Just around this time one year ago, I blogged about my Halloween fright at the amount of time, money, and energy Halloween now consumes. Not just in America at large (where, even in our troubled economy, the average person will spend $66 on Halloween stuff – similar to 2008 – and total holiday spending will reach nearly $6 billion) but in my own small corner of the world. Last year, I decorated the house, outfitted the kids in costumes, frequented numerous pumpkin festivals, and participated in no less than three Halloween parades/parties. And took the kids trick-or-treating, too. They, of course, loved it all.
This year, Halloween is shaping up to be even scarier. I've discarded my "do as little as possible" approach to the holiday and plunged into the frightening frenzy. I've not only purchased ready-made Halloween decorations at my four-year-old son's urging but actually "crafted" some of our own decorations. (See the spooky spider tree in the picture.) I allowed my small -for-her age seven-year-old daughter to purchase a tween-sized lady bug costume that might look mildly trashy if it weren't too big for her. And, in perhaps the biggest pumpkin-headed move of all, I volunteered to coordinate said seven-year-old's class party. I've now spent more than a few hours poring over magazines and web sites for Halloween-themed (but healthy and nut-free) snacks, coming up with first grade-friendly creepy craft projects, and recruiting and directing a posse of parent volunteers.
Of course, fearsome as all this Halloween folly is (and, yes, you're right, there is a part of me that enjoys it), there are much spookier things going on this Halloween season. (And I'm not thinking about Delaware Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell's witchcraft horror show although, I have to admit that I find the electoral mood ominous.) I'm not sure why, but, as a parent, I've been finding the world more than a little scary lately.
There's bullying (and cyberbullying), which has received a lot of attention this month after a slew of truly heinous incidents involving teens including the suicides of Tyler Clementi and Phoebe Prince. Just yesterday, a group in Los Angeles released a large scale national study of high school students indicating that half of high school students have bullied someone in the past year, and nearly half have been the victim of bullying. And now it turns out that bullying (and other mean girl stuff) is showing up in younger and younger groups of kids. Although I try to put these reports in perspective and recognize that bullying may not be any more extreme or prevalent than it was fifty years ago, the idea that my child could be a victim, a bully, or even a passive bystander fills me with fear.
And then, there's childhood obesity, which also received a lot of press during last month's first-ever National Childhood Obesity Awareness month focused on this American epidemic. Over 23 million children and teenagers in the United States ages 2 to 19 are obese or overweight, putting nearly one third of them at early risk for Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease and even stroke. The numbers are particularly scary for low-income and minority kids. While I'm not particularly concerned that my own (underweight) kids will become obese (at least not unless they overdose on Halloween candy), I'm alarmed by the prevalence of this problem.
And, of course, there are even more terrible things. Physical and sexual child abuse. Drug and alcohol addiction. Natural disasters. Terrorist attacks. Wars. The list is endless. I'm not an alarmist, and I loathe fear-mongering, but sometimes I do feel afraid. How do I deal with my own fears and help my children, particularly as they grow older, cope with really scary things in the world? How can I enable them to be confident and resilient in the face of truly frightening things?
I'm not sure I know all the answers, but I do know that it's important to keep my fears in perspective. And to help my children feel safe personally by providing them with love, communicating with them about real concerns and threats in a honest and age-appropriate way, and empowering them to be self-confident.
On Halloween, though, I plan to frighten my kids with those plastic spiders and bloody eyeballs. After all, there just may be something to laughing in the face of fear!