Keeping Halloween for Kids Fun-Scary, Not Scary-Scary

Posted on October 23, 2018 at 7:35 am

My friends at the Alliance of Women Film Journalists share their thoughts on making sure that children see movies that are fun-scary, not scary-scary at Halloween — and how to help them if they do get too scared. Here’s what I wrote:

I’m always sorry when kids are upset by what they see, especially when they’re so upset that they tear up or their voices shake when they talk about it years later. But I also recognize that no matter how careful parents are or how sheltered children are, whatever movie they see at exactly the moment when they’re first able to understand the implications of scariness in a deeper way will always be considered especially upsetting. What that means is that everyone will be terrified at some point by a movie. Even adults, no matter how old, just about always have an immediate answer when you ask what movie scared them the most.

A concerned mother once told me that her 2-year-old’s favorite movie was The Sound of Music, and she wanted to see it every day, but ‘I don’t want her to be scared by the Nazis.’ I told her that a 2-year-old has no ability to understand what Nazis are or even that the movie is more than a series of scenes of people singing and cautioned her that in a few years, the child would suddenly see the movie in a different way as she reached a more mature developmental stage, and then she might find it scary.

When my own son was about 11, he told me he wanted to see more scary movies. I told him, ‘Lucky for you, you have a mother who’s an expert on movies, so we’ll explore all the different kinds of scary — jump out at you, suspense, gore, etc. And so we did, and we talked about what made something scary and how the filmmakers understood how audiences react and played into or didn’t play into our vulnerabilities and expectations.

So what I take away from all this is that parents need to know their children and listen to them about what kind of scares they’re ready for and able to enjoy, but generally I recommend erring on the side of being protective.” Parents need to understand, though, that being scared is a part of growing up and learning how to deal with being scared is an essential life skill. Parents should be cautious about exposing children to scary material, they should respect a child’s own decision that something is too scary, and they should teach children what can help when they feel scared. “What will you do if it gets scary? Will you get into my lap, or turn it off?” If they feel that they have power over whatever scares them, it’s much less scary.

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