Ghosts, ghouls and flesh-eating fiends. Are scary stories good for children?
In a new, free e-book called Year Walk Bedtime Stories for Awful Children, misbehaving kids get their comeuppance in some really horrible ways. No cuddly monsters or gullible Gruffalos here: these dark creatures are ready to tear your limbs off and eat you alive.
These stories are based on Swedish folklore, but they’re not unique to Scandinavia. Right across the world, traditional tales have been used to entertain, instruct and, often, to frighten kids into doing what they’re told.
As the years went by, many of these tales got more child-friendly. It was Wilhelm Grimm himself who started censoring the fairytales that made him and his brother so famous. Gruesome details were left out or changed (like Cinderella’s stepsisters slicing their feet to fit into the slipper, and the fact that it wasn't Snow White's stepmother who tried to kill her, but her own mom.)
Today, many of us still try and protect our children from such nightmarish tales. After all, we now have a better idea of the effects of media violence on kids, and experts such as Dr Sears warn against using fear to scare children into obedience.
Does that mean there’s no place for these gory, ghoulish and gruesome tales in our children’s lives?
Not necessarily, say experts. A good book of horror can be a great thing:
- It can get children excited about reading.
- It can contain important life lessons: Don't walk around at night! Don't go near the water! Listen to your parents!
- It teaches children that fear is normal and perfectly acceptable. It helps them give a name or a face to their fear and to confront it instead of suppressing it.
- Even if the story doesn't end well, children can feel reassured: at least it's not real, and not happening to them.
- Children can control their fear when reading scary stories. They can imagine as much horror as they can control – unlike TV, which imposes images on them that may be beyond their command. And when the book gets too scary, they can simply put it down.
Of course, there are limits. Horror stories might be appropriate for young teens, but not for toddlers. Pre-schoolers can’t necessarily tell the difference between fantasy and real life yet, so this is definitely not the time to expose them to flesh-eating fiends!
Go ahead and encourage your older children to read scary books, without worrying about long-lasting damage. Download the e-book, get the new English translation of the original Grimm fairytales, or try Alvin Schwartz's Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and the popular Goosebumps series by R.L. Stine.
As for me, I’ll be putting on my best Gruffalo voice for a few more years, until my 3-year-old is ready to discover those dark devils of folklore for himself.