We might not realize this when we are young, but a lot of kids’ shows and films have some dark and creepy themes. I remember being obsessed with the animated Anastasia movie, which contains an intense musical number about killing the main character and a pretty horrifying attempted murder scene.
I’ve heard adults commenting on how this generation of kids seems to be really drawn to scary stories, but I’ll remind you that the original Jurassic Park was marketed almost exclusively to children, and Goosebumps was one of the biggest series for elementary and middle schoolers in the 1990s.
Children have been drawn to creepy things for quite some time, so if your child likes scary stories, that’s not automatically cause for concern. Partially, it’s the same reason adults like horror movies: we get an adrenaline rush. Excitement and fear feel very similar in our bodies, and who doesn’t like to feel excited?
While kids don’t necessarily need to be protected from any creepy idea, parents simply need to make sure that the media their children consume are developmentally appropriate. An eight-year-old might enjoy a scary movie made for kids (like Coraline), they maybe don’t need to watch the Saw movies.
Another theme I’ve noticed in my practice is that some kids with trauma history or who struggle with problem behaviors find themselves identifying with creepy characters like Pennywise the clown or Slenderman. These children have some negative ideas about themselves that are commonly seen in fictional “bad guys,” or they will relate to feeling disliked or unloved.
Many parents or guardians have the impulse to tell the child they aren’t actually like that character, or that they shouldn’t relate to the character. I think it can be more helpful in this case to lean in to what the child is telling you: they are communicating how they feel on the inside, and rather than telling them they are wrong, you can practice re-framing or finding positive qualities about the character they are relating to. In this way, you validate the child’s feelings, demonstrate that you are listening to them, and showing them that they are lovable. (These children also benefit from ongoing therapy to build self-esteem and work through underlying issues contributing to difficult behaviors, of course!)
It’s not automatically cause for concern if your child likes creepy things. Acknowledging this can be an opportunity to get to know them better and re-frame negative ideas they have about themselves.