8155720636_b589469689Q: My kids (10 and 7) have been invited to a number of Halloween-themed
parties this year that are being held at their schools and at the homes of a
few of their friends. Several of these parties will have scary movies, scary
music, and in one case (the school’s) a dramatic reading of a scary book. I’m
concerned that while all of these media are “for kids”, my kids may be too
scared by them. Neither of my children particularly love Halloween, and two
years ago, my eldest saw a relatively tame scary movie that gave her nightmares
for weeks! How can I tell what scary media will be okay for my kids and which media
they should avoid?

~In Need of Halloween Help in Lincoln, NH

A: Dear Halloween,

Our culture embraces
scary media as entertainment in part because it can draw quick and reliable
responses from the broadest audience—the primal human response of fear crosses
cultural and language barriers with ease. Normal human response to something we
fear is to avoid it
, as your children are doing, or to attempt to master it, by
seeing it over and over again.  Many
parents want their children to master fear, believing that it will strengthen and
prepare them for the “real world”. Avoidance, however, may be the healthier
response—not only is it a survival skill that helps your children recognize and
avoid danger, but it is also an expression of their natural empathy for others—they don’t want to see others threatened or hurt.

Watching, reading, and listening to scary media in order to
master them is desensitizing oneself to violence
. If we want our children to dislike
and avoid violence for themselves, but to also stand up for others who are
victims of violence, it is important that they maintain their dislike of things
that hurt, scare, or coerce others. Thus, the concept of “toughening kids up”
may work against what many parents want for their children.

One you have seen something, you can’t “unsee” it, no matter
how hard you try. While findings indicate that desensitization and increased
aggression may result from repeated viewings of violent media, research by
Joanne Cantor
has shown that children who are scared by media only require a
single exposure to be traumatized. She found college students who had seen Jaws as young children and who still would
not go into the water.

To make decisions about what media to share, remember that
you are the best judge of your own children. The entertainment industry’s
ratings of movies, TV, and video games are based on what industry employees
think parents will let children see, not what is best for their stage of development, and the age ratings don’t necessarily apply to your particular child. For
specific media, I recommend that you actually screen the movies or TV shows or
read the books
, get advice from other parents who have done so, or read
parent-oriented reviews
and then decide whether you think these media will work
for your children. Of course, you can’t prescreen everything and children are
bound to see media that scare them, so remember that what’s most important is to
be prepared to discuss what they see and help them make meaning of it, incorporating it into their view of the world in
safe and healthy ways

One option during a season like Halloween where scary events
can be anticipated is to have your children throw their own party that includes
less scary media or other activities that work for them (remember bobbing for
apples?). If your children are invited to a party and don’t want to be left out,
inform the host that your children are easily frightened and ask them to help your
kids leave the room without calling attention to it when scary stories or media
are about to happen. This may clue the
parents in so they change the program to be more inclusive, but, even if the
program is not changed, it can empower your children to remove themselves from
scary media moments that you didn’t anticipate.

Enjoy your
media and use them wisely,
The Mediatrician®

One Response to “How can I keep my kids from being frightened by scary media this Halloween?”

  1. KL

    Great advice! I especially appreciate the part about parents asking party hosts about what media will be shown at the party. I can only speak from my personal experience, but this was something my parents did before every party I went to that involved a movie (I scared easily). It was also something I experienced when I wanted to watch the old black & white ‘Village of the Damned’ at one of my Halloween parties – I had to show ‘Spaceballs’ instead because one of my friend’s parents asked for a less-scary movie to be shown. Needless to say it was a very light-hearted Halloween :)


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