Can a Child Be Traumatized by a Scary Movie?

It’s a question that many parents have wondered: can a child be traumatized by a scary movie? The answer is not a simple yes or no, as it depends on various factors such as the age of the child, their temperament, and the content of the movie.

Age Matters

Young children are more vulnerable to being scared by movies because they don’t yet have the ability to distinguish between reality and fantasy. According to Dr. Gail Saltz, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the New York-Presbyterian Hospital and Weill Cornell Medicine, children under age 6 shouldn’t watch anything that’s too violent or frightening. These kids are still learning about the world around them and may not have developed coping mechanisms yet.

The Content of the Movie Makes a Difference

Not all scary movies are created equal, and some may be more traumatic than others. For example, movies with jump scares (sudden loud noises or startling images) can be especially distressing for young children. Films that feature graphic violence or gore can also be traumatizing for kids, as they may not understand that what they’re seeing is not real.

How Trauma Can Affect Children

Trauma can have lasting effects on children’s mental health, so it’s important to take their emotional state seriously. According to The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN), traumatic experiences can lead to symptoms such as anxiety, depression, sleep disturbances, and behavioral problems.

What Parents Can Do

If you’re unsure whether your child is ready for a particular movie, it’s best to err on the side of caution. Consider watching it yourself first so you can gauge its appropriateness. Common Sense Media is also an excellent resource for parents looking for guidance on media content.

If your child does see something frightening and seems upset afterward, provide comfort and reassurance. Let them know that what they saw was just a movie and not real. Encourage them to talk about their feelings, and validate their emotions.

It’s important to note that not all children will be traumatized by scary movies, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry. With a little bit of caution and empathy, parents can help their children navigate the sometimes-scary world of media.

  • Young children are more vulnerable to being scared by movies.
  • Movies with jump scares can be especially distressing for young children.
  • Trauma can have lasting effects on the mental health of children.