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Walk on the Dark side; Battle against the forces of evil Broadcasting watchdogs have warned that scary children's TV shows like Buffy The Vampire Slayer could disturb susceptible youngsters, and there are fears that Buffy, Harry Potter and Sabrina have sparked unhealthy interest in the occult. Lifestyle Editor CLARE McVEY asks if there's hubble, bubble, toil and trouble.

CHILDREN are enthralled by it - whether it's Buffy The Vampire Slayer fighting the forces of evil or Harry Potter battling it out in the Triwizard Tournament.

It's all magic!

Parents are pleased that their youngsters have been moved to pick up a book. Some are delighted that their daughters have identified with a strong female role model in Buffy.

But is there a darker side to the trend?

Some experts believe that there is. They fear that Buffy, Harry & Co are bad for our kids.

The Broadcasting Standards Commission last week warned parents that just because shows like Buffy go out at 6.30pm, they are not necessarily suitable viewing for young children.

Parents were urged to monitor more closely what their children were watching after a survey by industry regulators showed some were forced to switch off the TV well before the traditional 9pm watershed because of scary scenes and violence.

And although Harry Potter author JK Rowling has defended her books against criticism that children have become interested in the occult, they have been banned from a primary school library in Kent because they conflict with Christian teaching.

John Buckeridge, editor of Christian magazine Youthwork, fears that it's all getting out of hand.

'The growing number of books and TV shows like Harry Potter and Sabrina the Teenage Witch encourage an interest in magic as harmless fun,' he says.

'But for some young people, it can fuel a fascination that leads to dangerous dabbling with occult powers. What starts out as spooks and spells can lead to psychological and spiritual damage.'

Interest is certainly soaring.

The Pagan Federation, which represents the religious rights of Pagans, has just appointed a youth officer to cope with the demand for information from youngsters.

Andy Norfolk, Pagan Federation media officer, says there has been an increase in inquiries of more than 30 per cent in the last two years alone.

He feels, however, that Harry Potter is not necessarily to blame.

'There is always a big surge every time there is a mention of witches and wizards in the media,' he says.

'Although the Potter books are about fantasy and magic, they are just the latest in a long line of books to deal with these subjects, including children's classic The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis.

'They celebrate Christmas in the Harry Potter books, for example, which is not really Paganism.' Whether children would understand that subtle distinction is a different matter. Andy says the majority of the inquiries come from teenage girls - and accepts that could have something to do with Buffy and Sabrina.

'Programmes like Buffy the Vampire Slayer depict a young, glamorous, very successful person achieving great things by the use of magic,' he says. 'That is more likely to get young women interested in the idea of witchcraft.

'They hope it will help them achieve goals in their lives. Most of the letters we get are from girls. We don't know why this is - perhaps they're just better at writing letters than boys.

'A few years ago, the sort of letters we were getting were along the lines of 'how do I turn my teacher in to a toad?' - that sort of thing. The letters we've had more recently have been more mature.

'We're now getting queries relating to the theology of Paganism, its relationship to nature and so on.

'Paganism is still misunderstood by a lot of people. It is not a quick fix. You can't simply wave a wand and tidy your bedroom - but you can keep your bedroom tidy in a magical way.

'You could, for example, dedicate the job of keeping it tidy to a goddess.'

While the Pagan Federation will not allow children to join its ranks. it will give out information.

'We do not allow under-18s to join,' says Andy. 'In fact, I would not say we were anxious to get a message across to young people. If they express an interest, we will give them reliable information.

'But we don't do that unless we have the written permission of a parent or guardian.'
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Oct 1, 2000
Words:686
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