Are Black-Eyed Kids Horror or Hoax?

Black eyes

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The unsettling black-eyed kids phenomenon is described as children and teens who have jet black eyes without any sclera (white), iris, or pupil. They usually have pale skin or a death pallor. They may be wearing normal clothes or white nightgowns.

These black-eyed kids (BEK) usually appear at night. They may knock on doors and windows asking to be let in. Their voices can be monotonous and they may have high-pitched giggles. The advice usually given is to ignore them, and walk away if you encounter them on the street. Reports of BEKs spiked in 2013 after percolating for a number of years, but it has all of the hallmarks of an urban legend, according to paranormal investigator A. Milhorn.

Origins of the Black-Eyed Kids Tale

Where did this urban legend start? It has been circulating since the mid-1990s on Internet message boards, practically from the dawn of those sources. Blogger Brian Bethel claims to have reported the first black-eyed kid encounter in the spring or summer of 1996 in Abilene, Texas. He reported it on a ghost hunter forum in 1998, two years after his encounter.

He says he was parked in his car in front of a movie theater in the evening making out a check to drop off for his Internet provider when two boys of age 9 to 12 wearing hoodies knocked on his driver's side car window. "I was immediately gripped by an incomprehensible, soul-wracking fear. I had no idea why."

He cracked the car window and learned they wanted a ride to home to get money to see the "Mortal Kombat" movie playing at the theater. "Plausible enough. But all throughout this exchange, the irrational fear continued and grew. I had no reason to be frightened of these two boys, but I was. Terribly." He saw that the movie had already started, so driving anywhere and back would mean the kids would miss most of the movie. His report continues:

"All the while, the spokesman uttered assurances: It wouldn't take long… They were just two little kids… They didn't have a gun or anything. The last part was a bit unnerving. In the short time I had broken the gaze of the spokesman, something had changed, and my mind exploded in a vortex of all-consuming terror. Both boys stared at me with coal-black eyes. Soulless orbs like two great swathes of starless night.
I full-on freaked out inside while trying to appear completely sane and calm. I made whatever excuses came to mind, all of them designed to get me the hell out of there. I wrapped my hand around the gearshift, threw the car into reverse, and began to roll up the window, apologizing all the while.
My fear must have been evident. The boy in the back wore a look of confusion. The spokesman banged sharply on the window as I rolled it up. His words, full of anger, echo in my mind even today: “We can't come in unless you tell us it’s okay. Let us in!”
I drove out of the parking lot in blind fear, and I’m surprised I didn't sideswipe a car or two along the way. I stole a quick look in my rearview mirror before peeling out into the night. The boys were gone. Even if they had run, I don’t believe there was any place they could have hidden from view that quickly." Bethel, 2013

Increased Sightings of Black-Eyed Kids But Lack of Evidence

After Bethel's report, ghost hunters received many similar reports. However, nobody offered any physical evidence. Nor were there any reports of hoaxers exposed trying to scare people by portraying BEKs.

But as the stories spread, they often shared common elements. It is always night and often there is a storm. The person encountering the BEKs was just going about his or her normal activities when the BEKs appeared. They felt extreme fear and ran away or drove away just in time. These are typical elements of urban legends.

The website reported in 2013 elements that might make you suspect some element of viral marketing was in play.

"Black-eyed children fever hit the Internet in February, 2013, when a two-minute video episode of ‘Weekly Strange’ featuring a look at these strange, putative beings was posted to the entertainment section of the MSN web site. Not surprisingly, the appearance of the black-eyed children video on MSN coincided with the release of 'Black-Eyed Kids,' an urban legend-based horror film." 

Falsely Perceived Experiences

Paranormal investigator A. Milhorn offers psychological explanations for the spread of BEK and similar urban legends. One is priming. When you read about a phenomenon, you are more predisposed to be attentive to it. Reading reports of BEK might make you more attentive to kids and teens seeking your attention in the dead of night. Only an activator stimulus that is appropriately vague in the right circumstances sets off the connection between the knowledge in your brain and your senses, making a false connection between the two, and leading you to a flawed conclusion that isn’t supported by evidence. Milhorn conjectures that given priming, ​pareidolia, and a frame of reference of scary stories, people can falsely perceive experiences.

Causes for Black Eyes

Eyes normally dilate in low light conditions, with the pupil enlarging to let in more light. When this happens in other conditions it is called mydriasis. Conditions include blown pupil in cases of increased intracranial pressure, Adie's tonic pupil, and the use of various drugs including decongestants, epinephrine, amphetamines, and ecstasy.

But in these cases, it is only that the pupil expands, making the area of the iris and pupil appear black. The white of the eyes, the sclera, remains. But if you are primed to see black-eyed kids and encounter one with enlarged pupils, you might project that their entire eye was deep black.

BEK Hoaxes Possible Using Sclera Contacts

Sclera contact lenses cover the entire eye. They are used for special effects in films and theater. For example, the magicians Penn and Teller use a set in one of their tricks and Penn tells how he is the one entrusted to put them over Teller's eyes. Professional, custom-made sclera contacts are expensive.

Black sclera contacts are readily available online for a relatively low price. It is illegal under United States law to sell any contact lens corrective or cosmetic without a prescription, yet they are available from a variety of websites for as little as 20 dollars a pair.

It is relatively easy for a hoaxer to obtain black sclera contact lenses. If you encounter a BEK, you may well suspect you are being pranked.


  • Bethel, B. (2013, April 13). "Brian Bethel recounts his possible paranormal encounter with 'BEKS'." Abilene Reporter-News.
  • Kolb, B., & Whishaw, I. (2008). Fundamentals of human neuropsychology. (pp. 453-454, 457). New  York, NY: Worth Publishers.
  • Louis, C. (2010, July 03). What big eyes you have, dear, but are those contacts risky?. New York Times.
  • Mikkelson, D., & Mikkelson, B. (2013, April 29). Black-eyed children.