When is "scary" too scary?

My six-year old son LOVES “scary” stuff: gory Halloween decorations, the Haunted Mansion at Disney World, books about monsters and werewolves. He recently confessed, however, that he has trouble falling asleep at night, in part, because he’s finding some of these images that he seemingly enjoys too frightening.

I realize this is a really subjective question, but I’m curious how others draw the lines for exposing these types of things to their kids. I think I’m having a hard time, particularly when it comes to censoring his selection of books, because scary subjects seem to be one of the few things about which he really gets excited.

Here’s one book he was eager to check out at the library. It seemed innocuous enough to me, but my wife gave me the stink-eye. Later that night, he told me I should take it out of his room. Fast-forward a few days and he wants to take it to school to share with his friends.

Part of me thinks it’s OK for him to be scared and that he needs to figure out his own boundaries. Then again, I’m not about to let him watch Friday the 13th any time soon, and I really wouldn’t mind if he stopped insisting that he needs someone to sleep with him.

I would definitely try to keep anything he sees in the realm of ‘mythical’ monsters and supernatural beings, as opposed to stories about serial killers or fictionalized versions thereof (Friday the 13th-ish). Obviously ‘friendly’ ghosts and things like that are much better and I’m assuming at the age of 6, he’s probably more affected by the pictures than anything else. That is, pictures of dragons or minotaurs fighting each other is o.k., but pictures of them fighting humans might not fly in my mind.

I agree that your kid should be sleeping by himself and should know he’s safe and that Mom and Dad are nearby. I would recommend that he not read his monster books close to bed. Other than that, I’d have him start setting his own boundaries on what he thinks is too scary provided you pre-screen the materials first for basic pictures and content.

It really depends on the kid.

When I was 6 and my sister was 9, we lived in an apartment where we could see the TV through a railing but no one could see us. So, we would go to bed and then wait for my parents to put on the grownup movie and sneak out and watch it and then sneak back to bed with out parents none the wiser.

One night, they watched Poltergeist. I thought it was great! My sister was terrified. She couldn’t sleep and called in for Mom. That was the end of us watching the grown up movies.

So, myself at 6, I could handle it. My sister at 9, not so much. (Though we both share a love for horror now.)

This could also be a developmental thing that has nothing to do with monsters or scary things at all. Try not giving him any of this stuff for awhile and he may be having nightmares, anyway. Seems to me that my son (same age) is starting to remember his dreams better and is struggling a bit.

When is “scary” too scary?

I would suggest not letting a 6YO watch the first Alien movie.

My husband saw it at around age 7; his much-older sisters took him to see it when it was out in the theater. He loved it, and also had nightmares for years afterwards. (As in, a couple weeks of not sleeping well at all, and on-and-off nightmares tapering off with time.)

So kids can definitely simultaneously enjoy and be very afraid of some kinds of entertainment.

I’d recommend just being supportive if something scares him, rather than trying to “ban” it, or he may just try to hide any distress from other scary entertainment out of fear that more things will be banned. Sympathize if it seems right, talk to him about how some things are fun but just a little too scary sometimes, that kind of thing.

Thanks for the advice. I think we’ve settled on limiting his exposure to this stuff at bedtime for the time being and continuing to talk about it.

One of my earliest childhood memories is listening to a record of scary stories during nap time(!) in kindergarten. After years of searching for one of these stories online, I finally found a version on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-uNO0zlEIEI

My general rule of thumb is that if it didn’t scar me at a particular age, then it’s probably OK to share with my kids at that same age. That said, I’m not about to share this creepy story with him soon.