Grinch scaring Black children for fun and photo ops is actually traumatizing
OPINION: Why do adults take such perverse pleasure in terrorizing children? The answer is more illuminating than you might think.
Most people associate the Christmas vacation with creating warm, happy moments and memories for their children. But it seems that a growing number of parents are making a holiday tradition of scaring their children and then documenting those moments for posterity by sharing them on social media.
"I enjoy scaring children."
This is what a black mom recently posted on my Facebook page in response to my complaints about dozens of viral photos and videos involving parents taking their blindly trusting children to Christmas photo shoots where Dr. Seuss' famous ugly, hulking Grinch character are terrified and humiliated.
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These are organized photo shoots with attractive, unusual furniture that is embedded in woody outdoor areas with Christmas signage. A shoot scheduled for Saturday in St. Louis was sold out. Small children - carefully dressed for vacation pictures - pose on furniture while a Grinch in a Santa suit slowly sneaks after them.
Then Grinch Santa Claus scares them when the photographer captures frame by frame how the children flinch, cry, scream, fall, are clearly frightened and often flee or try to get away from the menacing Grinch.
Sometimes these children are white; often they are black What strikes me is how the parents dress these children, often in variations of Christmas red and green, and that their children feel safe and comfortable in this calm environment.
Their children trust them completely and have no clue that their parents worked with other strangers to turn a peaceful moment into terror. Some of the children are babies, preverbal, and too young to stray from the menacing Grinch.
The Grinch is sometimes played by a white man, Trenton Durham, and sometimes by a black woman, Tameka Boyce of Marion, Arkansas, who can be seen in some stills of children holding their ankles upside down like an animal carrying its prey caught.
Sometimes parents can be seen approaching with their own cell phones to capture still images and video clips while laughing uncontrollably as their child seeks rescue.
Boyce posted a video of a girl beating her while her crying, screaming sister was hanging upside down in the air. It reminded me of a scene from a slave plantation. Another that is particularly disturbing shows two boys sitting on the couch while a smaller girl runs away. One boy laughs while the other is frozen in fear.
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These "Grinchmas" photo shoots are not new. They first appeared in 2018 when a viral video of a creepy Grinch photo shoot spread the word. They have since been spread across the country over the holiday season. Some parents have even allowed the Grinch to scare their children into pretending to be stealing Christmas presents.
While parents who participate in the annual trend - and the viewers who laugh along - may find these scenarios non-harmful, research on brain development provides evidence that they are not.
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Let the parents tell, their children had fun. Sure, they cried for a few minutes, but they quickly got over their fear and will forget that moment of terror. There is no damage to be seen here. The children are happy and healthy. It was all great family fun and people like me just need to relax and get a sense of humor.
But those of us who study child development and the effects of toxic stress on children's brains see these moments very differently. Children's brains are not fully wired to regulate or intellectually deconstruct their emotions and understand what happened to them and why their parents stood by and pervertedly enjoyed their plight.
These scenarios seemed real in their minds. Some of the children in these situations feared they might be injured or killed. PTSD, panic attacks, anxiety, and phobias are just some of the negative marks left in a child's subconscious or unconscious as a result of these experiences.
(Photo: Adobe Stock)
What does it mean when your early trauma experiences are organized and immortalized by your own mother who laughs at you and then collects more laughter by sharing it publicly?
Growing children rely on their parents to regulate their emotions when they are stressed by events in their environment. But when a parent is involved in creating unnecessary fear, their children become emotionally abandoned and have to manage their own feelings without support.
Some parents in these Grinchmas scenes don't even bother to pick up their crying child to calm them down. You don't try to protect them. Some ignore their screams, keep laughing, leaving their child confused, vulnerable and alone.
The news these kids are getting is that they have lost their connection with their parents, adults are scary and unreliable, and the people you depend on have no backs. The people you are supposed to care for and protect will create dangerous situations and place you in their shoes for their own entertainment.
This pain, stress, fear, and anxiety become embedded in children's developing neural networks and can affect the way they see themselves and interact with others over their lifespan.
What makes these parents do this to their children?
Let's talk about what's going on with the parents who attend these Grinchmas photo shoots and all the people who laugh at them. Why do these adults take such perverse pleasure in terrorizing children?
What on earth could a black parent ever prepare their children for this form of abuse and exploitation in a world where black children are already living in perpetual terror from trigger-happy police, lead poisoning, toxic tap water and endless eco? Hazards, neighborhood violence, racist schools and other socio-economic problems?
The answer can be found in science. Essentially, something structurally is wrong with these parents' brains - especially the regions associated with empathy and compassion. The ventromedial prefrontal cortex is responsible for empathic care for others. When a person is suffering from stress and anxiety, this area of the brain can become inhibited from functioning properly. This means that a parent's instinct to love and protect their children is not working properly.
(Photo: Adobe Stock)
Parents who prepare their children for these attacks find humor in children who are terrorized because their neural networks and cognitive regions that would normally allow them to recognize another person's fears are compromised. When the right supramarginal gyrus, which is part of the brain region known as the cerebral cortex, is not functioning properly, research into the neuroscience of empathy has shown that the ability to empathize is dramatically reduced.
These parents (and the laughing audience) cannot distinguish their own emotional state from that of the scared children because they have a distorted understanding of other people's emotions. At the neurobiological level, they are unable to put themselves in the shoes of these children.
Some of these parents and viewers may actually get a pleasant "kick" looking at their child's fear. Media violence, toxic stress, parental neglect, and hits can desensitize us and weaken the brain's response to second-hand pain observed in others.
(Photo: Adobe Stock)
There are studies in psychopaths that show an increase in an area of the brain called the ventral striatum. This area is known to be involved in pleasure when others are in pain. When these parents experience their child's fear, do not repeat that fearful state within themselves as if they were in their child's shoes. Their inability to mentalize their child's experiences explains why they fail to take steps to intervene as protectors or to reassure their child.
But why are they doing everything they can to set up and pay their children to be mentally and psychologically traumatized in this way?
The parents must have some unhealed wounds causing this behavior. The areas of their brain and nervous system that would help them adjust to and connect with children will be closed. When it comes to black children, much of the culture tells us to look at and raise them in a distant, non-empathetic way, where they are seen but not heard and only speak when spoken to.
There is a cultural belief that black children need fear, coercion, spanking, and toxic pedagogy in order to learn and be protected from the police and racism. Somehow, fear of death will immunize her and ensure her future survival.
This goes back to enslavement, when children were owned and could be brutalized or sold by their parents, their families, without notice. The history of blackness in this country underlines and supports this form of distant parenting.
A healthy parent would never intentionally terrorize their child. These parents who are arranging these photo shoots and the audience who thinks they are funny have unhealed wounds. They run around disembodied by themselves, which can lead to weak and uncaring bonds with their children. Something or someone shut down the parents' systems that would otherwise help them adjust to their own children.
Deliberately scaring children is a way to recreate scenes and past traumas from their own childhood in order to master them. It is often unconscious and a defense strategy. They are actually trauma addicts even if they don't remember what caused that trauma in the first place.
They repeat the repressed events through their children. Then the pattern is passed on so that traumatized adolescents are inextricably drawn into situations that repeat the original trauma. You will likely feel the urge to resolve these past traumas through reenactment.
When these children grow up and have their own children, there is a good chance they will stage something like a media situation on vacation to terrorize their own children and then share them with laughter. This form of repetition of the past and exposure of young children to all forms of terror is an expression of the inability of parents and bystanders to go beyond their own traumatic experience.
They think if they make a joke of it they can get rid of the pain and everything will feel fine. The joke gives a false sense of security. A twisted cycle emerges in which terrorizing, shaming, humiliating, and laughing at the children's plight is a way for these parents to experience relief in their own nervous systems.
It shows that they are separate from their own body and the parts of their brain that allow them to feel the kind of parental love and empathy that would motivate them to feed their children and keep them safe from harm. The parent-child bond may never have formed, and even if it did, incidents like these horrific vacation photos are even more damaging.
I am sure that many, or even most, of these parents tell themselves that they engage in these acts out of love. This narrative makes them feel safe and prevents them from feeling overwhelmed with guilt about harming their children. Their brains and nervous systems are stuck in survival mode - they always feel insecure and hyper-alert in the world and project this onto their children.
A parent who allows their child to be terrorized in this way is operating from an unconscious location. They are unaware that their own bodies created genetic patterns that will be passed down to future generations. The fact that they create their children's terror and laugh at it is a trauma response to their own significant wounds in childhood.
The racial dynamics
The trauma of enslavement is encoded in black DNA and has been passed down from every generation, affecting genetics, psychology, emotional development and behavior. It becomes part of the African American genome that is subconsciously recreated. Many of our employees may not have access to the nurturing sense of security and belonging that comes with healthy parenting.
White parents who organize these photo and video shoots are driven by a different dynamic. Terrorizing children and creating trauma is part of their cultural heritage and a central characteristic of white. European mythology, fairy tales, nursery rhymes and art are full of these subjects.
Terrorizing and emotionally destroying children as a form of social control is a central feature of white supremacist culture. It is no accident that we see these scenes most often around Christmas time, a 2000 year old white Christian tradition that is at its core racist and violent.
Think about how children are treated in the Bible. Babies drowned. God sends bears to eat children because they laughed at a bald man. Abraham almost sacrificed his son Isaac. God sent his only son to be tortured and lynched on the cross. Krampus is a demon who punishes and terrorizes badly behaved children on vacation. Witches eat misbehaving children. In fairy tales, children are eaten, murdered, hacked up and sexually abused.
Like parents pounding cakes in children's faces, throwing cheese at them, “accidentally” throwing water on their faces, beating stuffed animals to make them eat, cutting their hair as punishment, and using other forms of digital shame Parents who, when their children are prepared for holiday trauma in front of a camera, not only act out their own unresolved problems, but also support child abuse by white supremacists even when they are not aware of what they are doing.
Children deserve dignity and privacy and should be protected from this form of cyberbullying. I think it is time for states to review and pass laws to fine adults who publish child terrorism porn.
Additionally, all of the slave masters from the past have to roll around in their graves laughing at all the blacks who made their own children a monetized holiday tradition.
The fear and trauma of having a black child are not amusing. Let's decolonize our parents and eradicate the culture of those bizarre white supremacist traditions that depend on us harming our own children and calling them either love, protection, or humor.
Stacey Patton, PhD, is the author of Spare The Kids: Why Whupping Children Won't Save Black America and the upcoming book Strung Up: Lynching Black Children in Jim Crow America.
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The post Grinch Scareing Black Children for Fun and Photography is actually traumatic and first appeared on TheGrio.
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