Should My Child Watch Scary Movies?

By Allen Haynes
Movie clapboard and popcorn on yellow background

As Halloween approaches your kids will likely want to watch the many scary movies that are on TV. Now, it’s pretty obvious that watching “It’s the Great Pumpkin,” Charlie Brown is OK for your 8-year-old and “Saw” is not, but there’s an extensive gray area in determining age-appropriate thrills for your young ones. So, should your child watch scary movies?

Exactly what is scary?

Movies with sudden, unexpected noises, hair-raising sounds and eerie music can frighten both younger and older children regardless of their emotional development. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), kids ages 2-7 are scared more by creatures, and older kids, ages 8-12, are scared more by suspenseful situations that lead to threats of impending doom and fatalities.

Why does it matter what they watch?

Movies with intense images, loud noises and blood-and-gore scenes, can create long-lasting emotional side effects. These effects include fear and anxiety of situations similar to scenes in the movies. If you decide it is OK for your child to watch scary movies, some short-term effects include nightmares, clinginess and even nausea.

What can you do?

Watch it first

If you have a digital video recorder (DVR) connected to your cable, you can easily monitor TV programming by watching it first. This way you can decide if it is appropriate for your child ahead of time. If you don’t have a DVR, you can always rent the movie.

If it scares you, it will scare them

Research suggests kids are more likely to be scared if they see you frightened by something in a movie or on TV. So, if it scares you, it’s probably a good idea to avoid letting them see it.

Consider the style of thriller

Some kids in the tween ages like being scared and can handle more suspenseful thrills. You should still watch out for blood and gore, but generally monsters, ghosts, skeletons and aliens are OK for them. It’s still a good idea to stick to those movies with happy endings, but the older the kid, the less likely there will be lasting effects.

Reassure when necessary

Scary movies become a big part of slumber parties and outings for tweens, especially around Halloween. Your child may not be emotionally ready to handle that new monster movie her friends want to see, and is too embarrassed to say so. Let your children know it’s OK to be afraid, and encourage them to tell their friends when they’d rather watch something other than zombie invasions.

Bring out the classics

Try introducing your kids to the scary movies you watched when you were their age. This allows you to bond with your children, while reminiscing about your first frights.


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