A very skinny, large-headed girl with black hair down to her waist lies in a puddle of blood, her eyes wide open. Above the gruesome drawing are the hastily scrawled words "The Angry Murderer." The dedication reads "To a horrible person," and the next four pages detail the tale of a psychopathic young woman who murders two generations of her family and then commits suicide, allowing only her daughter to live. This gory tale spurred five sequels and was wildly popular among second to fourth grade students.1

I wrote it when I was seven years old.2

I used to think that I must have been a very strange and probably extremely unique little girl because of my fascination with aggression, gore, and violence while growing up. On some level I probably was different in that most children did not write stories or read books as extensively and with such enthusiasm as I did; however, at the core, I think nearly ALL children not only are attracted to aggression and violence, but need it in order to work through feelings, thoughts, traumatic events, or insecurities that they cannot put to words or deal with by simply reflecting upon silently.3

Many children these days are discouraged or even banned from rambunctious play with each other, such as playing with toy guns or swords, playing cops and robbers or "bad guys," and wrestling with each other; many are also banned from reading scary books such as the Goosebumps series or watching violent movies, playing violent games, and writing or drawing violent pictures. Parents and teachers are afraid that if a child participates in these things, he or she will be drawn not just to imaginary or pretend violence but also to actual violence. They may think that their child will become desensitized to violence and become more inclined to engage in it for real. Cases have been cited to support this, such as children being violent with a blow up clown doll after watching a movie where adults hit it; in such lab activities, research often concludes that watching violence "makes" a child violent.4

However. If a child is presented with a blow up clown doll that is meant to be hitting…how else is that child going to play with it but to HIT it? That's what it's made for. What do those researchers consider to be violent- running, yelling, rambunctious behavior? Are the children in question actually FIGHTING, or are they play fighting? There is a marked difference, and one that matters.5

A child can play in an aggressive manner without actually committing violence. Often times when a child seems to be fighting or even pretending to kill another child, neither child is actually being hurt, nor do they truly intend to hurt each other. It may be inconvenient and worrying for a parent to watch children play in such a fashion, but after such play, children are rarely frightened or take it seriously. In fact, they are likely to be tired and more relaxed. Through such play, they have got rid of pent up energy and aggression; as long as no one is truly hurt, such play is expected and even healthy.6

The same goes for a child that is fascinated by horror books or movies, superheroes or comic books, and who draws or writes gory stories or pictures. If the child does not seem disturbed or overly solemn about what he or she is creating or observing, and seems to enjoy it, then it is likely not something to be worried about. Of course, there are limits. A child's individual personality, background, and age should be taken into account. A child should not be introduced to violence that he or she has expressed no interest towards or that he or she seems afraid of. Very young children should not be exposed to extremely gory movies; and of course, it is best that a child views or reads violence along with a parent, so they can talk about it together during and/or after. Any child who actually is dangerous or harmful towards another person should also not be exposed to further violence. But for many children, milder horror movies, books, etc can be acceptable.7

Every child has a need to feel powerful, strong, and in control of his or her world, precisely because he or she has such little power in reality. Through these mediums, a child can feel more secure about himself or herself and take into himself or herself a sense of power. In particular, children who feel different, misunderstood, weak, or as if they don't belong can find a sense of security through horror and supernatural fantasy or gore. Although this is important for both genders, girls in particular, because they are so strongly socialized to be "nice" and passive, often need to feel a sense of strength and may have a safe way of doing so and working out aggression through these mediums.8

This is demonstrated in the cases of myself and my younger brother in childhood. When my brother and I were children we both worked out feelings through aggressive and violent behavior or mediums; I do not think that either of us were harmed, and were most likely helped by doing so. My brother was very sensitive as a child and feared "bad guys" and robbers; he was too afraid to watch scary movies, read scary books, and he had no desire to write scary stories or draw scary pictures. Instead, he was drawn to watching "violent" shows such as Karate Kid, Power Rangers, Pokemon, Dragon Ball Z, wrestling, and X-Men. He would pretend to fight and beat up "bad guys" and declare which character he was, just as thousands of other little boys and even girls in elementary school did. Every Halloween he would pick a "tough" costume as a ninja, Wolverine, or Batman. When we played together, he would play with his action figures alongside me while I played with Barbies, and he would agree to teach me "ninja moves" if I could teach him "gymnast moves" (despite the fact that neither of us took gymnastics or karate). For my brother, who was overwhelmed by more direct, non superhero violence, this form of aggression, by making himself more powerful through physical activity, allowed him to have a measure of control over insecurities.9

I was never interested in comic books or superheroes as a child, although strangely enough, I am now as an adult. I did enjoy wrestling or playing tackle football with my father and brother (and I believe this to be very healthy for fathers to do with their daughters until a certain age, of course), but mostly, I was drawn to horror and gore. It was me who invented the game entitled "Purple cootie" in second grade, which involved a student who was a "monster" going around the outside of the jungle gym trying to reach in to tag others as the "monster," and "Killer" in fifth grade, which involved a "killer" on the ground who chased students who ran and jumped on logs and benches without touching the ground. From the time I was in second grade I read every Goosebumps or Fear Street or Christopher Pike book I could get my hands on and was inspired to write my own versions of them.10

From the time I started choosing my own Halloween costumes I only wanted "scary" ones such as witches, the killer from Scream (complete with my own, self-made bloody "victim" doll which bore a sweater ironically reading "I am loved), ghouls, vampires, and devils. I was fascinated by Missing Child posters and created my own; I started reading my mother's horror books when I was eight years old and Stephen King by the time I was ten. I wrote such gory stories, complete at times with pictures, that my older brother, after reading a lurid tale where a teenaged girl mummifies her classmate and sticks her under her bed, that he told my father he was worried about me. I became quite enthralled with the Scream movie series at age ten and wrote several parodies, assigning my friends parts of characters, wrote a Scream Four at age eleven that was over 100 pages long, and would often pretend with my friends that I was the main character Sidney and they were other characters as we chased each other through the woods. Even now I maintain an interest in horrific, supernatural, or sci fi works, although my writings and particular character interests tend to be those that are psychological in nature rather than simply gory. 11

I believe that the interests and chosen play of my brother and myself, and most children who are attracted to violence/gore/aggression/horror/superheroes, is a normal, temporary, and even healthy stage in a child's development. Children do not work through stress, worries, and traumas in the same manner that adults do, through words and logic. They need to play and create things in order to have release, and often, the only play and/or creations that can do so for them are those that are not "peaceful." Although parents should be involved and aware of their children's interests in such things, this goes for all interests of children, whether "tame" or not, simply because that is one's job as a parent. 12