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trick or treat

With Halloween just a day away, it’s time to turn our attention to a specific kind of kid, tween and teen fun: frightening fun. In posts from previous Halloweens, we’ve made predictions about costumes and have made an argument for Halloween as the perfect kid holiday. Rather than writing about the shocking sophistication of little girls’ costumes (just try to find one that doesn’t involve a mini skirt!), or debating whether Breaking Bad characters are appropriate icons for elementary schoolers (or even younger) to emulate, we decided to turn our focus to the very nature of fright. We explored this in last year’s post, calling “the chance to be scared” one of the reasons why youth gravitate to Halloween, a day dedicated to trying on other personas and testing one’s own tolerance for terror. Getting a glimpse at ghouls, in all forms, and showing you can persevere is not simply socially beneficial (i.e., conveys that you’re brave) – it’s also a way for kids, tweens and teens to remind themselves of their own resilience.

Although funny costumes can’t go wrong for any of these age groups, scary looks are likely to rule the night on this Hallow’s Eve. From Royal Vampires to Zombie everything, the undead are “in” this holiday season. Are today’s kids, tweens and teens particularly macabre? Literature professor and smart satirist Regina Barreca suggests that “anxiety and fear are paradoxically often a product—not a failure—of being both astute and perceptive: The most fearful are often those with the most imaginative intelligences.” Given this assessment, it’s no surprise that fear strikes hard among youth, who might seem prone towards delusions of invincibility, but who are also smaller and less in control than many people around them. They live with uncertainty and risk – and even when they embrace it – it’s often despite, not because of, the hold that it has on them.  And their imaginations are highly tuned instruments for fighting fear through escape or transformation.

Scary fun and horror surely share some common ground. But knowing how to deliver frightening fun, versus just fright, can be the difference between appealing to most youth and to the small subset who find themselves drawn to true terror. Movies like Monsters Inc. or even old-school TV shows like Scooby Doo let kids unmask the silly ghost or confront the monster in the closet. Halloween specials like Toy Story Tale of Terror might make preschoolers jump, but it also shows them that Woody and his gang can once again triumph over “evil” – even if evil equals an eBay enthralled hotel manager who teaches his pet iguana to swipe toys! And this Halloween, zombie-lovers can take a turn at putting the undead in their place at 2013’s alt-haunted house: zombie paintball! For kids, tweens and teens, it’s the relief and the exhale after the scare that turns fear into frolic. This reassurance reminds them that they can confront and master mayhem, and that they can deal with their worries, not give into them. For brands, it’s important to understand that frightening fun matters and compels – but not to take it too far. For content creators, don’t deny kids, tweens and teens their fill of fear!