Should You Let Your Kids Watch Scary Movies?

Many thanks to Kate Oliver of www.help4yourfamily.com for this guest post on scary movies and gauging your child’s developmental readiness for viewing them.

By Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

scary tv shows, kids and scary movies, kid with bowl of popcorn, what age is it ok for kids to watch scary movies, when can kids see scary moviesIn my house, Halloween is second only to Christmas. My children are still at an age where they want to dress up and trick or treat. They are eight and ten and they love to get a little bit scared sometimes as well. It is all part of the Halloween fun. Many holidays have special movies attached to them as well. Unlike Christmas, with, tales of Santa Claus and reindeer, and Easter, where we learn about a sweet bunny that brings treats, Halloween has movies of a different sort.

Sure there is Charlie Brown’s Great Pumpkin, but then there are the other movies…the scary movies.
In my work as a child therapist one issue I help kids overcome is sleep problems including nightmares. It is interesting to me that many times when children have nightmares, they are linked to watching scary movies, or even just the news. During this season of scary movies, let’s be especially mindful of the impact of what we decide to let our children watch.

teens and movies, teen nightmares, TV and teens, teens eating popcorn, boy in striped shirtI am certain my husband and I are not the only ones who have thought back to a movie we watched as kids, looked it up on Netflix and excitedly introduced it to our children only to be surprised at just how many four letter words were in say, ET and The Karate Kid. I certainly do not remember, as a kid, taking note of the language that was flying through those movies. I think many times when parents watch a scary movie with their children; they do so because they remember that excited and scared feeling they had watching the same movie.

As adults, seeing Chuckie seems so silly now. Poltergeist wasparents covering kids eyes, what to let children watch, watching TV as family, scared at movies, nightmares thrilling, and, I was shocked to recently discover, rated PG (It came out before movies were rated PG-13)! I personally remember watching Poltergeist as one of those TV movies when I was about 16 years old.

Do you remember how they used to show a movie a week and cut out the scariest parts then poorly dub silly sayings over the curse words? That’s how I watched it and even then, I had trouble sleeping for a week! Even today’s PG movies for kids like Haunted Mansion and the Scooby Doo movies can leave some kids terrified.

So, how do you know if your child is ready for viewing scary movies  or not?

Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to help you determine if your child is ready for a movie or not:

  • Does my child act younger than his or her chronological age? If yes, you want to consider the developmental age of your child and whether the movie is appropriate for that age.
  • Is your child easily scared? If yes, waiting won’t hurt. You can’t un-watch the movie.
  • Does your child have a trauma history or have they experienced the death of a loved one? If the answer is yes, I would delay scary movies until they are old enough to truly comprehend that movies are not real. I have had teenagers in my office, sobbing about concerns they had about what happens to their loved one who has passed away after watching a movie that includes scary after-death images. I have also had younger children who were absolutely terrified that Chuckie or Freddie Kruger was going to come and get them- seriously, holding night vigils and driving themselves and their parents crazy.

boy with 3D glasses, boy afraid, scared at movies, kids nightmares, boy in blue shirtHere is the thing- waiting to show your child a scary movie is not going to hurt them. They will not be socially stunted; they will not miss out on any amazing opportunity they can’t get back. So this Halloween, please, do your child a favor. Wait! Allow them the thrill of watching a scary movie later, when they have greater coping skills to handle it.

Have you had a movie you regretted letting your child watch?

Here is your opportunity to help other parents!

 

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4 Responses to Should You Let Your Kids Watch Scary Movies?

  1. shelly says:

    Hi! I’m not sure when this was posted, but thank you for this conversation. My question: my almost 7 year old daughter is too scared/sensitive to watch even something like Frozen. Is this a problem? Will it pass? She simply doesn’t like when conflict enters into the story at all in the movie format — she can handle it with books or puppet shows, which she loves. We are an academic type family, pretty low-media, and she attended a Waldorf school for two of her early years. But I’m struggling now with wanting her to be more socialized and resilient when it comes to movie-watching. What would you recommend we do? We have tried to sit with her, telling her that this part of a movie will pass into something more positive, but she gets very upset.

    • ldecesare says:

      Shelly – thanks for your comment. This was a guest post and I have reached out to the author to respond from her professional point of view as a licensed clinical social worker.

      From my viewpoint, I’d say it’s not all that uncommon to have some kids respond like your daughter is to movies that we parents might feel are benign. (Frozen was my favorite! I even wrote a post about parenting lessons from Frozen!) :-)

      I love that you’re sitting with her and discussing things as you go – a great TV/movie watching habit – yet if that’s still too much for her, I wouldn’t push it at all. Maybe offer to fast forward through the parts that she doesn’t like but if that’s not comfortable for her either, I’d skip it for awhile.

      Avoiding what upsets her on the screen isn’t a bad thing in my opinion. As she grows up and feels more ready, she’ll want to see more things that her friends are talking about and to see the movies of books she’s read and enjoyed. As a mom, I’d give it time and not push it.

      In so much of parenting, the more attention we give to something, the more it grows – for good or for bad! 😉
      Thanks for your comment – check back for Kate’s professional response!

  2. I realize I’m like way late here…recently, I’ve started developing an interest in scary movies (getting bored with the movies where the main character always survives).

    It depends on the scary movie and what-not. As well as how you are defining scary. I’m not a psychologist or a parent or anything like that so I’m not expert. What I do know is that as a child, I got scared easily. Even by Disney movies (intense scenes in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and Beauty and the Beast). All of these were movies I loved though.

    But I got scared easily by Goosebumps and I remember one time in elementary school the teacher showed us The Witches and Something Wicked This Way Comes. Something Wicked This Way Comes still bothers me as I have huge arachnophobia but The Witches, after their real faces were revealed, I realized it wasn’t so bad but in actuality more humorous.

    Goosebump episodes were shown by a high school teacher to get us into assessing literary elements (I was largely educated in special education settings) along with Twilight Zone episodes and I realized they weren’t exactly as scary as I had thought.

    I’ve been through a lot this recently past year and I’ve discovered that I really don’t scare as easily as I used to scare. Someone tried to convince me recently that Paranormal Activity was scary and I honestly have to say no but I know quite a bit of people who were really scared by that movie (I still rank Something Wicked This Way Comes as scarier and honestly, that’s meant to be a children’s movie!–again, arachnophobe speaking here). If the kid has a vivid imagination, you probably don’t want to stir it up too much but some kids can handle it.

    As an adult, I would say that since I’ve seen more, I’m not as sensitive as I used to be. The Devils was pretty frightening though. It depends on the scary movie, what your child gets scared by, and what kind of imagination he has. I find demonic possession movies to be more scarier as since I am a Christian, I do believe in that kind of stuff as demons and ghosts and possession but I don’t think they’d keep me up at night though. Some children might be able to handle a slasher but it depends on their age and whether they can deal with large amounts of blood.

    • ldecesare says:

      Even as an adult, I have to say, I’m not a big fan of scary movies – but I like more psychological thrillers than gore-scary. I agree with you that I can handle much more as an adult, we have a better sense of real vs. fake. Thanks for your comment!

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