3 psychological effects of horror movies on children – what parents need to know

Holiner Group

Since the first horror film premiered in the late 1890s, parents of young children face a tough challenge: Should I let my child watch scary movies? The effect of horror films on children has been more closely studied in recent years, warning parents to proceed with caution. Here are three of the psychological effects of horror movies parents need to know:

Adverse effects on children can linger into adulthood

While the short-term effects of horror movies often include restless sleep and trouble eating, long-term effects can bloom later in adulthood. A study conducted at the University of Wisconsin in the 1990s found that over 90% of college students surveyed were still experiencing “lingering effects” from a horror film viewed during childhood. The study also found that the younger a child was when they saw scary content, the stronger of an impact the media had on them.

Scary movies can desensitize children to violence

Viewing horror movies can “desensitize” children to real-life aggression and violence. The National Institute of Mental Health has identified some psychological effects on children who consume violent media, including:

  • Less conscious of others’ pain and suffering
  • A heightened sense of fear in any situation
  • Increased aggressive behavior as teenagers and into adulthood

Higher risk of anxiety disorders and phobias

Some children find it challenging to distinguish fantasy from reality. Exposure to scary movies can challenge a child’s cognitive ability even further, heightening their risk for long-lasting effects including anxiety disorders and phobias.

Deciding what movies your child is allowed to view is ultimately your decision. However, it’s important to be aware of the research on possible psychological effects of horror content on young minds. If you are concerned that your child is showing signs of more troubling issues, the Holiner Group provides adolescent and child psychiatric services to the Dallas and Mckinney area.

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