For information on movie ratings, go to www.mpaa.org.
1. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), while certain TV programs may be promoted to children under two, "research on early brain development shows that babies and toddlers have a critical need for direct interactions with parents and other significant care givers for healthy brain growth and the development of appropriate social, emotional, and cognitive skills." Although the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) findings are specific to television viewing, the same recommendations and advice can be maintained for movies, which also require screen time.
2. According to Joanne Cantor in Mommy, I'm Scared: How TV and Movies Frighten Children and What We Can Do To Protect Them, because many images in the movies are similar to real life, children have a hard time distinguishing between the two (Cantor, 1998).
3.Educational studies show that creative play that explores and invents is the most valuable learning method available to the preschool child. "Play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth. Play also offers an ideal opportunity for parents to engage fully with their children" (Ginsburg, 2007). We recommend that you encourage physical outdoor activities, interacting with friends and family, making arts and crafts, and exploring other kinds of play.
4. Psychologist Susanne Ayers Denham recommends making make sure the film is relatively short, does not have too loud of a noise level, or frightening scenes because at this young age, what a child sees is what they believe, and a scary movie can bring on nightmares. Denham warns that many films are too long for the youngest children, who have short attention spans and find it difficult to sit still and be quiet for long stretches of time. Movies can also be confusing or scary (www.babycenter.com). Even G-rated movies can be too much for young children to handle if there are many frightening and violent scenes (Cantor, 1998).
In films, the images are larger and in motion causing them to be much more frightening than images in a book because our brains react more to moving images. It is also important to be aware that watching a movie in a darkened theater will be a very different experience for a child than watching a video in the familiarity of your family room, says Victoria J. Youcha, of Zero to Three, a nonprofit organization devoted to the healthy development of infants and toddlers. According to some psychologists, you should choose a movie that has characters that are familiar to your child for your first movie outing, perhaps a movie version of a favorite cartoon or book Even children as old as 5 or 6 are overwhelmed by the experience (www.babycenter.com). According to Nell Minow, author of The Movie Mom's Guide to Family Movies, by explaining the basic plot of the movie to your child, he or she will spend less of the movie struggling to understand what's going on and more time enjoying it (www.babycenter.com).
Movies can bewilder kids, for example, children will not really grasp the permanence of death until she's around 5-years-old. She may wonder why a character who dies doesn't get up again, or ask where he went. Try to answer her questions as best you can in brief whispers, and tell her you'll talk about it more when the movie's over. It is a good idea to work out details for if your child gets scared before you go to the movie. Tell your child if she gets scared, she can hold your hand. If she's more scared, she can take a walk with you to the lobby or you can leave the theater. Work out a code word that your child can say if she really wants to leave. Afterward, talk through the movie with her, answer all of her questions, and support her while she resolves her emotions. Let her know that it's okay to feel sad, angry, or scared -this will help her understand her reactions (www.babycenter.com).
If your child was frightened by something during the movie, follow her cues when it comes to addressing the issue. According to Cantor (1998), if your child does not bring up the issue after the movie, you should leave it alone. If your child does raise the subject, be sensitive to how she is reacting and give her the tools to manage the material. For example, you could ask her to draw a picture of the bad character having a time-out.5. Cantor (1998) found that one-third of college students reporting about fright reactions from media viewed in childhood stated that they still felt residues of the fear. Reactions ranged from nightmares and sleep disturbances to bizarre fantasies.
1. There are a few websites that provide an overview of content in movies for children. The site www.kids-in-mind.com rates movies use of sex and nudity, violence and gore, and profanity on a scale of one to ten with a description of each instance or scene. The site www.screenit.com provides a plot summary of the movie, the MPAA rating and a note with advice to parents about the particular film. The site rates the following on a scale providing descriptions of each usage: alcohol/drugs, blood/gore, disrespectful/bad attitude, frightening scenes, guns/weapons, imitative behavior, jump scenes, scary music, profanity, sex/nudity, smoking, tense family scenes, violence, and topics to talk about.
2. According to Joanne Cantor in Mommy, I'm Scared: How TV and Movies Frighten Children and What We Can Do To Protect Them, young children pay the most attention to whatever is the most immediately and easily perceived. Whatever is the most vividly visual or makes the most intense noise and whatever does not need to be interpreted to be appreciated. In trying to predict if a movie will frighten children up to the age of 7, it is most important to look at the visual images. If the images are gory or grotesque, do not show the movie to young children.
In one particular experiment, Cantor (1998) produced four different versions of a video, varying the appearance and behavior of a character while leaving the story identical. In one version the main character was ugly and kind, one she was ugly and cruel, another she was pretty and kind and finally pretty and cruel. Cantor found that preschool children are more likely to be frightened by something that looks scary but is actually harmless than by something that looks attractive but is actually harmful.
Children's reaction on the basis of appearance is especially important when they confront situations where physical appearance contrasts with other aspects of a character or situation. Cantor (1998) found that many children were frightened by the Incredible Hulk even though he was a harmless character. Children are alarmed by his appearance and do not understand that he actually is the hero who does good works.
3. Children are especially afraid of certain types of animals, graphic displays of injury and physical deformity. Research shows that one reason for children's different reaction is because their brains need to develop before they can interpret things in a mature way. "The cerebral cortex, where the higher-level processing occurs, is not well-developed in young children and is not as effective in turning off the immediate fright response" (Cantor, 1998).
4. "Because of children's difficulty judging between fantasy and reality, they are more affected by surface features than realistic threats in all types of movies" (Cantor, 1998).
5. According to Nell Minow, author of The Movie Mom's Guide to Family Movies, you should think about what is going on at home or what your child's particular fears are when considering what movies are appropriate (www.babycenter.com).
6. According to Cantor (1998), children respond most strongly to striking images and sounds and get much less of the meaning of the actual story. For children, these images can resonate in their minds, which do not have the ability to moderate their effects.
7. Children do not understand the difference between fantasy and reality and this lack of understanding plays a role in their fright reactions. Movies that contain scary elements that are physically impossible will not make the story any less frightening (Cantor, 1998).
8. Before children learn to understand and use language, they can differentiate between an angry and a loving tone of voice. Sudden loud, unexplained noises, animal growls or roars, and the screams of victims make everyone jump, which may be because we are responding to the sounds that our ancestors had to be sensitive to in order to survive (Cantor, 1998).
9. In a review of 217 studies conducted between 1957 and 1990, Paik and Comstock (1994) looked at the effects of television violence on antisocial behavior. The majority of participants were between the ages of 6 and 21. The analysis revealed a positive correlation between TV violence and aggressive behavior, regardless of age. The greatest effect size was demonstrated for preschool children. The effect on males was only slightly higher than the effect on females (Villani, 2001).
1. By about the age of eight, children are able to distinguish between things that are real and things that are make believe. By the age of ten, children are able to realize that some programs are scripted for the purpose of telling a story. Over time, children recognize that certain things they see in fantasy shows are physically impossible, whether they are shown through animation or live action. They come to judge whether something they see in a movie is real based on if it exists in the real world However, children still have strong reactions to realistic fiction movies because fiction is based on things that can and do happen in real life. Watching a scary program heightens fears of real events like those in the movie. Even though by the age of eight children are aware that certain fantasy happenings are impossible, many movies play on the ambiguity of the supernatural and contain elements of real threats. One important reason for the fright-producing potentials of stories about the supernatural is that there is no real defense against unknown powers (Cantor, 1998).
2. Scary movies contain devices that engage children's emotions, such as suspense, the musical score and other sound effects. Most children experience nightmares or refuse to sleep alone. Children also frequently become preoccupied with the stimulus and incessantly talk about it or ask repeated questions (Harrison & Cantor).
3. Older children have the ability to process larger amounts of information, so it is more difficult to distract them from whatever has frightened them. By late elementary school, children prefer techniques involving words and logical reasoning to help ease their fears. Cantor (1998) suggests being ready to discuss your child's fears, even if you can't give him or her an absolute guarantee of safety. It could also be helpful to tell your child about your own fears and how you were able to get over them.
According to Cantor (1998), children's fears of realistic threats are more difficult to ease because they come from sources other than the mass media. Research indicates that older children and even adults overestimate the likelihood of a threatening event occurring. Cantor states that you should not lie when talking about realistic dangers, but do not tell your child any more than necessary about the truth, and be sure to phrase your explanation as calmly and unemotionally as possible.
4. In a review of 217 studies conducted between 1957 and 1990, Paik and Comstock (1994) looked at the effects of television violence on antisocial behavior. The majority of participants were between the ages of 6 and 21. The analysis revealed a positive correlation between television violence and aggressive behavior, regardless of age. The effect on males was only slightly higher than the effect on females (Villani, 2001).
5. In a study of 2,606 child-parent dyads between 2002 and 2003, children between the ages of 9 and 12 were surveyed about how often their parents engaged in specific behaviors to monitor their movie viewing and if their parents allowed them to watch R-rated movies. Less than half (45%) were prohibited from watching R-rated movies, and of those who were allowed to watch, 65% sometimes watched them without a parent. R-rated movies are of particular concern because they portray more smoking and drinking, often in the context of other adult behaviors (Dalton, Adachi-Mejia, Longacre, Titus-Ernstoff, Gibson, Martin, Sargent, & Beach, 2006).
1. A survey of 2,760 14- to 16-year-olds suggested that adolescents who listened to radio and watched movies and music videos engaged in more risky behaviors like delinquency, sexual intercourse and substance abuse. Boys consistently reported having engaged in more risky behavior than girls (Klein, Brown, Dykers, Childers, Oliveri & Porter, 1993).
A research study found that adolescents accepted the behavior of movie characters as moral even if it was violent or antisocial as long as they could identify with the character (Snyder, 1991)
2. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), more than 1,000 scientific research studies and surveys conclude that exposure to media violence desensitizes children and adolescents to violence and makes them believe the world is meaner and scarier than in reality (Committee on Public Education, 1999).
3. According to the AAP, the average young person is exposed to more than 14,000 sexual references in the media each year, and very few portray responsible sexual behavior or accurate information about birth control and the risks of sexually transmitted diseases.
In a study of 12- to 16-year-olds, the 12-year-olds understood significantly less than the older groups about sexual innuendos and all ages tended to show low levels of understanding of innuendoes related to sexual intercourse. Patterns of comprehension suggest that younger children's reactions are likely to derive from exposure to taboo images that result in curiosity while older children's reactions are based on a more mature understanding of the nature of the depicted encounters (Cantor, Mares & Hyde).
Studies suggest that explicit visual images of sexual activity in movies produce strong effects. Research on college students suggests that when sex is combined with violence, their may be particularly dangerous effects on beliefs about female rape victims deserving their fate (Cantor, Mares & Hyde).
According to research, adolescents exposed to X-rated movies are more likely to have multiple sexual partners and to not use condoms. A research study of black females, 14-18 years old, found that 29.7% reported exposure to X-rated movies. Exposure was associated with being more likely to have negative attitudes toward condoms, to have multiple sex partners, to have sex more frequently, to not have used contraception in the past 6 months and to test positive for Chlamydia (Wingwood, DiClemente, Harrington, Davies, Hook, Oh, 2001).
4. According to a study by researchers at Dartmouth Medical School and Norris Cotton Cancer Center, exposure to movie smoking accounts for smoking initiation among over one-third of U.S. adolescents. As the amount of exposure to smoking in movies increased, the rate of smoking also increased. The study consisted of 6,522 U.S. adolescents ages 10-14 who were asked to identify films they had seen from a list of randomly selected movie titles. Researchers found examples of movie smoking in 74% of the films (Health & Medicine Week, 2005). Adolescents are more likely to try smoking if their favorite movie stars smoke (Dalton, Adachi-Mejia, Longacre, Titus-Ernstoff, Gibson, Martin, Sargent, & Beach, 2006).
The AAP states that popular movies often show the lead character or likeable characters using tobacco and alcohol products (Committee on Public Education, 1999). The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reported people who begin drinking before the age of 15 are four times more likely to develop alcoholism (Ryan & Hoerrner, 2004).
5. According to research, movies portray handguns as easy to use, accurate and deadly, as well as being the best choice for conflict resolution. Exaggerated images of the power and accuracy of guns can give lead to the idea that guns are the easiest and most effective safety measure. Movies also make guns seem more lethal (Boen & Sampson, 1993).
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Villani, S. (2001). "Impact of media on children and adolescents: A 10-year review of research." American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. 40:4, 392-401.
"When can we start taking our children to the movies?" www.babycenter.com.
Wingwood, G., DiClemente, R., Harrington, K., Davies, S., Hook, E., Oh, M.K. (2001). "Exposure to X-rated movies and adolescents' sexual and contraceptive-related attitudes and behaviors." Pediatrics. 107, 1116-1119.