Will sad movies make my kid depressed?
How kids react to sad stuff can be very individual. But it also depends on their age, their temperament, and what's going on in their lives. In general, it's wise to be cautious with sad stuff for kids under 8. Until around age 8, kids can't distinguish between fact and fantasy, so they may process a made-up situation the way they would a "real" one. Your own reactions to sad stuff in movies will also affect your kids. If you start to feel emotional, tell your kid that the scene made you feel sad (it helps them learn to identify emotions). If your kids -- or you -- experience a strong emotional reaction, take it seriously. It may be "only a movie," but the feelings are real. Take a break, fast-forward through the sad stuff (our reviews usually alert you to red-flag moments), or come back to it later. Here are some more tips:
Limit exposure to emotional intensity. Young kids are still learning how to identify and manage their feelings. Sad stuff should be fairly minor and brief -- a character loses a favorite toy, for example -- and kids should see the resolution quickly. If they're overwhelmed with sad emotions, they could miss any positive messages in the movie. (Check out "5 Tips for Your Kid's First Trip to the Movies.")
Avoid specific triggers. Anything involving the death of parents, pets, or beloved characters is probably too sad for kids under 7. Likewise, depictions of sensitive issues actually going on in a kid's life -- divorce, bullying, missing someone -- may hit too close to home. Kids have such a strong emotional attachment -- especially to their parents but even to movie characters -- that the idea of separation can be disturbing. Get tips on picking movies for sensitive kids.
Steer clear of psychological trauma. Depression, heartache, despair -- these psychological states are probably too abstract for young kids to grapple with. Movies that graphically depict emotional trauma -- for example, anguished, distorted faces -- should be avoided.
Watch with them. Observe how your kid reacts to emotional scenes. Feel free to fast-forward or mute anything you think could be too sad. Check our movie reviews for a heads-up on scenes of emotional intensity.
Use media to help talk about emotions. Movies such as Inside Out, WALL-E, Up, and Ruby's Studio: The Feelings Show offer an opportunity to discuss feelings. Ask questions such as, what do you think your own emotions might look and talk like? What about those of your friends and family members? Ask kids to draw what they think might be going on inside their own heads.
The Child Mind Institute contributed to this article. Learn more at childmind.org.