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The Thrill of Scary Stories

Your guide to the ages and stages of development

In a recent student-conducted survey at my son's middle school, the majority of students said their favorite reading material was scary stories. This prompted me to wonder if my son's peers displayed an abnormal fascination with fright.

It turns out my son's classmates are just fine. Many child development experts believe that middle schoolers' fascination with scary stories is a facet of natural development. In the Gesell Institute's book Child Behavior (Harperperennial Library), the authors report that children go through a predictable process in learning to cope with fear. When faced with a potential threat, a child's initial response is withdrawal (think of a young child who hides behind Dad's legs when a stranger approaches). This gives way to a period of fascination in which the child is often preoccupied with and eager to approach the feared object (think of pre-adolescents who dare each other to try dangerous feats). The fascination with fear eventually wanes and the child's interest level becomes reasonable.

Middle schoolers are developmentally ready to approach some of the fears they previously avoided. Books are a safe way to do so vicariously?there's no real danger involved and the child can set the book down if it gets too scary. Scary books may even be more appealing than scary movies since the visual depiction of a fear can linger much longer in a child's mind than the written version.

Many educators believe that reading an age-appropriate scary story in which the hero overcomes his fears inspires readers to do the same.

While it's normal for your child to be attracted to scary stories, it's essential you teach him to use discernment in choosing his reading materials. Help him avoid books that glorify evil or violence. Look instead for stories where good wins out. Seek out books with teen characters who face their fears with courage and inner strength, not brute force. Talk with a children's librarian or the owner of your local Christian bookstore for books your child might like.

?Faith Tibbetts McDonald, writer, mother of three

A Good Scare

The explosion of youth fiction in the Christian market means there are plenty of thrills and chills your child will love that you can feel good about too. Try some of theses titles:

Hangman's Curse (The Veritas Project) (Tommy Nelson) by Frank E. Peretti

This is the story of a family whose mission is to investigate and discover the truth about a mysterious curse that has been placed on high school students in a small town. If Peretti's youth fiction is as suspenseful as his books for adults, your kids will be hooked.

Mars Diaries (Tyndale Kids) by Sigmund Brouwer

A sci-fi thriller with a theological twist, the first book in this new series features a young teen hero who faces his doubts about God as he sets out to save the inhabitants of a space station from certain death. Brouwer has tons of series books for pre-teens, so look him up at your Christian bookstore.

The Mandie Series (Bethany House) by Lois Gladys Leppard

There are over 30 installments of these mysteries for young readers. While the young heroine often gets herself into dangerous situations, her faith, courage, and intelligence always help her find a way out.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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