The Effects of Horror Movies on Children

The implicit, and often explicit, intention of horror movies is to scare people. The fright engendered by horror movies can have residual psychological effects for years. Two studies, “Tales from the Screen: Enduring Fright Reactions to Scary Media” and another, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), both concluded that exposure horror movies may have long-lasting adverse effects on children.

1. Anxiety
The NIMH study reveals direct evidence that in children 5 and younger, especially toddlers, scary movies can produce acute cases of anxiety. The symptoms of this anxiety include sleeping disorders, aggressiveness and self-endangerment. Avoidance

Both studies indicated that children exposed to horror films avoided real life situations shown in a fictional manner on screen. The subjects exhibited dread of facing those situations. Some children not only avoided real life situations, but also come to avoid seeing other movies or TV shows dealing with the same situations that instilled the original fear.

A common effect among older children and even tweens and pre-teens, upon viewing horror movies is to obsessively talk about the stimulus that produces the fear. The subject of the obsessive talk may be expressed in either a morbid fascination or a a need to alienate themselves from what they have seen through discourse. Nightmares

Probably the most common effect that horror movies have on children is the production of nightmares. Many children as well as adults can be expected to have a nightmare after seeing a horror film, especially one that may be troublesome emotional or features particularly repulsive and upsetting gore. Gore

The stimuli found to produce an adverse effect in children most often in horror films was the representation of blood or physical injury. Almost two-third of respondents report being affected emotionally more by the presence of blood and injury over stimuli such as disturbing images, environmental disasters, scary animals, monsters and aliens. Most Common Symptoms

Many symptoms are associated with a reaction to viewing horror films. Among the most common symptoms include crying or screaming, trembling or shaking, upset stomach, clinginess, paralysis, sweating, fever, chills and loss of appetite.

The Short-Term Effects of Scary Movies on Children
By Brooke Williams, How Contributor

Because many children have trouble distinguishing fantasy from reality, parents should not allow their youngsters to watch scary movies or television shows, according to Science Daily, an online science news resource. Although young children aren’t able to understand scary movies, that doesn’t mean they won’t have short-term effects because of the violent scenes.

1. Nightmares
It’s typical for children to get nightmares from time to time, but watching scary movies can inspire bad dreams, according to Kids Health. Bad dreams can reflect the plot of a scary dream, and the typical horror movie characters, such as monsters, ghosts and aliens, can play roles in a little one’s dreams. In addition to getting nightmares, scary movies may cause children to have trouble getting to sleep.

2. Anxious Feelings

Children who watch horror movies have a tendency to feel anxious and fearful, according to the University of Michigan Health Services. Because many children younger than 8 have a hard time understanding the difference between what is real and what is fake, scary scenes from movies seem realistic. Being nervous or paranoid that a character or situation in the movie can become reality is common after viewing a horror movie.

Aggressive Behavior
Young children who watch high-action, violent or scary movies are likely to act more aggressively than normal shortly after seeing the film, according to Media Awareness Network, a media education resource. Children imitate characters in violent movies by physically provoking their peers, using negative words and being more active. Because some children may find violent movie characters interesting and “cool,” imitating these characters may be a short-term effect of watching a scary movie. Intensified Fears

It’s common for many children to be scared of the dark, loud noises and creepy-crawly bugs. While these fears typically dissipate with age, they tend to linger or intensify when children watch scary and violent movies. For example, watching a movie about ghosts may make a little one more scared of open closet doors in a dark bedroom. Fears are real to little ones, and if a child does watch a scary movie, it’s important for parents to talk to him about how scary monsters and other characters aren’t real. Remind him multiple times to soothe his fears.


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