Witches, Sharks, and The Generation Gap of Fear

Just in time for Halloween: A study by Finnish researchers says kids get more scared when watching scary movies with their parents than when they’re by themselves.  According to a new study published in the journal Child: Care, Health and Developmentchildren were four times more afraid of the events on the screen when their parents were watching, too. The researchers suggest that in spite of the soothing that parents may offer, a kid picks up on more hair-raising moments with parents, thanks to a parent’s facial expressions or physical reactions, and in turn the child gets more scared.  I had to laugh.  Because any time I’ve ever watched movies with my kids, they’re not scared in the least by the “scary” parts, and get downright annoyed (and these days, embarrassed) with my visible reactions.

And I react a lot.  Don’t you think some movies today are far scarier than those from eras past? Though Margaret Hamilton’s Wicked Witch of the West in “The Wizard of Oz” is still probably giving kids nightmares (waking up from seeing her green face in my dreams is one of my earliest memories), I would think kids would be losing a LOT more sleep over the technically possible stuff on the screens today: a giant snake and huge attacking spiders in “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” (a complete nail biter/hair-raiser in my opinion); a man who stalks kids and shoots at them in public in “Jumanji” (very creepy– and too close to real headlines for me); an evil principal with a torture closet in her office in “Matilda” (she makes the Wicked Witch look benevolent); and a T Rex smashing a Jeep with children inside in “Jurassic Park” (I cried and screamed at the same time– no joke).  When Allison, my teen, recently saw the aforementioned dinosaur flick for the first time, she not only loved it, she and her friend watched it more than once, and asked me to rent all the sequels as well.

Maybe being computer knowledgeable almost from birth has made our kids unimpressed with what we parents from the “Dark Ages” would find scary. Oh, they still get scared–  just by different things.  When asked what movie scared her the most when she was younger, Allison replied, “The Muppet Christmas Carol! I used to leave the room every time Marley and Marley came on.” The two “old men” from “The Muppet Show” shared the Dickens character of Marley and she said they were really creepy, rattling chains and talking in a weird way.  Hmmm…puppets? I don’t think puppets would scare me. She also reminded me of the time she was so creeped out, she had to take off her 3-D glasses at the IMAX theater when we went to see “The Magic Box” (“Siegfried and Roy take you from their record-breaking Las Vegas show to their home, a wildlife sanctuary where they romp freely with their world-famous white tigers and lions!”)  (Gee, maybe that’s the one movie where we’ve both been creeped out…   )

My tiny 10-year-old, Emmie the Fearless, says she can think of no movie that’s scared her, and I can’t either.  For her, I think scary stuff makes her like a movie even better. Gives her a triumphant sense of accomplishment when it’s over, like she’s taken on an obstacle and defeated it.  I think it all started several years ago when she was age 5, when I was out and Andy let her watch “Pirates of the Carribbean”, something I’d declared off limits to her until she was older (leave it to Dads to do stuff like that, huh?).  “I wasn’t scared at all!” she said as she excitedly recounted everything upon my return, beaming from ear to ear.  Recently when Allison and her friends were watching “Jaws” one night, Emmie begged to watch it the next day. In spite of her fearlessness and exposure to many “scary” movies, I had serious reservations. I saw Jaws when I was 13 and experienced my first sleepless night ever.  I mean, I was so scared afterwards, I envisioned sharks coming up out of the toilet to get me, and tiny ones dripping from the bathroom faucet.  So scared that to this day, every time I hear Barry Manilow sing “Coud This Be Magic?” I think of seeing that movie and remember the fear– the song was playing on the car radio as my parents and I drove away from the theater.  I told Emmie about this, and she laughed and reminded me that we all had seen the shark used in the movie, at Universal Studios in California– “Looked pretty fake to me!” she said. 

So I braced myself and watched it with her, again.  Thirty-four years later, not quite as scary. But still heart-pounding at times. And completely gross toward the end.

Emmie liked it so much, she checked out books from the library about sharks and wrote a report about them for a class project.  “I want to see Jaws again!” she announced.  
Who knew there were so many sequels?!

One thought on “Witches, Sharks, and The Generation Gap of Fear”

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