Should children be allowed to watch horror movies?
- StudioBinder defines horror as “storytelling intended to scare, shock, and thrill its audience. Horror can be interpreted in many different ways, but there is often a central villain, monster, or threat that is often a reflection of the fears being experienced by society at the time.”
- As of 2023, Stephen King’s 2017 movie, It, is the highest-grossing horror movie of all time, with a worldwide box office of $701,012,746.
- Thought to be the first horror film ever made, Georges Méliès’ The House of the Devil from 1896 “uses plenty of special effects that depict a bat turning into a human and entities appearing out of thin air.”
- 1973’s The Exorcist was the first horror film to be nominated for an Academy Award.
Because children's minds are still developing, they're more sensitive to the content they consume. Their impressionable psyche can't always distinguish between fiction and reality, and scary images can cause extreme negative consequences.
Children have active imaginations and are more prone to internalizing what they see. They're quicker to become scared or distressed, prompting serious, sometimes permanent effects. Upon viewing, stress response produces physical changes like hormonal surges and tachycardia, linked to health issues in excess.
The enduring aftermath of horror for children is expansive, including crying, bed wetting, fears and phobias, appetite issues and nausea, insomnia and night terrors, and more. According to research, young children who view violent and horror films can have increased chances of developing anxiety and sleep disorders, plus aggressive and self-endangering behavior. Scary movies can contribute to developing ongoing conditions like PTSD. Moreover, the younger when viewing, the longer lasting the harmful impact.
Adults often retain fears from viewing horror prematurely. Let alone the opportunity for the content to foster emotional numbness and promote violence for problem-solving. The absolutes that horror presents, like the concept of good vs. evil, also falsely inform a developing child's worldview.
Horror is more realistic and available than ever, and it's easy for one child to expose horror to others. Kids are known to imitate modeled behavior, which is why experts acknowledge the connection linking violent content to aggressive behavior, advising limited exposure to this type of media.
With emotional, psychological, and even physical downsides, no potential for good outweighs the possible harm from kids watching horror. Protecting children comes first, and restrictions are healthy. Young kids aren't allowed to watch erotic media, and horror should be treated as equally inappropriate.
The horror genre has always tempted younger viewers. In fact, children as young as six years have even viewed thrillers like Squid Game. While this may make most parents panic, children tend to benefit from viewing such content.
While there are studies against letting children watch horror, it's important to take these with a grain of salt. Even if adverse effects of children being exposed to scary movies are found, they may be short-term or small. There is simply no concrete evidence of long-term, significant harm. Instead, there's growing evidence supporting the different lessons children learn from the horror genre.
According to Dr. Shelli Dry at HelloHero (formerly known as Enable My Child), the first lesson is resilience. Consuming horror flicks 'lets [children] practice being scared and then recovering from being scared.'
Kids can also work on their empathy, perspective-taking, and survivorship attitudes. After all, horror movies don't only showcase villains or monsters. They also highlight the protagonists' bravery, thinking skills, and ability to cope with frightening situations.
With parents being part of this activity, children can effectively experience fear and explore this emotion in a controlled environment. And adding in a few measures, such as choosing the right movie for their child, can make this experience successful.
So, if a parent deems their child ready for horror movies and is willing to share the experience, why not? This can actually prepare kids for life's real horrors--something even the most protective parents can't really shield their children from.