Why is the horror genre so popular?
As many of these characters and stories are part of pop culture, it is extremely easy to find related content on most online platforms – even with parental controls enabled. Some of this content can be disturbing if a child is not expecting it or if they are more vulnerable to this genre.
Why is horror appealing to children and young people?
Younger audiences may find the appeal is directly tied to the ‘panicked’ feeling of witnessing scary situations, or of seeing relatable characters face off against ‘bad guys’. They may also feel:
The thrill of danger – Children and young people can say they were brave enough to play, watch, or read the piece and survive to the end. This can inspire a game of “chicken” in which others can feel a compulsive need to show they are not a coward by also engaging with it.
Community engagement – Groups of friends may interact with this content collectively for enjoyment or for ‘dares’. There is also a high-level of community involvement around horror, which can make someone feel like they are a part of something if they are isolated or lonely.
A sense of urgency – The heightened anxiety that comes with engagement, such as the feeling of being chased or watched, makes players want to solve the mystery or get to the end that much faster. The scarier the character or threat, the more satisfying it is to complete or ‘conquer’ it.
Breaking the rules – If young children or teenagers feel they shouldn’t play or watch something, chances are they will want to do it even more. They may also experience a ‘fear of missing out’ (aka ‘FOMO’) if all their friends are talking about it, which could encourage them to seek it out.
An emotional outlet – Even though most of this content is stressful and produces ‘unnecessary’ anxiety, it also invokes strong emotions and often shows a clear distinction between ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Some people may feel this allows them to express their emotions in a helpful way.
Potential risks and concerns
There are multiple risks that may come from children and young people being exposed to frightening content before they are prepared, such as:
Viewing disturbing content – Much of the online horror content could be considered disturbing or unsettling, especially for younger children. Even if something is meant to be age-appropriate, it could be inspired by content that is not, which could encourage underage viewing.
Added anxiety and stress – Children and young people are still growing and learning. They may not be at a level of emotional maturity that would be able to process frightening content, even if they view it intentionally. They may also struggle to differentiate between fact and fiction.
Intrusive or unsettling thoughts – Everyone has the ‘thing that goes bump in the night.’ If children decide to look up anything online, some of these characters (e.g. Vecna from Stranger Things) could cause nightmares and could interrupt family sleep patterns.
Developing new fears – The manipulation of everyday places (e.g. playgrounds, forests) or occurrences (e.g. flickering lights, creaking pipes) into haunting grounds for horror characters threatens the sense of security a child feels. They may suddenly be terrified of something that had never been a worry before.
Every child is different. Some may genuinely enjoy horror and not struggle with any lasting feelings of fear or panic in response. Many of these characters (e.g. Slender Man, Eleven, Squid Game guards) have even become popular Halloween or fancy dress costume choices for children. However, if a child is worried or anxious after engaging with horror, they may be:
DISTRACTED – Find it hard to focus or concentrate on normal tasks.
WITHDRAWN – Appear quieter, lonelier, or ‘zoned out’.
UNINTERESTED – Experience a sudden change in appetite or favourite past times.
TIRED – Due to sleep disturbances (i.e. bed wetting, restlessness) or nightmares.
EMOTIONAL – Exhibit angry, irritable, or teary behaviours.
NERVOUS – This can physically manifest in fidgeting, tummy aches, or headaches.
FEARFUL – React nervously or claim to have new fears of places or situations.
If your child is exhibiting these behaviours, it does not mean that they are reacting to something scary. However, if the child in your care comes across something scary or disturbing online, encourage them to: