What Are Kids Scared of?

The fears of kids today seem similar to the fears that I had growing up, but I have to say that my daughter Meredith had slightly different fears.  She wasn’t afraid of any TV show or movie so far as I could tell.  Instead, she talked about fears related to problems at school or at home — in other words, realistic.  However, she was afraid of the dark, just like nearly every kid at one time or another.

Today, one of my favorite movies is the original Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, starring Gene Wilder.  I think, however, that it legitimately scared me when I was a kid.  What did I find the most frightening?  Ending up like “blooberry” (Violet Beauregard), or sent off as a “bad egg,” like Veruca Salt.  (“Salt’s my name – I’m in noots [nuts]”).  I think Veruca’s father frightened me the most.  Augustus?  I did think he was funny, because I was in no danger of diving into a chocolate river against my mother’s ineffective protests.

Willy_wonka_original_oompaloompas To be totally fair, these original Oompa-Loompas and Gene Wilder as the original film Willy Wonka are horrifying.  Their eyebrows are white, their hair is green, and their skin is orange.  They look completely insane, and Gene Wilder is more than convincingly crazy.  The scene at the end where he berates Charlie truly terrified me.  I thought it was real, and I didn’t comprehend anybody “testing” anyone the way he’d “tested” Charlie and his Grandpa.  It was mean, and his soft-voiced anger and turned back really scared me.  His big blue eyes made me think he was nice, and I agreed that the bad kids should have had “bad things” happen to them, since I was a LOT closer to the movie Charlie than any of those pushy, loud-mouthed, selfish characters.  So, when he really “tested” Charlie right before the end of the movie, it really alarmed me.  I think I had nightmares about NOT passing the test and being thrown to the workhouse in the dark, or set wandering in dank, cobblestoned alleys . . .

The Oompa-Loompas are scary because they are child-sized, yet they are completely unsympathetic, look weird and act even weirder than they look.  It didn’t help that, at the same time, there were Star Trek aliens with the same freaky appearance.

Vaal_aliens These aren’t over-tanned hippies.  They’re aliens that worshipped an alien computer called “Vaal” in one of the classic original Star Trek episodes.  They were supposed to be innocent and unspoiled, yet also willing slaves of this super computer “Vaal.”  Basically, they just seemed brainless, had weird white hair, orange skin, and inexplicable face paint (later to be seen in Pirates of the Caribbean, I think – or sort-of).  They had white eyebrows too.  Scary.

Anything that is out of the ordinary or unexpected can be funny or delightful, but it can also go wrong and be scary.  It’s hard to say whether or not Gene Wilder meant his original Willy Wonka to be scary, but I think he probably did.  I learned that the original script for the film was written by Roald Dahl, and his stories for adults were often quite scary, and stories for children always contained dark elements.

I’m not sure whether being scary is a good thing or not, when entertaining children.  I guess the rule of thumb is – if it gives the child nightmares, it is probably too scary.  I had Oompa-Loompa nightmares, and I also had nightmares about horror films I supposedly wasn’t allowed to see, like The Blob.  The Blob chased me all over my dreams, and I also had nightmares about “Inner Sanctum,” which was a show I never saw, but with which my brother used to terrorize me by making the oven door creak and saying in an ominous voice, “Inner Sank-Tummmm.”  Brrr!  And of course a short time later I could not wait to get home after school and watch Dark Shadows and all manner of other cheesy horror films.  But that’s a story for another day.



What Are Kids Scared of? — 2 Comments

  1. Oddly, the things that scared my older daughter when she was small were not monsters or discrepant things (humans who looked inhuman, etc.)–it was what I can only call emotional violence. When, in the Shirley Temple version of Heidi Fraulein Rotenmeier (the mean housekeeper) drags Heidi out of the Sesemann house and tries to sell her to the gypsies (in scenes never dreamed of by Joanna Spyri) my Julie completely lost it. The core of her distress was that someone could try to separate a child from its rightful adults. It literally took an hour to calm her down, watch the rest of the film, and reassure her that there was a happy ending.

  2. You can never tell. My 10yo son recently had a nightmare where he was confronted by row upon row of screaming ants between him and the safety of our house! (Actually, it unnerves me a little bit thinking about it.) He’s watched some pretty gory movies without twitching, but ants did him in!