Monday, April 22, 2013

Kids and Scary Movies: What is the right age?

On the Beetlejuice episode of The As You Watch podcast(Episode will post Friday Morning) Joe, Nick and I got into a conversation about scary movies for kids and what we think is appropriate for that age level. There were some disagreements about my picks which included "The Others","Gremlins" and "Poltergeist". I would also include "Night of the Living Dead"(original version) "Jaws" "Watcher in The Woods" and "Lady in White". Yes these movies are scary, but they don't feature excessive violence or gore, the language for the most part is tame and there is hardly any sexual content. Each of the titles I have listed are rated PG-13 or lower despite what IMDB has on their site. In fact I am starting to doubt their integrity as being movie experts. But I will get into my gripe with them later because right now I want to have an open discussion with you about kids watching horror movies.

This genre remains to this day a very popular one because of the thrill and excitement it brings it's audience. It's like being on a brand new roller coaster for the first time. Traveling up that steep hill, you have no idea of what to expect(kind of like a movie building suspense). When the car finally reaches the top and then drops you get a series of chills, scares and a slight case of nausea based on the ride itself. Same thing can be said about scary movies or basically any genre that has a high level of tension and excitement. We become nervous for Marty McFly to get to that DeLorean on time so he can go "Back To The Future". We hope Han Solo can turn off the shield generator so that the rebels can destroy the Death Star in "Return of The Jedi".  Having tension and suspense is a basic part of story telling. Should we remove these elements because they may make a kids nervous. Same thing goes for watching a scary movie. Should we be worried that a kid is going to develop psychological problems when things pop out at them. If so why are we torturing them with that sadistic game called Peak-a-Boo. We are teaching kids at a very young age that being afraid is an OK thing. I will repeat myself in case you may have missed that last statement. Being scared is an OK thing. Now I don't want children to be scared of every little thing they encounter, but I do want them to be a bit more cautious and not give them the false notion that they are invincible like many parents are doing now. Horror movies makes us aware that a dark alley around 3 in the morning is not the best place to be at alone. It also makes us not trust that one guy in a clown outfit who drives a van without any windows. He says he has a whole bunch of candy, comic books, and a new videogame system back at his house. If I was not aware of horror movies I would go because I love candy and I would have time to kill before my second job starts. I agree that we should make some things safe for kids, like helmets and knee pads. Stuff that will protect their bodies but shielding them against certain emotions will only cause more damage then good. Being afraid at times is just the same as being happy or being sad. It is a natural emotional response.  It would be great if we could protect children from all of the dangers in the world and not let them see any of it.  But wouldn't it also be better if they were more prepared for it.  Showing them something as graphic as "Hostel" is a bit much, but movies like "ParaNorman"and "Coraline" are great gateway movies to a fun and exciting genre.

I have a few questions for you.

1. Is it appropriate to show scary movies to kids?

2. If so what is the ideal age and what  do you think would be a good title to start them off with.

Leave me some suggestions in the comments section. Thank you for reading.


  1. The ratings system serves its purpose, but I don't think there's some age for scary movies -- I think (as a parent) you have to know your kid. And even then, there's going to be some hits and misses.

    Stuff my girls (7 and 9) have seen so far include "Nightmare Before Christmas," "Caroline," "Frankenweenie" and a bunch of Godzilla movies. We also watched the "Star Wars" series a few years back, which has some intense moments (death of Uncle Owen, arm cut off at the cantina, Anakin's fate, etc) when you stop to think about it.

    It's been interesting to pinpoint what does rattle them: Though she'd already watched and enjoyed about a half-dozen Godzilla movies, seeing Mechagodzilla make Godzilla writhe in pain was too much for my older daughter. My younger daughter still gets a bit freaked out by the whole "replace eyes with buttons" thing in Caroline. And "Mars Needs Moms" was scared her more than any movie I've mentioned, simply from the idea of all the moms being abducted.

    Here's an interesting tangent: These days, there a snowball effect to consider. For example, I've been very slow to show my girls the Harry Potter series, not because there's anything wrong with the first movie, or the second (other than it sucks), but because they'll want to keep going and the films become markedly more intense as the series progresses.

    1. The thing about Harry Potter is that it would be perfect to watch one movie per year and let them grow up with the movies the same way we did when we saw them in theatres. I agree that it depends on how well you know your kids. My main point is that we can't always shield kids from being scared but we should at least talk to them about it instead of hiding it. Thank you so much for the comment Nohlan.

  2. Interesting topic! :-) I agree with the other commenter that it depends entirely on the kids, including their maturity level and sensitivities. You mentioned The Others -- that's one my kids watched when they were still relatively young. I think it's a great pick -- creepy with a wonderful Gothic feel but not too extreme. Horror comedies, like Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland also went over well with my kids when they were pre-teens.

    You made an interesting point about horror movies being a "safe" way to learn about the dangers of life. That's probably true, and it's also a way to begin to explore the dark side of human nature, in a way that's still "safe" in that it's heavily fictionalized.

    1. Thanks so much for visiting. I like the idea of horror comedies. Would love to show my niece and nephews "Young Frankenstien" I would like to show "6th Sense" but that does get graphic.

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