MONSTERS OF CHILDHOOD AND ADOLESCENCE
Is this monster scary?
Most adults would look at this image and feel nothing, while a child might scream in terror at the mere sight of it. This disparity is because individuals' fears differ at different levels of cognitive development. Babies fear pain, loud noises, loss of physical support, and being left alone, but as they mature new fears compile on top of these. As they begin to distinguish fantasy from reality and later, conceptualize abstraction, children's fears develop along with their reactions to monsters. Their development of fear can be divided from the ages of birth to 2, 2-6, 6-9, 9-12, and teenage years. These divisions are clearly meant to suggest cognitive development in terms of fear and monsters, and not to propose a concrete classification of child cognition. Also the fears that monsters include are accompanied by socializing children to cultural taboos.
Return to topBirth to two years
From the age of birth to about two years, a baby has the fears previously mentioned, separation anxiety (the fear of being separated from parents) being especially important to note (Sarafino 24). A baby is also too young to consciously process and express the idea of a monster and so information on this age group is sparse. Toddlers may begin to respond to physically hideous representations of monsters by crying or running away.
Two to six years
Between the ages of two and nine years children learn to understand representations through images and words (Piaget). Thus they can now envision monsters from their own imaginations and react to visual and linguistic stimuli of monsters (Schachter and McCauley 71). Separation anxiety has grown and also the fear of bodily harm. They begin to fear animals, the dark, and supernatural monsters as they are introduced to the concept of death (Cantor and Oliver 69, Sarafino 26). The visually grotesque is also a primary object of their fears (Cantor and Oliver 72).
According to Bruno Bettelheim, children try to cope with fears like these, though they often cannot express their fear vocally (10). Children fear monsters that have the characteristics, often negative, that they themselves possess and when they behave in ways that exhibit these negative characteristics they might see themselves as monsters (15). Monsters do not obey the rules, especially the golden rule, and so a child may also identify with a monster when they misbehave. Above all, monsters in forms outside of a child's imagination are a way that teach children at this age and older to challenge their fears (120).
Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky" creates an ugly monster that manifests children's fears of the idea of evil. Carroll uses an imaginary language with a cadence that paints a grotesque picture of the Jabberwocky as a symbol of chaos and evil (Price and Price 89). The hero of the poem, however, defeats the monster, and in doing so the child finds relief in the triumph over evil.
Hansel and Gretel is also a prime example for this age group. Separation anxiety is an essential fear in children of this age and is directly present in Hansel and Gretel as the parents leave their children alone in the woods. The witch is the essence of separation anxiety, but the children manage to overcome her and therefore overcome their fear (Bettelheim 15).
Another example of separation anxiety is the Native American folktale about the Wendigo that has crept into American children's folktale anthologies. In Meet the Monsters, the Wendigo is a horrible monster that will eat children when they are alone in the forest. Though originally the tale was created to project Ojibways' fears of the death of hunters and cannibalism, for children it describes their fears of getting lost and of being separated from their parents (Price and Price 164).
Tales of the being killed or eaten by supernatural creatures have controlled misbehaving children in cultures across the world (Fry). The Boogey Man in the United States and La Lechusa or La Llorana in Mexico frighten naughty children into behaving and keep them from wanting to wander. These stories create fear for a child because of their threat to their physical well-being, but also create an association between violence and the concept of evil. Therefore if they misbehave they may identify with the evil of the Boogeyman.
Children also identify with monsters that exemplify their insecurities. In Meet the Monsters, Frankenstein's emotions are listed to relate them to a child's insecurities of not "fitting in:" Franksenstein asks, "have you ever felt lonely?" (18). Another child's book, A Halloween Mask for Monster, teaches children that scariness and beauty are in the eyes of the beholder. A little monster boy tries on different masks for Halloween. They include human boy and girl masks, and a dog mask, but they are all too scary. Thus this monster story lessens insecurities that children may have with their appearance while reducing children's fears of the grotesque.
Another way that children face their fears of hideous creatures is through fun representations of monsters. Some books make monsters harmless though they may look scary. Monster Riddles makes jokes involving supernatural monsters like ghosts, goblins, witches, and mummies. Its cover has three monsters happily embracing showing that not all monsters are hateful and violent.
Other examples of making monsters fun lie in music, toys, television and film. The 1962 "Monster Mash" album by Samuel Beckett makes monsters into party-going dancers and rock n' roll stars with songs like "Monster Minuet," "Monster Mash Party," and "Transylvania Twist." The catchy tune and rhyming lyrics made it popular for both children and adults:
I was working in the lab late one night
When my eyes beheld an eerie sight
For my monster from the slab began to rise
And suddenly, to my surprise (He did the mash)
He did the Monster Mash (The monster mash)
It was a graveyard smash (He did the mash)
It caught on in a flash (He did the mash)
He did the Monster Mash.
For children these songs represent the transformation of supernatural monsters and monsters that are physically frightening into harmless, fun creatures, allowing them to conquer their fears in a lighthearted way.
A primary example of a television program that makes monsters fun is "Sesame Street." The monsters make children face their fears and also teach children about cultural taboos. The monsters of "Sesame Street" are harmless and loving, with the exception of Oscar the Grouch. Oscar is an unattractive monster, with a sickly green color and a scabrous appearance that is reflective of his hideous behavior towards others. Oscar teaches children the cultural taboos of living hermetically, and more literally, living in poor conditions. Cookie Monster is fun-loving and so does not embody any fear, but he does demonstrate the cultural taboo of gluttony. On the other hand, Count von Count personifies children's fears of supernatural and dangerous beings.
Disney movies alter historically frightening monsters into beautiful images so that they can be viewed by children of this age group. In Disney's Beauty and the Beast, Beast mainly teaches children not to "judge a book by its cover." It attempts to overcome children's fears of physical abnormality, but does so ironically with an image that is not too frightening so that the movie can also be seen by children of all ages. In the original story of Beauty and the Beast however, Beast has been interpreted to symbolize masculinity and is frightening because he embodies girls' fears of getting married (Newmark 1F). In fact, in European countries Beast was pictured as a snake-like creature and represented sexual deviance (Bettelheim 306). Thus the more classic rendition of Beauty and the Beast would be too frightening for children of this age group.
Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame also pushes children to face their fears of physical abnormality and reinforces the cultural taboo of hermeticism. Quasimodo is a harmless person, but his physical deformity might make him frightening to children. Other representations of Quasimodo present him more monstrously, and so once again Disney has reduced the physical fearfulness of monsters in its movies.
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Six to nine years
As children age their fear of frightening appearances decreases and so their ability to face more grotesque images increases. Thus around ages 6-9 children can face images that more extremely exemplify their fears (Cantor and Oliver 72). They begin to play with gruesome toys and watch frightening television shows and movies as they experience the 'fun' of horror.
Toys allow children to play with their fears, especially that of physical deformity. The first line of monster toys began production in 1961 (Castile). The company, Aurora Plastics Corporation, questioned child psychologists to ensure that children would not suffer psychologically from playing with their products, and the psychologists responded that the toys would help children deal with their fears (Castile). Aurora then proceeded to market monster models for children to build and began a history of monster toys. Since the '60s several series of monster action figures have depicted classic monsters such as Dracula, Wolfman, Frankenstein, and the Mummy. These toys allow children to play with ideas of physical abnormality and supernatural monsters rather than fear them.
Another example is the Topps' Garbage Pail Kids trading cards of the 1980s. They parodied Mattel's Cabbage Patch Kids dolls by mutilating and transforming their images grotesquely. They address children's fears of physical abnormality, supernatural beings, personal bodily harm, and dangerous animals. The cards also demonstrated cultural taboos like nose-picking, public spitting, improper personal hygiene, abnormal body weight, hickies, and women's absence of shaving.
During the end of this age group children might begin to watch adult horror films and television shows. However the deeper significance of "adult" monsters is not apparent to the child. They might fear the technological evil of the antagonist in Terminator or the possibility to be bitten by a vampire from Bram Stroker's Dracula. The psychological fears inherent in Alfred Hitchcock's monsters are overlooked and they are feared for their physical frightfulness. Once again though monsters can be fun for children in order to face these fears-"The Munsters" television show for example.
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Nine to twelve years
While all these fears previously mentioned continue to develop, between the ages of 9-12 children's fears of personal injury and destruction increase even more (Cantor and Oliver 69). Their capacity to face extremely grotesque monsters grows, too. They also begin to fear the injury or death of loved ones.
The R.L. Stine "Goosebumps" series is widely read by children of this age group (Cornewell). The stories involve monsters varying from a growing liquid called "monster blood" to a librarian who turns into a creature with bug eyes, an inflated head, long tongue, and yellow skin. The monsters in his stories often threaten the safety of the main character and his or her family. Perhaps the monsters even displace some of childrens fears. A ten-year-old commented on reading the "Goosebumps" series: "It gets your mind off of stuff, like if you're sad or something" (Miller). Furthermore, Stine's stories frighten children with physically fantastical monsters rather than with the deep psychological and social fears that children will soon possess as teenagers.
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The teenage years host a wealth of new fears because now young adults can think more theoretically, logically, and abstractly (Piaget). Their fears are therefore abstract; they are social, political, psychological and economic (Cantor and Oliver 70). They fear gaining the approval of others (Sarafino 36) and also the hormonal changes occurring in their bodies. These fears are present most clearly in the werewolf monster and Steven King's monsters.
Teenagers identify with werewolves because of their teenage fears of their changing bodies and being accepted by their peers. Horror film treatments of werewolves exemplify that "sexuality in horror movies is uniquely tailored to the psyches of troubled adolescents, [so that] puberty becomes analogous to the mysterious, horrible, and psychological change" (metamorphoses) that movie monsters usually undergo as a feature of their monstrosity (Popular Culture Reader 338). The wolfman, who is invariably gendered as 'male,' and often only somewhat aware of the changes his body is undergoing, is a nightmarish representation of a teenager in the throes of puberty, and "the formulaic elements [of any horror film intended for a teenaged audience] relate to two central features of adolescent sexuality-masturbation and menstruation" (340). The growth of hair (a secondary sexual characteristic) becomes unmanageable, 'colonizing' the body of the male, appearing even on his palms (a telltale sign of the masturbator). In addition to the werewolf's physical and hormonal changes, he also experiences social changes. Because of his differences he does not fit in. In I Was a Teenage Werewolf, Tony does not want to conform to a group, neither teenage or adult (Jancovich 200). He simply wants people to respect his differences, just like teenagers want people to respect their differences as they examine their identity. Thus "teenagers were faithful followers of and sympathetic onlookers to the plight of the hormonally disadvantaged" (Doherty c/o Jancovich 199).
Teenagers also latch onto the novels of Stephen King to delve deeper into their fears of the supernatural and the theme of the triumph of good over evil. His stories usually recount the battle between good and evil-good usually being human, and evil being supernatural or a human with supernatural powers. Teenagers can understand the fears present in many of King's works because he uses archetypal fears that are apparent in children's fairytales-however, he treats them more maturely (Hoppenstand and Browne 11). Teenagers are engrossed with an evil that is more abstract than they have previously encountered; it approaches ideas such as the psychology of identity, complexity of human relationships, time travel, atomic mistakes, anthropomorphism of machines, and supernatural forces within human minds.
Specifically several of King's works have teenage monsters that embody the fears present in a teenager. Rage, Apt Pupil, Carrie, and "Cain Rose Up" all portray teenagers who feel alienated from their peers and/or family. Carrie is a prime example of a character that is shunned by her peers for her social appearance and social behavior. She is a monster because of these characteristics and also her supernatural powers, dysfunctional family, and simply her teenage abnormalities. Carrie's fear of menstruation exhibits a teenage girl's fear of becoming a woman and experiencing hormonal changes. Like the werewolf, Carrie is the exaggeration of a teenager in the throes of puberty and for this reason teenagers especially relate to the novel. Thus King's popularity with the teenage population is explainable through his attention to teenage issues.
From the Boogey Man to Carrie, children's monsters change with their changing view of the world. Their cognitive development largely determines their relationship to a monster. Monsters can be fun toys to help deal with basic fears of grotesque beings or horrific representations of people's deepest psychological fears. These deep fears seen in teenager's monsters bring the timeline of cognitive development to that of adults. The monsters that frighten adults manifest numerous fears and taboos that include but are not limited to violence, child abuse/neglect, ridicule, destruction of nature, oppression, intimacy with strangers, interracial relations, interclass relations, promiscuity, incest, necrophelia, attempted immortality, artificial creation, prolonged youth, animalistic behavior, isolation, violation of gender roles, cannibalism, and family dysfunction.
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