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Permission to be scared

Permission to be scared

I wrote a few weeks back about the reasons why I don’t really worry too much about movie ratings when choosing what media to let my children watch. I was talking to a fellow parent about this the other day, and she said that she felt similarly about this, but that her son was quite sensitive and so she had to be very careful about the sorts of things that he watched.

Now, this will probably sound more extreme than I intend it (and I didn’t actually say this to my friend), but I really do think it’s okay for kids to be scared sometimes. I don’t mean that you should intentionally subject your kids to things that terrify them. I’m not advocating traumatizing the little guys. What I’m saying is that a certain amount of age appropriate scariness might be a good thing in that it gives parents a way to start talking with kids about scary situations and how to deal with them.

I’m not sure if you remember the first movies or television shows or even books that really scared you, but I certainly do. Those memories are still quite strong. The witch from Sleeping Beauty scared me witless when I was small. When I was slightly older, perhaps eight or nine, the ending of C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle made me so frightened I could hardly finish the book (it’s still my favourite of the Narnian series). On my 11th birthday, a friend of mine and I snuck his dad’s copy of Aliens, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that I didn’t sleep properly for weeks.

I don’t really remember how much my parents did or didn’t know about these terrifying childhood media moments in particular, but I do remember many conversations about this sort of thing more generally. I remember talking about how it’s okay to be afraid because fear is one of the body’s ways of keeping us safe, about how there really are scary things in the world but that there are ways to keep us safer, about how movies might try to make us afraid in order to make us care about the characters and make the plot feel more intense, about how media are a place where we can think about scary things while still being safe, and about how we always had the option to turn off the television or close the book if things got to be too much for us.

The things is, there really are some scary things in the world, and our kids will almost certainly come up against scary situations of one kind or another at one time or another. There’s no protecting them from this entirely, so it’s important that we begin to have those conversations with them in ways that they can understand, and media is one of the places where those conversations can be stimulated in a relatively safe way.

Kids need to know that it’s okay to be scared, that even big people are scared sometimes (worries about my kids keep me up nights as much as Aliens ever did). Kids also need to know that fears can be faced and that you’ll be there to help them. So, I’m not suggesting that you hunt up a copy of The Shining for your next family movie night, but maybe the next time a movie has a scary bit, resist the urge just to turn it off. Instead, cuddle up and be there with them through it, and then use it as a place to start teaching them how to face their fears.