I'm Afraid of the Scream Mask, and I'm an Adult
I have a confession. I am afraid of the mask from the movie Scream. The cold impassive face leering at me seems to convey a bloodless desire to do me harm. It makes my heart race every time I see someone wearing one, even if that someone is a young child prancing down the street on Halloween excitedly swinging a plastic bucket of candy. I know in my brain that this person is not going to harm me, but my body goes into threat mode anyway. That is why I was so appalled to see the video of adult daycare providers donning their scream mask and chasing their little charges around the room. One video showed the adult getting into a young child’s face in a menacing way. This would be frightening even without the mask. But the mask adds a level of horror and menace to the situation that will probably traumatize these children for years to come. The question that we must answer as a society is why adults would want to do this. And it most likely was not a spur of the moment thing. Someone had to buy or locate the mask. Someone had to choose to put it on and then proceed to terrorize the children. To be clear, I use the word terrorize for a reason. It is one of the six major types of psychological maltreatment according to the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children’s endorsed definition. Although these children were (presumably) not physically or sexually harmed in the making of that video, harm was done to them nonetheless. No one watching the video could deny that what was done to them was a form of abuse. Several years of research has now established that psychological maltreatment (including terrorizing) is a widespread and extremely impactful form of childhood maltreatment that can have long-lasting negative effects. It is an adverse childhood experience that is linked with a host of physical, emotional, and psychological negative outcomes. I wish that I could speak to the people who did this and try to understand why they thought this would be alright to do this to little children. But I suspect that they do not really know themselves why scaring little children brought them pleasure. Hopefully they have learned from this experience that it is not okay and perhaps others will think twice before showing their children a snapchat filter that creates the impression that a giant spider is crawling across a child’s face or participating in a “TikTok made me do it” prank at the expense of a child who places their trust in their caregivers to be safe, loving, and available. At the Psychological Maltreatment Alliance we provide state of the art research, training, and resources for professionals and caregivers. We invite everyone who cares about children to visit and to consider how we as individuals and society can better protect children from being harmed by the people who should be protecting them.