Movies, Media, and Children

No. 90; updated March 2017

Watching movies and streaming video (such as YouTube, Amazon, or Netflix) can be a fun activity in which children and adolescents can use their imagination and fantasy. Parents should, however, consider the following issues when planning to watch movies or videos at a theater or at home:

  • Although going to a movie theater can be exciting, movies can create anxiety for children with loud noises and frightening and upsetting scenes.
  • Some children cannot tolerate the darkness of a movie theater, even with their parents present.
  • Younger children may have trouble telling the difference between make-believe and reality. They can be upset when a parent figure dies in a movie or frightening things happen to children.
  • Viewing movies with sex, violence, drug abuse, adult themes, and offensive language can have a negative effect on children and adolescents. Many movies are not appropriate for children.
  • Older children and adolescents may copy risky and possibly dangerous things they see in movies.
  • Having a TV, DVD, or streaming devices (e.g. computers, laptops, smart phones, etc.) in children and adolescents' bedrooms encourages movie watching without adult supervision.
  • Movies should not replace child-care or be left on as background noise.
  • If parents are unsure whether a movie or video is appropriate, they should view the movie in private before allowing the child to watch it.

Tips and Recommendations for Parents:

  • Check a movie's Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) rating and read reviews before it is viewed. Movie reviews which discuss appropriateness for young viewers by age can be found online. Videos found on video-sharing sites such as YouTube are typically unrated and should be previewed by parents. Discuss upsetting or frightening events seen in a movie with your child and adolescent.
  • Parents should limit the amount of time children and adolescents are exposed to electronic screens each day as part of a family plan, and allow children to watch movies if total screen time is not excessive and does not interfere with homework, physical activity, connecting with family and friends, and sleep.
  • Turn the movie off or leave the theater if your child becomes upset or frightened.
  • Use the same care and attention to a movie's content when choosing a movie to watch at home for a child or adolescent as you would a movie in the theater.
  • Deciding when a teenager can go to a movie without parental supervision depends on the teenager's maturity and the friends going with your teenager.
  • All ages of children should have their movie-watching supervised by their parents or adult caretakers.
  • Parents can and should be active participants in their children and adolescents' movie watching experiences by watching together and by discussing content, experience, and impact during or after the movie.

Watching movies together can be a rewarding experience. It can be an opportunity for your child to have fun with family and friends. It can also be a springboard to discuss situations in films which may relate to your own child's life, and promote discussion of family values. If your child or adolescent, however, develops strong and persistent emotional reactions or behavior from seeing a movie, then consider having your child evaluated by a qualified mental health professional.

See also: Your Child (1998 Harper Collins) / Your Adolescent (1999 Harper Collins)

Order Your Child from Harper Collins
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