In a couple of weeks our streets will be filled with fluffy animals walking on two legs, protected by superheroes, tended to by pint-sized doctors, medics, and firefighters, and dazzled by princesses in flowing tulle. The littlest will be riding in wagons pulled by parents eager to steal their stash after they have fallen asleep. The little ones will have plastic pumpkins brimming with candy swinging from their little arms.
But there will also be macabre characters in various states of decay. And some costumes will represent sexualized female heroines.
And this can be a problem.
My daughter was so traumatized by horror costumes that she dreaded Halloween. Desperately wanting to go trick or treating (for the candy, of course), she would close her eyes tightly and only open them after I verified that the oncoming costumes were not scary.
Today’s costumes are much more graphic. We sported stylized skeletons, sheets for ghosts, and stiff, unrealistic Frankenstein masks. Today’s costumes have fake skin, fake blood, and gooey guts.
Some costumes have become so macabre that principals in K-5 schools prohibit them. The school leadership also bans “weapons,” even the plastic kind, fearing that children may get overzealous in their play acting.
So, are these costumes really a problem?
It depends upon your perspective. If you believe that horror is good fun; then these costumes are amusing. But if you have been too close to real death and trauma; they can be troublesome, especially for children under five.
Young children have difficulty distinguishing between make-believe and reality. Fortunately, for most children, their trauma dissipates quickly. (A recent survey found that only 26% of college students reported still being scarred by a horror image or movie.)
However, some psychologists believe that realistic “horror” costumes have the potential to desensitize children to violence. There are also reported cases where children succumbed to phobias. A few reported anxiety, fear, sleeplessness, and in extreme cases, bedwetting.
And what about sexualized heroines such as Wonder Woman? While Gal Gadot beautifully plays one of my favorite heroines; her costume requires significant modifications for young children. And one parent even spotted a French maid’s costume…for a 6 year old!
As children get older, parental influence wanes. If their peers are wearing sexualized or scary costumes, they will wear them too.
So what to do?
One of the authors had a great idea. Her son had decided to be a very realistic grim reaper, but he didn’t understand the character. After she explained its significance to him, he opted to be a superhero.
So I hope that this year I will see angels and cowboys and walking telephones and homemade costumes and Winnie the Pooh characters and superheroes carrying sacks full of candy. No matter their costume, I am anticipating the joy on their little faces as they grab handfuls of candies and stuff them into their overburdened sacks.
Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.