You’re Taking Your Kid to That Horror Movie? Really?

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As a movie critic, I’m encouraged to be judgmental. But when it comes to other people’s personal lives or the choices I see somebody make day-to-day, well, I tend to pull out my imaginary fishing rod and just reel that opinionated, faultfinding side of my psyche back in.

Really, I do.

Hey, I’ve made more than my own share of mistakes in life. And as long as some guy doesn’t look like he’s about to start swinging a dead chicken in a crowd or step blithely out into heavy traffic, what business is it of mine to tell him what to do? Who am I to say that your toupee looks like something that ought to have its own face?

But when it comes to how parents sometimes deal with the media mud puddle that their kids have to dog paddle through, well, I can’t always reel, uh, real well.

Case in point: A few nights back I attended an early screening of the latest Insidious film to review it for Plugged In. Most of these movie screenings also welcome a bevy of VIPs and movie aficionados, and among the free-ticketed crowd were some parents who brought their kids along. (Mind you, these were average-looking moms and dads who didn’t appear abnormal or mentally impaired in any way.)

One particular woman and her little son—who looked to be about 5 or 6—sat just behind me. As we waited for the projector to spew forth its creepy creepshow, even this young kid started to wonder aloud if the pic was going to be too scary for his tastes. To which his mum replied, “Oh, you’ll be fine.” As the horror movie unspooled, I heard the tyke moaning, groaning and uncontrollably arrghing his way through the jump scare fest before him.

Nightmare anyone?

Now, I understand someone’s love of movies. And I get that babysitters don’t grow on proverbial trees. But come on!

If you’re someone like this mom, or maybe this mom herself, I humbly implore you to consider more than the fact that it’s been a tough week and you really need a night out.

Granted, we adults grow certain shock-absorbing filters during a life of seeing obnoxious garbage that we probably shouldn’t have exposed ourselves to. I myself have seen and reviewed so many of these horror pics that I can almost predict the number of seconds and turned dark-shadowed corners before each screeching cinematic ghoulie pops up. But the suffering children in our midst have no such buffers.

During the same screening, a different tyke—a girl of about 7 or 8 this time—was walking down the darkened theater aisle next to me, apparently heading by herself to the restroom (another parental decision that doesn’t earn any medals in my book). And just as she drew up next to my row, she froze and stared gape-mouthed at the bothersome blech on screen. At that moment, her youthful fear froze her in place and even overwhelmed her need to empty her bladder (or perhaps it was no longer necessary at that juncture).

My point is, do we really think it’s a good thing to toss our kids into that bottomless pool? Is that the best way to learn how to swim in our media flooded world? Do you really want your kids sleeping with a nightlight when they’re 34? If we’ve all agreed that seatbelts are a good thing and child-protective seats should be in effect ‘til the age of, what, 14 now, doesn’t it make sense that we give our kids some kind of protection against the train-wreck of stuff that’s poured into their little minds?

I remember reading an article somewhere that said something to the effect of: “If parenting weren’t about looking at the long run, we’d stuff the kids with Ho Hos at every meal.” Why? Because, well, Ho Hos are easy. But looking out for your kids isn’t always that easy. It takes a little extra thought about what’s best for them, a little extra work. You don’t always get to do what you want and just drag them along ‘cause it’s convenient. You just don’t!

On the other hand, your hamster-like toupee or that really ugly sweater you’re wearing … hey, your kids’ll get over that.

Who wrote this?

Bob Hoose is a senior associate editor for Plugged In, a producer/writer for Focus on the Family’s Adventures in Odyssey, a writer of plays and musicals and one-half of the former comedy/drama duo Custer & Hoose. He is a husband, father of three and a relatively new granddad.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

Anonymous 4 months ago
I'm looking for studies and facts to help prove this, though I'm in complete agreement. Any links to scientific articles to share?
charitysplace More than 1 year ago
I don't know about other children, but I was very sensitive and easily emotionally influenced as a child. My parents were very cautious in what they allowed me to watch, and for good reason, but a few things slipped through -- I still look back on vague, childhood memories of "The Hiding Place" with a knot in the pit of my stomach. It's been decades, and I imagine that film was incredibly tame, but to a child it left a deep emotional impression on me of sorrow and cruelty.

I think it's best to keep children away from a lot of things, but also it's a good idea to consider the child when making even more 'innocent' choices -- for example, a lot of the Disney movies (the originals, and those up through the 90's) had strong dramatic themes that tore my little heart to pieces. To a super sensitive, empathetic little girl, "The Fox and the Hound" was terribly sad; I cried when I saw "Bambi" at my grandmother's house (the trauma of his mother's death, then the fire, then a terrible fight with another stag was all very scary to a four year old); I loved "Dumbo" but the part with his mother "imprisoned" was hard to watch. Etc.

I also have a vague memory of "The Nun's Story" with Audrey Hepburn; I remember nothing about it except the horror of a nun being beaten to death by a scary man.

My point is: a child's mind is very different from an adult's mind, and things that may seem innocuous or non-graphic to an adult can seer into an impressionable, sensitive little brain; how much more so, things that are violent, perverse, or sexualized?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Honestly, taking very young children (toddlers, for example*) to any movie above a PG rating - and heck, even some G-rated movies - is not only potentially frightening for the child, but incredibly inconsiderate to other theater-goers. I want to watch a fast-paced action-adventure movie in peace, not be bothered by three different toddlers screaming their heads off because they missed a nap/the movie's too loud/they're scared/they're just yelling for the heck of it or to get attention.

And taking children (anybody below the age of, say, fourteen) to horror movies? Um. No. That's just plain cruel to the child.

*I'd say parents really have to know their children to discern at what age their kids can handle movie theaters. Seeing things - even benign, familiar, friendly things like cartoon characters - on a larger-than-life screen that's a lot louder than they're probably used to...that can unnerve even the most mature child.

- Lionsong
Scott Jamison More than 1 year ago
Many moons ago, I attended a showing of the Jack Nicholson werewolf movie.  The lady a couple of rows behind me had brought her little one to this R-rated flick.  The kid did okay during the scary bits, but during the, er, "romance" scene, she asked, "Mommy, what is he doing to that lady?" very loudly.  All ten of us in the theater heard her.

Mind, there is a sweet spot for kids and horror movies; but it's different for every child, and I think the waters should be tested with something very mild first.  
[removed] More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Krampus was a clever idea but a mediocre/bad movie at best. Kids shouldn’t be watching horror movies at all but basically everyone should stay away from Krampus anyway. ;)