By Scottie Andrew, CNN
Some children cling to comfort blankets. Others clutch a favorite stuffed animal or lucky charm to feel safe and confident.
Meanwhile, Kayla Lopez’s kids only have to put on their Michael Myers masks to feel invincible.
“Honestly, I don’t know anyone who loves horror as much as she does,” she said.
Dominic, 6, and his 8-year-old sister Aubriella are addicted to horror and run around their house wearing the mask Myers wears in the “Halloween” series to discreetly finish off his victims. It’s a sight that’s especially hilarious when compared to her small stature, adorable giggle, and foot pyjamas.
Lopez documents her spooky shenanigans on TikTok: sometimes Dominic hides under beds dressed like Pennywise the dancing clown from ‘It’, or reveals a hockey mask à la Jason from ‘Friday the 13th’ under his beloved Myers facade. Often, Aubriella and her little brother just stare at their mother from under their creepy rubber masks. Trying to scare each other has become a treasured family pastime.
The Lopez kids aren’t the only youngins interested in the macabre: Briar Rose Beard, an angelic 3-year-old from Florida, recently charmed the internet by falling in love with a Halloween prop baby doll named Creepy Chloe and the look for demonic doll everywhere. The Idaho Sumner family, whose matriarch Kailee posts on TikTok as @sumcowkids, recently went viral when their youngest member, still a baby, was filmed snarling at his older sister wearing a battered witch mask.
Adorable kids and horror paraphernalia seems like an unlikely pairing. But a child’s interest in horror is “almost always an innocuous fascination,” said Coltan Scrivner, a research scientist at the Recreational Fear Lab at Denmark’s Aarhus University.
“It’s normal for kids to want to explore the limits of their own fears and what society considers acceptable,” said Scrivner, who studies horror media and fear, among other things. “This is a way for them to learn about those boundaries.”
Scary can be fun when fake
Just as some kids dress up in princess dresses or Jedi robes, Dominic and Aubriella have fun dressing up as horror characters – usually Myers. It is a daily activity for the siblings, safely within the confines of their home.
“Scary experiences are only fun when they’re embedded in a game context,” Scrivner said. “That means we have to be afraid, but also be sure that we’re safe.”
Getting into scary things at a young age isn’t usually a cause for concern, Scrivner said — young horror fans are braver than most kids their age, to be sure, but they’re really just exploring the complexities of their world, which is frightening enough in real life.
“By exploring scary things from a safe place, kids can also learn more about how to respond to feelings of fear and anxiety,” he said.
Child horror fans aren’t much different from us older folks either: Frank Farley, former president of the American Psychological Association and professor emeritus at Temple University, said that people are naturally fascinated by horror, both real and fictional. Hence the true crime boom, the continued success of the horror genre, and the popularity of authors like Stephen King.
“It’s pretty amazing that we have Halloween,” he said, describing the holiday as a “national day of horror.” “I think it shows a deep human interest in the dark side of life. We are undoubtedly interested in that.”
The Lopez kids have what Farley calls “Type T personalities” — the “T” stands for thrill. While most of us are at least a little interested in the spooky, only “T” types are actively engaged in it, whether it’s a mammoth roller coaster ride or a horror movie marathon. “White bread behavior,” as Farley puts it, is not appealing to the “T” types who are adventurous and not afraid of risk, he said.
Another reason some kids prefer the company of vampires and zombies to, say, the animated cast of Paw Patrol or the Muppet neighbors on Sesame Street is because they earn a badge of bravery among their peers, Glenn said Sparks. a Purdue University professor who studies the social impact of mass media, including scary movies.
When a young child overhears a friend, parent, or loved one discussing how terrifying a movie was, they may try to brave it themselves to prove their bravery.
“Some kids may be more willing to expose themselves to potentially frightening things, perhaps because of the satisfaction they think they’ll get from those things,” Sparks said.
Being a horror fan can build resilience, says one father
As long as her kids love him, Myers is an irreplaceable member of the Lopez family, so much so that the kids watch his movies regularly — on Wednesday they had a living room matinee screening of Halloween Kills.
Of course, now that her kids’ love for “Halloween” is being documented online, some parents have accused her of exposing their kids to the horror too young.
But introducing kids to horror at a young age doesn’t have to traumatize them — it can actually make them more resilient people, said Stephen Graham Jones, a bestselling horror author of books like The Only Good Indians and My Heart is a Chainsaw and Professor of Distinguished at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
When Jones’ kids expressed an interest in the genre, he started them with the family-friendly Monster House and Tim Burton’s twisted fairy tale Edward Scissorhands, films that aren’t necessarily scary but do hark back to the horror genre. Eventually they worked their way up to horror comedies and bloodier fares. But the point he conveys to his kids isn’t to take negative messages from slasher movies where the villain wins, but to emulate the heroes.
“I don’t want to teach them that cruelty is to be commended,” Jones told CNN. “I want them to learn instead that if you’re vigilant, if you fight, if you stand up for your crew, you can get through whatever that ordeal may be.”
Even the most dedicated cosplay kids have their limits: Coral DeGraves, a 9-year-old horror fan, regularly appears at fan conventions in impressive costumes inspired by the terrifying Pinhead from Hellraiser or a demented version of Ronald McDonald, among others symbols. But her mom Cheyenne says Coral still isn’t ready to see some of the gorier movies she nods to. Her parents screen films before sharing them with her, and for some of the more intense films, they share at most clips of characters for inspiration rather than the entire gory-soaked film.
Horror doesn’t define DeGraves’ kid’s life either: when Coral isn’t playing an adorable scary Pennywise or possessed doll, she’s happy to learn about backyard animals or meet up with her Boy Scout troop.
“I never found it difficult to support her interest in horror,” Cheyenne DeGraves told CNN. “The more she learns and creates on her own, the more I look forward to supporting her.”
Halloween is the best time of year for young horror fans
It can be isolating for Dominic and Aubriella Lopez to feel like the only horror fans among their young friends, their mother said. (Lopez recalled on Dominic’s third birthday when he shocked his friends by excitedly unwrapping a Chucky doll, his favorite gift.) They’ve learned to filter around their pals so as not to startle the other kids and pick it up , when they are at home, where their horror habits will not be questioned.
But now that it’s October and the rest of the US seems to have the same spooky fanaticism that the Lopez kids celebrate all year, Dominic and Aubriella are excited to share their fanbase without scaring their fellow kids said Lopez.
“You know around Halloween is the time that Michael (Myers) and Chucky and all things horror comes out — that means it’s okay to be ourselves, to give it our all.” said Lopez.
For Halloween this year, the Lopez family is still narrowing down a possible list of costumes. Aubriella is thinking about dressing like Anabelle, the spooky (and spooky!) doll featured in The Conjuring. As for Dominic, well, you can guess it – he’s already asked his mum for a new Myers mask to add to her growing collection.
The CNN Wire
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