It's nearly Halloween, the scariest time of the year, and the
movies range from silly to terrifying. There's no doubt your kids
will be exposed to a frightening film, even something as innocent
as "Pooh's Halloween Heffalump Movie."
What you find ridiculous could scare your kids and what your
kids are begging to see might leave you shaking. Even so, there's
no doubt that every year the holiday's films aspire to new heights
"What was scary last week isn't scary now," says Nell Minow,
nationally recognized as the Movie Mom and whose movie reviews
appear in the Chicago Sun-Times. "Halloween is exciting, but it's a
scary time. Parents need to be hypersensitive."
Fantasy vs. reality. Does your child understand
the difference? Younger children in particular aren't
discriminating. The thought that Dora isn't real might come as a
surprise, so don't expect your child to understand that the Gobloon
in "Pooh's Heffalump Halloween Movie" is also imaginary.
"Kids are usually able to differentiate between reality and
fantasy," says Dr. Jonathan Pochyly, a child psychologist at
Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago. "But some kids might take
it as real."
If your child does not know the difference, reiterate that the
villains do not exist.
Read reviews. If you are content with taking a
shortcut, find a movie reviewer whose views parallel yours. Find
reviews in local papers, Web sites, magazines and even your church
bulletin. Read reviews of movies you have both seen to discover
your compatibility. It's not foolproof, but may come in handy in a
View it first. Your kids cannot argue that you
do not understand if you have seen the movie. There is no
substitute for first-hand information. If the movie seems overtly
gratuitous, you might be right.
"It is true that what it takes to shock kids can be on the
excessive side because they have seen so much already," Pochyly
Home viewing instead of theater. With the
plethora of parties and events in October, finding the time to get
to the theater remains difficult, so instead of viewing the latest
fright fest, rent a film from the past. Watching a movie in the
comfort of your own home, even if you turn the lights off, makes
the experience less intense.
Minow, a Chicago native and mom of two, recommends children
under 5 steer clear of the theater anyway. Unpredictable reactions
might hamper the enjoyment of everyone at the show and unexpected
scary scenes may lead you to wish you had stayed home.
Coping strategies. If you've decided your child
is ready to watch a scary film, come up with management techniques
before hitting the play button. Offer different options such as
letting your young ones sit in your lap, turning on the lights or
even turning off the movie if the fear is overwhelming. Some kids
may also benefit from knowing the happy ending, even if they are
too scared to view more.
"Encourage your child to be a controlled consumer," Pochyly
says. "Help them to know what stirs up their anxiety."
Beware of MPAA ratings. "The MPAA ratings are
useless," Minow says. "They are misleading, giving parents a sense
that they know what to expect in the movies but too often leading
to unpleasant surprises."
The Motion Picture Association of America chooses the rating for
each film released, but the board, made up of parents, combines
votes to determine the rating. Determine which elements are
important to you and research films accordingly. The ratings can be
useful, but do not let them decide for you.
Know your child. Pay attention to the kinds of
movies to which your kids gravitate. Do they even seem to like
scary films or does the interest only surface around Halloween? How
do your kids react during commercials for horror films? Are they
excited or nervous? Is the movie they want to see bloody, intense,
heart-pounding or silly?
Evaluate all the circumstances before making a decision. What is
OK for one child may not be OK for another.
Not for everyone Horror films excite and
entertain. They provide a rush of adrenaline and an escape from
everyday life, but some kids just can't handle them. No one should
force your kids to watch a horror film, even at a party. If your
child is seriously afraid or if you have witnessed their anxiety in
the past, put a stop to the viewing.
If they react with nervousness that doesn't disappear or have
many recurring nightmares, don't hesitate to contact your
Stand your ground. If you feel a horror flick
is inappropriate for your child, don't relent on your decision no
matter how much he begs. In this, as many other occasions, your
kids will probably plead, negotiate and whine to get their way. You
are the parent and ultimately have the final verdict.
Michelle Sussman is a mom, wife and writer in Bolingbrook who is
scared by movie trailers. You can contact her at michelle@
michellesussman.com or visit her Web site at
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