Article by Tyler Turner.
Horror films, for many of us, act as a rite of passage. They’re what define sleepovers during the awkward era when you’re not quite at the age of sloppy Skins parties, but are well past pillow fights. Usually, it is about quenching the desire to do something a little naughty – of course, when you place a big red sticker on something that screams DO NOT WATCH ME, it is human nature to automatically want to watch it (The Ring, anyone?). But why should this be the case at all?
It seems incredibly unfair for Horror movies, in the mind of a child, be shelved alongside the likes of drugs and alcohol on the rebellion cabinet. It is degrading for a genre in dire need of respect and recognition to be stigmatised in such a way, and for children to be denied access to some of its most cherished treasures just because someone else has decided for them that they are incapable of enduring them.
The bottom line is, Horror films are designed to be scary. Not everyone is going to be comfortable with this – hence why some adults avoid them themselves or feel affected a long time after having watched one, prompting them to then ‘protect’ their children from the terror they showcase.
To me, it definitely seems as though susceptibility to Horror films is more down to personal preference rather than level of maturity, yet Swiss development theorist Jean Piaget argues otherwise. He states that children do not have the life experience needed to put Horror films into perspective. Because of this, exposure to such films can apparently lead to the development of anxiety disorders or phobias.
Here’s a little anecdotal input to help give this theory some perspective – obviously, I do not represent everyone, but as a child raised on horror, I can honestly say that I did not develop any phobias that came directly from watching said films. In fact, my one irrational fear is – rather underwhelming – chimpanzees. Believe it or not, this was influenced by Babe: Pig in the City, which gave me nightmares for days after watching. Hardly Horror’s fault.
So where do you draw the line? If it really is so hard for children to distinguish between fact and fiction, then how are fantasies and films that lull children into a false sense of optimism any less damaging? Maybe children need to be given more credit. As a youngster, I was certainly smart enough to know that mummies didn’t really come back to life and terrorise 1920’s Egypt, but I did know, however, that chimpanzees were all too real.
On the other end of the spectrum, psychologist Carl Jung promotes a relationship between children and Horror movies with his ‘Shadow Archetype’ theory. It talks of a collection of negative and socially unacceptable tendencies that are basic part of human nature. Jung suggests that periodically battling these tendencies is essential to our development. Arguably, Horror films can offer children an environment away from the real world where they can explore their darker instincts without compromising their real life. This is clearly a much healthier alternative to going out a wreaking havoc within the community.
Aside from all these clever theories, it is clear to see that Horror films can be highly beneficial for children both individually and within a social environment.By introducing children to Horrors at an earlier age, they are able to confront the more unpleasant aspects of society and the human psyche, and may, as a result, grow to have fewer fears. It may even fill them with a confidence that they would be able to take on any given situation after seeing it tackled in a Horror, unlike with typical ‘child-friendly’ films which refuse to acknowledge that such occurrences exist most of the time (the likes of Scooby Doo being an exception).
It is also worth mentioning that, generally, Horrors are viewed in groups, so naturally it is a bonding experience. With them being more physically stimulating, people could be brought closer to their kids through physically comforting them, or through discussing what they might do in that given situation, or – as is the case with my younger siblings – make light of the situation by joking about it. The latter suggestion could arguably enhance a sense of optimism within children, who may look at the brighter side of potentially stressful situations.
Understandably, there are certain topics that are undoubtedly inappropriate which parents may wish to shield their children from, but this should by no means damn an entire genre, especially since some of these topics (e.g. sex and nudity) cross a large range of films. Maybe it is time for people in general to test the waters a little more when it comes to Horror and gradually help relieve it of this unwarranted stigma.
What do you think? Would you, as Horror fans, allow your children to share in the scares? Let us know in the comments.