Horror is not for kids

Open letter to Rossendale Free Press
by Nathan Shepherd, Vision Director 
Monday 13 October 2014

“Two young children and a woman found dead after ‘stabbing’ in Staffordshire”. It wasn’t the biggest headline on the BBC News website yesterday, but it’s the tragedy I can’t get out of my head, and I’ll tell you why. Just minutes before reading this sickening news story, I’d seen some clothes for young children splattered with ‘blood’ and ‘gore’. They were on sale in a local superstore.    

Am I the only person who can see some stomach-churning double standards?

It’s not just the supermarkets. Everywhere we look at this time of year, the traditional pumpkins, bats and spiders have been completely overtaken by imagery taken straight from the latest ultra-violent 18-rated movie. This Halloween, our children will be mostly seeing simulated brutality, mutilation, torture – even sexual threat (if you don’t believe me, ask yourself where else the inspiration came from for ASDA’s blood-stained cheerleader outfit for girls aged 9+).  

So allow me to say something to parents, carers, teachers, youthworkers… anyone who is responsible for keeping children safe. Please, please take a moment to look at Halloween through the eyes of a child. And when you see how truly terrifying it has become, do something really brave: stand up to the big supermarkets and event organisers who want to normalise and trivialise horrific acts of violence. As a founder of a charity which has tirelessly worked with thousands of young people in Rossendale, I have seen that allowing children to watch violent films, play violent video games, and dress up as murder victims or serial killers at Halloween is not only incredibly tasteless in the current climate of horrific real-life news stories, but can have a serious effect on their mental health, behaviour, and relationships for the rest of their life. 

Finally, to the organisers of ‘Run of the Living Dead’: I can see that you are trying to raise money for local kids, but I fear that subjecting children to the simulated brutality and horror shown on your website will far outweigh any positive impact of your charity funding. Invoking real fear in children actually makes our job much harder in the long term – I urge you to reconsider your aims for this event.

Portions of this open letter were published in the Rossendale Free Press on Thursday 16 October 2014.