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
In 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.
I 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 was 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 a scary movie viewing 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.
Here 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!