What Happens When Kids Watch Scary Things?

The very first movie I ever watched in a cinema was Mulan. I was five years old when the film came out. My Mom and my Aunt took me to see it knowing how much I enjoyed Disney movies and songs. I was stoked! But what I wasn’t prepared for were the bad guys — the Huns. Towering men with mean-looking faces. My Mom told me to close my eyes until they disappeared from the screen, and so I did. Obviously, they kept on appearing throughout the movie, but good thing my anxiety didn’t last long. Mulan defeats them in the end, after all! As an adult, I know fictional characters can’t hurt me, but as a child, I didn’t realize that fully yet. So, what do you do when kids come across scary things like spooky scenes in movies? Should you let them keep watching until they realize it isn’t real or should you switch off the TV? Keep reading!

How Do Scary Scenes/Content Affect Kids?
Young kids under the age of four years old can’t exactly make the distinction between what is real and what is purely imaginary. They’re prone to think that ghosts and ghouls can chase after them in real life. Kids tend to strongly react and be heavily influenced by both blood and gore as well as enchanted houses and fairies.

So, how does scary content affect kids exactly? The most common reaction would be having nightmares, specifically about the “scary” scene they happen to come across. Let’s say your child makes a request to watch Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Even adults would feel their heart rate increasing at the sight of the dementors. They might also become the main characters in your kids’ dreams. Some other common effects would be having difficulty sleeping, developing a fear of the dark, and anxiety. The more extreme reactions would be long-term shock, stress, and trauma from the content they witnessed.

On the other hand, some researchers also say that exposing your kids to scary movies can help them build resilience and overcome their fears. Scary shows or films can be a method to help them handle negative feelings in a safe and secure manner. But it really all depends on how ready your kids are for these thrillers.

What Can Parents Do to Help?

Monitor the Content Your Child Consumes
Scary content is available all over the internet. For extra safety, you can always use kid-friendly versions of social media platforms or streaming sites like YouTube and Netflix. This way you can have control over what your kid is watching. Another way for you to be able to monitor the content they consume is by watching with them, and making your presence something that offers them comfort and safety.

Observe Your Kid’s Physical and Emotional Cues
What counts as scary is different for every child. There are kids who wouldn’t even bat an eye when they watch movies with witches and monsters. But not every kid would feel the same way. Observe if your child recoils when they watch a scene that makes them feel scared or if they suddenly express fear at night and can’t sleep. This can tell you what kinds of content are a little too scary for your child. If you notice your child is experiencing anxiety and it’s apparent that they can’t tolerate the scene, you can choose to stop watching. It’s also good to ask your kids what makes them feel scared.

Acknowledge What Is Scary To You
We all have our own fears. It’s okay to admit when something makes you feel scared. What’s more important is how you react and handle the situation. Your kids can learn from your own physical cues, like when you look away or close your eyes at scary scenes. You can remind your kids that the movie characters can’t harm them in real life. You can also reiterate that they always have the option of not watching the video or show anymore. Another way to help is talking about what they just watched, and being open to answering whatever questions they may have.

Whenever your kids witness scary scenes or characters in movies, the effects don’t usually last long. They resolve quickly especially as the kids get older. The bottomline is that every kid is different. Pay attention to how ready your kids are for “scarier” content, and just be their loving guide!

Do your kids love watching spooky shows? Or are they frightened by Disney villains like I was? Tell us in the comments!

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