Fear is a powerful emotion that many scientists credit with helping our species survive. For example, most humans seem to have an instinctive, generalized fear of snakes, leeches, rats and spiders. In fact, NBC capitalized on these generalized fears to develop a very successful reality show, Fear Factor, where contestants competed to overcome their fears in order to qualify for a grand prize of $50,000. Similarly, the modern celebration of Halloween is one of the most highly anticipated fall events every year.
When we’re afraid, our sympathetic nervous system sends out impulses to our glands triggering them to release adrenaline and noradrenaline into the bloodstream that increases our heart rate, tightens our muscles and raises our blood pressure. As a result, our body is prepared to fight or flee.
So why do timeless scary stories remain so popular for kids today? I think there are three important reasons that make scary stories even more important than ever for kids today.
1. Scary stories are entertaining When we confront fear in a scary story, our bodies experience a “rush” of excitement from the chemical release of these hormones, enabling us to experience and explore our fear from a safe distance. In fact, reading or listening to a ghost story in a dark room, alone or in a group, can be entertaining and even fun, just like the thrill of riding a speeding roller coaster.
2. It’s okay to be afraid Beyond the thrill or entertainment factor, we can help children learn that it’s okay to be afraid. Ghost stories can show children that it is okay to be afraid and that they can use their minds to solve problems, even when they are frightened. Roberta Simpson Brown, “Queen of the Cold-Blooded Tales”, believes that scary stories teach children that it’s all right to be afraid. She even goes further to point out that scary stories help us realize that everyone is afraid of something and that it is healthy to face our fears.
3. Learning resiliency Childhood can be a scary time for kids. But children flourish when they learn how to use their emotional tools to effectively handle a range of life experiences. Sometimes as adults, we forget that starting school each fall, learning to ride a bike, or moving to a new neighborhood are scary challenges for kids. Today, we seem to frequently restrict risky situations or reduce the risks of failing for kids, in order make their lives safer. As a result, scary stories filled with ghosts, monsters or trolls may help kids learn how to recognize a threatening situation, how to effectively respond to danger and even learn how to face their fears and solve a problem, especially when they’re scared.
I believe that combining these three factors can help kids experience a healthy dose of fear, disappointment and sadness in order to prepare them for life’s inevitable ups and downs. Stories that push kids out of their “safe zones” may actually build confidence and even foster a greater understanding of how to cope with threatening situations. So this month when kids have a few spare minutes in the day, or assignments end just before lunch, or it’s not quite time to pack up for the day, why not reach for a copy of Roberta Simpson Brown’s Scariest Stories Ever Told, Tim Tingle’s Spirits Light and Dark: Supernatural Tales from the Five Civilized Tribes, or The August House Book of Scary Stories: Spooky Tales for Telling Out Loud?
Not only will they love to listen to these classic stories, they may even learn some important life lessons. One thing we know for sure: well-written scary stories will continue to be loved by countless generations of young readers because they are just so much fun to experience.
Find more spooky tales and collections through our scary stories reading list!