How To Protect Kids From Overly Scary Films and Shows

A little scary is fun, like a perfectly calibrated haunted house or Wizard of Oz’s creepy Wicked Witch and monkey scene. 

Scary movies and shows abound. The level of darkness in current media is unbelievable, with the “brutality and hyper-violence” in Season 4 of Stranger Things or the massively successful and highly controversial Netflix series, Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story about a serial killer. 

I have been thinking about ways to talk with kids about horror in movies, TV shows, and online in general, and these are some ideas: 

What is the thrill of this media? What is the price?

I vividly recall when my son was 13, and he confided in me that he and some friends had watched a horror movie at someone’s house. He found some scenes so vile that he was still shaken by the film several days later. He talked about having all of those disturbing images reoccurring in his head and how he regretted watching it in the first place.

I asked him if he wanted to tell me about the disturbing things. After a little pause, he started talking about them. It took work to stay calm while hearing about some really gross details. I felt disgusted but didn’t let it show. I could see he was relieved after talking to me about how scary the movie was. 

Many young people and adults love horror films and tell me they don’t feel any lingering trepidation or repulsion after watching such content. Instead, they talk about how they love the feeling of being scared. That adrenaline rush of the build-up. The intense scenes that follow. They say, “No problem, bring it on.” 

Wow, so very different from me. I am not at all a fan, but I must confess that this weekend, I watched the trailer for Megan, an upcoming movie, three times. In the movie, the little girl robot is mesmerizingly disturbing to watch.

Watch this video to spark discussions

Consider sharing this 3-minute short IMDB video with teens as a way to discuss the topic of horror films. The short features people on the street answering the question, What Horror Movies Terrified You As A Kid?”

One young woman responds, “It was the Ring, I walked out of the movie, and then I literally slept with my mom for a good two weeks.”

How to decrease exposure to hyper-scary and disturbing content 

Even though access to intense horror content is unimaginably simple, it does not mean that adults have to throw up their hands and give up on placing limits on this type of content. It doesn’t matter what our or our children’s opinions are on the price vs. the thrill of scary content. Having some limitations on content like this has many merits.

Here are some strategies:

  1. Consider a short or long break from any of your content providers. Could there be a break from Netflix? Hulu? 
  2. Ask, don’t tell. Talk with some friends of yours who love horror. What dynamics do they face when picking out films to watch at home? During this conversation, try hard only to get information. Keep it short and completely nonjudgmental. Just have your research hat on, and then after 5 minutes, move on.
  3. Plan in advance. You can ask your children how they choose which films to watch at their friends’ houses. This is also a nice time to discuss ways to prevent watching certain content. Help your kid talk to their friends about picking a movie in advance.
  4. Talk with other families. Don’t worry about being “THAT parent.” Of course, this depends on your child’s age, but particularly any age before high school, doing a little behind the scenes can be very much appreciated by all parents. Talking about what movies will get shown or that you will show can be a relief. Yes, kids can sneak around all this, but remember, we have instilled in them that we care about this topic and are willing to try at least to have some safeguards around all that is being offered and advertised to them all day long.
  5. Plan in advance. You can ask your children how they choose which films to watch at their friends’ houses. This is also a nice time to discuss ways to prevent watching

Questions to get the conversation started:

  1. Why do you think horror films and shows appeal to some people? Why not to others?
  2. What are the downsides of watching such things?
  3. How old do you think a child should be to watch horror content? 
  4. How do you negotiate with friends about what you want to and not want to watch?