Should you allow your children to watch horror movies? If you decide to allow your children to watch horror films, you can boost the likelihood of a positive experience by following these steps.
Fear management can help children become more resilient, but thriller films are not for everyone—especially children. So, when my sixth-grader requested if she could watch the Netflix series Stranger Things, a dark science-fiction program, I quickly denied her request. “Are you kidding? It’s really too frightening,” I explained. At that time, the most recent season featured a monster so nasty that the visual effects crew had to tone down the level of discomfort.
Considering that 5.4 million children were diagnosed with anxiety in 2020 alone, I was concerned that adding a terrifying show would increase fear.
Then I came upon a study indicating that horror film enthusiasts performed better psychologically during the historically anxious pandemic. If things are terrible in the world, it makes sense for some people to overcome something scary in a television show, video game, or book.
One explanation that horror consumption may be associated with decreased psychological discomfort is that horror fiction allows its audience to practice coping with negative emotions in a safe environment. Does this imply that shows like Stranger Things may be suitable for children?
Horror Films May Help Build Resilience
The focus of Scrivner’s study was on adults. Therefore, it is unclear whether children who watch scary movies will have the same psychological advantages. However, the former head of clinical operations at a pediatric treatment provider Shelli Dry, OTD, claims that teaching children to manage their fears is an effective way to build resilience in the population.
On Halloween, when children dress as frightening characters and go trick-or-treating, “that’s a healthy dread,” according to Dr. This experience “helps improve a child’s resilience because it allows them to practice being terrified and recovering from that fear.”
A terrifying movie provides another opportunity to experience fear and work through it in a somewhat controlled setting. According to Scrivner, it also allows us to practice empathy and perspective-taking. When children observe how fictional characters handle terrifying circumstances, they can learn to create their own attitude toward survival.
Dr. Dry adds an interesting observation: “Part of growing resilience is identifying the positives and the coping mechanisms.” During our confinement, my children and I ended up watching Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the final and objectively most terrifying episode of the Harry Potter film series. The film features a terrifying antagonist and many intense scenes but highlights the heroes’ fortitude, friendship, and love.
Consider Your Child’s Fearfulness
So, should you play that classic horror film for your family on family movie night? The answer will vary from family to family.
Dr. Dry says that parents must first evaluate their family’s values. Do you permit and love watching scary movies in your household? If so, then you should assess your child’s readiness. While there is no definitive age at which children can watch scary movies, Dr. Dry advises against exposing them to very young children due to their propensity to trigger long-term worry. Around 4, children are working out how to control the concerns that arise naturally in childhood, and scary movies could be overpowering.
Next, evaluate the personality and interests of your child. “Some children are quite adept at stating, ‘That’s not real,’ and they’re quite straightforward about it,” explains Dr. Dry. Others are more sensitive and require more time to recuperate after witnessing something frightening. Consider that what one child finds frightening may not worry another. Depending on the viewer, a film on cats or bees could be enjoyable or horrifying.
With my own children, I’ve observed a variety of views regarding frightening material. When my children requested a photo of the Demogorgon, the terrifying, faceless creature from the first season of Stranger Things, I retrieved one from my smartphone. My eleven-year-old recoiled in revulsion, whilst my nine-year-old remarked that the creature resembled a strange flower. Their responses indicated whether they were prepared to watch the show or whether we should wait a little longer.
Prepare Your Child for Terrifying Films
We cannot foresee how our children will respond to a terrifying movie, but we can improve the likelihood that they will like it.
You should view a preview or at least be familiar with the film your child wishes to watch to determine whether it may be too intense. If your child is new to the horror genre, both Scrivner and Dr. Dry recommend beginning with a film that is not overly terrifying and watching it with your child. This might be an animated or cartoon film similar to The Nightmare Before Christmas or Monsters, Inc. Even during the day, the film can be shown to minimize the terror factor.
During the film, acknowledge when anything frightens you and discuss your coping mechanisms with your child. “The parents’ response and how they handle the situation are crucial,” explains Dr. Dry. There is no need to be overly emotional, but neither should you feel the need to be stoic. My children have seen me cover my eyes or look away during gruesome Harry Potter sequences, so they know that adults are OK to experience terror during films.
Remind children that they always have the option to leave the room or turn off the movie, regardless of whether you’re watching the film with them or not. Prepare to discuss the film with your children afterward to help them comprehend any distressing or difficult portions.
How can you determine if a film is too frightening for your child? According to Dr. Dry, red flags include an increase in nightmares or night terrors, difficulty falling asleep, and dread of strangers, the dark, or being left alone, especially if your child did not exhibit these behaviors before viewing the film.
Typically, this worry is temporary and will subside, but it suggests that the child is not yet prepared to watch terrifying movies. Knowing when to say, “OK, this is too soon for you,” requires intimate familiarity with your child. Dr. Dry says, “We can try this again when you’re a bit older.
Are there any horror films that are unsuitable for children? If a movie still frightens you as an adult, it’s probably not appropriate for your children. Consequently, I will not introduce The Exorcist or The Ring to my preteens. However, if they wish to watch when they are somewhat older, I might join them with my eyes partially covered.
The Best Horror Films for Children
Want to watch scary films with your children? From animated films to 1980s classics, the following options range from somewhat eerie to profoundly unsettling.
- The Nightmare Before Christmas: In this animated picture, Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King, becomes bored with Halloween and decides he wants to be Santa Claus, causing pandemonium.
- Labyrinth: Sarah resents her infant stepbrother, but when he is abducted by the Goblin King, she resolves to rescue him.
- The Goonies: In order to save the neighborhood from being foreclosed, a group of children searches for a legendary treasure while encountering some strange individuals.
- Goosebumps: Based on the middle-grade horror novels of R.L. Stine, the film Goosebumps depicts teenagers unearthing cryptic texts and unwittingly releasing monsters into the real world.
- Coraline: When Coraline and her family move to a new house, she finds a doorway to a magical realm whose inhabitants are not what they seem to be at first.
- Gremlins: When Billy’s father gives him a new exotic pet, he discovers that the adorable creatures have a dark side.
- Beetlejuice: In Beetlejuice, a deceased husband, and wife enlist the aid of a mischievous demon to regain their home from occupants who wish to rebuild it.
- Harry Potter Series: The eight films in the Harry Potter series, which are based on the books about a young boy who learns he is a wizard, gradually become darker and more dramatic.
- The Sixth Sense: A youngster in The Sixth Sense has a terrifying secret: he can see the dead. However, a talented psychologist desires to assist him.
Watching scary movies can help develop resilience, but not all children will be ready at the same time. Consider your child’s susceptibility to fright, as every child, regardless of age, is unique to determine the level of terror they can endure (if any).
And take notice of changes in behavior after seeing scary movies, such as nightmares or a dread of the dark, which can signal it was too frightening for your child, so you’ll know for the future.
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