‘Tis the season for scary movies! TVs are running commercials around the clock, and you’re considering which one you should see. Even your child is excited to get in on the action and see the latest horror film.

But can your child handle it?

It’s important to understand the impact of the scary media your child is exposed to on a daily, weekly, monthly or even yearly basis. Cartoons, movies, TV shows, youtube videos, even books (Goosebumps, anyone?) can alter your child’s sense of safety this holiday season.

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Some parents underestimate how impactful theses scary movies can be. If your child is exposed to scary media that they have difficulty comprehending, you can expect an increase in worries, nightmares, bedwetting, clinginess and more. You don’t want that.

If your child is exposed to scary media that they have difficulty comprehending, you can expect an increase in worries, nightmares, bedwetting, clinginess and more. You don’t want that. - @jenmarieeadie Click To Tweet

Think back to your own childhood and your first experience with something that was too scary. Were you having fun? Maybe not so much. Do you still remember it to this day? Absolutely! Studies are showing that these horror movies can have a lasting effect on adulthood.

So how can you keep the excitement of the season without overexposing your child to any potential Halloween horror trauma?

Here are some tips and techniques to help guard against the nightmares this Halloween season:

Watch the scary movie by yourself first.

Forget the movie rating system; you know your child best. So your child just turned 13…that doesn’t mean that she’s ready to watch a PG-13 movie without waking up with night terrors. So, when it comes to the scary genre, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Watch the scary movie at home, with the pause button ready.

When your child is bothered or has a question, she needs to be able to talk it out. Being at home where you can pause the movie or at least lower the volume has its advantages. It’s just not possible to talk it out in a movie theater (unless you like popcorn thrown at you!).

It’s not just the blood and guts you need to watch for: horror movies have tons of sexual content in them.

Case in point: the 2016-2017 season of The Walking Dead. In a show infamous for its grotesque zombie costumes and gory special effects, it’s the graphic sexual dialogue that had me horrified. I’ve had countless parents that I work with tell me they let their child watch it. Be very careful. Your child is taking in all that audio as well the visual.

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When in doubt, have your child repeat back to you their understanding of the scenes in the movie.

You may think you have an understanding of how your child is comprehending what’s on the screen.  But, if you don’t ask your child to explain what she’s seeing, you won’t truly know how on track or off track you really are.

Never ever ever ever relate scenes in horror movies to real life.

Saying “That’s what’s going to happen to you if you…” always backfires. Horror movies are not a place to learn lessons. You may think you’re teaching your child not to run off: “Stay with mom or the boogie man will get you,” but what your child hears is “There are boogie men out there, and I’m not safe.” You don’t want your child to need counseling because you were using a horror movie as a teacher!

If your child says she’s scared and doesn’t want to watch anymore, stop the movie.

Think carefully about whether you want to reassure her or say “It’s not real.” The best thing your child can learn from the Halloween experience was that when something bothered her, she was able to tell you and that you respected her by stopping the movie until she felt ready.

Bottom line: Pay attention to your child’s words and body language regarding her comfort level with scary movies, and you will have a safe and successful Halloween.

About the Author

Jenmarie Eadie is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, and her passion is helping children with challenging behaviors to become less stressed by giving them and their parents’ tools, support, and encouragement. She received her Master’s in Social Work from Arizona State with a dual concentration in Children, Youth, and Families; and Behavioral Health. Jenmarie began her therapy career helping children and adolescents gain control of challenging behaviors and recover from early childhood trauma. Her proudest accomplishment is following her dream of opening up a practice that is designed to focus on the whole family. She currently serves families in Southern California and in her free time loves to write for her Positive Pathways To Change blog. Jenmarie is certified as an Anger Management Treatment Provider through the International Association of Trauma Professionals and is a proud member of the National Associations of Social Workers. You can learn more or contact Jenmarie on her website.