Let’s Get Back to Scaring Children -or- Meh . . . a Little Therapy is Good for You

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

― Frank HerbertDune

Despite the title of this post, I’m not advocating that we should traumatize kids. Nor am I saying that we should lie in wait and spring out from the darkness with a clown mask and roaring chainsaw . . .

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. . . But that being said, that would be a moment they’d never forget. Heh, good times.

This thought’s been rattling around my head for a while, scaring kids that is. As a part time writer, I’m constantly pondering new, and horrible, scenarios to put my protagonists through. In order for a story to be "good", the hero has to go through a crucible. What good is a story if there is no challenge, no stakes, and . . . no fear?

Because that’s the rub of heroism isn’t? What is courage, or bravery, if not doing what needs to be done in the face of fear?

Of course kids face fear all the time. My own son, by the time of this post, is 6 and a half. When he’s scared, I tell him that it’s okay. But, just because your scared, doesn’t mean you get to quit doing what what we’re doing.

He gets it, mostly. And in time, he’ll understand it better. But as I look at my son, I ponder: what “scary” things I should expose him to? Where are the new primers to teach a little fear? The movies, the shows, the books?

Who remembers Choose Your Own Adventure and being too scared to turn to page 26 to find out your fate? (Pro tip: If you keep your finger at the decision page, it doesn’t count.) Doing a little bit of research, I’m happy to see that scary books, like Goosebumps and others, still exist for kids. But, what about the scary movies?

A quick Google search of popular scary movies for kids came up with a list that is primarily from my childhood and formative years, with a few here and there.

By no means am I saying I’m an expert, or is this meant to come off preachy in the “kids these days aren’t tough enough”. No. Far too many young kids face real fears and horrors that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

I’m honestly wondering: Where are the popular, modern versions of The Secret of NIMH, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Neverending Story, Labyrinth, Dark Crystal, Willy Wonka, Something Wicked This Way Comes, Goonies, Gremlins, Star Wars, or Witches? The movies, while entertaining, are also full of dread, consequences, fear . . . hope, perseverance, and ultimately triumph through courage?

I guess Stranger Things, fits part of that, as do the modern sequels of some of those movies. But, is it the same? Are those meant for kids? Maybe I’m wrong, but, it feels like we are missing our modern Grimm’s Fairy Tales. The lessons taught to kids to give them a healthy respect of the unknown, while also thickening the emotional skin. And I’m talking about the actual Grimm’s Tales, the ones with the dark forests, cannibalism, eyeball pecking, grandma killing, toe cutting, abduction, and creepy as F*CK adults who don’t care one whit for the life of the young.



Sure, the old movies I, and many of us, grew up on are still there. But, shouldn’t there be a new generation of film makers actively trying to murder/scare kids like Stephen Spielberg did in E.T., Hook, and Jurassic Park? For God's sake, the man killed Rufio!

I guess all I’m wondering is: are we still willing to scare the young, properly, thus instilling the value of fear? Are we still willing to teach them that The Fratelli’s will chop off your hand in a blender? That to Raptors, you are food? That Mr. Dark's Pandemonium Carnival is most likely operated by an agent of the Devil? That Darth Vader will chop off your hand, even if you are his son? That to Witches, children smell obnoxious and that they, The Witches, are demons in mortal form?

I’d like to think so. Special shout out to Guillermo del Toro and Pan's Labyrinth for keeping fear alive! 

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A taste of fear is good. A sense of the dark is good. Given a controlled space, it helps the psyche experiment with the macabre, reason with mortality, and cope better in times of real stress. 

But not TOO much. If there's too much, well,  I think we know where that leads.