How much "scary stuff" can my young kid handle?

Some kids like scary stuff, and some kids hate it. Movies with fearsome images, intense danger, loud noises, and -- above all -- blood and gore can create all sorts of problems, so it's wise to take it slowly. 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, for example, zombies.

Disturbing images and sounds can affect vulnerable kids for years. When scary surprises, such as the one at the beginning of Finding Nemo, crop up suddenly in a movie, check in with your kids. Because they're caught up in the emotion of fear, they may miss the fact that a scene has a safe resolution. Feel free to leave the movie theater, turn off a show, or otherwise shut down something you think is agitating. Talk about it, comfort your kid, and use it as a gauge for next time. These tips can help:

  • Choose with care. Kids over 5 may like haunted houses, mysteries, and things popping out everywhere, but stick to animation, which helps them realize 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 go bump in the night. If your kid is frightened at bedtime, 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.
  • Avoid shows and movies in which characters use violence to resolve conflict. But if it comes up, talk about alternative ways that characters could have solved a problem.
  • Watch the clock. Avoid potentially frightening stuff (including serious loss, scary suspense, bullying, coercion, and portrayals of psychological dysfunction) right before bedtime.
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Comments

Adult written by CastielFan

Like I seen Disney On Ice few times and some Children under 12 crying over Baddie and Scary Music,The Last show was in 2013 and the Queen/Witch scared the Children during the Snow White Skit and I seen lots of Movies at the cinema and At home(The Hobbit,LOTR,Disney movies)
Parent of a 3 and 6 year old written by Iliana W.

My six year old asks to watch Goosebumps, Chucky's Revenge, Child's Play, every night. She does not fear this because she doesn't own any dolls or puppets (she gave them to charity) and she loves to play Five Nights at Freddy's 3. We just make sure that her 3 year old sister is asleep first.
Kid, 11 years old

I'm 11 and some how I really get scared of nothing I have watched the conjuring and the babadook with out getting scared but for young kids I said like goose bumps and stuff like that
Parent of a 4 and 7 year old written by jkh0208

My oldest daughter (7, almost 8) really enjoys scary things, and I have a hard time finding things that are age appropriate that she would enjoy. She thoroughly enjoyed Jacob's Ladder, Poltergeist, and the first 2 Puppet Master movies (yes, I know they aren't exactly age appropriate, but the first puppet master she watched through the banisters from the stairs when I thought she was upstairs asleep, and begged to watch the second one.) She's gone as far as asked for puppet replicas from the movie. She also enjoys scary games, such as Five Nights at Freddy's, Are You Afraid of the Dark, Alone in the Dark, and Doom 3 (caught her downstairs playing that one night when she was supposed to be asleep, though I was impressed she got all the way to the Monorail Skybridge Facility Transport by herself when the game is hard and personally kind of creeps me out, but definitely not kid appropriate). My question is, if she enjoys games with deep foreboding atmosphere, and also enjoys being startled (she calls it "jump scares"), what sort of movies and games cater to this while still being age appropriate? Keep in mind, she doesn't like shows like Goosebumps or Are You Afraid of the Dark (though she liked the game) quite as much because she sees them as cheesy.
Teen, 13 years old written by yeahImaBrony164

I saw the second suggestion and I'd like to add that when I was eight, it really helped to a traditional nightmare-prevention system (NPS) such as a dream catcher or pillow dolls (I understand if that last one sounded like a horror movie)
Kid, 12 years old

It depends on the child, some kids get more scared easily and others don't get scared that often. It also depends on how scary it is, if it is too violent and your kid wants to watch it I would recommend doing what you feel you should do if you think it is too violent for your child.
Adult written by mswise

Consider that media, that is movies, TV, and computer images, when offered to young children are part of their "diet." Just like with food, whatever goes in has to come out. Even images that an adult might not think are scary can have significant effects upon a child. One can observe this in their play; for example, children who watch media containing "violence" (and this can simply be the sound effects of gunfire and explosions in a seemingly innocuous popular outer-space movie) will tend to re-gurgitate the sounds and violent types of interactions because that is what has been fed into their vulnerable imaginative capacities. Just like literally feeding a child processed non-nutritious foods will affect their physiology, so too will feeding their minds processed non-nutrious shows affect their neurological and behavioral physiology. Reading and/or telling stories to the young child are the best way to go. Even in the fairy tales (Grimms, not Disney), where there can be strong and seemingly frightening or gruesome details, the difference here is that the child is doing their own inner picturing (which is an important capacity to be used and strengthened); and, these ancient tales have appeared in one form or another throughout many cultures and ages. They depict elements of the "collective unconscious" and are not to be taken literally; they are symbolic and portray simple truths wrapped in metaphor. When receiving a tale through oral transmission, the young child receives it in a dream-like fashion and does not take it literally or have the need to find the "logic." They receive it as a "mood" and any questions asked out of a child's inquisitiveness can be gently responded to with simple words which promote further imaginative speculation, rather than a concrete answer which rather "shuts down" any further underlying imagery which may exist. To succinctly answer the original question, I advise to protect your young child from scary imagery. It serves no purpose in the young child's diet.
Adult written by Kmandel

Just wanted to support you and your insightfulness, way to go! I especially like how you explained the difference between the Grimm stories and watching modern day videos. IMHO, although social attitudes toward what's appropriate for children have changed, child development hasn't, and so I hope you share this on as many web sites as possible.