Horror movies and your child

This is an update to the article to reflect home school needs related to states’ school closures, stay in place and stay at home orders due to the Coronavirus. A previous article discussed sleep deprivation associated poor sleep with device use. Today, we’ll discuss a related topic: horror movies. Today parents are more intimately involved in the formal education of their children, often serving as ad hoc teachers in an uncertain world. For these reasons, it is of upmost important to actively monitor programs children routinely view for entertainment. By the way,  if you’d like additional activity ideas, expertly curated by a School Psychologist) please visit my Amazon store.

As a review, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, “children should get 9 to 12 hours of sleep and teenagers 8 to 10 hours.” Why? Because sleep is important for brain development and cognitive functioning. Research reported in the magazine, Today’s Parent, shows that “when kids sleep, processes take place in the brain and other areas of the body that support growth, health, memory and cognitive development.” They added further, “Kids who don’t get enough sleep are often irritable, forgetful and have difficulties with emotional regulation” (August 15, 2019).

Negative Impacts on Academic Learning

In laymen’s terms, this may be interpreted to mean that children are less likely to (1) pay attention to what is being taught in school, (2) less likely to learn what they are taught in school due to inattentiveness and faulty cognitive processing of the information, (3) less likely to recite what they heard in class due to inattentiveness and failures of short term memory, and (4) less likely to remember what they were taught in school last week on account of poor functioning of long term memory capacity. All of this could have been prevented.

Negative Impacts on Emotional Development

The negative impacts horror movie watching has on cognitive functioning is mirrored by the negative impacts on emotional development. For instance, “young children who watch violent movies, including Halloween horror films, television shows or video games may be more likely to develop anxiety, sleep disorders, and aggressive and self-endangering behaviors,”Science Daily.

One study further indicated that the negative effects of watching a horror movie can last for months or even years; and that these effects are no different than if the trauma resulted from an actual or real-life experience. University of Wisconsin researchers recorded one participant as saying, “for about two months after the movie, I had nightmares about blood,” the participant said. “The nightmares didn’t always involve sharks, but always contained gross amounts of blood. To this day, I remain horrified of blood.”

Most experts frown against the practice of horror movie watching among kids and actually discourage parents from doing so. “Toddlers and young children who watch violent movies, including Halloween horror films, television shows or video games may be more likely to develop anxiety, sleep disorders, and aggressive and self-endangering behaviors,” found a Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital and Columbia University study supported by the National Institute of Mental Health.

Now that many parents are actively engaged in their child’s learning (more so than ever before due to home school and school closure mandates), child and adult interactions are more frequent. This provides ample opportunity to test the following recommendations.


  • Sit down and have a frank family discussion about entertainment choices and genres
  • Inform yourself about the scientific and academic pros and cons of entertainment choices
  • Suggest healthy, life-affirming entertainment alternatives
  • Monitor what your children watch on television
  • Provide input on movie-going selections of your teens
  • Utilize parental controls on televisions and computers
  • Make yourself available to talk with your child and teen about their (and your) fears
  • Set limits

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