People often get a bit worried when you talk about telling scary stories to children. As a primary school teacher, I understand. So let’s explore whether scary stories are good or bad for children.
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Why scary stories are good for children
Scary stories help children with their fears
Research in 2016 revealed that a third of parents would avoid reading their children a story containing a frightening character (Flood 2016). So clearly, many parents and educators are worried about their children getting scared.
That is understandable. We all wish children good dreams instead of nightmares.
However, the world is a scary place in itself. There are fights. There is sickness. Things are happening we do not understand. Therefore, children will be scared and need to learn how to process and deal with this feeling.
A scary story can offer children a safe situation to feel their fear and learn how to deal with it. Keeping children away from listening to scary stories and scary characters means also keeping them away from a possibility to grow and develop.
Most children love scary storytelling
Scary stories are fun! For almost all children. Or, as author Cavan Scott puts it:
A scary story is the literary version of a rollercoaster. You strap yourself in and are sent on a thrilling ride that quickens your pulse. Your stomach lurches and your fingers tingle. Then when it’s over, nine-times-out-of-ten, you laugh. You’ve just pushed yourself to the edge of your comfort zone, all without being in actual danger.C. Scott (Booktrust)
Most children love the experience of listening to a scary story. They will treasure it for a long time as a good memory.
Now, when scary stories can help children grow, and they enjoy them, why do they have such a bad reputation with many parents and educators?
Sometimes scary stories are bad for children
Sometimes stories are simply too scary. They are not appropriate for the age of children. It’s like reading Stephen King’s ‘It’ to an 8-year-old. That’s not appropriate.
Luckily there is some protection against material that is too scary for a child.
First, children protect themselves by not imagining what is too scary. As a storyteller, I have noticed that some children will not imagine parts of the story that are too scary for them.
This is something unique to telling scary stories. It does not apply to watching a scary movie. With movies, they cannot escape from the image. With oral storytelling, they can.
Second, children protect themselves by putting their hands on their ears. They walk over to the teacher or suddenly go to the toilet. They don’t want to listen anymore. It is the equivalent of them closing the book when it becomes too scary.
Third, parents and educators know their children. Some of them are easily scared, others not at all. Some of them love clowns, and others are horrified of them. It is the job of parents and educators to protect their children from material that scares them too much.
💡 A website that advises parents about the age-appropriateness of movies and books is commonsensemedia.org.
Conclusion: Is it bad to tell scary stories?
It is good to tell scary stories to children, provided they are age-appropriate and told in a safe and supportive environment. They help them process and deal with their fears. They are great fun and will stay with them as exhilarating memories.
➡ Here I wrote more on how to tell a scary story.
Sources ‘Are scary stories good or bad for children?’
- Ragan, K. 2006. Outfoxing Fear: Folktales from Around the World
- Ellis, E. 2022. Prepare to Scare: A Guide to Telling Scary Stories
- Flood, A. 2016. One third of parents avoid reading children scary stories, study finds
- Ruth, G. 2017. Horror is good for you (and even better for your kids)
Photo credits: Pixabay
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