Many adults will struggle with allowing their children access to scary books. This is completely natural and understood, however it is detrimental. Ultimately, the parents, educators, and caregivers in that child’s life must help the children make the decision based on what they think is best.
It is important to consider these fictional pieces from a perspective that is multi-leveled and not a stand-alone. First and foremost, children are not given enough credit for their ability to make choices for themselves. Some children love Charlotte’s Web and read it voraciously while others cannot manage the fact that Wilbur (a pig) is threatened with being slaughtered and Charlotte (a spider) dies. If a book or its content is too much for a child they will undoubtedly stop reading it and that is perfectly fine! If we rob children of the ability to gauge their own feelings we begin to alter their emotional tool bags. They need experiences in learning about what makes them uncomfortable, scared, or just plain disinterested.
Think about the adults that you know. Would they go bungee jumping if you asked them? Probably not. You may have a pet dog but know an adult who is extremely uncomfortable around dogs and won’t visit your home. Adults avoid things that bother them and they began developing that skill as children.
Where scary stories are concerned we must look back ages to understand why they exist in the first place. They usually teach us something. Whether it is a Grimm’s fairy tale or an oral folktale they serve a purpose in teaching us about ourselves, if nothing else. Children are learning so many things and scary stories are helping them. If they are never given the opportunity to do this they will enter adolescence with a deficit.
Most importantly, adults should be the compass that guides the child. Allow them freedom of choice in their reading material and whether it is too much to handle but be there to talk about it. If a child reads The Werewolf of Fever Swamp and is concerned about werewolves existing, participate in a conversation with them. They will often go back and forth with their reasoning for either believing or disbelieving and this is an exercise in critical thinking. “Well, wolves are real so a werewolf could be real” or “there’s no way that a person could turn into a werewolf” or “nothing strange really ever happens during a full moon.” These bits and pieces of a child working out the information transform into critical thinking and building upon the knowledge they already have. It may even turn into a flurry of research and you should be there to help and support that.
Overall, there is absolutely no solid evidence that shows any long-term harm that comes from children reading scary stories.
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