It happens to many of us. We are lifelong horror fans who one day decide to procreate, and then we are faced with the daunting task of celebrating our horror fandom while also being good and wholesome parents. This predicament has led to many evenings of me watching frightening flicks via headphones and iPad, while my daughter is seated next to me watching PAW PATROL on my TV. Yes, I let her have the big TV. Sky and Rubble deserve to save Adventure Bay on a large screen. But I had something happen to me a few days ago that made me contemplate what it means to be both a horror fan and a parent, more so than just waiting for my kids to go to bed before I watch HELLRAISER.
I’ll start by mentioning that my daughter has inherited some of my horror inclinations, or possibly just absorbed them by default from being around the house, my office, and joining me at the occasional horror convention or film set. Though not a horror hound, my daughter does enjoy SCOOBY DOO, MONSTER HIGH, and mildly scary stories. But for the most part, she loves dinosaurs, rainbows, and PAW PATROL. However she does love to tell stories, making up elaborate tales. My husband and I always encourage it because it is pushing her creativity and imagination. Sometimes they are about princesses with fuzzy kittens, and sometimes they’re about zombies and werewolves.
At the park a few days ago, she was playing with a little boy her age, and I overheard her telling him a story about the big tree at the edge of the playground. In her story, the tree was cursed by an evil witch, and now every night the tree turns into a big green monster with lots of skulls and bats. I chuckled; I thought it was great! But I looked up, and though the little boy looked fascinated by my daughter’s tale, his mom glared at my daughter like she had just sacrificed a goat in the middle of the sandbox. And as she marched her son away from us with a scowl, I found myself thinking about how I, as a horror fan, am raising my kids and how I am very selectively exposing them to scary media.
When my daughter was first born, at her very first pediatrician’s appointment, I asked her doctor if I needed to be concerned about the décor of our house. Both my husband and I have worked in the horror industry for over a decade, and our house is pretty much a giant scrapbook of our horror adventures. Her doctor laughed and told me not to worry about it. She said that my kids would tell me when something frightens them. At that point, we should remove it from the space or educate the kids on why they shouldn’t be afraid of it. And so far, only one thing in the entire house has scared my daughter- this guy-
This antique portrait used to be hanging in our bedroom, but my daughter said the guy was creepy, so we took it down. But my SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES poster and other horror paraphernalia, she does not even notice. Because of this, we never shielded her (or my one-year-old son) from mildly scary stuff. We would still never let her watch anything even remotely intense. But, we let her be the guide and decide for herself what she wants to watch.
So should I tell her not to tell scary stories, to bury her spooky lore love and never mention it in public? Nope. That’s how you create the same misconceptions about scary media that the other parent at the playground had. Children must be allowed to be themselves and learn social cues accordingly.
Each of us knows our own kid. We know what our own children prefer and what they can “handle”. Just as it is unfair to judge horror fans as being twisted and death-obsessed, it is equally bad to judge kids who may be a bit more monster savvy as being ill-mannered or warped.
I’ll also take this moment to point out that scary moments exist in all media. The Disney flick MOANA had some pretty terrifying parts as does THE LITTLE MERMAID, SNOW WHITE and many other children’s flicks. But these creepy parts are there for a reason- moderate thrills create captivating stories, and kids like them! It is fun to be scared in a safe environment! And kids deserve a lot more credit here because the vast majority of them understand from a ridiculously young age what is real and what is fake. I even asked my daughter before viewing MONSTER HOUSE if she was sure she wanted to see it because it could be frightening. She looked right at me and said frankly, “Mom- It’s just a movie”. And she is four.