Coming Along...

Wondering what we're working on lately? Currently we are working on creating a strong financial foundation, preparing for a move to North Carolina (goal date: summer 2013), slowly building up a collection of spooky items, and starting our foray into miniature models.

Monday, October 7, 2013

When Is My Kid Ready For A Haunted House?

"Is my child ready for a haunted house?" A friend of mine asked this question on Facebook the other day, and since I am a horror AND haunted house aficianado with kids I took a stab at it. She told me I should take my advice and turn it into a blog post because she couldn't really find anything on Google and sometimes when we get old, we forget what it's like to look at scary stuff as a kid, when it's new and fresh and (often) ACTUALLY frightening. (Which is not to say adults don't get frightened too; I know plenty of them that won't set food in a haunted house!) It can be difficult to tell if your child is too young (in years or emotional maturity) to go to a haunted attraction. So here's my advice:

Number One: KNOW YOUR KID. What they can handle will vary widely based on their individual personalities and ability to separate fantasy from reality. I've got a 9 year old son who HATES horror and being scared. I have an almost 7 year old daughter who LOVES it. Neither has been to a 'true' haunted house yet. The younger one has asked to go but I am not sure she is ready, since some of them are pretty extreme. The older one was invited to a classmate's birthday party at one this year - I didn't even know that was a thing, I think it's AWESOME, but he's not going and NO ONE CAN MAKE HIM).

Number Two: CHOOSE YOUR HAUNTED HOUSE WISELY. Each haunted attraction will vary widely based on what kinds of scares they offer.

a) Check to see if they have an age limit. Most don't but almost all recommend your kids be at least teenagers.

b) See if you can find local friends who have been there and get their opinion on how scary it was.

c) Find out if the workers touch you or not. Some houses allow this, some don't.

Haunted houses use a variety of scenarios to scare. Total darkness. Strobe lights and other light effects. Scary sounds and music. Fog. Jump and 'startle' scares. Disturbing imagery. Some even have sections where you may have to crawl, be squeezed, feel like the walls are closing in, or go down slides or through tunnels. Can your kid handle stumbling through the pitch darkness, only to have someone with a chainsaw jump out at them and chase them?

We went through our local park district's 'haunted hallway' a couple years ago and it was actually REALLY well done. My husband and I ended up having to carry both kids while they buried their faces in our necks. Even charity or local haunted houses are staffed by people like me who take pride in scaring people and they're usually really well done. I worked a Jaycees haunted house when I was in high school and was in a very realistic torture scene, stationed next to an actual rotting pig's head (from a local butcher). We had a truck that looked like it was going to drive right into you, a bunch of scary clowns, a mad scientist's lab with actual edible organs, and more. This was 20 years ago. I can only imagine they've improved since then.

Number Three: TALK TO YOUR KID. Don't just drag them to a haunted house kicking and screaming or surprise them when you get there. Discuss what sorts of things they should expect from it, and ask them if they think they are ready for it. It's FUN to be fake-scared. It's NOT fun to be really terrified. Help set your kid up for success by making sure they know it's all pretend, that the people working there are having a ton of fun and working hard so that YOU will have fun too.

So you've considered the above and your kid says 'I'm ready Mom and Dad, I want to do this!' Is there a litmus test to see if they can handle it? Here's my personal succession of tests:

1) Read scary books together. 

From my daughter's first grade open house. All the other little girls had Barbies, princesses, American Girl, mermaids. Then there's my daughter's at the end of the line.
a) If they haven't even read Goosebumps, start there. My horror-hater can't even handle Goosebumps!

b) Grab your favorite anthology of scary campfire tales from when you were a kid. Read some of those together.

c) Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark. Any of them, as long as they have the ORIGINAL artwork. If your kid can look at the artwork without running screaming, you're off to a good start.

Best children's book EVER.
2) Watch some scary movies together. It can be hard to find horror movies that are ok for kids but if they can't handle even a moderately extreme scary movie, DONT TAKE THEM TO A HAUNTED HOUSE. Haunted houses typically have a good amount of gore; so if your value system doesn't want them seeing gore / disturbing material (people sliced up, bodies hanging, bodies burning on spits, torture scenes), stay out of haunted houses. I actually would like to write up a list of scary movies that are appropriate for kids, more or less, and rank them. For the sake of this post though I'll just throw out a few suggestions.

MILD: Nightmare Before Christmas, Hocus Pocus, Mr. Boogedy

MEDIUM: The Hole (Joe Dante). Ghostbusters. Gremlins (warning: talks about how Santa doesn't exist! I just tell my kids 'that's made up for the movie'. Because we separate fantasy from reality but goddamnit we believe in SANTA CLAUS.)

WILD: Poltergeist. The Frighteners. Insidious.

If your kids can make it through that whole list, they might be ready. (Haven't seen some of the films? Check out the Parental Advisory section for each film on IMDB or go to Common Sense Media. Both are excellent resources for determining if a film fits your family's value system.)

3) How well do your kids handle people's yard haunts ON Halloween? Will they walk through a scary yard where people might pop out at them, or do they make you go get the candy? If they won't set foot on the crazy neighbor's lawn, or they wet their pants when the dude down the street in the hockey mask comes after them, they're probably not ready. If they will stride up, play along, giggle right after they scream, take their candy, and skip away, you're probably good to go.

My costume for our yard haunt last year.

There's no exact way to tell FOR SURE if your kid can handle a haunted house this season, but if you follow this advice and your kid passes the litmus tests, I think you can safely give it a go and probably guarantee a good time.

One final piece of advice: if you are anywhere NEAR Mount Carroll, IL - we are three hours away and we still make this trip whenever we can - and I recommend that you do this OUTSIDE the Halloween season because they are open year-round and you will get a much better tour: TAKE THEM TO RAVENS GRIN INN. It's a haunted house that isn't at all a traditional haunted house: it's weird and wonderful, the owners are amazing people, they will tailor the tour to your kids' fear level, and it's my second favorite place on earth. 

Both my kids (even the scaredy-cat) have been there multiple times (my daughter was 3 the first time we visited) and they love it. You couldn't possibly find a better way to introduce your kids to the fun of being scared than you could here. 

The 3-year-old ringing the front doorbell... because none of the adults would.
(Here's a link to an old review I wrote of them the first time I ever went, if you want some spoilers!)

Best of luck, happy haunting, and have fun!

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