In Defense of Horror: 5 Reasons to Scare Your Kids

Image courtesy Photostock. copyright: Kryzhov
Image courtesy Photostock. copyright: Kryzhov

Toward the end of my daughter’s fourth grade year, her teacher tracked me down to discuss an “incident.” The class had spent their weekly share-time discussing their favorite summer drinks. By the time they got around to my darling, the consensus was divided between pink and standard lemonades. Without missing a beat, my little blondie batted her blue eyes and said “blood, straight from the vein.”

I thanked Mrs. B for the head’s up and mentally patted myself on the back. I’m not saying that was my proudest moment as a parent, but I’ll be honest, it probably makes the top 10. No joke.

Knowing I’m raising a child with enough sense of self to not only think such things, but be willing to deliver it to a class of her peers is, well, awesome.

I’ve never been someone to avoid the freaky, not just because I’m a horror writer, but because I feel that genre fiction, be it sci-fi, fantasy, or horror, has a lot to contribute. Most of my parent-friends are open to sci-fi and fantasy—can you think of a kid who hasn’t seen Star Wars? But horror seems to be the sticky wicket. Just remember that not all horror is of the blood-fest Saw variety. Like all genres, there are a smorgasbord of options, which I’ve outlined in “Kid Tested, Mother Approved Horror Selections.” Including the kid-friendly ice cream with sprinkles.

So, as a proponent, let me give you five good reasons to add a little fright to the diet this summer.

• No kid wants to be the weak link.

This is the pragmatist in me speaking, but while we, as parents, might be okay with our kids being a bit timid at times, (heck, sometimes that’s preferable!) no kid wants to be the one at the sleepover who can’t handle the scary movie.

I’m not suggesting kids be forced to sit through something uncomfortable, but we all know that as our little ones grow into not-so-little ones, those trailers for the newest fright flick become more enticing. One of my daughter’s friends self-excluded from a Halloween party because she knew her friends wanted to go to a haunted house. My daughter was disappointed, but more importantly, so was the friend who couldn’t handle the scary.

From a purely practical perspective, introducing a little horror in a safe environment with a parent on hand to discuss and/or comfort goes a long way. Plus, as parents, we get a great bonding experience. I can’t think of a better way to get my tween to cuddle close.

• Horror is our cultural heritage.

Have you read any of the original Grimm’s Fairy Tales? What about Hans Christian Anderson? If not, you should. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Did you see the part where Snow White’s stepmother wants to serve the poor girl’s heart and liver for dinner? If not, what did you think about the Sea Witch cutting out the Little Mermaid’s tongue with a knife? That’s some dark stuff. One might even call it, gasp, horror.

If you want to look further back, delve into native legends or Greek mythology. Just try to avoid the gruesome. Why? For the same reason people don’t sit around the campfire telling romance stories. Nothing bonds like a little scary. These stories make up our collective consciousness. From understanding how Count Chocula connects to Bram Stoker to getting the joke when someone reels in a guppy and quips, “We’re going to need a bigger boat.” Scary stories have meat, they stick to our bones. These are the folktales and myths of our modern era.

• Horror is real. No, really.

Take a moment to think about how many off-the-cuff remarks our kids face on a daily basis.

Everything will be okay. There’s nothing to be scared of. That spider’s more scared of you than you are of it.

We’re kidding ourselves if we think they buy it all the time.

Horror doesn’t pretend. From the first page or the opening credits it broadcasts loud and clear: everything is not okay! No bluffs, no platitudes. Are there monsters under the bed? Sure there are; here’s how to fight them! And no, that spider’s not scared of you, but here’s how to kill it! Which bring us to…

• Life lessons.

Sure there are the obvious: salt and iron stop ghosts, garlic for vampires, don’t go into the basement when the lights stop working, being a busty blond in a tube-top on a camping trip rarely ends well, etc. But some of life’s most important lessons color the horror landscape as well.

Villains come in all shapes and sizes. Nothing brings home the truth of Stranger-Danger more than this little tidbit. No one is more normal than Kathy Bates as Annie Wilkes. Until she pulls out the sledgehammer.

And so do heroes. If I’m deciding on a movie for my daughter and my choices are the Jamie Lee Curtis of True Lies who needs saving, or the Jamie Lee Curtis of Halloween who saves the babysitting day… is this even a choice?

Sometimes life gets hairy, but those who keep their heads, well, keep their heads. Be prepared. Make good decisions. Horror doesn’t have the monopoly on these ideas, but it does a darn good job of making them stick.

• Childhood is scary.

Photo courtesy Photostock. Copyright: Suzanne Tucker
Photo courtesy Photostock. Copyright: Suzanne Tucker

The world of kids is too big, too complicated, and out of their control. Horror allows the littlest, the least powerful, to see themselves as the hero, to envision a way through the crisis, to plan ahead. In short, horror provides catharsis.

Even as adults the world can be a scary place. Sure, sometimes it feels good to cry. But sometimes it feels even better to jump and scream.

In short, horror has as much, or more, to offer than any other genre. But I don’t just talk-the-talk.

E. Lillith McDermott writes dark fiction for young adults and adults who still believe they are young. She collects apothecary bottles, spellbooks and the tears of her enemies.