Violence, Horror, & the Paranormal: Is Your Child Ready?

October 25, 2014

People who know me very well know that I love to decorate. It’s one of my favorite hobbies and I love decorating my house for different holidays. The only thing that makes decorating better is if you can find wonderful deals. My husband wondered why I came home from Hobby Lobby last year with a giant autumn wreath in December. We had already had our Christmas decorations up for weeks. But, when you find a $240 wreath for $40, it doesn’t matter what season it is, you store it for as long as you have to. It’s been in the garage for a 10 months, but I’m really loving it now. However, I have a different perspective when it comes to celebrating Halloween. Call me a killjoy, but I think that parents need to rethink the Halloween experience they are creating for their children.

Halloween decorations have been crowding stores since earlier September. I am more and more surprised at the amount of retailers carrying extremely graphic and violent decorations and honestly, I’m even more surprised by the amount of neighbors I see willing to cover their house with them. This year it is estimated that Americans will spend 7.4 billion dollars on Halloween. That number is growing faster than my neighbor’s giant inflatable skeleton vampire slayer that takes over half of his house. This increase in spending is a fairly recent trend. Halloween spending has more than doubled since 2005. But really, what are Americans spending their money on? Why? My other neighbor decided his yard should become a cemetery littered with gravestones and dead skeletons coming back to life (complete with heads on sticks) and the next street over has a giant black tent covered with demon-like figures for children to congregate. I don’t know what will go on in there, but I certainly won’t find out. You all know the neighbors I’m talking about, because you have them in your neighborhood too.

Violence, Horror, & the Paranormal: Is Your Child Ready?Costumes have followed suit as well by becoming increasingly gory, violent, bloody, and/or sexual. But even more so, with advances in technology, these costumes are not just scary, they are extremely realistic in appearance. And yet, these costumes are specifically marketed and sized for children. Gone are the days where kids would throw a sheet on their head and run around pretending to be a ghost. Now we have young children roaming the streets with axes, chains, and knives in their head. Violence, Horror, & the Paranormal: Is Your Child Ready?I am absolutely appalled by the costumes specifically marketed for children being sold by Spirit Halloween. They have everything from the Soul Taker Child Costume to the terrifying child Grim Reaper. The Headless Horseman you can buy in a child’s size small. The Demented Doctor is a ravaged beast covered in blood, and yet, it’s already sold out. For girls, we have the Homecoming Horror Queen, complete with a knife through her head (also available in size small!) to the Undead Goth Girl Child Costume. I can’t even begin to describe the endless amount of sexualized outfits for young girls. It’s outrageous.

I know what you are thinking.

“But my toddler is going to be a puffy penguin!”

I love penguins, really, I do. I love the cabbage patch babies, the teddy bears,
the lambs, the tens-of-thousands of Princess Elsa’s that will take to the streets next week, and truly, God bless all of the creative Pinterest moms that have been brainstorming the most amazingly adorable costumes for the better part of this year. I really hope your baby doesn’t spit up and ruin the costume before you can get him or her out to the block party. Growing up in theater, there’s nobody that likes dressing up more than I do.

But frankly, Halloween is reaching a tipping point of hypocrisy when it comes to children. Can children really handle this holiday developmentally with the violence and gore that they will undoubtably be exposed to on your own street? Consider this research from the University of Michigan related to the effect of media scaring young children:

Scary-looking things like grotesque monsters especially frighten children aged two to seven. Telling them that the images aren’t real does not help because kids under age eight can’t always tell the difference between fantasy and reality… Many children exposed to scary movies regret that they watched because of the intensity of their fright reactions… Children ages 8-12 years who view violence are often frightened that they may be a victim of violence or a natural disaster.

Violence, Horror, & the Paranormal: Is Your Child Ready?Whether your child is a butterfly or a chained grim reaper, Halloween is becoming visually more violent and scary, especially for young children. Honestly, if the houses in my neighborhood were in a movie, the MPAA would undoubtedly rate them with an R for restricted. I don’t think you would let your child watch the Walking Dead with you, but yet, next week, children young and old will celebrate in similar scenarios all for the sake of fun and candy. Meanwhile, moms hotly debate violent video games children play, but Halloween gets a pass because it is a “holiday.” Parents are busy comforting children in the middle of the night from bad dreams reassuring them that monsters aren’t real, but how do you explain the ones they will see on Halloween? Here’s my suggestion:

  • Young children are not developmentally able to process Halloween decorations and costumes, especially when it comes to horror and violence. Remember, most children do not understand the difference between fantasy and reality until they are about 7-8 years old. Children are literal. They don’t understand “pretend” violence, horror and paranormal themes. Whatever they see and are exposed to is real to them.
  • Even if your child can verbalize that horror/violent characters or decorations aren’t real, children can still be scared for years. Example: you still remember images from the first scary movie you watched and the emotions you felt. So will your child. Is it really worth it?
  • Horror and violent themes are not appropriate for any child, no matter what age. Protect your child by avoiding these situations all together.
  • If you do trick or treat, stay with your child at all times.

Can your child truly handle Halloween? Probably not. I know I can’t. The bottom line is its not worth it. Protecting the innocence of your child is far more important. Don’t be tricked by treats. Let’s move onto Thanksgiving now.

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