For most horror fans, their love of the genre started when they were quite young. Whether it was children centered Halloween specials, or catching glimpses of “R” Rated films they shouldn’t have seen, fans of the genre had their interest sparked early on.
And as these fans grew up and started having children of their own, they of course wanted to share their love of horror. But not every child goes for it.
Some are terrified, others even apathetic. It all begs the question, “Is there a right time or even a right way to introduce kids to horror?”
Waiting Until They’re “Old Enough”
For some, it seems like a no brainer that you’d wait until your kids are close to 13 before showing them films like The Sixth Sense, The Ring, and Insidious; and of course waiting until close to 17 to show them The Shining, Halloween, and Evil Dead.
This is certainly what the MPAA would recommend. And while there’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting to shield them from something too inappropriate or too scary, there can be a serious drawback.
Part of what sparks that initial interest in horror is seeing something scary at an age when our brains are still developing. If a child grows up, never seeing anything remotely scary, and then all of a sudden starts watching brutal horror, it will affect them much more.
It may scare them too much, or they may just not find any interest in it, since our childhood experiences have great bearing on our interests.
While some people can see horror for the first time as an adult and love it, wondering where it was all their life, that’s not the case for most. This approach won’t likely lead them to become passionate about horror.
Throwing Them Into the Deep End
This approach may seem extreme, but for the right child it’s perfect. I myself can testify that I saw films like Jurassic Park and Terminator before I was 5 years old, and it helped fuel my love for cinema.
While these aren’t exactly horror films, it could work with them too. A child who grows up watching and enjoying the horror classics will cherish them in adulthood as they become symbols of childhood nostalgia.
This could help create a lifelong horror fan that is far more passionate than the rest, because for them it’s a lifestyle that began at an early age.
There is of course an enormous con to balance out this pro. Showing your children terrifying stories of ghosts, demons, and serial killers can most certainly have adverse effect on them.
At an age when their minds still distort what is real and what is not, they may fear that these monsters are real. Which will no doubt lead to nightmares, and many nights of lost sleep for both child and parent.
Then there’s the inevitable years of future therapy where they work out the mania phobias they’ve since developed.
Easing Them In with “Gateway Horror”
“Gateway Horror” is a term used by director Eli Roth to describe his 2018 film, The House with a Clock in Its Walls. Normally known for this gory violence, he wanted to make a film that his friends with children could take them to see.
But not just that, as he wanted it to be the type of film that’s both scary, but also family-friendly. With such classics as Paranorman, Monster House, Coraline, Hocus Pocus, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and series like Goosebumps, there are plenty of horror themed media that’s specifically aimed at children.
And while some of these may even be too scary depending on the child, it’s a good way to get them into the mindset of horror, but without going too far.
In the end, there is no perfect way to do it because all children are different. Some are going to naturally be drawn to the macabre and disturbing, while others are going to get scared by things that aren’t even meant to be scary.
The best you can hope for is to know your kids and the find the right balance for them that works. And as much as you love horror, be prepared for the fact that they might not.
I’m one of the biggest horror fans alive, but neither of my parents are. So it could just as easily go the other way.