I love this time of year, Halloween, I usually go all out with the Halloween party and have a few horror movie marathons. The rush of adrenaline, the heart pumping, the emotional overload, it's a kick, almost a drug.
I’ve sought out these types of rush ever since I was a teenager. I remember watching Nightmare on Elm street when I was around 14 and it was the greatest / most horrific moment of my life up to that point. It is like discovering a whole new sense you never knew you had, the capacity to terrify yourself in the safety of your own home!
However like any good hypocritical parent I have a terrible case of the ‘double standards’. My children (along with millions of others) asked if they could watch Squid Games, “No Way!” was my response, “That is far too violent and scary!”
But when are things OK, and when are they not OK for children. Following a recent project with the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) I developed a newfound respect for bodies whose job it is to decide just that, they look at a myriad of different factors to determine if it is appropriate or not (this is an awesome video from the New Zealand Classification Office that explains some of the neurology they consider when doing their jobs). They also look at the overall ‘mood of the nation’ and what society overall deems to be appropriate and not appropriate.
What we as society consider OK has changed quite a bit over the years. When the Brothers Grimm wrote their adaptation of Cinderella they included elements such as the evil step sisters cutting off parts of the feet to make them fit into the glass slipper, they also had the Prince order doves peck their eyes out when he found them to be lying. Hansel and Gretel is also a terrifying story of cannibalism and abuse that leads to two small children burning a witch to death in her own oven. Are we in danger of swinging too far the other way and over protecting our children?
Recent research shows that fans of horror movies have been more resilient to the negative mental effects of the pandemic, while this is adults and not kids the same theory does ring true for children, i.e. practicing a little bit of fear and terror in a controlled environment can help children with understanding how to recover from these emotions quickly and effectively. Basically it is “‘healthy and safe fear”.
We also know from all the work we do with YouTube channels that children will often seek out scary content or content that challenges them. A really popular theme in kids' online content is going to the dentist, it is a known fear that they want to vicariously experience through video. A few years ago I interviewed Martin Jern and Emil Larsson who are producers of a Swedish kids horror movie called Room 213, they tell of a child being really scared in a screening and running out, only to stop when they had got outside, turn around and run back in!
Scary content will always be a draw for children, what is OK and not OK for children varies dramatically from child to child and family to family. They want to push the boundaries and test what they are capable of, and parents need to know what they can handle and what they can’t. Scary movies and situations do play an important role in how children process the world around them, but maybe start them off easy rather than jumping straight in with Freddy Krueger or Squid Game...