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raising kids voices

Fear Factor

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I let my son watch scary movies—and we’re both happier.

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t started with Stranger Things. My husband, my son Henri, and I watched the first season together and loved it. I was terrified, but Henri was cool as a cucumber. He’s always loved scary stuff. Even as a toddler, he was never freaked out by gruesome Halloween costumes or macabre movies such as Coraline. There was only one occasion when he woke me up in the middle of the night from a nightmare. He was 4 years old at the time and he dreamed of a skeleton called Masterpiece. His retelling of it scared the bejeezus out of me, but he—having unloaded it all—managed to go right back to bed. When the second season of Stranger Things came out, Henri and a group of friends got together to binge-watch it. I know some other parents gave us the hairy eyeball for allowing our 11-year-old to watch it, and frankly, I also questioned the appropriateness. But then something magical happened. This pack of boys, who normally just played online, suddenly wanted to be like Mike, Dustin, Lucas, and Will—which meant riding their bikes to each other’s houses and going in search of adventures. It made my 1980s inner child sing with happiness. And it also made me realize that some scary things are okay. But then came It, the Stephen King movie. He wanted to see it and I wasn’t so sure. “Please, mom. I promise, it’s not too scary. Dad said it’s okay.” I wasn’t as concerned about the scariness as I was about the

By Patti Woods

violence and language—but I also knew he was already exposed to a lot of that. And honestly, I wanted a night to hang with my increasingly independent son. So, one Saturday night, I relented. My husband went to bed early, leaving Henri and me and a big bowl of popcorn. The previews alone had my heart thumping. “It’s not real, Mom,” he continually reminded me. I wrapped myself tightly in a blanket and white-knuckled it, trying not to scream. How could he be so calm? And then it happened. During the scene when Pennywise the Clown peeks out from the sewer, Henri reached out and grabbed my hand. This was a child who never wanted me to hold his hand—even when he was a little kid crossing the street or walking into the first day of school. So, when he tightly squeezed my fingers, Pennywise took a backseat to the utter joy glowing in me. He needed me! My tough tween son actually still could be vulnerable. I won’t go so far as to say he snuggled with me that night, but for two hours, we experienced something together. I’m still not a fan of scary movies, but I’m not against them either. Stranger Things helped him tighten the bonds of his friendships and It gave him a gentle reminder that it’s still okay to need your mom. Now I can’t wait to surprise him with a trip to the local haunted house.

Patti Woods is a freelance writer living in Connecticut. Her work has appeared in many places such as The Boston Globe, The Christian Science Monitor, Today’s Parent, The Week, and more. She is the author of Lost Restaurants of Fairfield (The History Press, 2015). 

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