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October 11, 2012

Halloween films can be scarier than you think: What parents should know

Glenn Sparks

Glenn Sparks
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Scary movies with increasingly realistic visual effects can significantly frighten children of all ages, says a Purdue University mass media effects expert.

"This time of year there are a number of films vying for the Halloween season, and parents need to be careful because paranormal themes can be upsetting for children who are trying to sort out what is real and not real," says Glenn Sparks, professor of communication, who studies the effects of frightening images. "Reality can be just as frightening as fantasy for children ages 7-11, and they don't yet have the coping systems to handle such fear."

Sparks encourages parents to look beyond the age-based movie rating system for more information about a film's content, especially potentially frightening images. Parents can research the film in advance by using resources such as http://www.kids-in-mind.com/

"It's a common assumption, really a trap, that once children understand what is real and what is not, they can handle more mature content. This can produce a false sense of security," Sparks says. "Research shows that ages 7-11 is a sensitive stage and children in that group are easily disturbed by frightening images. These images are packing quite a punch."

This is not just a concern during the Halloween season, Sparks says.

"Parents need to be vigilant year-round, because frightening images are pervasive and incredibly realistic. They are on TV, movies, Internet and video games," he says. "There is an appetite for these films, and Hollywood has responded. This means that children are growing up with more vivid and intense depictions of scary images. Too much exposure can be harmful by making children anxious or even disturbing their sleep and well-being. It's scary to think what this means for young people as they grow up."

Writer: Amy Patterson Neubert, 765-494-9723, apatterson@purdue.edu

Source: Glenn Sparks, gsparks@purdue.edu