Why Letting Children Watch Horror Movies is a Bad Idea
Most people think that deciding what a child should or should not watch depends on the said child’s individual qualities or on the way they are raised. That can mean that a parent may decide that their child should stick to cartoons only because of their age or that they might as well be fit to watch heavy-action movies just the same, because they’re “just movies”, and they are firmly convinced that their child is way more mature than they really are and thus can handle a horror movie.
Follow the rating
Thankfully, movies, in general, have an audience rating to communicate to the public what kind of content it presents and to let people know the type of crowd the movie is suitable for. However, people tend to disregard the ratings more often than not, sometimes even more so when the child is still an infant and they assume that they are “too young to remember whatever they are about to see anyway”. They might perceive their own behavior as lenient or some sort of “cool parenting”, but in reality, it’s very irresponsible and selfish behavior and should be avoided at all costs, especially in the early development stages of the child, but not limited to only that period.
Disregarding a movie’s rating means that you’re assuming the risk of potentially exposing your child to content that is most definitely not suited for their age range, which can mean everything and anything from toxic language, heavy gore, sexual themes and nightmare-inducing creatures in most horror movies’ case. It might definitely look like the child is yet too young to pick up on anything subtle, but not the same can be said for explicit content when blood or limbs get splattered all across the TV screen. The child’s young age is exactly what makes them unsuited for the genre of movies and ratings don’t put unnecessary labels on movies just for the sake of labeling them either.
How do children respond to those movies?
At a young age, children are way more impressionable than they are when they get much older, mostly because they’re new to everything and want to assimilate every bit of knowledge they stumble upon, be that a new color displayed on a clothing item saw when passing by, or the knowledge of what a person actually means to them (such a recognizing their parents or their voices). Similarly, when exposed to what we label as a simple scary movie, they register everything they see in their subconscious and while they may not display any issues at that moment, the consequences of watching something frightening will only be spotted later on. It could be a matter of years just as it could be a matter of days until nightmares set in or until specific fears develop, based on whatever sight gave birth to their trauma. For example, my own parents made the same mistake of assuming that a child can sit through a horror movie when I was a toddler. Later in life, I have managed to trace the roots of my arachnophobia all the way down to when a scene with giant spiders sinking a ship came on TV that one night. In present, I know it’s all irrational and that spiders are way too small to kill you, but each time I spot one I can’t help but think back on that scene I saw as a baby. A traumatizing scene can definitely affect your child in the long term.
The behavioral changes
However, if you think that nightmares or phobias are the worst that could happen to a child who watches something inappropriate for their age, then you would be surprised to find out that behavioral changes can happen as well, and they will be way more difficult to deal with than selecting a different movie could have turned out to be. Such behavioral changes can mean a shift in their personality and attitude overall. They can turn aggressive or clingy depending on what kind of impact the movie had on them, either getting the impression that conflicts or issues can be solved through violence (through killing the monster in the movie, for example) or developing anxiety each time their parent leaves their side, fearing that whatever creature they had seen might decide to step into reality and come after them. Other disorders besides anxiety could be developed as well, such as sleep disorders caused by recurring nightmares. With such disorders installed, parents might find themselves in need of professional help for their child, in the form of a therapist. While therapy can be greatly beneficial for the child, it would always be much better if we were able to avoid pushing them through any struggles with their mental health overall.
Another thing it can cause a child to become if they watch too many movies with content that is not suitable for their age is becoming desensitized to a lot of sights or experiences that should otherwise cause different reactions in them. It can affect the levels of empathy and compassion that they can feel, perceiving other people’s misfortunes as something with no real impact on their own lives, much like watching a movie. Of course, that’s just one of the extremes it could be gone to, but it doesn’t rule out the possibility of a child becoming so desensitized that they won’t be affected by real-life happenings the same as they would have been before.
Lastly, watching others make critical choices in life or death matters in horror films might alter a child’s way of thinking and solving problems. They might develop a tendency to think into black and white sort of absolutes, only seeing things as either completely good or completely bad, which will not be helpful later in life at all, especially since we know that life is more like a whole palette of different shades of gray rather than all black and white. Arguably it can also improve their decision-making time, making them quicker to make critical choices, but the downs of this all are larger than the ups when it comes to exposing them to such content, and in the end, it’s better to have children avoid watching things outside of their age range.
Keep in mind to check and consult the ratings online as well as the movie’s reviews if you aren’t too sure about what to expect from it from what the trailers show, and adopt a “better safe than sorry” attitude whenever something involves your children. That way, everyone will be happy and will grow up into a healthy individual!