Dear Common Sense Media,
How can I tell if a movie is too scary for my kids before I see it?
Common Sense Media: Kids love to be scared, but not all kids can handle it. Not all kids can distinguish between fantasies and reality—even if you tell them, “It’s not real.”
For so many parents, figuring out what’s too scary for their kids is a frighteningly daunting task. Yes, frightening movies can be fun. But for younger and more sensitive viewers, movies with scary images, intense peril, loud noises, and, above all, blood and gore, can create all sorts of disturbances including anxiety, sleep disruption, and fears about certain situations.
So before you rent the latest spook fest thinking they just might be able to handle it, ask yourself if the film is age-appropriate. Our reviews can definitely provide you with some guidance. Getting scared can be fun—if kids are truly mature enough to handle what’s scaring them.
Check out a few additional tips below:
Ages two to four: Nothing scarier than “boo” for this age unless you want nightmares.
Ages five to seven: Spooky cartoon situations with haunted houses and friendly ghosts are fine, but peril involving parents, siblings, or similar-aged kids is not. Kids at this age still can’t easily recognize situations as fantasy, so they will respond as if what they are seeing is real. Be very careful with monsters, skeletons, aliens, and zombies.
Ages eight to ten: Some psychological suspense with happy endings is ok, as is physical jeopardy, ghoulish faces, and phantoms, as long as there’s no blood or gore.
Ages eleven to twelve: Kids can handle some dramatic suspense as long as the resolution is clear and positive. Skeletons, monsters, aliens … bring it on! (Just not with blood or gore.)
Ages thirteen to fifteen: Dramatic or psychological suspense and horror are ok (although be careful with the supernatural and graphic gore). Think Stephen King, but not The Hills Have Eyes.
Ages sixteen plus: It all depends on your stomach. It can be hard to imagine when a movie like The Omen remake would be appropriate.
Related Story: Ad-Proofing Your Kids