Find family-friendly Halloween choices
Imagine, if you will, a 3-year-old being pushed in his stroller on a cool, autumn evening. The toddler is with his parents, but he is in an unfamiliar environment. It is dark, noisy and there are crowds of people shuffling around him. His parents push the stroller towards a large building. They enter and are immediately surrounded by darkness. There is a sudden scream from up ahead and the child shrinks back into his stroller. He can sense the panic in the air. Unsure of what will happen next, the toddler is startled when a small lightbulb flicks on, and what he sees terrifies him. There stands a man, covered in bright red blood, wielding a bloodied ax. His face and chest bear graphic stab wounds, oozing blood. And he is getting closer to the stroller. The toddler is filled with panic, and tears start falling down his cheeks. He wants his mother to pick him up and save him, but she does not. He begins to wail and buries his face in his chubby hands, wondering if the scary man would hurt him.
As you may have already guessed, this toddler is at a Halloween haunted house similar to the Canfield Scaregrounds, where this scene replays itself hundreds of times per night. While this entertainment is passed off as “harmless” and “fun,” the level of simulated violence and graphic depictions of gore are proven to be damaging to a child’s physical, mental and emotional well-being. Research has shown that violent entertainment can also negatively impact teens and adults.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has studied the effects of exposure to gore and violence on both children and adults. Due to cognitive developmental differences, children have difficulty distinguishing simulated violence from real violence. They are especially traumatized by gore, because their brain perceives it as being real. Exposure to shocking, violent depictions is proven to cause anxiety, depression, PTSD, aggression, irrational behavior and poor performance in school (NIH, 2018). These effects and emotional memories follow children into adulthood. Viewing violent content is also a predictor for hostile, violent behavior (APA, 2020).
I would like to suggest an alternative to Halloween haunted houses. A family-friendly fall festival would not only generate revenue, but it would decrease the emotional and mental health issues associated with exposure to graphic violence, especially for our children and youth.