Assisting kids in managing their fears can assist them in developing resilience. However, it is important to note that not all children are comfortable watching thriller movies as they can be quite terrifying. As an example, when my child requested to watch Stranger Things, a sci-fi show on Netflix, I promptly declined, stating that it was far too frightening. The latest season of the show had a monster that was so repulsive that the visual effects team had to tone down its disgusting nature.
With the alarming statistics of 5.4 million children experiencing anxiety in 2020, I was hesitant to include a frightening program as it could possibly intensify their fears. However, I stumbled upon research indicating that horror movie enthusiasts actually had improved mental health during the pandemic, a time of great anxiety in history. According to Coltan Scrivner, the lead author of the study and a Ph.D. candidate in the department of comparative human development at the University of Chicago, “If the world is a scary place, some individuals find it helpful to conquer their fears through exposure to scary media such as television shows, video games, or books.”
According to the authors of the study, horror fiction may be associated with reduced psychological distress because it enables the audience to confront negative emotions in a secure environment. Does this imply that programs like Stranger Things may have a positive impact on children?
Scary Movies Could Help Build Resilience
Although Scrivner’s research only examined adults, it remains uncertain whether children who watch horror films will undergo the same psychological advantages. However, from a developmental aspect, mastering how to handle fear can aid children in developing resilience, as stated by Shelli Dry, OTD, who formerly served as the director of clinical operations at a pediatric therapy provider. On Halloween, kids who costume themselves as frightening characters and go trick-or-treating experience a “healthy fear” that can help them improve their resilience by allowing them to practise being scared and then recovering from it, according to Dr. Dry.
According to Scrivner, viewing a horror movie presents a chance to experience fear and manage that emotion in a comparatively regulated setting. It also offers the opportunity to exercise empathy and understand the perspectives of others. When children observe how fictional characters deal with terrifying circumstances, they can develop their own survivor mentality.
Dr. Dry suggests that developing resilience involves recognizing positive aspects and effective ways to cope. For instance, while in quarantine, my children and I watched the last and probably the scariest movie of the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Although the film features a terrifying antagonist and many tense moments, it also highlights the courage, camaraderie, and affection of the main characters.
Consider Your Kid’s Fear Factor
So should you cue up that classic horror movie for family movie night? The answer will differ for every family.
Dr. Dry suggests that parents should initially take into account their family’s principles. If watching scary movies is acceptable and pleasurable in your household, assess your child’s preparedness. Although there is no definite age that makes scary movies suitable, Dr. Dry advises against exposing very young children to them due to the possibility of causing long-term anxiety. Children around the age of four are learning to deal with fears that arise naturally in childhood, and adding scary movies to that mix may be too much for them to handle.
When thinking about your child’s reaction to scary things, take their personality and interests into account. Dr. Dry suggests that some kids can easily dismiss scary things while others may take longer to recover. Additionally, each child may have different fears and what scares one may not scare another. For example, a movie about cats or bees could be enjoyable or frightening depending on the individual viewer.
Observing my own children, I have observed differing responses to scary media. For instance, when my children requested to see an image of the Demogorgon, the ominous, faceless monster from season 1 of Stranger Things, I provided them with a picture on my phone. While my 11-year-old was repulsed and recoiled, my 9-year-old appeared unfazed and remarked that the creature resembled a strange flower. These reactions provided insight into whether they were prepared to view the show or if it would be best to hold off for a while.
Prepare Your Child for Scary Movies
As parents, we cannot accurately predict how our children will react to a frightening movie. However, we can take certain steps to increase the chances of a positive experience. Before allowing your child to watch a movie, it is recommended to preview it or be familiar with the content, in order to determine whether it may be too distressing for them. If your child is new to the horror genre, experts suggest starting with a less scary film and watching it together, such as a cartoon or animated movie like The Nightmare Before Christmas or Monsters, Inc. Additionally, watching the movie during the day can help to alleviate some of the fear factor.
While watching a movie with your child, make sure to express your fear when something scary happens and discuss with them how you manage it. Dr. Dry emphasizes the significance of parents’ response and their way of dealing with the situation. It is not necessary to be excessively emotional or remain unemotional. For instance, during some disturbing scenes of Harry Potter, I have covered my eyes or looked away in front of my kids, indicating that even adults can get scared while watching movies, and it’s perfectly normal.
Whether you choose to watch the movie with your child or not, it’s important to remind them that they have the option to leave the room or turn off the movie if they feel uncomfortable. After watching, be prepared to have a discussion with your kids to help them analyze any disturbing or intense elements of the film.Dr. Dry suggests that there are certain signs to watch out for to determine if a movie is too scary for your child. These signs include an increase in nightmares or night terrors, difficulty falling asleep, and fear of strangers, the dark, or being left alone. It’s important to pay attention to these behaviors, especially if your child did not exhibit them before watching the movie.
In most cases, the anxiety experienced by children when watching scary movies is usually short-lived and will eventually subside. However, this could be an indication that the child is not yet ready for such movies. According to Dr. Dry, it is important for parents to understand their child’s personality and determine when it’s appropriate to expose them to such content. If a horror movie still scares an adult, it’s probably not suitable for children either. It is therefore advisable to avoid introducing movies like The Exorcist or The Ring to young children. However, parents can consider watching such movies with their children when they are much older, albeit with some reservations.
The Best Scary Movies for Kids
Want to try watching scary movies with your kids? From animated films to 1980s favorites, here are some options to consider, ranging from mildly spooky to extremely creepy.
- The Nightmare Before Christmas: In this animated film, Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King, decides he’s bored with Halloween and wants to be Santa Claus—and chaos ensues.
- Labyrinth: Sarah resents her baby stepbrother, but when he’s kidnapped by the Goblin King, she makes up her mind to save him.
- The Goonies: To save the neighborhood from foreclosure, a group of kids hunts for a legendary treasure, confronting some creepy characters along the way.
- Goosebumps: In this movie, based on the middle-grade horror books by R.L. Stine, teenagers unearth mysterious manuscripts and accidentally let monsters loose in the real world.
- Coraline: When her family moves to a new home, Coraline uncovers a passage to an exciting world, but its inhabitants aren’t as benevolent as they initially seem.
- Gremlins: After Billy’s father brings him a new, exotic pet, Billy learns the cute creatures have a sinister side.
- Beetlejuice: A deceased husband and wife seek help from a mischievous demon in order to reclaim their house from the residents who want to remodel it.
- Harry Potter Series: Based on the books about a boy who discovers he’s a wizard, the series features eight movies that become progressively darker and more intense.
- The Sixth Sense: A boy has a frightening secret: He can see dead people. But a gifted psychologist wants to help him.
The Bottom Line
Observing horror films is said to be beneficial in developing resilience, however, it is important to note that not all children may be prepared to watch them at the same time. It is crucial to take into consideration the individual differences of each child, regardless of their age, in determining the level of horror they can tolerate, if any. Additionally, it is important to monitor any behavioral changes that occur after watching scary movies, such as nightmares or an increased fear of the dark. These changes may indicate that the movie was too frightening for the child, allowing parents to make more informed decisions in the future.