Thinking of scaring the bejeezus out of your kids for giggles, filming the scene, and then posting it on social media for all to see so that you become oh so popular? Gee, what could possibly go wrong, besides, you know, the whole scarring-your-children-for-life-thing?
Well, you may have noticed a whole “Grinch” trend on TikTok. This consists of videos showing parents having a frighteningly good time seeing their kids shriek in horror when “The Grinch” appears to steal the kids’ Holiday presents. Here’s one example of such a video that’s been circulating on TikTok with over 5.3 million views already:
Yeah, that look on that child in the video after being surprised by The Grinch at the door wasn’t quite “Oh, Daddy, this is so much fun for the Holidays!” It was more like sheer terror, the kind that actress Jamie Lee Curtis displayed in the horror movie Halloween while being chased by the knife-wielding Michael Myers character. And like scenes from Halloween, this kid-with-the-blood-curdling-scream scene is now out there for everyone else to see forever and ever. The main difference is that, unlike Curtis, this kid is probably not going to see a whole lot of residuals from the video, residual royalties, that is. Who knows what residual mental, emotional, social, or even professional effects will result?
That certainly hasn’t been the only such Grinch video going around on social media. In all cases, it’s presumably been humans dressed as The Grinch rather than real green, furry, pear-shaped, not-so-friendly-looking, ill-tempered creatures. The Grinch is actually a fictional character from the 1957 children’s book, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” written by Dr. Seuss, who, by the way, never really finished his doctorate. If you think you’ve seen a real Grinch steal your presents, then you may need to take some days off from work.
But back to the kids, because its not all about you, right? Most kids are probably not going to consider a creature who hates people and was born with a heart reportedly “two sizes too small” as cute and cuddly. Thus, it looks like the parents went through rather elaborate planning just to scare their kids and post all that went down on social media.
Was this all for the kids’ benefit? Did the kids ask their parents, “Could you film me while I am running in a frantic panic so that in the future I will have to explain to potential employers and dates why I looked like I had just pooped in my pants? That should improve my prospects.” One may assume it was all the adults’ doing and that many of the kids didn’t sign releases before the videos were posted online. Jessica Broitman, PhD, a practicing psychoanalyst in Berkeley, California, agreed that many of the kids in the video were probably not old enough to provide really informed consent and remarked, “It’s never a good idea to deliberately scare your kid, unless you are scaring the kids for the hiccups.”
So why the heck would you film and post such videos? Just to get “likes?” To get social media clout? To show that yes you can indeed scare the living daylights out of someone much smaller, much younger, and much more immature than you are? Smaller in size and younger and more immature in age that is.
Well the videos are indeed getting their shares of view and comments. For example, one clip on TikTok of The Grinch storming in on a mother and her three kids while they sat on a couch has gotten already well over 9 million views and over 6400 comments. As described by Laura Aubusson writing for Kidspot, most of the comments were positive, for the adults, that is, and not necessarily for the kids. Examples included “Love how all the adults are laughing but the kids are crying”, “that’s so mean… do it again”, “where’s the Emotional Damage song”, and “me being the mum trying not to laugh at the crying.” Gee, what can be better than having a video of you posted online with your parents laughing at your scared, scared face? How about people around the world laughing at you?
How about people around the world laughing you forever because who knows where such videos will end up in the future? Remember, online isn’t the same thing as in your dresser drawer, under the bed, or in the back of the closet where you keep “the stuff.” Anyone can view such videos when you post them on social media, including the companies that are tracking your every move. Not only that, anything online can be turned by anyone into a meme, which in turn can be propagated even further to infinity and beyond. Just ask the Success Kid, the Disaster Girl, Side-Eyeing Chloe, the Ridiculously Photogenic Guy, and others who have been immortalized in memes. Heck, your kid could end up in someone’s Power Point presentation at work without your knowledge.
Before you say, “what’s the big deal, Ellen DeGeneres scared her guests all the time on her show,” remember the difference between kids and adults. There are reasons why you don’t see five-year-olds driving Land Rovers around town or playing craps in Las Vegas (No, not that kind of craps.) Kids’ brains are still not yet fully formed. Their brains are more like moldable plastic, which is not always fantastic. For example, a study published in 2021 in Translational Psychiatry showed how childhood trauma may be associated with real subsequent structural changes in the brain such as thinner cortices in the bilateral superior frontal gyri and right caudal middle frontal gyrus along with thicker cortices in the left isthmus cingulate and posterior cingulate. Researchers also found correlations with smaller amounts of gray matter volume in the right amygdala and right putamen later in life.
Now you may not be as familiar with such structures because they don’t regular appear in selfies. But changes in the configuration of such vital structures can have a wide range of long-lasting reverberating negative health effects. Plenty of studies have shown the persistent ill-effects of childhood trauma. For example, there was the study published in The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry with the rather self-explanatory title of “Time Does Not Heal All Wounds: Older Adults Who Experienced Childhood Adversities Have Higher Odds of Mood, Anxiety, and Personality Disorders.” And summarized studies that showed associations between childhood trauma and a range of medical conditions such as type 2 diabetes, sleep disorders, and asthma. All of us probably have some kind of “they’re laughing at you” moments from elementary school or high school that you can never quite get out of your head.
Of course, those favoring these Grinch videos may try to use the word “snowflake” this Winter time and claim that kids need to be more resilient and tougher. They may say that such experiences can prepare children better for this space-laser filled world. Before you say, “What’s a little Grinch scare here and there,” though, keep in mind the differences between having your kids go through the normal rough and tumble of life versus deliberately scaring your kids and then posting the videos online for your own benefit. As a parent you don’t necessarily have to be soft like goat cheese. There is plenty of room to be reasonably tough in a tough love type of way. And sure kids may get frightened here and there by what happens in life.
But childhood trauma can be cumulative and context matters. So adding indiscriminately to this bucket of trauma slop won’t help kids later in life. Again, there’s also a big difference between “hey, let’s all go to a haunted house,” where kids expect to be scared, versus “you never know when we, the folks whom you are supposed to trust, are going to spring a doozy on you just so that we can appear cool.” Broitman emphasized that whatever you do has to be “age and developmentally appropriate.” She continued by saying, “Such pranks can affect children’s feelings of safety, trust, and predictability in the future.”
Moreover, as Broitman explained, “It is human nature to attribute causality. Everyone wants to understand why something is happening. Since kids may not have the capacity to understand what a prank means, they can end up asking themselves what did they do to deserve this and blaming themselves.”
Oh and by the way, laughing at the child probably doesn’t help and can hurt even more, causing the child to question himself or herself further, according to Broitman. It may not minimize the impact. Think about it. Would you rather have people laughing you or not laughing at you?
Then there’s what the whole “let’s-scare-the-kid-thing” may say about the parents. “If it’s a one time experience, then such scares are unlikely to be life changing,” said Broitman, “However, a parent making the choice to do such a thing is unlikely to be showing good judgment in the future. It could foretell a future of sadistic behaviors for the parents’ own benefits.” Yeah, typically sadism and parenting don’t go together too well.
So, this Holiday season, instead of finding ways to scare your kids so that you can post the resulting videos on social media, maybe find some other way to spend your time with your kids. Perhaps put down social media for a while and get some real “likes” from your kids. After all, you don’t want the social media Grinch to steal your Holidays away, do you?