As mentioned above, most of the adults in the movie study of horror were between the ages of three and eleven when they first saw the images that caused life changing effects. Things become really interesting at this point. The effects of horror on adults have already been mentioned, but what about the kids? Philosophy, where children are concerned, has included many arguments on whether a child should have the same rights as an adult. Do children have the same capacities as adults? At what age should a child be treated as an adult?
One question that has been on my mind is, if adults have a hard time dealing with horrific images in literature, TV or movies, how is a child supposed to cope? In her paper and book, Mommy I’m Scared: How TV and Movies frighten children and what we can do to protect them, Joanne Cantor talks about her research in developmental psychology. She says that a preschooler’s ability to distinguish between fantasy and reality is not the same as an adult. This doesn’t even take in to account how adults are still affected negatively, even if they know that something is fantasy.
Psychologist, John Flavell, is quoted by Cantor in her paper saying, “Some research suggests that very young children at first believe that what they see on television, or in movies, is actually in the room with them” (Cantor p 296). It is not until ages seven or eight when they start distinguishing between the real and make-believe in the media. Another important aspect of children at this age is they respond very strongly to visual images, so that when confronted with extreme images form horror TV shows or movies, they find it “difficult to counteract them with other forms of information” (Cantor p296).
Everyone has life-changing events. Some horrific, some happy or sad, and some of them will linger with us for a long time. Life can be frightening enough for children as it is without extreme forms of media like horror. As a writer of horror and a new father, it seems that just as I got over my fear of the dark and being taken away from my family, we welcomed our son Riley and now I’m afraid for him. There is so much potential for exposure to horror in a child’s life, why add to that horror with questionable media? If a child has trouble differentiating between fiction and reality, this makes things worse. From personal experience, I believe children should be shielded from these fictionalized forms of horror.
I have a huge list of things I want to keep my son away from, which has just grown to include Jaws, Scream, The Blair Witch Project and Poltergeist. I know that I can’t shield him from the world and that he needs experience and the space to learn and grow, but there is a desire to keep him safe and protect him from some of those experiences I had when young. I think that this is something that we should all have in mind as we discuss children and their experiences as viable people with potential.
So what do YOU think? Let me know.