Every year, October is filled with creepy costumes, buckets of Halloween candy, and of course, the requisite scary movies. You might be a scary movie buff, but when and how do you introduce your kids to movies with potentially dark themes? There's definitely a difference between being scared in good fun and being unable to sleep for weeks. Womensforum spoke to Dr. Adiaha Spinks-Franklin, developmental pediatrician atTexas Children's Hospital, about the development of children's imaginations and when they are "ready" to handle scary movies without any lasting repercussions.
When sizing up your child's readiness to watch movies with dark themes, it's important to consider the presence or lack of "magical thinking" - the belief in supernatural forces.
Spinks-Franklin says that by age two, children have developed magical thinking, and by ages three to four, they have developed childhood fears (like the monster in the closet). They are unclear about what's real and what's fake. So it's probably not a big deal if your one year old is sitting near you while you're watching a scary movie as he or she won't understand what's happening. You still should start taking notice of your child's attention to scary movies at a relatively young age.
By the time kids are seven to 10, they finally start to differentiate between fantasy and reality. They will know a cartoon is fake, but they have some fuzziness in regards to live-action films with real people. By the time kids are ages eight to 10, magical thinking fades, says Spinks-Franklin.
This is a good set of guidelines to base your choices on, but remember that you know your child best. If your child is prone to anxiety or fearful - even at an older age - you should be careful with the films you watch on Halloween (or anytime really).
With that in mind, Spinks-Franklin says, "It's not appropriate for any child to watch adult theme scary movies." There is a huge difference between kid scary movies and adult scary movies, and while you may think that your child is ready or will brush things off, don't take it lightly.
"It's not appropriate for any child to watch adult theme scary movies." - Dr. Spinks-Franklin
Spinks-Franklin references a number of studies that have shown that movies with dark themes can have negative lasting effects on pre-adolescents. That violent scene in Star Wars might show up later in play at school. While your child might not completely grasp what is happening at the time, they're impressionable and will pick up on small things.
"Children are not small adults," says Spinks-Franklin. Adolescents have much more abstract thinking and most do not have any type of magical thinking. However, movies with violence and gore can be harmful at most ages, such as movies showing characters being mutilated or turning into monsters.
We have all heard that children who are exposed to large amounts of violence in media tend to show more aggressive behavior to their peers. It's definitely something to keep in mind when you're deciding what your child and even adolescent is allowed to watch.
In terms of supernatural movies, you may be in the clear. You certainly wouldn't want your impressionable pre-adolescent watching Sinister and being haunted by the malicious and disturbing actions of the characters for weeks, even if they are aware that these supernatural elements don't exist in real life. However, kid-friendly movies with supernatural elements (arguably like Harry Potter!) can be fine as long as there is a message coming out of the movie.
Spinks-Franklin says, "It's about dark forces being conquered by the good guys, the good guys winning in the end."
When your kids are ready, there are plenty of kid-friendly scary movies to choose from this Halloween such as Hocus Pocus, Casper, and Monster High. Break out the treats and have a family movie night right at home!