Halloween may seem like so much harmless fun, a time when adultsenjoy laughing in the face of death, and implore their young childrento do the same. According to a Penn State researcher, however, thehumor of tombstones, monsters and other scary elements is often lost onkids at the ripe age of 6 or 7--many of whom don't find the holiday theleast bit funny.
Cindy Dell Clark, associate professor of human development andfamily studies at Penn State's Delaware County Campus, says parentsneed to realize that scaring the bejeebers out of kids this age isn'tnecessarily a way to make safe kids' fears of death and other thingsfrightening.
"Halloween is a time when we expose kids to behavior that isnot the norm. Children connect the holiday with death," said Clark,whose study, titled, "Tricks of Festival: Halloween, Children andEnculturation" was published recently in the anthropological journal,Ethos. "We typically distance ourselves from death and shield childrenfrom it, but in this case, young children encounter their fears whenthey face decorations of skeletons and tombstones."
Of course, not all children are intimidated by the holiday.Not only do they get all the sweets and treats they could ask for, butthey are also given the opportunity to turn traditional parent-childroles upside down--at least for a day. Halloween is whatanthropologists call a festival of inversion, a flip-flop festival whenkids get more powerful.
"Halloween is a time when children dress up in grown upcostumes and get to demand treats from the adults," said Clark."Parents see Halloween as mock power for children, but children see itas real power."
Clark's research included interviews with parents and 6- and7-year olds following Halloween in 1999, 2000 and 2001, as well asanthropological observations. The most recent studied holiday fell justsix weeks after the September 11 attacks on the United States, an eventthat changed the way some families celebrated Halloween that year.
"The terrorist attacks made many adults reevaluate scaryHalloween customs, and heightened mature angst over the holiday,already associated with urban legends of child harm," Clark said. "9/11brought out intense grown-up concern about real fears of candytampering and worse--and many adults felt there was no longer a needfor the play stuff of ghosts and goblins."
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