MM : How TV and Movies Frighten Children

I think this still holds true … 


“From my fifteen years of research on mass media and children’s fears, I am convinced that TV programs and movies are the number one preventable cause of nightmares and anxieties in children,” writes Dr. Joanne Cantor in her 1998 book. “Intense and long-lasting media-induced fears are far more common than we think and often linger well into adulthood.”

Parents whose children have been scared by a movie or television program will gain new insights by reading Cantor’s new book, “Mommy, I’m Scared: How TV and Movies Frighten Children and What We Can Do to Protect Them.” For the past 15 years, Cantor — herself the mother of a nine-year-old boy — has been studying the effects of television on children. She has been especially interested in children’s emotional reactions to scenes involving violence and other disturbing images.

In perhaps her most interesting finding, Dr. Cantor discovered that children of different ages seem to be frightened by different types of programs and events. She explains this in light of children’s developmental stages.

Reading this section, I was struck by how very different children’s minds are from our own. I suddenly called a vivid image from my own childhood: my mother warning me that if I ate pits, plants would grow out of my bellybutton. For a year or so I actually believed her, and later on I was embarrassed at my gullibility. But reading this book I realized that I was not gullible — I was going through a normal developmental stage. These phases determine to a large degree what will frighten children at a particular time.

Two-to-seven-olds, for example, are frightened by scary images such as vicious animals, monsters, or grotesque characters. They are also frightened by physical transformations of characters – for example, a person “morphing” into a monster.

Seven-to-twelve-year-olds, on the other hand, are frightened by more realistic threats and dangers that actually could happen to them. “Children often fully believe stories that we adults are quick to dismiss as fantastic or impossible,” Cantor writes. “Children learn to say that some things are real and others are make-believe long before they understand what it means to ‘make believe.’ They will tell you that Peter Pan’s Captain Hook is make-believe long before they stop worrying that he will capture them and feed them to the crocodile!”

As children grow older, however, many become drawn to scary and violent programming. While discussing the reasons for this, Cantor adds that “heavy doses of brutality result in one of two unhealthy outcomes: either the severe fright reactions that this book describes, or the deadening of emotional responsiveness and antisocial attitudes toward violence.”

The book includes age-appropriate tips for helping frightened preschoolers as well as explanations for older children. While Cantor notes that it is impossible to shield children from television altogether, reading her book provides a wake-up call: Once a child becomes frightened and anxious, it’s difficult to undo the damage. Since the television and movie industries are not looking out for children’s interests, it is up to parents to minimize their children’s exposure to these media as much as possible.

by Daphne White, The Lion & Lamb Project (Bethesda, Maryland) an organization which strives to reduce violent influences in children’s lives..  

Review by The National PTA Magazine, October 1998


Mommy, I’m Scared: How TV and Movies Frighten Children and What We Can Do to Protect Them” is based on author/educator Joanne Cantor’s 15 years of research on media violence and its impact on children and youth.

Cantor’s purposes in writing the book are to alert parents to the long-term effect of TV and film violence on children; assist parents in becoming aware of what will frighten children; to guide them in calming children’s fears; and to advise them on how to protect children from traumatic material.

Written in a practical, reader-friendly style, Cantor’s concluding chapter sums up all the strategies parents can employ to reduce the negative effect of television, movies, and videos on children.

“Mommy, I’m Scared” by Joanne Cantor is published by Harcourt Brace and available in paperback.

A comment by Penelope Leach, child psychologist and author of Your Baby and Child, on violence and children:

“Two generations ago only a few unfortunate children ever saw any one hit over the head with a brick, shot, rammed by a car, blown up, immolated, raped or tortured. Now all children, along with their elders, see such images every day of their lives and are expected to enjoy them… .

“The seven-year-old who hides his eyes in the family cops-and-robbers drama is desensitized for years later to a point where he crunches potato chips through that latest video nasty.”

“Since the television and movie industries are not looking out for children’s interests, it is up to parents to minimize their children’s exposure to these media as much as possible.”

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