Halloween Costumes in Young Children: How Scary is Too Scary?
Halloween represents a fun time of year for children of all ages. Dressing up, carving pumpkins, and of course trick-or-treating provide hours of entertainment. However, some of the images that Halloween conjures can scare very young children. It is no secret that spooky or creepy media exposure can have a long-term impact on kids. A study conducted by the journal of Electronic Media and Children in 2008 suggests that most preschoolers and elementary school children have experienced fright reactions to the media at one point or another. In one nationally representative survey, 62 percent of parents of two- to seventeen-year-olds agreed that their children had “sometimes become scared that something they saw in a movie or on TV might happen to them” (Wilson, 2008). Given these data points, how can parents know if the costume they choose for their child will not be the cause of future nightmares or fears?
By and large, children tend to choose their costumes based on the television and movies to which they are exposed. For example, the female characters from Disney’s movie “Frozen” are the among the most popular choices this year for little girls. Following this logic, if children choose scary characters, is it because they spend time watching scary cartoons and movies? If the answer to this question is “yes,” it is worth looking at how this impacts childhood fears and anxieties. In their study “Tales from the Screen: Enduring Fright Reactions to Scary Media,” Harrison and colleague Joanne Cantor (1996) found that 90 percent of the study’s participants (more than 150 college students at Michigan and Wisconsin) reported a media fright reaction from childhood or adolescence. Moreover, about 26 percent still experience a “residual anxiety” today. Thus, exposure to spooky or scary media may have an impact on the development of long-term fear.
In a study published in the journal of New Media and Mass Communication published in 2014, Dr. Dhyan Singn discusses his research regarding the impact of viewing horror movies on childhood behavior. Results of the study conclude that watching horror movies and television shows does have an influence on children’s behavior, beliefs and attitudes for long time. Young children have trouble distinguishing make-believe from reality, so parents need to safeguard them from violent or scary TV content. Dr. Singh states that “Visual images, whether realistic or fantastic, those are naturally scary: vicious animals, monsters, and grotesque, mutilated, or deformed characters that are depicted in the media may influence a child’s memory” (Sing et al, 2014).
Research clearly suggests that viewing scary or creepy images may impact a child’s attitude for a long time after the event. Halloween can thus be tricky because children are exposed to spookiness for almost the whole month of October. To keep children safe, parents should monitor and limit exposure to creepy material and keep costumes gore free, age appropriate and most of all fun!
Media and Children’s Aggression, Fear, and Altruism, Wilson, Barbara. Children and Electronic Media, Volume 18 Number 1, Spring 2008.
Impacts of Scary Television Programmes on children Psychology, Attitude and Behavior, Singh et al. New Media and Mass Communication, Volume 23, 2014.