With kids, how scary can you go?

Front Range Family

By Alex Miller


A few years ago, our youngest son, unbeknownst to us, watched from the top of the landing a terrifying scene in “Pan’s Labyrinth.” He was probably 8 at the time, and we would have never purposefully allowed him to see what, for my money, is one of the most disturbing scenes in recent film history.

The upshot was several months of scary nights, sleeping in our bed all or part of the night and recurring nightmares of the scene in which The Pale Man with eyes in the palms of his hands grabs and devours faeries flying around him.

There are plenty of other things, however, that Andy can watch with impunity. Zombies, for instance, mostly make him laugh. We’re both devoted viewers of AMC’s “The Walking Dead” series, and while it’s admittedly not suitable for many kids under 14, we talk through the show and how the effects are achieved — very much with the understanding that these are actors, the blood is fake and the situation very far removed from reality.

Children are introduced to scary stories at a pretty young age. Indeed, once they’re past the pop-up book phase and are bored by page after page of textured kittens or bears loving on each other, kids are looking for stories with conflict. Typically, that means some level of uncertainty, fear, the unknown and, yes, violence — or the possibility thereof. Even the earliest fairy tales and nursery rhymes are rife with violence, active or implied, and it’s a short jump from the farmer’s wife mutilating the “Three Blind Mice” and the Big Bad Wolf and cannibalistic witch in “Hansel & Gretel” to the roadside carnage of “Road Runner” and the über-campy battles of “Power Rangers.”

 The point being, kids will be exposed to violence of one sort or another at an early age, and keeping them inside a protective bubble isn’t a realistic option outside of Amish country. The challenge, then, is how we condition them to handle it. No one agrees on how much viewing violence affects kids, but in this parent’s opinion, it really depends on the kid and how s/he’s raised to process it. Consumption of violent material — be it in book, TV, movie, game or real-life form — needs to be monitored, limited and discussed, and sometimes it’s as simple as a questioning statement of fact: “You do know, Li’l Johnny, that murder is relatively rare, and that the streets of L.A. aren’t usually subjected to machine-gun fueled car chases?”

This Halloween, as I observed at my son’s school party last Friday night, the costumes for the girls typically lean toward cute or fun, while the older boys often go for darker themes. But even if most proclaim an inherent dislike of violence, no one looked askance at Andy’s zombie costume (especially since he kept tipping the mask up over his head to see better), despite the fact zombies represent the most reprehensible, wantonly violent creatures ever imagined. The same goes for all the vampires, hockey-mask-clad psychopaths and even super heroes who, it must be said, traffic a great deal in kicking ass — even if it is for good.

In other words, these kids, with their parents’ blessing, were acknowledging the fiction and having fun with it. It’s an odd thing, this abhorring violence while simultaneously embracing it, but fact is most people go through their entire lives without inflicting, witnessing or being the victim of the kind of violence portrayed in popular entertainment. (Alas, this can’t be said about domestic violence, rape, child molestation and other societal scourges — but, then, they’re not the kind of topics most often depicted in pop culture.)

With the real-life horror of the recent incident with Jessica Ridgeway right here in Colorado, parents are justifiably worried and extra protective right now. Even so, Halloween and all its attendant scary imagery continues as planned, with extra security from moms and dads on trick-or-treat night this year but likely no diminution of the scary stuff that makes it fun. It’s a paradox, for sure, but one we’ve learned to live with as we try to navigate the way for our kids in a world that’s truly violent in some ways, but simply faux-violent most of the time.


Alex Miller is a former editor of the Summit Daily and Vail Daily newspapers who recently moved to Highlands Ranch with his family. Contact him at talex10@gmail.com.


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