Frightful Films

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The Impact of Scary Movies on Children

It’s time for Halloween, which brings the surge of scary movies in theaters and on television. We’ve all seen the terrifying previews for movies such as “Annabelle” and “It” and may be wondering whether it is okay or not for our younger teens, preteens, or even younger children to watch. Should you be worried about allowing your children to watch a scary movie or two? They are a normal part of modern day life and it’s hard to know how your child will respond. For some, allowing their kids to watch scary movies seems like no big deal, and there will be no long-term repercussions. However, it’s important to understand that scary movies can have very long-lasting impacts on kids who are more susceptible to anxiety, worry, or fear issues. Interestingly, not only may the movies impact them immediately as children, they can actually impact the children as adults as well.
Not every child who watches a scary movie will be scarred for life or even bothered seriously in the short term, but some children may be impacted by horror films, both now and as adults.  Children are often more impacted by scary movies and may be clingy after a scary film, cry, or even become nauseous. You know your child best and whether or not you think they are going to have a difficult time processing the scary factor. But, just in case you need a little more information before you make the decision, keep reading. If they are prone to have a longer term negative impact from scary movies, the issues they may face include:

Sleep disturbances.

It’s normal for both children and adults to have a hard time sleeping after a scary movie or jump easily from weird noises. But these issues should not last longer than a few weeks, and if they do, you may want to seek professional help.

Difficult time discerning between reality and fiction.

A study published in Media Psychology noted that younger children and children who went along with it but did not intend to view were most likely to experience fright effects including a fear of dying, uneasy feeling, and fear of losing control.  Think about it – how many times have you yourself wondered if a bad man might be hiding in your closet or behind the shower curtain? While most of us are able to draw a distinction between irrational fears and reality, children may not be able to do that.

Development of anxiety and phobias;

including real issues including problems sleeping, real anxiety, and other self-endangering behaviors. Children have a difficult time putting scary movies into perspective since they do not have the life experience to know it’s not real. They do not have the cognitive development to understand. If your child is already easily scared or timid or scares easily, they may not be ready for scary movies.

Increased display of violence and aggression. 

The results of studies on the impact of violent video games have not really been conclusive, but one thing experts do warn is that it desensitizes children to real-life violence. Also, consider the fact that children often mimic what they see adults do. It’s advised by groups such as Common Sense Media to at least hold-off on the extremely violent and slasher type movies until your child is 16 or older. Children who are affected by scary movies may believe it’s okay to use violence as a problem-solving skill. Joanne Cantor, an internationally recognized expert on the psychology of media and communications, quoted in an article for The New York Times, said that watching gory or frightening movies, “makes kids feel they can use violence to solve a problem. It increases desensitization.” They may even become numb to situations of extreme violence, which is not good either.
So, yes, your child, if susceptible to spooking, or perhaps even if not, may have some serious issues following the viewing of a scary movie. If you believe they are old enough or ready to proceed, you can minimize the impact of a scary movie by having your child watch it during the day time. If you do watch the movie at night, keep lights on. Do something silly before bed to take their mind off of the movie. Or just skip the scary movie altogether.

Alexa Bigwarfe is the mother of three young children. She lives in Columbia, SC, where she enjoys watching a good scary movie, but is prepared to wait to enjoy with her kids until they are older.

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