Scary clowns and theme parks! How to know if your kids can handle hijinks like IT or Howl-O-Scream

Maturity is more important than age

TAMPA, Fla. - Lorna Richardson deals in scares. She's the district manager of bay area Spirit Halloween stores. And yet her three kids, now in their teens, are spooked by her job.

It began a few years ago when she took them to Busch Gardens' annual gore fiesta Howl-O-Scream. They weren't ready.

"It was a mistake," Richardson says. "They were never afraid of the dark. Now they are."

How scary is too scary for children? It's a question lots of Moms and Dads are asking these days.

Horror is hot. Stephen King's "IT" is a phenomenon at the box office, and area theme parks are unleashing the terror at their annual Halloween events.

For deals on park tickets, your best bet is to buy in advance and online:

Child psychologist Dr. Wendy Rice says a child's maturity, personality and anxiety level, how well they discern between what is real and what is make-believe and their frequency of nightmares, is just as important as their age.

"These are questions a parent has to ask themselves," Dr. Rice says. "You don't want them to be traumatized."

She recommends before going full-tilt scary at the movies or theme parks, start slow with tamer attractions and scary movies at home. Talk to them throughout to gauge their reaction. Explain that this is fun, silly and thrilling, Everything is a fantasy meant to entertain.

If they cannot handle the scary starter course, they are not ready for intense big-time scares.

A great resource to help parents decide is Common Sense Media, a modern realistic approach to current pop culture. They recommend kids be between 14 and 15 for IT. See the review here: www.commonsensemedia.org/movie-reviews/it

As for whether Howl-O-Scream is right for your children, even the park recommends 18 and over, although all ages are admitted. That said, Busch Gardens will not offer a refund to any guest who got freaked out. You have been warned...

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