Do fantasy images in media cause children to be frightened?

In surveys, most children report having been scared of something they saw on TV or in a movie. Research has shown that fears caused by media can be severe and long lasting. In one study, 90% of college students remembered being intensely scared by something in the media, and 33% reported that they remained afraid for more than one year. see this study.

However, children’s fears change with age. Children under eight years old are typically afraid of scary looking things, such as animals or monsters. Young children also are much more likely to be afraid of images in fantasy media, since they have a limited ability to tell the difference between fantasy and reality.

Older children, in contrast, are more likely to fear that they or their family members will get hurt or die. In general they are more likely to worry about real dangers versus fantasy ones. Adolescents and college students may fear media that present political, economic, or global issues such as nuclear holocaust. see this study


Does watching the news cause children to be scared or worried?

Research has shown that news programs can cause children to be frightened, particularly older children, who are more likely to understand what they see or hear in the news. see this study.

In a 2003 study, parents were surveyed about their children’s reactions to news coverage of the Iraq War. Researchers found that older children (13 to 17-year-olds) were more afraid or concerned than younger children (5 to 8-year-olds), although the older children typically watched more news coverage than the younger children.

Young children were more affected by the visual features of the coverage, such as seeing missiles blow up, whereas older children were more affected by abstract concerns, such as the possibility of the war escalating and coming to the United States. see this study.

Next: How can parents prevent and handle fears from media?


CMCH is supported in part by the American Legion Child Welfare Foundation, Comcast, Google, The Stuart Family Foundation, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, The Norlien Foundation, Cisco, and other generous donors.

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