takes a discerning parent to really read their child correctly. Kids usually do not have the discernment to know what scares them, and they may not want to admit they are afraid. No shows that scare either parent’s “inner child” can be a good gauge. Lots of adults don’t want to be scared.
For the kids that feel frightened by the [October] media deluge, teach the younger ones the difference between what is pretend and what is real. Reassure them that the witches, monsters, wolves, ghosts, etc. are pretend and will not become alive to harm them. Pray with them, reading scriptures that promise protection from evil. Psalm 91 is always encouraging, and can provide wonderful discussion about God’s care.
T&TO: What’s the best way for a Christian parent respond to kid-centric fright media during Halloween?
Basbas: Family activity where kids count on the stability and protection of parents helps with any activity. No scary movies without parents present, so there can be a healthy discussion with mom and dad later. Essentially if the entertainment has a redemptive purpose, like the Tolkien series, and the parents use the material to have discussions, it can be instructive.
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Mike Nappa is a bestselling author, a noted commentator on pop culture, and founder of the website for parents, FamilyFans.com.