Scary Movies Tips

One kid's laugh riot is another's fright fest. Learn how to choose age-appropriate scary movies.
Caroline Knorr Parenting Editor | Mom of one Categories: Violence in the Media
Parenting Editor | Mom of one

Scariness comes from fear of the unknown, from surprise, and from fears about the loss of a loved one. Different things scare different children; it's not always possible to predict what will frighten a particular kid. Young kids are frightened more by creatures that older children know don’t exist. Abrupt noises, eerie sounds, and music create tension in both younger and older children. Psychological suspense, with its threats of impending doom, can terrify your middle-school kids.

Movies with scary images, intense danger, loud noises, and -- above all -- blood and gore, can create all sorts of disturbances. Among them are anxiety, sleep disruption, and fears about possible situations. Children younger than 7 can't easily distinguish between fantasy and reality –- even if you tell them "it's not real." You will know if your kids have become too frightened when they start having sleep problems, irrational fears, and obsessions with things like zombies. Scary and disturbing images and sounds can affect vulnerable kids for years.

Tips for parents of all kids

  • Know what they're watching -– and whether it's appropriate. Check out Common Sense Media reviews, which offer age recommendations and provide age-appropriate selections.
  • Practice your poker face. Some research suggests that kids will become more scared if they see that you are scared by something in a movie or on TV.

Tips for parents of young kids

  • Choose media with care. Kids under 7 will believe what they see. When picking media, nothing should be more startling than "Boo!" Kids over 5 may like haunted houses, mysteries, and things popping out everywhere, but stick to animation, which helps them realize that it's fantasy. Be careful with monsters, skeletons, aliens, and zombies. Avoid any dangerous material involving characters near their age.
  • Be prepared for when things do go bump in the night. If your child is frightened, give him physical comfort, a glass of water, or a distraction. Kids 2 to 7 respond well to magical remedies and nightly rituals, such as cleaning the monsters out of the closet.
  • Don't be surprised if your kids suddenly like a little scary stuff. Kids who are 8-to-10 years old can handle being scared for longer periods of time -– in fact, they love it. Bring on the phantoms and ghoulish faces, but continue to choose films without gore or physical harm. Some intense moments are fun as long as the resolution involves a happy ending.

Tips for parents of middle school kids

  • Pushing boundaries may be OK. Some kids of this age are ready to be scared silly. You still should be mindful of blood and gore, but in general skeletons, monsters, and aliens are okay. Even so, stick to movies that have humor mixed in, or those with safe-and-sound endings.
  • Give reassurance when necessary. Other kids still scare easily. Middle school is when scary movies start being a big part of sleepovers and movie outings with friends. Even if your child isn't ready for the scarier stuff, it can be hard for her to tell that to friends who want to see the latest zombie flick. Let your children know that it's ok to be scared and to tell their friends they'd rather watch something else.

Tips for parents of high school kids

  • They may be ready for more than you think. Developmentally, teens can handle dramatic and psychological suspense, but kids under 16 still shouldn't see slasher horrors, especially those that feature kids in dire danger or that have lots of gore.
  • Mind the messages. Many scary movies now pair horrific graphic violence with sexual situations –- not a great combination for kids exploring newfound sexuality. Be sure to talk with them about the content of the movie they're seeing and the messages it may convey. Check Common Sense Media's reviews for conversation starters.
  • Dig into the vault. If you like scary movies too, try introducing your teens to some of the horror and suspense classics. Just make sure that any younger siblings are already tucked in bed.


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About Caroline Knorr

As Common Sense Media's parenting editor, Caroline helps parents make sense of what’s going on in their kids' media lives. From games to cell phones to movies and more, if you're wondering "what’s the right age for…?"... Read more
My daughter watched a really scary movie at a sleepover and is now having nightmares. What should I do?

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Comments (36)

Parent of a 14 and 17 year old written by nuenjins

I love how writers assume that they are 'moral police' without any justification or credentials outside of their 'blogging' rants. Opinions are like.....writers who think they are something 'special'.
Parent of a 14 and 17 year old written by nuenjins

I love how writers assume that they are 'moral polic'e without any justification or credentials outside of their 'blogging' rants. Opinions are like.....writers who think they know something 'special'.
Adult written by jessicag6

I used to watch horror movies all the time when I was a kid, must been around 8 or 9 when I first watched The Exorcist and yeah of course I was a little freak out, but I absolutely adore that feeling. First horror movie I actually remember watching, and I don't remember much so I must have been really young, was "The Village of the damned" where there was these group of creepy kids killing people. I know its kind of we ir to let a child watch something like that but it never affected me, never even have a nightmare in my 25 years so I guess it depends a lot on the child
Parent of a 8, 11, and 13 year old written by JoeJoeSing

That's tough. Your child can't unsee the movie and the reactions she had and the images and ideas that got into her head are there now. I would just reassure her and tell her that the movie wasn't real...maybe have her tell you about a scene and then show her how they made it with actors who were pretending. This is why I think it is important to make sure we talk to the parents prior to sleepovers to make sure they know what we approve of and what we don't...what our kids should be eating, watching, doing, etc when they are in their care.
Kid, 10 years old

I don't get scared by a single scary movie (my age is beside this comment...). Whaaaaaaaaaat?
Parent of a 8, 11, and 13 year old written by JoeJoeSing

I was never really scared watching horror movies as a kid, either. I was more scared by scifi movies like the original Planet of the Apes and suspense thrillers like North by Northwest. Maybe you are just aware that the movies are not real and you don't really let yourself be absorbed in them.
Kid, 5 years old

Sorry I'm actually ten all of a sudden I had this thing for scary movie clips and I was super scared of saw and ghost face. I just can't tell parents and nothing is helping, and I'm more afraid of ghostface, Ive read so many things on YouTube and I'm trying everything I can and i know my parents make up lies to me and there are crazy serial killers out there!!! I'm afraid he'll jump out of my closet and slit my throat, even my gramma who babysits me after school when she talks, I have to whip around and make sure she's not ghost face, and if don't know what to do don't tell me I need to see my parents I won't I'm too scared!!! I really need help and I'm the baddest person in the world for watching this scary stuff I'm going to burn in hell, I know that crazy people are put there like ghost face with the trivia thing like I said, I accidentally put my wrong birth date I'm 10 years old, I was afraid for a while in a dark store or parking lot or something, saw would just appear and make me kill my brother on chains below open fans or something. Then for some reason I just saw a tiny snipit of scream, and them I just started looking up death scenes, images, etc. iM not safe when my parents go to sleep!!! I know that!!! One image of ghost face equals a giant fright feat for me. I've never seen a REAL horror movie, only little stuff like ghostbusters, grudge match, and stuff like that. My bro watched paranormal tv stuff one time, I didn't go to sleep until I had a cross in my door and a bible with me when I sleep. I need help! I do try to think ghost face and that stuff ain't real, bu then I just get an image of my neck getting slit and drowning on my blood, etc. Halloween at the stores isn't scary, but they make tons of scream masks, and so then my idiot self starts torturing myself with images. Also it's that mask! When I was about 8, I play this game called Roblox, with comedy, town and city, adventure, pirate games, but around Halloween or just when someone makes a good horror game, I got hooked. It started with Bloody Mary. Now I'm ten and scared of ghost face.
Teen, 14 years old written by eazy__breezy

I'm 14 and I'm fine with slasher/violent horror films. But that's just me, most people younger then me probably shouldn't watch them
Teen, 14 years old written by Kyle1414

Once you hit 13, that's when you should watch a REALLY amazing and horrifying movie. Like Insidious: Chapter 2. I love horror movies, so I generally don't get too scared, but Insidious 2 really scared me! XP
Parent of a 13 year old written by MJBprotector

YOU SEE, COMMONSENSE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! WAKE UP!!!!!!!!!!! Swim3456 Oct 8, 2012 "i really want to watch horror movies but my parents won't let me!!! they say that they are "too disturbing" maybe if i show them this article they will start to let go a little..."
Parent of a 13 year old written by MJBprotector

WAKE UP, COMMONSENSE!!! You say one thing: "Developmentally, teens can handle dramatic and psychological suspense, but kids under 16 still shouldn't see slasher horrors, especially those that feature kids in dire danger or that have lots of gore." (RIGHT! - BUT SHOULD BE 18 and YOU KNOW IT!) But then you rate CARRIE for 15 year old children!!! WAKE UP AND CHANGE THOSE RATINGS!!!!! 18! If any of you intelligent parents agree, PLEASE TELL THEM SO!
Kid, 9 years old

Its okay to watch scary movies cuz under 16 is ridlicous my parents are overprotected -_- its not fair!!!!!
Teen, 14 years old written by Kyle1414

Yes, I agree that you don't have to be 16, but you should wait to be about 12 or 13. I'm 14, and I love horror movies. They're the best, but some of them still scare me. In my opinion, Insidious: Chapter 2 is the scariest movie ever. A good starter for a horror movie is The Apparition, but you should wait till the minimum age of maybe like 11 or 12. But yeah I totally agree with you most horror movies aren't over the top gory and bloody so yeah you shouldn't have to wait until your 16! My very first horror movie I watched, I was 12
Teen, 13 years old written by Strategist101

Why can't there be shows like "The Twilight Zone" anymore? Shows that rely on Psychological rather than visual horror? "Alfred Hitchcock" was good to. Those are "Scary" to some people, and interesting to me. Those are the only good kind of creepy films, the rest have no story, it seems...
Parent of a 8 and 10 year old written by SeekerKC

This is where the "It depends on the child" disclaimer is relevant. I watched Hitchcock's "The Birds" when I was around 8 yrs old or so, & it hit me hard! My reaction was strange -even to me- since it was not my first "scary" movie. I mean, by then, I had practically cut my teeth on Chiller Theater (w/ "Chilly Billy" Cardille!) -- and NO, my family didn't allow it. I'd have to sneak to watch it. And Benny Hill. *ehem* Moving on... The level of gore in "The Birds" was pretty tame, & I didn't have a phobia of our fine, feathered friends, or anything like that. What struck me the most was that I was watching little children being intentionally attacked. That "intent to cause harm" paired with the lack of regard for the age of the victim, freaked me out to the core!
Parent written by threenorns

btw the ages of 4 and 7, my oldest refused to go to sleep unless she'd watched Nightmare on Elm Street. when she was 7, she discovered The People Under the Stairs. they never bothered her one jot, tittle, or iota. my middle daughter is now 24 and to this day can't watch scary movies. my youngest daughter is now 6-1/2 and can't even watch Winnie the Pooh without bursting into tears at Eeyore. she's allowed to watch food network - that's about as scary as she can handle.
Teen, 13 years old written by AndrewG123

I'm 10 and i love slashers if u want your kiddies to watch horror slasher flicks then start them out with something like Friday the 13th or something funny thats a slasher like scary movie some have swearing just remind your kids to never ever say the bad words
Parent of a 8 year old written by delaneygee

This movie is way to scary for an 8 year old. My daughter went to see it with a trusted friend who did not review the movie first. Since watching the movie, over a month ago, my daughter has had nightmares and difficulty falling asleep due to vivid images of the "other mother" trying to sew button eyes on Coraline.
Parent of a 8 and 10 year old written by SeekerKC

Yeah, my daughter (now 10) has never seen the movie. The button eyes shown in the trailer were enough for her.
Parent written by teetah

Movies are great but we must be aware of what type of movie it is and if is it appropriate to watch by your kiddo and there are those times that our kids wanted to watch a movie but not appropriate for theme will the only thing you can do is to watch the movie together so you can explain events for the kids. buy facebook fans cheap
Teen, 16 years old written by maemae7171

I have a 7 year old baby sister. My parents let her stay at my older sister's house for a week. When my baby sister Sara came home, she was so paranoid and every little noise freaked her out. Then, Sara told me that my older sister Charish showed her scary japanese videos on Youtube. Sara was cautious around computers for a little while. This happened a year ago. She is still having nightmares, waking up in the middle of the night, sometimes to go to the bathroom, other times for no reason. She has become obssessed with zombies too! My sister Trixie(15) plays Call of Duty Black Ops and plays zombies on there. Whenever trixie gets on the PS3, Sara is always begging her to play zombies. I didnt understand why she liked zombies so much even though she was so traumatized by scary stories, eerie noises(door creaking, sounds of footsteps, etc.) So I did some research and I came across this site. I was wondering what I can do to help relieve her fears, and I think there might be some underline psychological issues. Sara mentioned to me a few months ago that everytime she closes her eyes, she sees "that girl". And today, I was talking to Trixie about a scary dream that I had, and she started acting strange! I think she overheard our conversation. Please help me help my little sister! I don't want her to be scared all the time.
Parent of a 8 and 10 year old written by SeekerKC

Hmmm, have you considered asking her what she would do to try to help a friend or loved one who was frightened? Imagining helping another may help her to soother her own feelings of fear, not to mention provide a bit of distance from it...making it somewhat less personal.
Adult written by TryingHardDad

Maemae and Csheff, I have 3 daughters, aged 13, 8 and 5, and I have gone through (and am still going through) what you are describing and more. What I have found works with me would be to go through a nightly ritual just before bed, such as a prayer, reading a story (nice calm story, ideally with a positive moral), a hug, doing a thorough room-check like you were a security guard, tucking them and their stuffed animals securely into bed (this helps them feel that it's not just them going to bed alone, they have their stuffed animal friends right there with them), and re-assuring them that Mommy and Daddy are "right outside" if they need you. I emphasize again saying a prayer (or two) together, trust me it works. Sometimes I need to do a little bit more. I find that making my younger girls feel empowered before bed is another great way to alleviate their fears, and helps them feel more self-assured. One thing that I have done when things were bad (and they love this) is to let them have a kind of mini-light show in their room (for about 5 mins) before bed. Basically I take a whole bunch of flashlights, toy lights, anything that gives off a beam, switch off the main light in the room, and let them go crazy with the flashlights (I participate in this, too. We like to sing songs while we are doing it). Then I reassure them that whether it's dark or light, the room is the same, nothing changes when the lights are off. I usually leave them each with a small flashlight to sleep with, telling them to go to sleep and not play with it. I think this makes them feel safe, knowing they have their own light with them if they need it (and after this they usually don't need it). Another good trick is to introduce a toy or stuffed animal that has special "protective powers" against bad dreams, scary things, etc. This is a kind of placebo effect that I think can also give younger kids a sense of empowerment, and that they are not alone when they go to sleep. My middle daughter has a stuffed bear that she got for her 1st Communion, and I think she is convinced that it keeps her from having bad dreams. Lastly, from my experiences as a parent and also from my own childhood experiences (I was very fearful going to bed as a child) I would urge you to please, please monitor what your younger kids are exposed to on TV, movies and computers. I would never presume to tell another parent what I think they should do regarding their own kids, but I believe that a lot of the "scary" content that is shown these days is far and beyond most shows that came out in the 80's and early 90's. Shows like The Grudge, Insidious, The Paranormal Activity movies, Sinister, The Devil Inside, The Possession etc. should never, ever be watched by anyone younger than someone in their late teens (and even then with some caution). I believe that if children are exposed, even inadvertently, to graphic horror content like this, it can have a lasting negative effect on them. This is the reason that I am super-careful about who my kids have sleep-overs by, and I always try to find out beforehand what the others kids' parents let them watch. Remember, once a child sees something, they can never "unsee" it. Hope this helps.
Parent of a 9, 10, and 13 year old written by CSheff

I am going thru the same thing with my 9 year old daughter. She stayed the night at a friends house and her friends parents let her watch Paranormal Activity 2! She has been having nightmares and "hearing" things ever since. Every night she is convinced there is something at her window or shadows moving. What have you tried to help your sister that may be working?? I'm desperate! She is waking up her siblings in the middle of the night to stay up with her because she is so scared.
Teen, 13 years old written by Cartoonfan777

The scairest movie I saw was called "The Tingler". I couldn't sleep after watching it. Most scary movies don't scare me though.
Kid, 9 years old

I am 9, and I suggest a movie like "The Sixth Sense" for kids that are older than 10, It was really suspenseful but not so scary you're child will be scared silly for a week, probably just scared silly during the movie than may need time to think about then to decide it was a great, cheesy horror film with great actors.
Parent of a 4 and 5 year old written by MamaRo

My youngest (4) is very sensitive to scary parts of movies -- or even fast or loud action scenes. We have had good success muting the scary part. The images lose their potency without the power of the audio and the dramatic music. This is a compromise with her older sister who isn't scared and wants to watch the scene. And of course, if it's just too scary for her we'll leave the room. But mute usually takes care of it.
Kid, 12 years old

i really want to watch horror movies but my parents won't let me!!! they say that they are "too disturbing" maybe if i show them this article they will start to let go a little...
Teen, 13 years old written by GamerGirlxox

Sometimes when me and my family watch a Halloween movie it is not so scary but one time we watched R.L. Stein's The Haunting Hour it showed this not really scary doll movie my baby sister was fine but other sister was so scared she went to my mother and started to cover her eyes and ears and now when I have sleepovers I make shore my sisters are in bed or with my parents