Are Bloody Movies Appropriate For Young Children?

Dr. Laura,

I am expecting a baby girl in March. Her dad and I are still working out our situation, but are not currently planning on getting married. He is an actor and director, and specializes in horror films. One of his films recently came out to the Redbox - it's called I Didn't Come Here to Die. He plays (and loves playing) the villain-type, deranged and mentally unstable killers. He's very proud of his accomplishments, and I'm excited for him, but a recent conversation revealed that we may have some major differences in opinion about how to approach this with the baby.

You see, he's featured on a UK poster for the movie, and he was talking about getting a copy to show to her. Here's the poster.

To me, this is horrifying. It's her dad, standing there with blood and axe in hand, looking like he's ready to kill. It's exactly what he's supposed to be for the movie, but to a little girl who can't tell the difference between fiction and reality, I think this is wildly inappropriate. I don't think she could handle it! He said to me, "I can just see her, really tiny, saying 'That's my daddy! He's not that scary in real life,'" but I have a hard time thinking that she will understand it that well.

And all of this leads me to the question of, when does he want her watching his movies? There are very adult things in them, lots of blood and gore, killers, drugs, cussing, alcohol abuse, some sex and nudity, etc. These are all things...well hell, I don't think she should experience until late teens. But he's proud and wants his little girl to know what he does - I'm worried he'll want to show her earlier. I am of the opinion that violent movies and video games have negative effects on kids. And she's a girl for heaven's sake, she may not even be interested in any of that, but I think he might push her to it.

What's your opinion on introducing children to these subjects? Seeing that sort of poster, and then watching those sorts of movies? How would you approach the subject with him? PLEASE help, I understand his need to brag about his career to her, but I really don't want her to be psychologically messed up because of it.

Thank you!

I completely agree with you. And so do the experts who study this. Joanne Cantor, PhD, director of the Center for Communication Research at University of Wisconsin, has done a lot of research on this topic. She concluded that when kids who are younger than 15 watch horror movies, it causes many symptoms, from nightmares and difficulty sleeping alone to anxiety and anger issues. What's more, she says, exposure to scary movies often causes long-term harm to children, including lifelong irrational fears and phobias.

Remember, children's brains are still forming, taking shape in response to their environment. If a child sees a horror film, you may be permanently impacting the fear response and creating anxiety.

I would draw a parallel here. What if your husband made erotic films, of which he was very proud? He certainly wouldn't show them to his daughter until she was old enough to handle them, right? I don't see any difference.

This is just the first of many negotiations you will have with your child's father about her well-being. If you can't reach a positive agreement, please don't hesitate to go to counseling together. Your daughter's emotional health may depend on it. Good luck!


Dr. Laura

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