Years ago, if you really wanted to have a hair-raising Halloween you’d head to the video store and bring home the always-menacing Michael Myers or Freddy Kreuger. Perhaps you’d pay a visit to a haunted house just to enjoy those spine-tingling thrills that make this holiday so spooktacular. In fact, these days it feels like Halloween is getting too scary.
But in recent years it seems you only have to peek outside your door to get a good scare. When it comes to Halloween decorations, many revelers are replacing their skeletons and gravestones with scenes straight out of an emergency room or a coroner’s office.
How Scary is Too Scary?
While plenty of kids and adults alike enjoy a good old-fashioned fright, some are wondering if upping the fear factor has gone too far. Each autumn now brings a news story of one neighbor at war with another over bloodied baby dolls dangling from Dogwood trees, causing us to ask how much is too much?
“Some of it is just over the top,” she says. “The blood and gore aren’t necessary.”
Her children, ranging in age from 5 to 12 years old, however, disagree and feel the more shocking the decorations are, the better.
“It’s Halloween, it’s supposed to be scary,” says her eldest, Jeffrey.
If the zombies and other creepy creatures are confined to a front lawn, that’s one thing. Parents can simply avoid those areas when trick-or-treating if they believe the intentionally-terrifying displays will give the little guys nightmares straight through Thanksgiving. But, excluding Halloween stores, should public places also go out of their way to startle unsuspecting visitors?
Terror in Aisle 3
Wes Johansson of Scotch Plains says a motion-activated wicked witch scared the daylights out of his 3-year-old son as they entered a home improvement store last fall.
“She let out a scream when we walked by and he had no idea it was fake,” Johansson recalls. “He wouldn’t go back to that store with me for months after that.”
Over the last decade, psychologists have expressed their concerns that as violence in both films and video games escalates, marketers feel compelled to respond in kind.
Mary Maxwell, who works as an assistant in a preschool classroom, says most schools now no longer allow masks or weapons as part of costumes, yet each October Halloween decor becomes more frightening than the previous year.
“Of course, some children seem to enjoy it,” she says. “But for others it’s just too much and it can potentially ruin an otherwise fun holiday.”
So just what you can you to do ensure that your little ghosts and goblins have a happy Halloween rather than a heart attack-inducing one? Professor of Pediatrics at the University of New Mexico Dr. Vic Strasburger says recognizing your child’s threshold for fear and then respecting it is crucial.
For example, if your tween or teen ask to visit a haunted house or even go to a friend’s home to watch a horror movie and you don’t think they’re ready, check in with them to find out if they’re really up for it. Remember, you know your children best and if you think this is going to lead to weeks of sleepless nights, offer them an out to spare any potential anxiety or embarrassment with their peer group.
Not Even Indoors is Safe
Parents of younger kids should keep an eye on what they’re watching on television and their electronic devices more than ever this season as trailers for scary movies may unexpectedly pop up.
Trick-or-treating before the sun sets is also a good idea as daylight makes decorations seem less menacing and more obviously unreal.
While it all might be meant as fun, some harrowing Halloween scenes can have long-lasting effects. Bert Thomas says his teen son still won’t enter a local park after the two visited a haunted playground there several years ago.
“Everything was fine and we were having a good time until we exited and some costumed character started up a chainsaw,” Thomas explains. “It took ages for Stephen to forget that.”
Until there’s a return to the simple yet threatening jack-o’-lanterns of yore, being aware of just how much children can handle is the best way to prepare for this holiday.
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