Birth-2 years
    2-6 years
    6-9 years
    9-12 years


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 one's fears change as one develops cognitively. Babies fear pain, loud noises, loss of physical support, and being left alone, acquiring even more fears as they mature. 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. The fears that monsters include are also accompanied by socializing children to cultural taboos.

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Birth to two years

     From the age of birth to about two years, separation anxiety (the fear of being separated from parents), in addition to those fears already mentioned, is especially important to note (Sarafino 24). An infant is too young to process and express the idea of a monster, thus research on this age group is sparse. Toddlers may begin to respond to physically hideous representations of monsters by crying, running away, or experiencing nightmares.

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). They have developed an aversion to parental separation and have learned to fear 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 verbally (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). Parents often reinforce this identification by labelling socially unacceptable behavior as 'monstrous.' Monsters do not obey the rules, especially the golden rule, thus a child often identifies with a monster when he misbehaves. Above all, monsters that assume forms foreign to a child's everyday experience teach young children to challenge their fears (120).

     Lewis Carroll's poem "Jabberwocky" depicts 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, helping the child reader find relief in the triumph over evil.

     Hansel and Gretel is also an exemplary tale 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 vanquish their fear of abandonment (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, it also encapsulates children's fears of getting lost and of being separated from their parents (Price and Price 164).

     Tales of 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 by threatening their physical and psychological well-being;
They also establish an association between violence and the concept of evil. Misbehaving children may then ashamedly identify with the evil of the Boogeyman and seek to amend their ways.

     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 children'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 about 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 whimsically render scary monsters harmless. 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 innocuous appear 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 of the title song 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.

Sesame Street is a primary example of a didactic television program that makes monsters fun. The monsters allow children to face their fears while inculcating them with social values. The monsters of Sesame Street teach arithmetic and basic language skills, emphasizing cultural sensitivity and the wonders of diversity in each episode. Most of the creatures 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 unhygienic conditions. Cookie Monster is fun-loving, but he does demonstrate the cultural taboo of gluttony and the undesirable quality of selfishness (he does not like to share his cookies). 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 young school age children who are able to influence the purchasing decisions of their parents. In Disney's Beauty and the Beast, Beast mainly teaches children not to "judge a book by its cover." This film attempts to overcome children's fears of physical abnormality, but does so ironically with an image that is hardly more frightening than most stuffed animals. 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 encourages 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 remade 'monsters' into cute retail products.

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Six to nine years

     As children age, their fear of frightening appearances decreases and their ability to face more grotesque images increases. Thus around ages 6-9, children can face images that more accurately 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 and challenge their fears, especially that of possible physical deformity. The first line of monster toys began production in 1961 (Castile). The company, Aurora Plastics Corporation, surveyed child psychologists to ensure that children would not suffer psychologically from playing with their products. The psychologists responded that the toys would help children cope 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 humorously portrayed cultural taboos like nose-picking, public spitting, improper personal hygiene, abnormal body weight, hickies, and hirsuteness.


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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.

     R.L. Stine's Goosebumps series is widely read by children of this age group (Cornewell). The stories describe myriad monsters, from an amorphous 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 Stine's stories often threaten the safety of the main character and his or her family. Perhaps the monsters even displace some of children's fears. A ten-year-old states that the series "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.

 As children approach adolescence, they begin to watch adult horror films and television shows. The subtle symbolic significances of "adult" monsters are usually not appreciated by children until they are capable of abstract reasoning. They might fear the evil cyborg antagonist in Terminator, the possibility of being bitten by the vampire in Bram Stroker's Dracula, or the flying monsters in Alfred Hitchcock's Birds, fearing immediate physical harm rather than understanding completely the psychological complexity of the monsters they encounter.

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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 Stephen 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 feel comfortable with either teenagers or adults (Jancovich 200). He simply wants people to respect his differences, just like teenagers want people to respect their differences as they examine and come to terms with fashioning 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 eagerly read the novels of Stephen King to delve deeper into their fears of the supernatural and to explore themes concerning the triumph of good over evil. King's stories usually recount the battle between good and evil--good usually represented by a human and evil by a supernatural entity 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. He treats them, however, more maturely (Hoppenstand and Browne 11). Teenagers are engrossed with evils that are more abstract than any they have previously encountered. King's works touch upon the psychology of identity, the complexity of human relationships, time travel, atomic mistakes, the anthropomorphism of machines, and supernatural forces within human minds.

Several of King's works contain teenage monsters that embody classic teenage fears. Rage, Apt Pupil, Carrie, and "Cain Rose Up" all portray teenagers who feel alienated from their peers and family. Carrie is a prime example of a character who is shunned by her peers for her social appearance and social behavior. She is a monster because of  her supernatural powers, dysfunctional family, and her social awkwardness. 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 especially, teenagers 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 children deal with basic fears of grotesque beings or they may be horrific representations of people's deepest psychological fears. These deep fears seen in teenagers' 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, necrophilia, attempted immortality, artificial creation, prolonged youth, animalistic behavior, isolation, violation of gender roles, cannibalism, and family dysfunction.

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