Scary Movies and Young Kids

 If your children are upset by the movies they watch, perhaps it is time for them to watch something more age appropriate.

Although the purpose of scary movies and horror movies in general is obviously to scare people, the effect is usually temporary and only constitutes a source of amusement for most teenagers and adults who are old enough to discern fact from fantasy on the big screen. When it comes to very young children however, the results can be quite different and disturbing as the make-believe worlds in movies can seem quite real and can cause residual negative psychological effects that can last for years. This is borne out by the results of two studies, "Tales from the Screen: Enduring Fright Reactions to Scary Media" and another study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), as both concluded that exposure to horror movies may have long-lasting adverse effects on very young children.

Anxiety is one negative side effect, as the NIMH study showed direct evidence that for children aged 5 and younger, especially toddlers, scary movies can cause acute cases of anxiety. The symptoms of this toddler anxiety can include sleeping disorders, unexplained aggressiveness and self-endangerment behaviors. Avoidance is often another unintended consequence as both studies found that young children who are exposed to scary films learned to avoid real life situations that were displayed in fictional ways onscreen. The kids also learned fear those same situations, causing them to not only avoid similar real life situations, but also to avoid watching any other movies or shows that involved the same situations that instilled the child’s original fears.

Unwarranted obsessions can be another common negative effect of viewing horror movies, but usually only among older children who watch horror movies and then talk obsessively about the things in the movies that created their fears. The subject of the obsessive talk is usually expressed as a morbid fascination or an express need to distance themselves from what they have seen in a very scary movie. Obviously, very young children aren’t verbal enough to form these obsessive speech patterns. But young children are old enough to have nightmares. It is very common for both kids and adults to sometime experience nightmares after watching a horror movie. Movies that include unsettling fantasies and loads of gore will have a more pronounced effect on the younger children than older ones, but nearly anyone can get nightmares from a truly scary movie.

It is the gore factor in horror films that disturbs kids the most. The disturbing images of disasters, scary animals, monsters and alien creatures do not affect kids nearly as much as the depiction of blood and serious injuries on the screen, especially if they are ultra-realistic. In severe cases, young kids who have watched a gory horror film may even exhibit crying, trembling, upset stomach, sweating, chills and a loss of appetite. All are obviously very undesirable effects, especially when they occur in very young children. There are good scary movies for young kids that are not filled with monsters and gore. If you have children that are upset by the movies they watch, perhaps it is time for them to watch something more age appropriate.