"Mommy, I'm Scared": How TV and Movies Frighten Children

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Re: "Mommy, I'm Scared": How TV and Movies Frighten Children

Postby admin » Thu Oct 24, 2013 1:48 am

CHAPTER SEVEN: When Words Won't Work

How to Help a Frightened Preschooler


When I was five years old, I was very scared after watching the movie The Wizard of Oz. I was terrified of the Wicked Witch of the West. I thought she was hiding in my closet or under my bed; I figured that sooner or later she would jump out and say, "I'll get you, my pretty!" and send the flying monkeys after me. My dad tried to calm me by explaining that there were no witches; furthermore, there wasn't enough room for one under my bed or in my closet. He explained that monkeys can't really fly or hurt little girls; besides, no monkey would be able to get into the house since the doors were locked. Unfortunately, although my father's arguments seem perfectly logical now, they were useless when I was five years old. I was totally unable to grasp the fact that witches were the result of a movie producer's imagination and nothing to be feared. Logical explanations were futile; I still made my dad check my closet and bed for witches before I would go to sleep.


"You Can Talk Till You're Blue in the Face"

An early study of children and fear tells the story of the young child who sat down and classified fairy-tale characters as "real" or "unreal." It was an ambitious attempt to overcome his fear, but it didn't work. He was still scared of them regardless of their category. As we saw in chapter 5, it takes a long time for children to fully understand the true meaning of the difference between fantasy and reality. To a very young child, just because something is make-believe, it doesn't mean it can't come and get you in the night!

But many parents think telling a young child that a television story is not real helps their child overcome his fears. When my colleagues and I questioned parents of preschoolers in a survey, most of them said they used that type of explanation when coping with their child's TV fears.

The fact is, young children usually don't find such words reassuring. One way my colleagues and I verified this was to conduct an experiment. We took a scene from The Wizard of Oz that many children find especially scary: Dorothy is in the tower of the Wicked Witch of the West and the witch tells Dorothy that if she doesn't give up the ruby slippers, she will be dead by the time the hourglass is empty.

We showed this scene to both preschool children and nine- to eleven-year-olds. Before they saw it, some children were told to remember, while watching, that it's just a story that's make-believe, that witches are pretend, and that the witch is just a regular person dressed up in a costume. Other children were not given these instructions.

After watching the scene, the children were asked how they had felt while watching it. Did the remember-it's-not-real instructions help children feel less scared? Not the children in the preschool group. Yet the same instructions did make the older children less fearful.

One thing I find really fascinating is that many children are wiser than their parents in knowing what helps them when they are frightened. When my colleagues and I asked children to indicate how helpful different methods would be in making them feel better if they were scared by something on TV, preschoolers thought "tell yourself it's not real" would be the least effective of all the strategies, while nine- to eleven-year-olds thought it would be far and away the best strategy.

Telling yourself it's not real is one of several widely used fear-reducing strategies that are more effective for older children than for younger ones. These methods, which are based on reasoning, usually involve attempts to help the child view the frightening thing in a different light. I refer to these as "verbal strategies" because they require children to process verbal information. Most verbal strategies are ineffective for young children for two reasons. One reason is related to some of the issues I raised in chapter 3 when I talked about how young children's attention is dominated by visual images and things that are easily perceived. As we saw when studying the effect of visual images, the ability to reason about things that are less obvious is very immature in young children, so the ability to use abstract thoughts to overpower frightening images is very weak.

A mother recently told me about the difficulty she had reassuring her five-year-old son who was frightened by the movie Ghostbusters. When she tried to explain that ghosts could not come through walls, he replied, "But you're wrong, Mom. I saw it with my own eyes!" This mother's explanation was powerless against the force of the compelling visual images in the movie.

The other problem with verbal strategies is that they rely on the comprehension of words and sentences. Not only are younger children less familiar with the meanings of individual words, they also are less adept at combining word meanings into an overall understanding of a message. Just as we saw that younger children may focus on part of a visual image and ignore the rest of it, they sometimes respond so strongly to a single word that they miss the rest of the sentence.

Another experiment my colleagues and I conducted is a case in point. The results surprised us -- and taught us something about the complexities of communicating with preschoolers. Our initial idea was that if we provided children with accurate and reassuring information about something that seemed scary in a movie, the movie would become less frightening. We used the famous snake-pit encounter in Raiders of the Lost Ark as our scary scene. Before watching the scene, children of different ages were shown an educational video that tried to convey the fact that most snakes are actually harmless. In the video, the narrator uses the sentence, "Although a few snakes are poisonous, most of them are not."

We expected the video to reduce older children's fear while watching the movie. We also felt it would probably not help the preschoolers because their visceral reaction to the snakes in the movie would outweigh their ability to benefit from the reassuring information. What we discovered was that when these young children heard the word "poisonous," they effectively ignored the rest of the sentence. That word struck such a responsive chord that the intended meaning of the sentence was lost. And not only was this information not helpful to preschoolers -- it actually made them more scared! When confronted by the scary visuals in the movie, these children were apparently more sensitive to the danger of snakes than the other children their age who had not viewed the educational video. Our attempt to make these children feel better had the opposite effect.

This is a very good example of the way well-meaning efforts to reduce fear can backfire. What we've learned from this and other studies is how to create explanations that are more suited to a young child's needs. I'll talk in chapter 8 about making explanations more effective even for preschoolers, but in this chapter I'll focus on the techniques that younger children prefer and the ones that work best for them.

What Comforts little Ones? -- First, a Hug

As you might expect from the preceding discussion, the techniques that work for young children do not involve words or mental acrobatics. Simple strategies involving physical comfort, warmth, and closeness are probably the most effective. The same preschoolers who reported that telling themselves it's not real would be ineffective said that getting something to eat or drink or holding a blanket or cuddly toy would help them the most. And of all the techniques we asked children to rate for effectiveness, the one endorsed by the most children is sitting by mom or dad. Children of all ages like touching, holding on to, or being near a warm, caring adult when they are frightened, and this surely has already been demonstrated by the many accounts in this book of children seeking out their parents or even sleeping with them after seeing a scary movie.

An interesting experiment was recently reported in which preschoolers watched a scary television movie with or without their older sister or brother. The researchers found that more than half of the sibling pairs talked about how scary the program was while watching the movie, and more than a third of the older siblings actively tried to comfort their little sisters and brothers by offering words of reassurance, a hug, or a hand to hold. It is not surprising, then, that children who watched with their older siblings were significantly less frightened and enjoyed the program significantly more than those who watched it alone.

In the absence of other real people, young children often choose favorite blankets and cuddly toys for comfort, warmth, and even protection. Sometimes they do this to an exaggerated degree:

I would protect and calm myself by putting every single stuffed animal I owned on top of my bed as I slept; this meant about fifty stuffed animals on top of me.


What our research suggests is that a glass of water, a hug, and the comforting attention of a parent or caregiver is often helpful, and you're better off simply reassuring your preschool child that nothing bad will happen and getting his mind off the topic than trying to explain the specifics of why he is not in danger. For children at this age, providing them with warmth (literally or figuratively) is the best place to start:

A technique I used to cope with my fears was to make hot chocolate with my mother and talk about "happy things."


Often parents are surprised when their rational explanations are not effective with their preschoolers:

My mom claims that one calm warm summer night, she and my father felt like watching a scary film, Creature from the Black Lagoon. I must have been about four to five years old, and they figured I would have no problem watching because I was with them. Their rationale was, "Hey, he's with us, so we can explain to him that none of this is real." After maybe the first five minutes of the film, when the creature pops out of the pond, I maniacally began to cry my eyes out, and would not stop until my father turned off the television. Mother tells me that no matter how much they tried to explain to me that what was on TV was make-believe, I was still shaking. Her only option was to stay up with me all night, touching me and singing to me softly.


On the Family Bed, and Eating Your Troubles Away

You may have noticed that some of the techniques that young children prefer are controversial, and you may worry that they risk producing unwanted side effects. For example, many people argue that if children use food to comfort themselves during stress, these habits may come back to haunt them later in terms of obesity or eating disorders. Obviously, this is not what you would want to happen. A drink or a small snack during an acute anxiety state should not be repeated endlessly. But the occasional use of food or drink in this context may be very effective in the short run. Emotions such as fear are felt more intensely on an empty stomach, the process of eating may itself be distracting and is often pleasant, and a warm drink may take the chill off that scary feeling. Of course, efforts should be made to avoid making unscheduled fear-induced snacks a regular thing.

"What may be even more controversial about what young children like to do when they're scared is the issue of sleeping in their parents' bed after a nightmare. Experts differ, sometimes vehemently, on whether this should ever be allowed. The girl whose intense reaction to The Elephant Man was reported in chapter 3 wanted to sleep with her parents but was forbidden to do so on the advice of her pediatrician. This physician went so far as to tell her parents to leave her to cry alone in her bed so that she wouldn't become too dependent on them. She reported that neither she nor her parents slept very much for two years after the movie, but that her parents rewarded her for every night she did not wake them up, and she was eventually able to sleep through the night.

I do not believe that there is a single right or wrong answer to the question of letting your child sleep with you after a nightmare. As reports in this book show, children are joining their parents in bed much more frequently than most parents are willing to admit. Whether this is a good idea for your family depends on many things, including, of course, whether you think this is acceptable behavior and how it affects your own ability to get a good night's sleep. The risk, of course, is that it may become a habit that is difficult to break.

Although the family-bed issue is a controversial one, it seems clear that ignoring, belittling, or punishing children because of their TV-induced fears is a bad idea. Parents who acknowledge their children's fears and help manage them lay the groundwork for a sense of mutual trust and a closeness that will be of use in a variety of other emotional situations. The young woman who suffered Elephant Man nightmares offered these final thoughts:

My parents and I agree that they should not have followed my pediatrician's advice. Having to deal with my fears alone clearly made them worse; in retrospect, my parents wish they had been more comforting, and they told me never to leave my own children unconsoled.


Cutting Out or Cutting Down the Stimulation

Young children who are scared will often try to get away from what's scaring them. If it's television, they may simply leave the room or turn off the TV. If it's a movie, they might scream to be taken out of the theater. That screaming in the theater serves a purpose -- by disturbing other viewers, it forces you to leave the theater whether you want to or not.

Trust your crying child: Do not hesitate to remove your child from the scene (or to remove the scary scene from your child). Sometimes parents wonder whether this is a good idea. They hope that if their child will only stay to see the movie through to its happy ending, the fear will go away, and all will be well. Under certain circumstances this approach may work for older children, but there's a good reason it won't work for preschoolers. Very young children are not adept at putting sequences of scenes together in terms of cause and effect: Their fright response to the evil, grotesque monster will not necessarily be reduced by the knowledge that he was killed at the end. Their vivid visual memory may replay and replay the scary scene, whether or not they see the ending. So your best bet is to limit your child's exposure to the program or movie altogether and get him involved in something else as quickly as possible.

One advantage when dealing with preschoolers in this situation is that they are more easily distracted than older children by participation in other activities. With a smaller brain capacity, it is harder for them to keep those horrid events in mind while at the same time focusing on a new activity. Find something pleasurable and distracting to do as soon as possible, and as long as the child seems happy and comfortable, don't feel the necessity of reminding him of his trauma. In many ways, for the preschooler, out of sight is out of mind; don't hesitate to capitalize on this fact.

Another thing young children sometimes do when watching something scary on TV is to stay in the situation, but reduce their exposure to what's troubling them. Some children cover their eyes and peek through their fingers; some peek around a corner or over a pillow; some cover their ears. What they are doing here is exposing themselves to bits and pieces of the program rather than the whole thing. Research shows that these techniques can actually reduce younger children's fright while viewing scary programs. In some cases these activities simply cut down on the scary sights and sounds children receive. In others, they make them feel that they are more in control.

Gradual Exposure in Manageable Doses

Another technique that often works for younger children is referred to as "desensitization." Visual desensitization involves brief exposures to mild versions of something the child finds frightening. As the child becomes comfortable with the mildest version, he then sees a slightly stronger version, with the intensity continuing to increase gradually and only at the rate he can handle. In the experiment we did with Raiders of the Lost Ark we also explored whether we could make the snake scene less frightening by desensitizing children to the visual image of snakes. We created a video that showed a series of snakes -- first small ones shown from a distance and then larger ones shot from close range. At first the images of snakes were taken from still photos, but as the video progressed, the snakes were shown moving more and more. Children who saw this video were less frightened by the snake-pit scene from the Raiders movie than children who had not been gradually exposed to snake visuals. This technique was effective for preschoolers as well as older elementary-school children. Other researchers have found similar results by allowing children to hold rubber replicas of spiders or showing them real lizards and worms before they saw scary movies involving these creatures.

My colleagues and I have also taken on The Incredible Hulk, using segments of a Mister Rogers' Neighborhood episode intended to reduce children's fear of the Hulk. After children had seen a video of actor Lou Ferrigno having his Hulk makeup applied -- a much slower and more understandable transformation than the one in the program -- they were less afraid while watching an Incredible Hulk episode.

That's fine for the laboratory, but how can parents perform visual desensitization at home? That depends on what your child was scared by. If it was an animal, there are many nature videos and realistic toys that could allow you to gradually introduce your child to the animal in an unthreatening context. A visit to a zoo or pet shop might allow your child to see the animal live -- and harmless. For other frightening things, parents might consider books as a way of desensitizing. There are many picture books on the market to help children get over various fears.

Parents themselves have devised all kinds of methods. One mother reported giving her child control of the remote when he was a little scared but wanted to keep watching a video. He would fast-forward his way through parts of movies he found scary. Over time, though, he got used to those scenes and was able to view them in their entirety. Another mother said her preschooler would leave the room during the scene in Aladdin when the evil Jafar turns into a huge snake. The boy would remain within earshot so that he could follow the story. Gradually he began staying in the room for longer periods, and now he doesn't leave at all. Both of these stories are examples of mastering fear through desensitization.

A word of caution: Desensitization should only be used when the child really wants to see a scary program or will be exposed to it anyway. A child who is truly traumatized by a program may not be able to view even small portions of it without getting upset. Attempts to desensitize a child in this situation may well make things worse. In these cases, I would recommend avoiding the program or movie entirely. In some cases this will mean avoiding even the opening credits of the program or promos for the movie.

Magical and Mystical Remedies and Rituals

A final set of techniques that preschoolers like may seem totally irrational to the adult, although they do have their own logic in a child's mind. Here I'm talking about the various self-protective rituals children engage in to make themselves feel less vulnerable, usually when they go to bed.

First, there is the repetitive checking to see that the evil being from the television show is not hiding in the closet, under the bed, or behind the curtains. Then there is the defensive posture taken in the bed: Some children insist on facing the door for protection; others need to have their back to the door. Many children need to sleep with the light or a night-light on. Some children bring weapons of their own to bed just in case (one young man claimed to have slept with his baseball bat for years). And there's also the defensive gear, such as the blanket used to ward off vampires that was mentioned in chapter 1. Children can be very creative in selecting their methods of feeling more secure. I don't see a problem with these devices as long as they don't interfere with the child's (or his roommates') ability to get a healthy night's sleep.

Sometimes magic is invoked:

For as long as I can remember, I have been horribly terrified of horror films. My earliest memory of fear is when I used to have my father come into my room before bedtime, and cast a "magic spell" that would keep my room safe from monsters.


There are actually products you can buy that have eased the fears of many children. Many have found Native American dream catchers helpful. These are woven circular hangings which, according to legend, catch the bad dreams before they reach the child. Many children feel secure with a dream catcher nearby and report that it does keep the bad dreams away. From time to time I have seen products on the market that advertise themselves as monster blockers or ghost resistors. Children or their parents simply spray these liquids in the closet or the corners of the room, wherever the bad guys are expected to be hiding. Many parents and children report that this type of approach does keep the demons at bay.

The principle here is that the child has to believe that the method or the ritual will keep him safe, and the parent usually has to be willing to go along with the premise. This whole approach may sound bizarre to rational parents who believe that buying into the ritual validates the fear and implies that the demon is real. But you can go along with this ritual without explicitly endorsing the reality status of the evil being. The fear is real -- and it's the fear that you're dealing with. You can say, "I know there are no witches, but we can check the closet anyway if it makes you feel better."

An Ounce of Prevention

The methods I've described in this chapter are those that preschool children say they prefer and that have been shown to be effective for many children. Obviously, though, it is difficult to know which one will work best for a particular child and a particular program. Some children's fright may be so intense that these first-line techniques will not be sufficient. Sometimes, for example, the child's experience is truly traumatic or the scary aspect of a particular program comes just at the time a child is dealing with a related, troubling real-life issue. If your child's reaction does not abate over time and truly interferes with his or her day-to-day activities, don't be afraid to contact your family physician or a counselor, who can help your child deal with the problem in more depth.

Remember, too, that some of these fears will take a while to subside, but most will become manageable over time. It's good also to remember that many children hide their fright from their parents because they want to appear more grown-up or they're afraid they might suffer future restrictions. What is important is your warm and caring response. What I've noticed in the retrospective reports is that the children who have suffered the most or who have suffered the longest are those who didn't confide in their parents or whose parents derided their fears or didn't take them seriously.

Finally, it is very clear that efforts at prevention are well worth the hassle when weighed against the difficulty of reassuring a young child who has been frightened by something on TV or in a movie. As I've said throughout this book, many of these responses are remarkably intense, and they can be very hard to undo. If you happen to be there when your young child is viewing something potentially frightening, you can watch for signs of fear. Believe it or not, a child won't always say, "Mommy, I'm scared!" -- but you may get a grateful nod if you ask whether you should turn the TV off now. If you're certain a show is frightening, trust your judgment and turn it off. Even if the child does not appear scared or admit to being frightened at the time, things might look different in the middle of the night.
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Re: "Mommy, I'm Scared": How TV and Movies Frighten Children

Postby admin » Thu Oct 24, 2013 2:15 am

CHAPTER EIGHT: Making Explanations Child-Friendly

Reasoning That Comforts Kids


Some of the coping strategies that help preschoolers can work for older children, too, especially gradual exposure to mild versions of whatever is frightening. But as children get older, they often find that other strategies that worked when they were younger become less effective. They derive less comfort from their favorite stuffed animal, and they become more skeptical about adopting new magical rituals. Also, because older children develop the capacity to process larger amounts of information, it becomes more difficult to distract them from whatever has frightened them. The good news is that with older children you have the option of using verbal strategies. By late elementary school, kids seem to prefer techniques involving words and logical reasoning.

I remember having long talks with my mom when I was probably around eight years old, asking her every possible question with the need to know an exact answer in order to be happy. After watching the movie Halloween with my family, I was astonished to see that the bad guy, Michael Myers, had disappeared. I needed my mom to assure me that he was not coming back to life to hurt anyone else, more specifically -- me. I did not go to bed until all my questions were answered in a way that assured me I would be fine. My mom would tell me that it was impossible that he could come and get me, and that it was just a movie.


When it comes to scary fantasy shows, older children do well when told to focus on the unreality of the situation. As we saw in the previous chapter, the tell-yourself-it's-not-real strategy is a favorite of older elementary-school children. In the Wizard of Oz study, nine- to eleven-year-olds who were told to remember that the witch was not real showed less fear while watching her in a scene, but the same technique did not help preschoolers, who were not fully fluent in the fantasy-reality distinction. Similarly, other researchers have reported that seven- to nine-year-olds had their vampire-movie fears reduced by an explanation of how makeup made the vampires look scary, while five- to six-year-olds were not helped.

Making Verbal Strategies More Effective for Younger Children

Although verbal explanations by themselves tend to be ineffective for preschoolers, there are ways of enhancing their effectiveness. First of all, remember that for preschoolers, seeing is believing. Anything you can do to show them something reassuring rather than telling them about it will increase the chances that your strategy will work. For example, in a study involving The Incredible Hulk, my colleagues and I tried to counteract children's fears by giving them simple explanations of how the Hulk likes to help people while showing them footage of various scenes in which the Hulk rescues people in distress. This illustrated verbal explanation was effective in reducing fear even in preschool children.

At the end of another study, my colleagues and I gave children hands-on experience with the fear-reducing concept we were trying to get across. For that study, in which we used a scene from the sci-fi thriller The Blob, we tried to reassure children by describing the special effects that made the blob look real and letting them create their own "blobs" out of gelatin and food coloring. Talking about and showing how scary makeup is applied or allowing children to try on and play with ugly masks may also help them appreciate the make-believe nature of some of the visual images that scare them.

The Challenge of Downplaying Scary Things That Can Happen

Dealing with shows that are not fantasies, however, is decidedly more challenging because there are no easy reassurances. Although fiction may also be considered "make-believe" or "not real" in some sense, those phrases have a very different meaning when applied to fiction than when applied to fantasy, as I discussed in chapter 5. When it comes to reassuring older children about threats they encounter in the media, what is critical is whether what they are seeing could happen, not whether that specific event actually did happen. Because of this, reducing children's fear in response to fiction is very similar to reassuring them about something that happened in the news or was shown in a documentary.

It is important to keep in mind that the reassuring aspect of fantasy is the fact that the fantastic things we see could never happen to anyone, anywhere. Witches don't exist, and when children understand and truly accept this fact, we can use it to ease their fear. On the other hand, fiction is a form of make-believe that won't necessarily lend itself to the tell-yourself-it's-not-real strategy. Even though we can tell children, for example, that the character played by Macaulay Culkin in My Girl wasn't a real person and he didn't actually die from the bee stings he received in the movie, we can't honestly tell them that no child ever died from a bee sting. Making children understand that the child in that movie did not actually die might ease their sadness about his death, but it is not likely to make them less scared of bees.

It is also a good idea to remember that fantasy programs often contain realistic as well as fantastic elements. Although older children can be reassured that the witch and the flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz will not come after them, many of them are just as frightened by the tornado in that movie, which can't be dismissed so easily.

Dealing with children's exposure to realistic threats and dangers, whether they arise in news reports or in fiction, is a difficult task for parents. These threats arise from sources other than exposure to the mass media, and even adults are not immune to them. One strategy for reducing fears about realistic threats is to provide an explanation that makes the danger seem more remote or less likely to occur. But that technique is difficult to apply successfully. We attempted to do this in the snake study reported in chapter 7. Telling children that most snakes are not poisonous had only a slight tendency to help second and third graders, and the technique backfired completely for children in kindergarten and first grade, making them think more about the poison in snakes than they would have without the explanation.

In the study involving The Blob that I referred to earlier in this chapter, we explained to a group of five- to eight-year-olds that a frightening event in a movie could never happen anywhere. We told others that the event was very unlikely to occur in the area where they lived, hoping that what was unlikely to occur would also seem nonthreatening. We told a third group that the event was highly likely to occur where they lived. We found, unfortunately, that the children didn't differentiate very well between things that were likely and unlikely to occur. Any possibility that the scary outcome would happen made it equally scary. The only thing that reduced their fear was telling them that it was absolutely impossible.

This finding is consistent with research my colleagues and I have done on children's understanding of concepts related to probability and likelihood. For example, although children in first grade had already grasped the meaning of definitely, as in "this will definitely not happen," even many third graders did not understand the difference between an event that would probably occur and one that could possibly occur. So it's not that reassuring to tell an elementary-school child that the frightening thing they just witnessed is a rare event.

Children older than third grade should become more adept at using information about the small chance of bad things happening. However, research indicates that older children and even adults also overestimate the likelihood of outcomes that are intensely threatening, even when the chances of their happening are infinitesimal. If the possible outcome is catastrophic enough, the thought of any likelihood at all of the event is unacceptable. For this reason, focusing on a frightening event's low likelihood seems to be one of the least effective strategies for reducing the fears of children of any age.

The Calm, Unequivocal, Limited Truth

If minimizing the threat is not helpful, what option do you have? Saying that something that is real is totally impossible is not a good idea because your white lie may come back to haunt you when your child learns the truth elsewhere. If you lose your credibility in this area, your child may stop turning to you for reassurance and lose one of her most powerful resources for coping with fear. On the other hand, if you are not careful, the truth may be interpreted as scarier than it really is. My advice is, don't lie when talking about realistic dangers, but don't tell your child any more than necessary about the truth. And be sure to phrase your explanation in as calming and unemotional terms as possible.

Returning to the example from the movie My Girl, in which a character dies after being attacked by bees, telling your child that very few people die from bee stings is not likely to be very helpful. It would be more effective to say something definite and positive like the following (unless you know it to be false): "You are not allergic to bees, so this can't happen to you."

Let me give you another example of what I mean by saying something definite, reassuring, and positive, using something that happened in my own home. A few years ago, when looking for another program, my son and I accidentally stumbled across a documentary on tornado safety. Unfortunately, as has become increasingly typical, the show was more about the dangers of tornadoes than about how to protect yourself from harm, and it included one especially frightening series of footage taken with a home video recorder during a tornado. The camera was aimed out the window of the house, while several people were heard screaming, "It's here!" "Get down!" and "Where is everybody?" Along with these screams, the camera showed the window being shattered by the high winds. I tried to change the channel, but my son was intent on seeing the program to the end. We watched it together and discussed it afterward.

The first thing Alex asked after the program was over was "Do we have tornadoes in Madison?" Based on my earlier research finding that a local danger will be scary, even if it's very unlikely, I immediately replied, "No," not remembering any that had actually touched down in the city (and, frankly, not wanting to). But my husband corrected me, reminding me of the one that had torn the roof off a car dealership a few years earlier. My next response was to say, truthfully (as far as I know), that we'd never had any tornadoes in Monona, the small suburb of Madison where we actually live. This information was extremely reassuring to Alex, and he went happily off to bed shortly thereafter. I'm sure that that explanation is what made him feel better because for a week or two after that incident, he woke up every morning saying, ''I'm so glad we live in Monona." Although I did not say we could never have a tornado here, the fact that I could be so absolute about the past was very reassuring.

The story does not end here, however. As you might imagine, things got more complicated the next time we heard the tornado sirens. As I talked about going down to the basement, Alex said, "But we don't have to go down there since we don't have tornadoes here." Thinking quickly, I replied that although we had never had a tornado, we did sometimes get strong, damaging winds, and that it was important to protect ourselves from them as well. This explanation was enough to get him to follow me into the basement without causing him too much anxiety. "Strong damaging winds" got the point across without producing the intense emotional reaction that the idea of a tornado in our town would have produced.

The basic idea, as I see it, in reassuring children about real threats is to provide a truthful explanation that avoids emotional words and that communicates just as much as a child needs to know, but no more. Be ready to answer further questions, but don't go into more details than your child is interested in.

The problem of horrible, real threats that have a small chance of happening seems most acute when dealing with highly publicized cases of child molestation and murder, which are sensationalized on television with increasing frequency. It's bad enough that we as parents are confronted with these awful possibilities, but we also have to deal with the fears these stories produce in our children. When your child asks you how Megan Kanka or Polly Klaas (or the next highly publicized child victim) was killed, what's the best thing to say? My advice is to be truthful, yet as inexplicit as you can be. You can say, for example, that the child in question was killed by a very sick man, but spare them any of the details that they do not already know. The concept of child victimization is frightening enough that the real details -- especially the part about molestation -- will only make things immeasurably worse.

What If the Threat Can't Be Minimized?

If you're not successful in convincing your child that what she's concerned about won't happen, the best approach is to provide her with the information and tools that will help her prevent it from happening or at least that will make her feel more in control of the situation or its outcome. In the study I reported in chapter 1, in which we showed the schoolhouse burn down in Little House on the Prairie, we ended the session by giving children basic fire-safety guidelines that they could use in their own lives. These guidelines were taught with illustrations involving popular cartoon characters. Children were told, for example, to make sure their home had smoke alarms and to check to see that the batteries were fresh. They were also encouraged to have a family escape plan and to practice family fire drills. Activities such as these, carried out in the home, should be helpful in calming your child's fears of fire if they have already been aroused by a TV show or movie.

For other threats, similar simple protective strategies might be developed. If the fear is of natural disasters, you could review your plans for tornado safety, for example. If the offending movie is about burglars entering the home, you might do a tour of the home, showing how all the doors and windows are securely locked and how the particular technique that the burglar in the TV program used wouldn't work at your house. (Be sure you know this to be true in advance, or avoid the issue.) If the fear is of kidnapping, use the film as an excuse to go over your rules for dealing with strangers. It will help if the child is given an active role in the safety lessons. Going through the motions and role-playing not only the actions but the feeling of being in control of the problem should help.

During my younger years (age eight) I was frightened by daily news reports regarding a kidnapper with a white van that was stalking kids in my town. My parents would sit me down and explain to me that I was smart and that I knew not to talk to strangers and that I knew that if I saw a white van, that I should run away. These talks helped me to cope with the problem because I knew that I wouldn't be taken by surprise -- I knew what to do to protect myself.


Sometimes when we try to teach self-protective behaviors to children who are unaware of specific threats, we end up scaring them more than we teach them. But when the mass media thrust these frightening possibilities on our children, we can often turn this unfortunate incident into what educators call a "teachable moment," and make the best of a bad situation.

Of course, not all accidents and disasters are preventable even with protective action, and the older your children become, the better they will understand this. How do you reassure children that nothing like the Oklahoma City bombing will ever happen again? Or that there will never be another midair explosion like the one that downed TWA800? Or that they could protect themselves in either of these situations? You really can't provide them guarantees, but as they get older, you can stress the protections that have come out of these disasters. We now have better security at federal buildings and in airports, and planes are being redesigned to eliminate the specific causes of well-known crashes. These explanations can only go so far, of course, but your reassurances that we are learning from past mistakes may provide some help.

If All Else Fails, Just Be There and Listen

Simply talking to older children about their fears can also have a tremendously therapeutic effect. Whether the specific content of the discussion helps or not, it seems clear that parental attention, or the calming supportive presence of another thoughtful human being, is helpful. Make sure your child knows you are there to listen to her fright stories, even if you wish she had not seen the program that scared her.

The experience of actually watching a scary movie was not that uncomfortable for me. It was only when I thought about the films later in the day or before going to bed that I became frightened. After spending some time thinking about the scary images and themes of the films, I would be unable to sleep. Typically, I went back downstairs and found my father watching television. He and I discussed what had scared me and I felt much better.


As children get older and realize that there are no guarantees of safety, the act of talking fears over with someone who takes them seriously may be more beneficial than the actual content of the conversation. I remember a very intense emotional reaction I once had and how the right kind of sympathetic ear was the only thing that helped. I was already an adult and my exposure to what frightened me was probably inevitable, although the timing could not have been worse. As I was entering my senior year in college, there was a terrible national news story about eight student nurses who were murdered by a man named Richard Speck. This man somehow managed to get himself invited into the students' apartment, where he brutally killed each of them, one by one. I think one of them survived, actually, and lived to provide the world with the horrible details. The thought that eight women were no match for one killer was terrifying to me, but the story really hit home not only because I was moving into my first apartment (after three years in the security of the dorms) but because of the similarity of my new apartment to the one the nurses had lived in -- both were garden apartments with ground-floor entrances at the front and the back.

The thought of what had happened to these nurses made me feel so vulnerable in my new apartment that I literally could not sleep for what seemed like a week or more. Any sound that I heard in the night, including that of my roommate rolling over in her bed, made me jump or cry out. My reaction was way out of proportion, and I simply couldn't calm myself down. But I had been looking forward to living in an apartment for a long time, and I was embarrassed to tell people about my newfound anxiety.

Fortunately, I soon talked about my problem to a friend who was very sympathetic. He said that if this news story was causing me so much anxiety, I should talk to a therapist about it. In those days, going to a therapist was not as common as it is today, but I thought I'd be willing to do almost anything if it would relieve me of my anxiety.

The interesting thing about this conversation is that after I had decided I would go to see a therapist, I started rehearsing in my mind what I would say to him and what he might say to me, and I suddenly felt in control of the problem. My anxiety immediately started to wane, and it eased so much that I was able to sleep. In fact, I never did make that appointment with the therapist because I had gotten the benefit of having my fears taken seriously by someone who cared. I had discovered that what I was experiencing might be considered reasonable or at least understandable under the circumstances and that there were professionals who helped people in my situation. This discovery was enough to give me back my sense of control.

Of course, solutions are not always that simple. I was lucky. But I'm also confident that a good therapist would have helped me in that situation if I had needed one to get over this trauma.

It is important that you as a parent be ready and willing to discuss your child's fears, even if you can't give her an absolute guarantee of safety. Tell your child that you understand why she's so frightened, even though you don't believe she's in danger. Tell her about this book (if she's old enough, let her read it), and about how frequently the mass media stir up people's fears to levels that are extremely hard to manage. It might help to identify the reasons why this particular program, movie, or event was so terrifying by discussing either how the events were portrayed or how they relate to her current situation. It might also be helpful to tell her about some of your own media traumas and how you succeeded in getting over them. Misery really loves company, particularly company that has been in the same place but has since moved on. And finally, there is the option of seeking professional help if the fear remains overpowering and out of control.

Balancing Fear with Vigilance

It is true, of course, that this world can be a dangerous place, and children need to be aware of certain threats so that they can protect themselves. A certain amount of fear is necessary for survival. Children need to avoid drowning, for example, without developing a phobia of the water, and they need to protect themselves from child abuse or kidnapping without becoming socially withdrawn. One of the greatest challenges facing parents and other caregivers today lies in striking a balance between a healthy amount of fear and a level that is damaging, while allowing your child to maintain a positive outlook on life.

Of course, after your child's crisis of media-produced fear is over, if it was caused by a fictional program or movie that might have been avoided, it will be a good time to talk about being more careful about programming that makes your child particularly anxious. If your children are in the habit of seeking out the most sensational news stories or the most thrilling movies, they may benefit from your advice that they moderate or curtail their habit.
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Re: "Mommy, I'm Scared": How TV and Movies Frighten Children

Postby admin » Thu Oct 24, 2013 3:08 am

CHAPTER NINE: Why Kids Are Drawn to Scary Entertainment

-- And "What If They Like It Too Much?


A few years ago, I saw a comic strip in which teenage kids were talking about the upcoming airing of Gremlins on television. They were reminiscing about each vicious and gory incident in the movie, saying things like "and when the creature blows up in the microwave -- awesome!" The mother of one of the kids, overhearing the conversation, sighs and thinks to herself, "I wonder whatever happened to The Sound of Music." To many parents, it's hard to understand why kids are flocking to so many TV programs and movies that we may find overly violent, disturbing, or downright disgusting.

The fact is, if children didn't like to watch scary programs and movies, many of the effects discussed in this book would not occur. If scary programs were not popular, there wouldn't be so many of them on television, and mysteries and horror movies would not be such a staple of the entertainment industry. Although philosophers have pondered for centuries why frightening images are popular, social scientists have only recently begun to explore this question. Most research on the issue relates to why people watch violence. Although not everything that scares children portrays violence and not all violence is scary, most of the things that produce fright relate to violence or the threat of harm in some way.

Why Is There So Much Media Violence?

Nielsen ratings consistently show that most of the Saturday-morning programs with the highest child viewership are violent. Still, there is some debate about whether children really like to watch violence, or whether violent programs are popular simply because there is very little else available for children to watch. The few experiments that have raised or lowered the violence in a program to gauge the effects on children's enjoyment have produced inconsistent results. Clearly, many things work together to determine whether violence is enjoyed, including how it is portrayed and the type of child who is watching.

There are some important economic reasons why violence is found on TV and in the movies as often as it is. One is that commercial TV programs are produced for the widest possible age range. Violent programs are easily understood even by young children, which allows them to capture a very broad audience. A second reason we have so many violent programs and movies is that it is more profitable to produce shows that can be exported to foreign countries. It is a good deal easier to translate violent programs into different languages, and other cultures understand them more readily than programs that deal with issues that are more subtle or more specific to our society.

Social Reasons for Choosing Scary Entertainment

In addition to economic factors, we often see children watching scary shows for social reasons. Scary movies seem to play a role in some sort of rite of passage for teenagers. Several of the students quoted in chapter 5 had experienced especially intense fright reactions to something they had seen at a slumber party. Obviously, slumber-party video viewing is a recent phenomenon since videos only became available about a generation ago. Perhaps it is the modern incarnation of ghost stories told around the campfire. When young people get together in groups for an overnight experience, they often turn to frightening things.

I'm not sure how to explain this tradition. Perhaps scary themes and movies are chosen for sleepovers simply to spice them up and to create an event that will be memorable and distinctly out of the ordinary. Maybe they are used to promote the bonding that often occurs when people go through a negative emotional experience together. Perhaps sleepovers present a safe way to watch the movies the teenagers wouldn't have the nerve to watch if they had to go home to bed alone. Or, watching scary videos together may be a way for youngsters to prove to themselves and to each other that they are tough, grown-up, and brave. In fact, all of these things may go into making scary movies so typical at slumber parties.

You may recall the story of the young boy who "witnessed" Friday The Thirteenth, Part 2 because he didn't want his friend to consider him a "wussy." He's not alone; it's quite common for boys to watch scary things at the urging of their friends so that they will be considered brave or macho. One boy actually sat through Jaws at the age of six:

... As a result I would have fantasies and nightmares about the blood spurting out of the fisherman's mouth or the shark's teeth piercing his flesh. However, there was one positive aspect of my fright experience, and that was a sense of accomplishment. Even though I felt a little traumatized over the viewing experience, I also felt that I watched something that other people my age couldn't sit through. I would have to speculate that this is because at such a young age there is a great amount of competition over what one young boy can stand and what another young boy can stand. To the victor comes a sense of pride and accomplishment.


Psychological Reasons for Viewing

Beyond these economic and social reasons for the popularity of violent, scary entertainment, violence is popular because there is something about it that many people, including children, are attracted to. After reading hundreds of retrospective accounts and reviewing the available research findings, my judgment is that many people are drawn to things that frighten them -- often even if they do suffer afterward. The following sentence, taken from an account of Poltergeist-induced nightmares, is typical:

We were scared out of our minds but we couldn't take our eyes off the screen or turn off the VCR.


Indeed, it's not hard to find children who say they like to watch violence, plain and simple. For example, when a researcher asked sixth- to eighth-grade children in Milwaukee the question: "Would you watch a television program if you knew it contained a lot of violence?" 82 percent replied "yes." What are some reasons why children, teens, and adults, for that matter, are drawn to violent, scary images? One reason seems to be what is often referred to as morbid curiosity. Even if we don't find it enjoyable or entertaining, many of us can't help joining the crowd around an accident -- or, if we don't have the nerve to take a close look, we probably tune into the news that night to find out what happened. We seem to be innately fascinated with (and concerned about) the concept of death, and this seems to draw our attention to violence, death, and injury. If we take an evolutionary perspective here, it stands to reason that animals who paid attention when violence, injury, disease, and death were happening had a better chance of surviving.

Morbid curiosity leads us to want to see certain things that are associated with death. A few years back, for example, it was reported that the charred remains of the Branch Davidian compound outside Waco, Texas, where so many died in a fiery confrontation with the FBI, became such a popular tourist attraction that local officials had to put up a fence. More recently, the house where JonBenet Ramsey was found murdered has also attracted large numbers of the curious. The USA Network reports that whenever it devotes a week to shark programming, its ratings double. Morbid curiosity seems to account, in part, for the success of the "if it bleeds, it leads" philosophy of many news programs, which I talked about in chapter 6. There is something about violent injury and death that draws us in. As one student wrote:

Many people have a curiosity about what it would be like to be in a violent situation, but never allow it to happen for fear of personal injury. One way to fulfill this curiosity is to view a violent scene. There is no chance for personal injury and one can still get a taste of what the violent situation is like.


Although part of the reason violent portrayals are attractive is that they deal with the frightening notion of death, another part of their attraction for children seems to come from the fact that they are often full of action. Some researchers have even argued that it is action (characters moving fast) rather than violence (characters injuring each other) that attracts children's attention to violent television programs. Clearly both elements are important. Morbid curiosity by itself might lead us to be as fascinated by movies about elderly people passing away quietly or disease victims in the final stages of their illness as we are by shoot-'em-ups, dinosaur attacks, or hand-to-hand combat. But it's clear that there is a much bigger audience for action-packed mayhem than for quieter ways of dying.

One reason for the preference for action-packed violence seems to be that it is arousing. Many people, and children especially, enjoy violent, scary shows because they like the thrill of being stimulated and aroused by entertainment. Viewing violence or watching nonviolent but threatening images temporarily makes children's hearts beat faster and their blood pressure go up. Like adults, many children seek out the feelings produced by violence and suspense to stimulate them when they are bored and take them out of the humdrum of their daily lives. As one veteran of The Incredible Hulk put it:

This television program scared me to death every time I watched it, yet I tuned in with my mother and younger brother (who was also frightened) each week. I think that there may have been a part of me that enjoyed having my senses aroused. The sound of the high note and the doctor's green eyes got my heart pumping and got me out of the relaxed state in which I usually watch television.


If there's one characteristic of children that is strongly related to whether or not they're interested in viewing violence, it's their gender. There are many, many studies that show that boys choose to watch violence more often than girls and that they generally enjoy it more. Some psychologists believe that this difference is due to the fact that we treat our little boys differently from our little girls, teaching them that violence is a male, not a female, activity. Other psychologists maintain that boys' greater interest in violence is rooted in their hormones, and that biology predisposes them to be more aggressive and to be more interested in aggressive things. Both factors probably contribute to the fact that boys are more interested than girls in violent toys, violent stories, and violent programs and movies.

It has also been shown that children who are more violent themselves are more interested in viewing violent programs. It's sometimes difficult to know which came first: whether the children became more violent because they watched so much violent programming, or whether their own violent tendencies led them to seek out violent stories to understand or justify their own behavior. The consensus of researchers is that both processes occur. Viewing violence contributes to children becoming more violent, and children who are violent are more interested in viewing violence.

Another reason many children watch violent and scary programs is that they imagine themselves in the place of the characters, and many of them enjoy the feeling of power they get when the good guy, or the character they root for, overcomes dangers and triumphs over the bad guy. One student described his enjoyment of The Wizard of Oz this way:

I waited with anticipation for each terrifying moment, and from a very early age I enjoyed the emotional buildup and release that came with each one. For me, the resolution that gave the most pleasure was when Dorothy finally killed the Wicked Witch of the West. I was far less concerned with how she got back to Kansas.


This anecdote leads into another reason for children's attraction to violence, one that deals with fright more directly. Some research shows that watching television crime shows in which the bad guys are punished in the end actually reduces the fears of mildly anxious people. In one study, college students took a six-weeks' heavy dose of action-adventure programs featuring good triumphing over evil. This treatment not only reduced their feelings of anxiety, it increased their appetite for this type of material even after the study was over. Surveys my colleagues and I have done also suggest that some children may choose to watch mildly scary television programs to help them cope with their anxieties. In one survey of parents, for example, we found that children who had been frightened by television were especially interested in violent programs in which good triumphed over evil, but they were not particularly interested in other types of violent programming.

A few programs aimed at children seem to be especially designed to serve the function of reassuring them about their fears. The most obvious one, one that has been on television in various forms since the late sixties, began as Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? This animated program features a group of teenage kids and a dog or two who travel around in their van and solve mysteries involving monsters, ghosts, mummies, abominable snowmen, and the like. Scooby, the canine star, and Shaggy, one of the teenagers, are always extremely frightened by the threatening beast or monster. Their fear is dramatized humorously, with chattering teeth, trembling bodies, and cries of "Get me out of here!"

Each plot of Scooby-Doo is nearly identical to the others: Someone has concocted a scheme to steal something valuable by scaring everyone else. To accomplish his goal, the villain dons some sort of scary costume and arranges other special effects to convince the general public they had better stay away. In every episode, the kids figure out the mystery and confront the villain, revealing that there is a real person inside the monster costume. The kids are then praised for their heroism and their ability to solve the mystery, and they explain the very complicated set of clues that helped them discover who the villain really was. The obvious message is, Things aren't as scary as they seem, and you, too, can overcome your fear.

Although most kids don't even consider this a scary program, it seems that some children who are confronting fears turn to programs like this to work through their anxieties. The program produces a very safe level of fear that the young child can easily master and shows that other people (and even a dog!) have anxieties that they can learn to control. Other mildly scary programs that show a hero in danger but ultimately triumphing over it seem to have a similar effect.

But there's a definite limit to the effectiveness of television and movies as an anxiety reducer. I talked in chapter 7 about a fear-reducing technique called desensitization, which exposes a child to something that's feared in weak, manageable doses. It is important to note that an effective fear-reducing strategy must provide only a very mild dose of fear, one that the child can easily learn to handle. Something intensely frightening will more than likely have the opposite effect, making the child's fears even stronger and more difficult to allay.

The Anxious, Traumatized Child vs. the Jaded Kid Who can't Get Enough

Although mildly anxious children may turn to safe levels of violence to reassure themselves, children experiencing intense anxieties generally don't enjoy watching violent television. In a study of children in inner-city Milwaukee, children who were experiencing acute anxiety symptoms from the real violence in their environment were the least interested in viewing very violent shows and were the most upset when they did watch them. Rather than helping these children cope, viewing violence made them feel worse.

But there were other children in the Milwaukee study who reacted quite differently to their violent surroundings. These children seemed to have become emotionally numb to real violence, showing very little trauma and few anxiety symptoms. It was these children who were especially interested in viewing very violent programs. Not only were these children more interested in viewing violence; they said they felt especially good when watching people on violent shows fight and hurt each other. Even more disturbing, the more interested these kids were in viewing violence on TV, the less they cared to see the bad guys get caught. These tough kids who had seen it all seemed to like violence for violence's sake. They liked the thrill of the fight and couldn't care less if the good guy won in the end.

Although children who are callous and numb may be less likely to have nightmares and other fear reactions, what is worrisome about this group is that they are more prone to other effects of witnessing violence and especially prone to the negative effects of desensitization.

The Downside of Desensitization

When I talked about desensitization as a coping strategy in chapter 7, it was in a positive context. But desensitization can be taken to an extreme when the child is exposed to large amounts of violence and other threatening images. As a result of repeated exposure to intense violence, children and adults show a lessening of their emotional response to it. They are then likely to seek out more intense levels of violence to achieve the same thrill that lower levels used to give them.

Research shows that children who watch a lot of violence become less aroused by it over time and that children become less bothered by real interpersonal aggression after watching fictionalized violence. Research also shows that repeated exposure to violence leads to less sympathy for its victims and to the adoption of violent attitudes and behaviors.

The trend for children and teenagers to become desensitized to violence is especially disturbing if we take a look at movies that are being made today. I remember how intense reactions were to such groundbreaking movies as Bonnie and Clyde and The Wild Bunch in the sixties. But in retrospect, these movies are very mild compared to popular movies of today like Natural Born Killers. What is worse, now that there are so many television channels, and almost all movies are available on video, teenagers who enjoy super-violent programming have a virtually unlimited supply of intense mayhem. The prevalence and easy availability of emotion-deadening viciousness makes the desensitization of large numbers of children a higher risk now than ever before.

In sum, then, there are a variety of reasons why your child may want to view violent, scary programs: Some of these are social, relating to the desire to demonstrate "manliness" or to engage in an adolescent rite of passage, some are psychological, and some may actually benefit your child -- if he chooses a manageable dose of a threat that he learns to master. But heavy doses of brutality result in one of two unhealthy outcomes: either the severe fright reactions that this book describes or the deadening of emotional responsiveness and antisocial attitudes toward violence.

The fact that children may be attracted to scary programs certainly complicates the task of parents who want to shield their children from unnecessary trauma. The next chapter deals with the issue of ratings, program and movie labels that are intended to help parents make more informed decisions about what their children should watch. As we will see, not only are ratings sometimes misleading, they often make parents' jobs harder by making hazardous programs and movies more appealing.
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Re: "Mommy, I'm Scared": How TV and Movies Frighten Children

Postby admin » Thu Oct 24, 2013 3:48 am

CHAPTER TEN: Ratings Roulette

The Perils of "Parental Guidance"


A mother recently told me the following story:

We told our son that he would be getting a new ten-speed bike for his thirteenth birthday. But he told us he wouldn't need a new bike. He declared that he wouldn't have time to ride it after he was thirteen, since he would be spending all his free time watching PG-13 movies!


Having read this far, I hope you're convinced of two things: First, it is extremely important to be aware of and to guide what your child sees on television, in videos, and at the movies. And second, it may be more difficult than you thought to shield your child from programs you consider inappropriate. Although you may think that your home, at least, is your castle, that castle has no moat and no fortress to protect it from the televised intruders that may disturb your children. Some of the intruders may seem harmless on the surface, but they conceal a seamier side. And to make things even more difficult, your children may be curious about these very intruders and may be eager to invite them in, despite your concerns.

I want to talk now about some practical problems of managing television in your home and selecting movies or videos for your children. Once you've decided that you want to be selective in what your children watch, how can you know in advance what will be in a program, video, or movie?

One way, of course, would be to watch every program or movie before your child sees it. Although this would perhaps be an ideal solution, no parent has the time to do it, and it's simply not feasible when we're talking about watching live television. So we have to depend on various forms of information that are provided to us. We have had movie ratings since the sixties, and now we have television ratings as well. Let's look at each of these in turn.

What You Should Know about Movie Ratings

When choosing a movie or a video for your child, the most obvious bit of information you have to go on besides its title is its Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) rating. Most parents are familiar with this system, which puts movies into four major categories: G for "General Audiences," PG for "Parental Guidance Suggested," PG-13 for "Parents Strongly Cautioned, " and R for "Restricted." A fifth rating, NC-17, "No One 17 and Under Admitted," was recently added, but it is rarely used.

The MPAA employs a committee of parents, who screen the movies and give them ratings by majority vote. A movie producer who is unhappy with a rating can reedit the film and resubmit it or submit the film to an appeals board, headed by MPAA president Jack Valenti, who developed the system in the 1960s.

Many parents take note of a movie's MPAA rating in making selections for their children, but these ratings have been widely criticized for being much too vague and too arbitrary. The rating system gives rough age guidelines regarding who should be allowed to see the movie, but it does not say why a movie received its rating. A PG rating, for example, indicates that many parents may consider some material unsuitable for their children, but it doesn't give any clue as to what's in the movie that makes it unsuitable.

Although the MPAA ratings do not indicate why a program received the rating it did, this information is available in other locations. Bowing to public pressure, the MPAA has provided content information for all movies that have received a rating of PG or higher since 1995. This information is usually not available in movie advertisements or on videocassette labels. However, it is often included in movie reviews, and it can be accessed through the MPAA's web site (http://www.mpaa.org), by subscription to the Motion Picture Rating Directory (at a cost of $160 per year), and by telephone in some cities.

As a researcher interested in this issue, and as a mother who finds it difficult to locate suitable movies for my own child to view, I thought it would be interesting to use the Motion Picture Rating Directory to determine the proportion of movies that were given the various ratings. What I found may surprise you, but it does explain why it's so hard to find movies that are obviously intended for young children. Out of some fourteen hundred movies that the MPAA rated in 1995 and 1996, only 3 percent were rated G. During that time, 14 percent were rated PG, 16 percent were rated PG-13, and a whopping 67 percent were rated R!

Because the G rating is so rare, many parents look to movies rated PG as the next best option. But without the additional content information, they are left in the dark in terms of what to expect. I became curious to know how many PG-rated movies simply had bad language, for example. I had heard members of the movie industry admit that very few producers actually want a G rating because they're afraid that only very young children will want to see their movie. (And as we'll see later in this chapter, their fears are well grounded!) Adding a few bad words is one way to avoid a G rating, and, looking at the reasons the MPAA gave for all the movies that were rated PG in 1995 and 1996, my colleagues and I found that more than one-fourth of them (26 percent) had bad language only. Many parents feel that these bad words are the lesser of the three evils that are prevalent in movies (language, sex, and violence). If only the rating would tell parents which were the ones with language!

And how helpful is the PG rating in letting us know what to expect in terms of other types of content? In addition to those with bad words, 12 percent of PG movies had violence only and another 26 percent had both violence and bad language. Eighteen percent of PG-rated movies had no violence, no sex, and no bad language. Most of these were described as having "thematic elements" that were somehow inappropriate for young children. So it's quite clear that the PG rating tells parents virtually nothing about the content to expect in a movie. If they can't access the MPAA's web site or find the content reasons in another location, they are left almost completely in the dark.

There's another little-known problem with the PG rating that I came upon in my analyses. When my colleagues and I looked at the content of a random sample of movies shown on television, there was only a whisper of a difference between movies rated PG and those rated PG-13. It was then that I was reminded that the PG-13 rating was not introduced until 1984.This rating was added in response to children's fright reactions to such movies as Gremlins and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Before that time, movies that now would be given a PG-13 rating were probably rated PG. Did you know, for example, that Jaws -- the movie cited so many times as causing long-term fears -- is rated only PG? Certainly that movie deserves more of a caution than "Parental Guidance Suggested." But it was released before the PG-13 rating existed. So, in addition to other problems with the MPAA ratings, it's important to find the date of a movie's release when interpreting the PG rating. If a PG-rated movie was released before 1984, its content may bring an especially upsetting surprise.

Can't We Even Trust the G Rating?

The G rating doesn't necessarily help us either. As one mother who answered a recent nationwide survey of ours put it:

As of now, I do not trust the MPAA's ratings at all. Not even G.


The G rating is not necessarily safe for young children. The label "General Audiences: All Ages Admitted" appears comforting to most parents, although the explanation of the rating supplied by MPAA president Jack Valenti hedges a bit:

This is a film which contains nothing in theme, language, nudity and sex, violence, etc. which would, in the view of the Rating Board, be offensive to parents whose younger children view the film. The G rating is not a "certificate of approval," nor does it signify a children's film.


The explanation goes on to say that a G-rated movie has no nudity or sex and that "the violence is at a minimum."

If there's one type of movie where the G rating especially falls down on the job, it's the animated feature. Although most of these fairy tale or adventure movies are rated G, many of them have a good deal more than minimal violence. For example, the G-rated Beauty and the Beast is intensely violent, both in the vicious attacks by the wolves on the Beast, and in the fierce, deadly battle between the Beast and the villain Gaston. In a story in the Boston Globe, one mother complained that the wolves in this movie had caused her three-year-old daughter to become terrified of dogs, and that her daughter was still afraid of dogs three years later.

Although it may seem shocking to those who have always believed cartoon features to be designed for young children, my own research and the frequency of parents' reports of their children's distress lead me to conclude that many of them are too scary for many children below the age of six. Some parents who agree with me on this have confided that many of their friends think they're crazy. If animated features can't be rated G, what use is there in the G rating at all?

This last question brings up a very good point. Animated fairy tale and adventure films seem to be rated on the basis of their target market -- children -- rather than the effects they have on children. A G rating is not an indication of content. And it is not very helpful to parents.

Just Let Us Know What's in the Show

To summarize some of the problems with movie ratings: We can't tell what's in the movie from the rating alone; we can't interpret PG ratings that were issued before 1984 (when PG-13 was introduced); and we can't trust the G rating to be safe for preschoolers. MPAA ratings reflect what a committee of parents think would be offensive to other parents. They do not reflect any expertise in the field of child psychology or knowledge of the impact of the media on children. These ratings are not helpful in predicting the effects a movie will have on your child.

What would help us make viewing decisions for our children? The answer is, an honest indication of what is in the movie. If a rating simply indicated the movie's contents, parents could ask themselves, "Is my child ready to watch this?"

Take another striking example of a G-rated animated feature, Bambi. In the middle of this classic movie, the sweet young fawn's mother is shot and killed by a hunter. When I went to a matinee where Bambi was playing, I heard interesting conversations all around me. After the hunter's shot rang out, and while Bambi was searching in vain for his mother, I heard many children asking the same question: "What happened to Bambi's mother?" I also noticed that different parents were answering in different ways -- some were being honest, but others didn't want to communicate the brutality of the truthful answer. If you take your preschooler to Bambi, be prepared for your child to suddenly confront the thought of you dying. I often hear reports of preschoolers' problems with Bambi, yet it's hard to get the message out that it's better to wait with this movie. What could sound more innocent than a G-rated cartoon named Bambi? Wouldn't information about what happens in this movie serve you better than the rating?

There are scary scenes in many animated fairy tale and adventure features. In addition to the recurrent theme of the loss of the mother, there are a multitude of monstrous and grotesque villains. There are also many disturbing character transformations, and there's plenty of intense violence. This is the stuff of nightmares for two- to five-year-olds. These films are often fun for slightly older children, perhaps six or seven and up, but they can be too much for younger ones to take. My advice is not to take the safety of any so-called children's movie for granted, but to err on the side of caution if you have any doubts.

I want it to be clear that this recommendation is not an attack on the entertainment industry; nor is it intended to single out any specific producers of children's movies. This is information for parents who are seeking enjoyment -- not nightmares -- for their children. All children are not equally sensitive to this type of material, but enough of them respond badly that discretion is warranted.

Members of the movie industry may be alarmed at the advice I'm giving because they may see it as potentially cutting into the audience for their G-rated movies. But I am not advising you to boycott these movies; simply wait until your child is old enough to see them without trauma. Who knows, if a child's first experience with the movies is a fun thrill rather than a series of sleepless nights, maybe that child will become a more avid consumer of movies in the long run!

Making the Most of Movie Ratings

In spite of all the problems with movie ratings, they do provide some information. Most R-rated movies and a high proportion of those rated PG-23 have enough sex, violence, and bad language to eliminate them as an option for young children. And you can use the MPAA's web site to get some idea of the reasons why recent movies received their ratings. To me, the best use of the MPAA ratings is to rule out movies with more restrictive ratings (unless you have viewed them yourself, and know the rating to be wrongly applied). And don't be reassured by the lower-level ratings of G or PG without getting further information about the content of the movie. (A video guide might be a good place to start.) A table in the appendix summarizes important features of the movie ratings.

What About TV Ratings?

Although there are many difficulties in selecting movies and videos for your children, the stakes are even higher for television because TV programs come into your home automatically. For all the channels your set receives, the programs are there at the touch of a remote. Unless some program-blocking technology is in place, or you are monitoring your TV at all times, their availability in your home is out of your control.

Fortunately, we are entering a new era, one in which parents are being given new tools to help them screen out certain types of programs. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 required new television sets to be manufactured with an electronic device known as a V-chip within a specified period of time. The V-chip reads a code or rating that is embedded in each program as it is transmitted. Parents decide which rating levels are inappropriate for their child, and by flipping a switch, they ensure that no programs with those ratings will be shown on their TV unless they themselves choose to override the blocking.

The concept seems simple enough, but the complicating and controversial part is how programs are rated. Someone has to give each program a rating that parents will find useful in deciding whether or not a program should be blocked.

The Tug-of-War over the TV Ratings: Parents vs. the Television Industry

In February of 1996, shortly after the Telecommunications Act was passed, the leaders of the broadcast, cable, and film industries agreed to come up with a rating system to apply to their programs. Many of these leaders were reluctant to provide ratings because of their fears that the ratings might lower viewership for their programs and ultimately reduce their profits. But with the threat that someone else might create a system if they did not, they set up the Ratings Implementation Group headed by MPAA president Jack Valenti. Because of the volume of programs that would need to be rated, it was assumed from the start that producers or distributors would rate their own programs rather than having a committee determine the ratings. Unfortunately, under Valenti's leadership, it was also assumed that the TV ratings would be based on the movie ratings that he developed.

Although Valenti's group publicly acknowledged that ratings were for parents, many people, myself included, were concerned that economic forces in the industry would outweigh parents' wishes in determining the type of rating system that would emerge. So, in the summer of 1996, I joined with the National PTA and the Institute for Mental Health Initiatives (IMHI) to do a nationwide survey to find out what parents wanted in a rating system. We explored whether parents preferred the MPAA approach, which gives age guidelines but doesn't specify content, or a content-based approach, which indicates the level of sex, violence, and coarse language in a program, but gives no age recommendations. This second approach is similar to a system that has been used for years on the cable channels HBO, Showtime, and Cinemax.

We sent our survey to a random sample of the PTA's national membership, and the results came back from every state in the country. These parents voted overwhelmingly for information about content: 80 percent of them chose a content-based system, while only 20 percent felt the system should give age recommendations. Our findings were echoed in two other national polls in the fall of 1996 and in several others after that.

Although the entertainment industry engaged in a very public process of consulting with researchers and child advocates while developing their rating system, they ignored our unanimous recommendations for a content-based system and came out with the TV Parental Guidelines in December of 1996, based primarily on the MPAA ratings. Instead of G, PG, PG-13, and R, the new ratings were TV-G, "General Audience"; TV-PG, "Parental Guidance Suggested"; TV-14, "Parents Strongly Cautioned"; and TV-MA, "Mature Audience Only." The new rating system also had two other levels, to be used for what the industry dubbed "children's programming": TV-Y for "All Children" and TV-Y7, "Directed to Older Children." The rating system, which is designed to be applied to all programs with the exception of news and sports, was adopted by all channels except PBS (the Public Broadcasting System) and BET (Black Entertainment Television). PBS said the ratings as designed were uninformative; BET objected to the concept of ratings per se.

Problems with the Industry's Rating System

As if the fact that American parents overwhelmingly preferred a system of content indicators rather than age guidelines wasn't sufficient evidence to force the TV industry to change its mind, there were other problems with the TV Parental Guidelines as well.

The TV rating system provided no information at all about why a program got its rating. At least with the MPAA ratings, parents now have the web site available to find out about content and we have the assurance that a committee of our peers has determined the rating a movie received. But with the TV Parental Guidelines, not only were no parents involved in determining a program's rating, none were involved in the appeals process either. In fact, no one outside the industry was permitted to sit on the Monitoring Board for the new rating system. So much for serving parents!

But the report card was even worse for the TV Parental Guidelines: Guess how this type of rating affects children!

"The cooler the movie, the higher the rating."


This spontaneous comment came from a ten-year-old girl who participated in research my colleagues and I conducted for the National Television Violence Study, an independent violence monitoring project funded by the cable TV industry. The aim of the research was to determine whether putting warning labels or restrictive ratings on violent shows would discourage children from viewing them, or whether the attempt would backfire and make children more interested in seeing them -- the forbidden fruit effect. In the study this girl participated in, which involved children between the ages of five and eleven, a child and his or her parent selected the programs the child would see. Some of the program choices the pair was given had the label "Contains some violence. Parental discretion advised." Other choices involved movies that were rated PG-13: "Parents Strongly Cautioned."

What was most interesting about this study was the difference between how parents and children talked about the programs' labels. Almost all the comments the parents made about the programs with restrictive labels were negative. In contrast, more than half of the children's comments about these programs ranged from favorable to downright enthusiastic. For example, one child said, "PG-Ratings 13. Choose that one!" Another blurted out, "Parental discretion advised -- that's awesome!" These cautionary labels really added to the programs' allure for many children.

My colleagues and I also did some studies to find out how these ratings affect kids who make viewing decisions in the absence of their parents. We found that boys were more interested in a program when it was labeled "parental discretion advised" than when it came without a label. We also found that children between ten and fourteen were much more interested in a movie when they were told it was rated PG-13 or R and much less interested in the same movie if they thought it was rated G. Among younger children, those who were the most aggressive or who liked to watch TV the most also found programs with restrictive ratings more enticing. On the other hand, content-based systems like the one used by HBO and Showtime did not attract children to programs with higher violence levels.

These studies show that ratings like those the TV industry developed are the most likely to attract our children to the programs we want to shield them from! Telling a child "you're too young for this program" and telling parents "protect your child from this" makes a program much more tantalizing. Simply providing information about the content, the way HBO and Showtime do, is not nearly as provocative.

Unfortunately then, rather than helping you, TV ratings may very well make it harder for you to protect your child from inappropriate programs. Many parents have reported this problem, including a mother who said that her ten-year-old son had suddenly become so fascinated with anything rated TV-14 that it was causing immense conflict in her family. Another mother told me that her fourteen-year-old daughter, who had previously accepted her parents' restriction on NYPD Blue, suddenly insisted she was entitled to see it after it began being labeled TV-14. So it seems that age-based ratings can cause problems with children both under and over the recommended age minimum. At least the V-chip may allow parents to block a program without calling their child's attention to the forbidden fruit. But it may be a long time before most TV sets are equipped with blocking technology.

The Compromise Rating System: The Good, the Bad, and the Complicated

The TV industry's rating system met an unprecedented throng of opponents, who joined together in the spring and summer of 1997 to pressure for changes. The National PTA led a coalition of public health and child advocacy groups, including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association, the Center for Media Education, and the Children's Defense Fund. These groups relentlessly lobbied Congress and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), asking them to insist on a better system. The television industry countered that all the criticism was coming from these "special interest groups," as they called them, and maintained that most parents were satisfied with the ratings the industry was providing. However, after comments to the FCC and a congressional hearing in Peoria, Illinois, showed how widespread parents' opposition was, the industry started to negotiate with the child advocacy groups, and most channels agreed to a compromise rating system in July of 1997. At that time, PBS agreed to use the new system and BET maintained its refusal to rate its programs. NBC refused to adopt the compromise system and continued to use the age-based ratings.

The compromise system, which began being applied to programs on October 1, 1997, keeps the original age-based system but adds various content indicators to help parents determine what, specifically, caused the program to receive its rating. The upper three ratings (TV-PG, TV-14, and TV-MA) may now be accompanied by a V for violent content, an L for coarse language, an S for sexual content, and a D for sexual dialogue or innuendo. For children's programs, an FV may be added to the TV-Y7 rating to indicate that the program contains "fantasy violence." The amended television rating system is shown in the appendix.

The fact that the industry budged at all -- Jack Valenti had warned critics that he'd see them in court "in a nanosecond" if they tried to force any changes -- is a great victory for parents. This is one instance where parents' voices were heard, and we should all feel indebted to the child advocacy groups and to members of Congress, particularly Representative Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Senator John McCain of Arizona, who kept the pressure on the television industry. The additional content information will undoubtedly be helpful.

Problems with the Amended System

The bad news is that the compromise rating system keeps some unfortunate features of the original system because the industry adamantly refused to give up on its age-based rating structure. First, the fact that the age guidelines have been retained makes it likely that the forbidden-fruit effect will continue, making restricted programs more tantalizing to many children. Second, the new system does not require full disclosure when some types of content are less controversial than others within the same program. Under the compromise, the overall rating of a program is determined by its most intense content. In other words, if a program has "strong coarse language," it is rated TV-14- L; if it has "moderate violence," it is rated TV-PG-V. But if it has both of these elements, it is still rated TV-14-L, and no mention is made of its violent content. What this means is that if a movie is rated TV-14 or TV-MA, it may have lower levels of sex, violence, or coarse language that are not explicitly indicated by a content letter.

Another problem with the compromise is that the industry insisted on using euphemisms rather than describing content clearly and accurately. Although the parent groups had argued for using a V for violence, an S for sex, and an L for coarse language, the industry insisted upon adding D for situations in which sex is talked about but not shown. They also balked at using the word "violence" to refer to the mayhem that goes on in many children's shows, such as Power Rangers or The X-Men. Instead, the amended system uses the letters TV to refer to "fantasy violence." Any intense violence that occurs in children's programs is labeled fantasy violence, whether the violence is indeed of the impossible variety or whether it is quite realistic but simply appears in a children's show.

Finally, it remains to be seen whether producers will assign ratings accurately and consistently to their programs.

The compromise system is complicated, but at least it permits parents to receive some information about the type of content in a program and, importantly, the agreement added five representatives of child advocacy groups to the Monitoring Board of the rating system. If television producers assign ratings arbitrarily or irresponsibly, there are some members of the monitoring group who are beholden to families rather than to the television industry's bottom line.

Alternative Rating Systems

There are a number of groups that are dissatisfied with the TV Parental Guidelines and that have developed their own systems for rating television content. One of these groups, the Children's Television Consortium, is especially concerned that the television industry's system is not informed by the findings of medical or psychological research. They have developed a system called Our Kids TV (OKTV), based on what is known about the effects of television on children. This system will be especially helpful to parents who are concerned about their children's fright reactions because it has a separate set of ratings dealing with horror, based heavily on my research about what frightens children at different ages.

One handicap of the OKTV system is that unless the raters are provided with advance information about the content of specific episodes of programs, they may lack the important details necessary to rate them accurately. Another problem involves the public's access to the ratings: Newspapers are unlikely to provide alternative ratings in their program listings. Moreover, the television industry is not likely to embed such ratings in their program transmission, rendering them unreadable by the Vchip. Nevertheless, because these ratings will undoubtedly be much more useful to parents than the industry's system, it may well be worthwhile to take the extra effort to locate them. When the OKTV system is up and running, you will be able to obtain information about it through the web site of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (http://www.aacap.org).

This chapter has suggested how movie and television ratings may be of value and has also pointed out some of their deficiencies. Now it's time to see how best to put what you've learned in this book into day-to-day practice. After all, it's up to you to manage your child's TV viewing and make the best of ratings and new technologies. It is also important that you speak up and be sure your opinions and needs are listened to by the larger community.
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Re: "Mommy, I'm Scared": How TV and Movies Frighten Children

Postby admin » Thu Oct 24, 2013 4:11 am

CHAPTER ELEVEN: Taming the Resident Monster

Living with the Reality of Television, Movies, and Videos

Guiding or Controlling Your Child's Viewing


NOW that you've seen some of the effects of frightening media fare on children and know some of the ways to predict what will be especially disturbing for your child, let's look at some of the day-to-day techniques that you can use to reduce the chances of negative effects. What can you do as a parent who wants to coexist responsibly with television in your home and who wants to make sensible movie and video choices? There are a number of things that can help you.

Limit the amount of time your child spends watching television, especially around bedtime. Limiting viewing is a good idea for other reasons than reducing your child's exposure to frightening fare. Many studies show that viewing more than one or two hours of television a day interferes with a child's other activities, and the effects can be seen on performance in school as well as in children's social interactions. Recognize that a lot of TV viewing is done out of boredom. To me, one of the most unhealthy aspects of television is that a child can sit in front of the set for long periods of time doing nothing, yet not feeling bored. If the television set suddenly broke down, how long do you think your child would last sitting there on the couch? If some of your child's viewing is prompted by boredom, try getting your child involved in other activities. I realize this is easier said than done, but most kids will stop watching television more willingly if you offer them something else to do rather than simply tell them to stop watching.

Become actively involved in your children's television viewing. This means not only setting up rules for their viewing and guiding their choices of shows but also being aware of what they are watching, sitting down and watching television with them, and having a discussion about what you have seen. By becoming familiar with the different programs your child watches, you can make a more informed judgment about which programs are relatively safe and unlikely to produce fear. In addition, you can be there to monitor the programs you're less sure of. For very young children, you can be ready with the remote to change the channel if the program seems to be veering in a harmful direction. For older children, you can be ready to discuss any troubling issues the program may raise.

There's another benefit to being involved in your child's viewing: Our research on TV ratings and advisories showed that children whose parents watch TV with them and discuss it with them are less likely to choose restricted content when their parents are not around. Those children seem to understand the reasons for their parents' restrictions and are more likely to accept them. As in other areas of child rearing, many children are more likely to accept a restriction if it seems to be arrived at cooperatively and for good reasons, rather than being delivered in an authoritarian fashion. Explaining the reasons for your decisions in a nonjudgmental way is more likely to bring success than simply criticizing the program or your child's taste. You'd do better to say, "We're not going to watch this because it causes nightmares" than to say, "That's garbage -- turn it off."

If you can't watch a program or movie in advance or view it with your child, find out as much as you can about the show. Read whatever is available. Many movie reviewers give special attention to things they think might be frightening for young children. I hope that this book will make reviewers more sensitive to some of the specific things that frighten children of different ages, so that reviews will become even more helpful. Talk to the parents of your children's friends as well, checking for any problems their children may have had.

Use whatever information you can get from the rating systems. For movies released in 1995 or later, check the MPAA's web site for content information. For television programs, the amended TV rating system, with all its problems, does give parents advance information that has not been available in the past. In addition to the general age guidelines, there should be an indication (if the rating is done fairly) of the presence of violence, sex, coarse language, and sexual dialogue. This information should permit you to tailor your viewing decisions to your own values and your own concerns about the members of your family. I'll remind you here that much of what frightens children is violent, and there is a great deal of research that shows other harmful effects of viewing violent programs: They can lead to a reduction in empathy for the victims of violence and to the adoption of violent attitudes and behaviors. If you are mainly concerned about your child's exposure to violence, you can be especially wary of children's programs with the FV label and general programming with a V label.

Research also shows that many parents are concerned about their children's exposure to sexual dialogue, sexual situations, and coarse language, and that parents differ in terms of how strongly they worry about the effects of different types of content. If your child's exposure to coarse language concerns you, you can avoid programs with an L; if you feel your child is ready to be exposed to sexual dialogue and innuendo but not to actual depictions of sex, you can avoid programs with an S, but you don't have to worry so much about programs with the designation D. It's up to you.

The V-chip, when available, will allow you to implement your ratings decisions automatically. With a V-chip, you can designate which age-based ratings (for example, TV-14 and up) and content indicators (for example, V or S) are inappropriate for your children, and then all programs with those ratings will be blocked from your set. Only you, or someone else who knows your secret password or code number, will be able to override your decisions. You can think of the V-chip as a sieve over the pipeline that lets television programs into your home. You set the size and shape of the openings to sift out programs whose ratings are unacceptable to you. This gives you an unprecedented form of control over what enters your home through your television. The advantage of the V-chip is that it is mandated, beginning mid-1999, for most new televisions, so it will be much cheaper and more convenient than other devices that are purchased separately.

Look for other blocking technologies beyond the V-chip. The V-chip is not the only way to automatically block programs from entering your home, and it is important to understand the distinction between the V-chip, which is mandated for new television sets, and other blocking technologies that are created on a voluntary basis and will often be sold separately from televisions. Because the V-chip is the result of a governmental mandate, there are limits, politically, to how far it will go. In March of 1998, the FCC approved the technological standard for the V-chip, and few television-set manufacturers are likely to install V-chips that go beyond the FCC's requirements. According to the FCC's mandate, V-chips will be able to read the TV Parental Guidelines and the MPAA ratings, but will not have the capability to read any alternative rating systems that other groups are developing. Moreover, the V-chip will not permit parents the option of blocking unrated programs. Therefore, a family who uses the V-chip will have no protection from news or sports or from any other programs that a channel does not rate.

But what the government requires in new TV sets doesn't limit what a manufacturer can produce voluntarily or what a parent can hope to have in other blocking technologies. In terms of technological feasibility, there are many ways blocking devices can go further than the V-chip. Shouldn't you, as an individual parent, have the ability to keep programs out of your home if you're concerned about their effects on your child? One obvious option you should have is the ability to block unrated programs, like the news. The government-mandated V-chip will never block the news because news programs are exempt from ratings. But the news, as we have seen, contains some of the scariest television there is. In early Canadian trials of the V-chip, parents had the option of blocking all unrated programs if they wanted to, and many of them understandably chose that option.

Having read this book, you will also recognize that blocking devices that are based on the TV industry's rating system will be only partially successful in screening out scary material, even in programs that are rated. If TV producers honestly report the contents of their programs, you should be able to block out programs that are explicitly violent by using ratings, but the TV ratings are not sensitive to many of the things that this book has shown are especially scary to preschoolers. Vicious-looking animals, grotesque or deformed characters, and frightening transformations, for example, will not necessarily be captured in the violence codes, so it will be up to you to screen for these scary elements. The OKTV ratings, described at the end of chapter 10, may be helpful in identifying these frightening elements.

Other aspects of television that are left unrated, and that the FCC-mandated V-chip is unable to block, are advertisements and promos for future programs, and as we have seen, promos can be especially frightening for children even though they may be as brief as thirty seconds. Because of this, blocking entire channels may be more useful than blocking by ratings when protecting preschoolers, especially. No matter how many channels your home receives, there are probably only a few that are reasonably safe for young children most of the time. A few channels are sensitive to the needs of young viewers, and they tend not to advertise for scary programs during shows aimed at preschoolers. You might be more at ease, then, if you let in only those channels that you trust when you're not in the room; you can override this blocking when you're there to help with specific selections.

There are several set-top devices available or in development that provide a variety of different program-blocking options. Some simply retrofit a V-chip to older sets to allow you to block on the basis of the TV industry's rating system and the MPAA ratings without having to buy a new TV. But others are likely to provide additional services, and it will be worth the effort to seek out the ones that provide the most effective protection. Look for a device that allows you to block unrated programs in addition to allowing you to block according to rating levels. Not only will this option let you block news and sports, it will turn the entire concept of TV reception upside down. Rather than allowing you only to block programs that have ratings that indicate they might be objectionable, it will put you in the position of inviting into your home only those programs whose ratings are acceptable. With the ability to block unrated programs, you can decide, for example, to let in only programs rated TV-Y. To my mind, this is the way television should be. After all, it is your home, and they are your children.

Other helpful features to look for are the ability to block entire channels and the ability to block individual programs that you know disturb your own child. Some of these features may be available in newer TV models. Your current set may already have them. If not, shop around for the best blocking features when you buy your set-top box or your next TV.

If all of these features are not currently available, the electronics industry will likely produce them if they sense that there is enough consumer demand. Don't hesitate to let your local electronics dealer know what would help you.

Recognize that you will often have to make different program and movie choices for your different-aged children. I realize that this may be one of the toughest recommendations to swallow, but the sad fact that this book reports is that one child's thrill is often his younger brother or sister's sleepless week. Again and again, the horror stories I hear involve a younger sibling being exposed to something she never would have chosen herself. I've included a summary in the appendix of what children of different ages find disturbing. Be firm with your older children about not subjecting the younger ones to trauma, and try to find a way for them to see what's appropriate for their age when the younger ones are off doing something else. Older kids may need to tape their shows and watch them later in the evening. When renting videos, there may be times when you have to rent two. One for now, and one for after the youngest ones have gone to bed.

Depend on videos that you already know. One lucky thing about very young children is that they like to watch their favorite videos over and over. There are many wonderful videos that you can buy to have on hand, and there are several newsletters and web sites that review children's videos. You can also tape episodes of good TV programs off the air. When our son was very small, I used to make him tapes of Sesame Street and Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. What amazed me was how many times he wanted to see the same episodes. For very young children, even these shows are quite complicated, and children seem to enjoy watching them over and over until they become totally familiar with them.

Another tip I've discovered about video viewing is to be certain that your VCR is tuned to a safe channel when your child is viewing a tape. When the tape gets to the end, your television will display whatever channel your VCR is on. If it's PBS or C-SPAN, your child is probably safe. But if it's a major network or a general entertainment cable channel, what your child sees next could be almost anything!

Tape a questionable program and watch it first when your child is not around. If you feel unsure about a program's content despite the ratings systems, previewing it may be the best choice. Also, don't feel that your child has to rush to the theater to see a new movie the first weekend it comes out. By hanging back, you will have much more information at your disposal in making your decision. If you're still not sure, wait for the video. You can screen it first, or at least you can be there when your child sees it. And videos have another advantage: Visual images are not as powerful on the small screen in your well-lit family room as they are on the massive screen of a darkened theater.

And don't forget to be careful about your own TV viewing. Soon after our son was born, we started looking at TV from the perspective of how it would affect our child. What happened first is that we started taping many of our favorite adult-oriented programs for later viewing. But like many other new parents, we found ourselves going to bed earlier and earlier in order to keep up our energy level, and the tapes kept piling up without being viewed. I have gradually come to get less of my entertainment from TV and more from reading, which I can do in the same room as my child without subjecting him to adult fare.

Enlist the cooperation of the parents of your children's friends and the other people who look after your child, including grandparents, baby-sitters, child-care providers, and teachers. Show them this book or tell them about it. Make sure they understand that you're not being silly or overprotective -- that your concerns are based on sound research involving data from thousands of children and hundreds of parents. Require child-care providers and schools to obtain parental permission for the showing of entertainment videos.

Don't worry too much. Remember, knowledge is power! The purpose of this book is not to frighten you! It's simply to give you better information and tools to guide your child safely through the unpredictable world of television and movies. Just being there and being aware will go a long way toward preventing the types of long-term anxieties and fears we've seen throughout this book. And remember, if your child becomes frightened, there are ways of helping him deal with that fear. If your child stumbles into a disastrous program choice -- and that's probably inevitable once in a while -- the important thing is to be there for him and help him handle his fears. The fact that you now understand why your child is afraid and know the types of fear-reducing strategies that are most likely to help at your child's age should be greatly reassuring to you and will certainly help you reassure your child.

Making Sure Your Voice Is Heard

Beyond what you can do in your home and for your own family, there are certain steps you can take to help change the television landscape and the media environment we all live in.

First, be sure that your local television station hears your complaints when you think that something inappropriate is on television at a time or in a place that children are likely to be adversely affected by it. During the controversy over the TV ratings, many local stations said they weren't hearing complaints from parents. Perhaps parents had given up, feeling no one was listening to them. If you have time, make your complaint in writing and send a copy to your local paper as a letter to the editor so that other parents may be informed as well. You should also complain when you think a program has been inappropriately rated. Although local stations usually accept the ratings that are provided by the program producers or distributors, they can change ratings that they consider inappropriate. Also, send your complaints to the TV Parental Guidelines Monitoring Board (see the appendix for the address) and the FCC. And be sure that your representatives in Congress know your views. Congress has been extremely responsive to the feelings of parents on this issue.

What we have learned from the controversy over the rating system is that parents do have a voice in these matters, and when the chorus is large, it is heard with resounding clarity. Parents like us can influence how decisions are made in Congress and can force the television industry to be responsive.

There are other things we should be asking the entertainment industry to do to help us protect our children. Here are a few ideas:

Television stations should not air promotional ads for frightening shows and movies during programs with a sizable child audience. Even a promo can cause long-term fears, and parents need more assurance that their child will not be exposed to this type of material when viewing a program that would otherwise be safe.

In general, programmers should agree not to air promos for shows with higher-level ratings in shows with lower ratings. But even if we could get the industry to agree to this, it would not address the fact that many shows are not rated. News and sports, which are not rated, are frequently used to promote other shows. I have received many complaints from parents about the frightening promotions that were aired during recent World Series and Super Bowl telecasts. I realize that one reason networks are willing to pay so much for blockbuster sports events is to promote their other shows. However, networks should be sensitive to the fact that these events are viewed by many children. If a show with controversial content is promoted during a lower-rated or nonrated show, the ad should be designed with a general audience in mind. At the very least, it should exclude the visually frightening elements of the program being promoted.

Movie advertisements and videocassette packages should include the MPAA's reasons for a rating along with the rating. The content that was responsible for the rating a movie received needs to be readily accessible at the time viewing decisions are frequently made -- while reading the paper or visiting the video store. And we could really use this type of information for movies rated before 1995. Wouldn't it be helpful if the VCR package for the PG-rated My Girl let us know that the movie was about a young girl who is convinced she has contracted a variety of deadly diseases and whose best friend dies from a bee sting? Incidentally, according to the Motion Picture Rating Directory, that movie was originally rated PG-13, but the rating was reduced to PG after an appeal.

Family restaurants should not offer toys aimed at preschoolers that tie in with movies that are too scary for that audience. The marketing of Jurassic Park was a prime example of a promotional campaign that drew many youngsters to a movie that was clearly too horrifying for them. In an ideal world, the businesspeople making agreements for restaurant tie-ins would show an advance copy of the movie to their own young children before agreeing to promote it to toddlers! But seriously, businesses that cross-promote movies should feel the responsibility to choose the movies they pitch with care.

Let Other People Know When Your Child Has a Negative Emotional Reaction to Something in the Media

This is perhaps the most important thing you can do besides being vigilant about what your children watch. If your child has a fright reaction, you are certainly not alone. Your child is not odd, unstable, or otherwise unbalanced, and there are good reasons why the reaction occurred. Sharing your experience with others will no doubt be therapeutic for you, and it's important to warn other parents about potential effects on their children. If enough parents speak out, we may very well be able to achieve better ratings of programs and movies and more family-friendly programming practices in general.

There are many other changes the entertainment industry could introduce to make television and movies more predictable and less of a minefield for families. Most parents don't want governmental censorship; they don't want adults to be prevented from seeing the adult fare they enjoy. But they do want to protect their children from viewing harmful content -- or content they consider inappropriate -- without their knowledge in their own homes!

The entertainment industry is extremely well-heeled and its effects are pervasive. But if we communicate with each other and make our needs and wishes known to child advocacy groups, legislators, advertisers, and programmers, we can make the media environment safer for our children. That way, all of us will rest -- and sleep -- easier.
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Re: "Mommy, I'm Scared": How TV and Movies Frighten Children

Postby admin » Fri Oct 25, 2013 6:09 am

Acknowledgments

I owe so many people so much for helping to make this book a reality that it is difficult to know where to start. But it seems only right that I begin with the person who got me started in research in the first place -- Professor Dolf Zillmann of the University of Alabama. It was Dolf who found me as an uncertain first-semester graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication and transformed me into an enthusiastic and dedicated researcher. He not only taught me to have high standards as a researcher, but he showed me how much fun and how rewarding the entire research process could be.

Next I want to thank my research collaborators and coauthors who contributed so much to the studies reported here. Special gratitude goes to my first three doctoral advisees, whose contributions during the initial stages of the research were so essential to turning some ideas sketched out in a grant proposal into innovative research procedures and then into influential scholarly publications. To these three most important collaborators, Professor Glenn Sparks (now at Purdue University), Professor Barbara J. Wilson (now at the University of California, Santa Barbara), and Professor Cynthia Hoffner (now at Illinois State University), I owe an enormous debt for assisting me in mapping out the terrain of this program of research. Other important collaborators and coauthors whose work is central to the information and advice given in these pages are Professor Marie-Louise Mares (now at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication), Professor Mary Beth Oliver (now at Penn. State), Professor Marina Kremar (now at the University of Connecticut), Dr. Lisa Bruce, and especially Professor Kristen Harrison (now at the University of Michigan) and Dr. Amy Nathanson (now at the University of California, Santa Barbara). I also wish to thank my colleagues at the University of Wisconsin, especially Professor Denise Solomon and Dean Mary Anne Fitzpatrick, for their valuable help and encouragement.

I particularly want to thank Victoria Duran, program director of the National PTA, for her enormous intellectual and moral support of my research on television ratings. Working with her and the leadership of the National PTA has been richly rewarding both personally and professionally, and I have come to appreciate the power of an idealistic and dedicated grassroots organization to affect public policy in a way that benefits America's families.

I have been extremely fortunate to receive the generous financial support that made this research possible. The initial grant from the National Institute of Mental Health was essential to getting my research in this area off the ground. I am also indebted to the University of Wisconsin for generously funding many of these studies and for providing me a supportive work environment for the past two dozen years. Thanks are also due to the Institute for Mental Health Initiatives for helping to fund the parent survey on ratings, to the H. F. Guggenheim Foundation for supporting my research on the attractions of violence, and to the National Cable Television Association for supporting my research on children's reactions to television ratings.

I would also like to thank Linda Henzl for her expert and enthusiastic assistance with the manuscript for this book and so many other projects; Debbie Hanson for her patient handling of all the accounting on my grants; and Paddy Rourke and Dave Fritsch for their generous technical support. I am also very thankful to the many students who helped out in various ways in conducting the research. I am especially indebted to all the children, parents, and college students who participated in my research or told me about their experiences. It is their contributions, after all, that comprise the essence of this book.

I have also benefitted greatly from the encouragement of several people in the fields of communication and mental health, especially Kathryn Montgomery and Jeffrey Chester of the Center for Media Education; Suzanne Stutman of the Institute for Mental Health Initiatives; Ed Donnerstein and Joel Federman of the University of California, Santa Barbara; and Patti Valkenburg of the University of Amsterdam.

With all this support, I still don't know how I would have arrived at a book without the help and guidance of Joan Fischer. It was Joan who helped me get started on this project, collaborating with me on the first proposal for this book, helping me find my own voice as a writer to an audience of parents, and providing valuable support and suggestions all along the way.

I am also deeply indebted to Kate Wendleton, whose advice on getting this book published was crucial; to my agent, Alex Holtz, who immediately made things happen and became a good friend in the process; to Vicki Austin- Smith, my editor at Harcourt Brace, for her unbridled enthusiasm and helpful suggestions; and to Rachel Myers, for her enormously thoughtful and creative copy editing.

Friends and family have also been extremely helpful and supportive, especially my brother Jim Cantor and my sister Mary Hammer, as well as Dorothy Cantor, Sara Larsen, Bonnie Holcomb, and Carol and Jim Lieberman.

Most importantly, I thank the people closest to me: first, my parents, Liz and Chips Cantor, who provided me with a loving home and have always been there when I needed them. Sadly, just as I was completing the manuscript for this book, my mother passed away. Although I miss her enormously, I carry her love and warmth with me every moment, and I am eternally grateful for the ideal role model she has been as a wife, as a mother, and as a woman who contributed her talents and energies for the benefit of the larger community.

And I couldn't have done any of this without my husband, Bob Larsen, and my son, Alex. Bob's love and support fuel everything I accomplish and make life in general so much more rewarding. As for Alex, aside from teaching me, from Day One, the deeper meaning of the words "pride and joy," his presence in my life makes me believe all the more in the critical importance of the work I'm doing.
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Re: "Mommy, I'm Scared": How TV and Movies Frighten Children

Postby admin » Fri Oct 25, 2013 7:17 am

Appendix

Problems Frequently Caused by Scary Television and Movies

Immediate Reactions:


• Intense fear
• Crying, clinging, trembling
• Stomach problems (stomach aches, vomiting)

Longer-term Reactions:

• Difficulty sleeping
• Nightmares
• Insistence on sleeping with parents
• Dependence on unusual bedtime rituals
• Refusal to be alone or to be in certain areas of the house
• Refusal to engage in normal activities
• Concern about being hurt or killed
• Unnecessary or unreasonably intense fears
• Long-term aversion to common animals (especially dogs, cats, insects, and spiders)
• Anxiety in specific situations (especially swimming)

The Most Troublesome Content for Different Ages

(Remember, Age Trends Are Approximate)

Two- to Seven-Year-Olds:


• Visual images, whether realistic or fantastic, that are naturally scary: vicious animals; monsters; grotesque, mutilated, or deformed characters
• Physical transformations of characters, especially when a normal character becomes grotesque
• Stories involving the death of a parent
• Stories involving natural disasters, shown vividly

Seven- to Twelve-Year-Olds:

• More realistic threats and dangers that can happen, especially things that can happen to the child
• Violence or the threat of violence
• Stories involving child victims

Age Thirteen and Up:

• Realistic physical harm or threats of intense harm
• Molestation or sexual assault
• Threats from aliens or occult forces

Tips for Helping Frightened Preschoolers

• Remove them from the scary situation.
• Don't belittle or ignore the fear.
• Provide your physical presence, attention, and warmth.
• Try a drink or a snack and a new activity.
• Consider lower doses of the scary image if they want to conquer their fear.
• Go along with reasonable bedtime rituals.
• Recognize the limited effectiveness of logical explanations. (See chapter 8 for adapting them for younger children.)
• Be firm in your resolve to practice prevention.

Tips for Making Explanations Reassuring to Children

For Fantasy Threats:


• For eight-year-olds and over, get them to focus on the impossibility of fantastic happenings.
• For younger children, visually demonstrate the unreal status of fantastic occurrences. (For example, help them apply scary makeup.)

For Real Threats:

• Avoid indicating that a realistic frightening event is possible but unlikely. (Saying "it hardly ever happens" probably won't help.)
• Give them calming, absolute, but limited truthful information. (Saying "It's never happened here" is more likely to succeed.)
• Use their fears as a teachable moment, and offer safety guidelines about how to protect themselves from the threat.
• Talk to them sympathetically about their fears, even when there's nothing particularly reassuring to say.
• Seek professional help if fears are uncontrollable or overpowering.
• Seek your child's cooperation in avoiding future exposure to similar content.

What You Should Know about the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) Ratings

• G: General Audiences. All ages admitted.
• PG: Parental Guidance Suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
• PG-13: Parents Strongly Cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
• R: Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
• NC-17: No One 17 and Under Admitted.
• MPAA ratings are decided by majority vote of a committee of parents who judge which rating most parents would find suitable.
• MPAA ratings give age guidelines but don't tell about content.
• Content information for recent movies is now available on the MPAA's web site: http://www.mpaa.org.
• Only 3 percent of movies rated in 1995 and 1996 were rated G; 14 percent were rated PG; 16 percent were rated PG-13; and 67 percent were rated R.
• 26 percent of PG-rated movies had "bad language" only.
• PG-rated movies (such as jaws) produced before 1984 (when PG-13 was introduced) may be surprisingly intense and scary.
• Even G-rated movies, especially animated adventure features, are often too scary for preschoolers.

A Guide to the Amended TV Parental Guidelines

Children's Programs


• TV-V: All Children
• TV-Y7: Directed to Older Children
• FV: Fantasy Violence*

General Programming**

• TV-G: General Audience
• TV-PG: Parental Guidance Suggested
o V: Moderate Violence
o S: Sexual Situations
o L: Infrequent Coarse Language
o D: Some Suggestive Dialogue
• TV-14: Parents Strongly Cautioned
o V: Intense Violence
o S: Intense Sexual Situations
o L: Strong Coarse Language
o D: Intensely Suggestive Dialogue
• TV-MA: Mature Audience Only
o V: Graphic Violence
o S: Explicit Sexual Activity
o L: Crude Indecent Language

*Any intense violence in children's programming is labeled "fantasy violence."

**The most intense level of content determines a program's overall rating. Content existing at lower levels is not displayed.

Contacts Regarding TV and Movie Ratings

TV Parental Guidelines Monitoring Board
P. O. Box 14097
Washington, D.C. 20004
E-mail: tvomb@usa.net
web site: http://www.tvguidelines.org

Classification and Rating Administration
Motion Picture Association of America, Inc.
15503 Ventura Boulevard
Encino, CA 91436-3103
web site: http://www.mpaa.org

OKTV (Alternative TV Ratings)
c/o Gaffney-Livingstone Consultation Services
59 Griggs Road
Brookline, MA 02146
web site: http://www.aacap.org (American Academy of Child and
Adolescent Psychiatry)

Federal Communications Commission
1919M Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20554
web site: http://www.fcc.gov/vchip
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Re: "Mommy, I'm Scared": How TV and Movies Frighten Children

Postby admin » Fri Oct 25, 2013 7:25 am

Notes

A note on these notes: I've included these notes to provide support for the claims I am making by directing your attention to my published research and the writings of others on the topic. But the notes are not meant to be exhaustive in the way the references for a scholarly book would be. More extensive references can be found in many of the academic articles I refer to here.

Preface

p. xv "Recent research on the validity of childhood memories": See C. R. Brewin, B. Andrews, and I. H. Godib, "Psychopathology and Early Experience: A Reappraisal of Retrospective Reports," Psychological Bulletin 113, no. 1 (1993): 82-98.

Introduction: Is Your Home Really Your Castle?

p. 2 "In fact, research now shows that educational television programming viewed at the preschool level can really improve children's chances for success much later in life": P.A. Collins, et al., "Effects of Early Childhood Media Use on Academic Achievement" (paper presented at Society for Research in Child Development Convention, Washington, D.C., April 1997).

Chapter 1: The Suddenly Crowded Queen-Size Bed

p. 5 and thereafter. All anecdotes presented in this book are real, but the names, when included, have been changed. Some of the reports are based on oral interviews. Most of them (those presented in italics) are from written reports by students or parents and are in their own words. Some are from research participants; others are from class papers. Most of these anecdotes are excerpts of longer descriptions. The only changes from the writer's own words involve deletions to reduce wordiness, or corrections in grammar, punctuation, or spelling. None of these anecdotes have been embellished in any way.

p. 8 "I was amazed by the vividness and emotionality with which they wrote about their experiences": An interesting article in a popular magazine talks about recent advances in the neurobiology of memory, which may help us understand why traumatic events often produce such indelible memory traces: S. S. Hall, "Our Memories, Our Selves," New York Times Magazine, February 15, 1998, 26-33, 49, 56-57.

p. 9 "I'll call this the retrospective study": K. Harrison and J. Cantor, "Tales from the Screen: Long-Term Anxiety Reactions to Frightening Movies" (paper presented at the International Communication Association Convention, Chicago, May 1996).

p. 11 "But they have often said that writing about it and learning why it may have happened helped them work through some of their anxieties": In fact, there is evidence that writing about emotional experiences has a profoundly beneficial effect on both psychological and physical well-being. For an important and highly readable book on this topic, see J. W. Pennebaker, opening Up: The Healing Power of Expressing Emotions (New York: Guilford Press, 1997).

pp. 12-13 "a number of psychologists and psychiatrists have claimed that [fright reactions to television and films] may cause children to be plagued by nightmares, sleep disturbances, and bizarre fantasies": for example, J. L. Singer, Daydreaming and Fantasy (London: Allen & Unwin, 1975); E. P. Sarafino, The Fears of Childhood: A Guide to Recognizing and Reducing Fearful States (New York: Human Sciences Press, 1986).

p. 13 "young people who had to be hospitalized for several days or weeks after watching horror movies such as The Exorcist and Invasion of the Body Snatchers": J. C. Buzzuto, "Cinematic Neurosis Following The Exorcist," Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 161 (1975): 43-48; J. Mathai, "An Acute Anxiety State in an Adolescent Precipitated by Viewing a Horror Movie," Journal of Adolescence 6 (1983): 197-200.

p. 13 "two children had suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder": D. Simons and W. R. Silveira, "Post-traumatic Stress Disorder in Children after Television Programmes, " British Medical Journal 308 (1994): 389-90.

p. 19 "Many of the symptoms ... are well-known symptoms of both phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder": See "Specific Phobias" and "Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder" in Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th ed. (Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association, 1994).

p. 20 "my colleagues and I designed a study to observe [spillover effects]": J. Cantor and B. Omdahl, "Effects of Fictional Media Depictions of Realistic Threats on Children's Emotional Responses, Expectations, Worries, and Liking for Related Activities," Communication Monographs 58 (1991): 384-401.

p. 20 "Little House on the Prairie ... was among the top-ten fear-producing shows according to a survey of parents my collaborators and I conducted in the early eighties": J. Cantor and G. G. Sparks, "Children's Fear Responses to Mass Media: Testing Some Piagetian Predictions, " Journal of Communication 34, no. 2 (1984): 90-103.

p. 23 "After this incident, I would not go down into our basement": In a study of the media-induced fright of college students, 10% of males and 68% of females agreed with the statement, "I have sometimes been so scared of a show or movie that I have actually been afraid to go into certain rooms in my own house." G. G. Sparks, M. M. Spirek, and K. Hodgson, "Individual Differences in Arousability: Implications for Understanding Immediate and Lingering Emotional Reactions to Frightening Mass Media," Communication Quarterly 41, no. 4 (1993): 465-76.

p.25 "To explore more systematically what parents know ... my colleagues and I recently conducted a phone survey": Some of these findings are reported in J. Cantor and A. Nathanson, "Children's Fright Reactions to Television News," Journal of Communication 46, no. 4 (1996): 139-52.

Chapter 2: Through a Child's Eyes

p. 33 "Our retrospective study of college students showed that more than half of those who reported a long-term fright reaction had not particularly wanted to see the program that had caused them to be so upset": K. Harrison and J. Cantor, "Tales from the Screen: Long-Term Anxiety Reactions to Frightening Movies" (paper presented at the International Communication Association Convention, Chicago, May 1996).

p. 39 "Some well-known psychoanalysts have proposed that these stories allow children to work through 'traumas that are seething in the unconscious''': For example, B. Bettelheim, The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales (New York: Vintage Books, 1975.

Chapter 3: Appearance, Appearance, Appearance

p. 50 "Research shows that very young children respond to things mainly in terms of how they appear": See, for example, R. Melkman, B. Tversky, and D. Baratz, "Developmental Trends in the Use of Perceptual and Conceptual Attributes in Grouping, Clustering, and Retrieval," Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 31 (1981): 470-86.

p. 51 "A follower of Piaget noted that young children focus on and react to whatever 'clamors loudest for their attention'": J. Flavell, The Developmental Psychology of Jean Piaget (New York: Van Nostrand, 1963).

p. 52 "The first thing my colleagues and I did to explore this idea was to ask parents which programs and movies had frightened their children the most": J. Cantor and G. G. Sparks, "Children's Fear Responses to Mass Media: Testing Some Piagetian Predictions," Journal of Communication 34, no. 2 (1984): 90-103.

p. 55 "my colleagues and I answered the question about how sensitive to appearance different age groups are by doing a controlled experiment": C. Hoffner and J. Cantor, "Developmental Differences in Responses to a Television Character's Appearance and Behavior," Developmental Psychology 21 (1985): 1065-74.

p. 58 "In the survey we conducted in the early eighties, [The Amityville Horror] was reported to have scared many more older children than younger ones": J. Cantor and G. G. Sparks, "Children's Fear Responses to Mass Media: Testing Some Piagetian Predictions," Journal of Communication 34, no. 2 (1984): 90-103.

p. 59 "When we conducted a random phone survey of parents the night after [The Day After] aired": J. Cantor, B.J. Wilson, and C. Hoffner, "Emotional Responses to a Televised Nuclear Holocaust Film," Communication Research 13 (1986): 257-77.

p. 64 "Certain types of animals, especially snakes and spiders, more readily evoke fear than other types": See G. S. Hall, "A Study of Fear," The American Journal of Psychology 9, no. 2 (1897): 147-249; A. Maurer, "What Children Fear," The Journal of Genetic Psychology 106 (1965): 265-77; D. R. Kirkpatrick, "Age, Gender and Patterns of Common Intense Fears Among Adults," Behavior Research and Therapy 22, no. 2 (1984): 141-50; R. M. Yerkes and A. W. Yerkes, "Nature and Condition of Avoidance (Fear) in Chimpanzee," Journal of Comparative Psychology 21 (1936): 53-66.

p. 64 "A third type of visual image that automatically repels and scares us is physical deformity": See D. O. Hebb, "On the Nature of Fear," Psychological Review 53 (1946): 259-76.

p. 66 "Researchers have identified a small part of the brain called the amygdala as the center where innately threatening sights and sounds are received": See J. LeDoux, The Emotional Brain: The Mysterious Underpinnings of Emotional Life (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996); R.J. Davidson and S. K. Sutton, "Affective Neuroscience: The Emergence of a Discipline," Current opinion in Neurobiology 5 (1995): 217-24; R. J. Davidson, "Affective Style and Affective Disorders: Perspectives from Affective Neuroscience," Cognition and Emotion (1998, in press).

Chapter 4: The Trouble with Transformations

p. 72 "by Piaget's descriptions of how children ... respond": For a reader-friendly introduction to Piaget, see D. G. Singer and T. A. Revenson, A Piaget Primer: How a Child Thinks (New York: Plume, 1996). For a more comprehensive treatment of Piaget's major theoretical principles, see J. Flavell, The Developmental Psychology of Jean Piaget (New York: Van Nostrand, 1963).
p. 74 "I soon discovered how frightening young children found [The Incredible Hulk] when I looked at the results of the parent survey we conducted in the spring of 1981": J. Cantor and G. G. Sparks, "Children's Fear Responses to Mass Media: Testing Some Piagetian Predictions," Journal of Communication 34 no. 2 (1984): 90-103.

p. 75 "After finding that young children did indeed find [The Incredible Hulk] scary, at least according to their parents, we designed a study to learn more about the reasons for this reaction": G. G. Sparks and J. Cantor, "Developmental Differences in Fright Responses to a Television Program Depicting a Character Transformation," Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 30 (1986): 309-23.

p. 82 "in one famous study, children between the ages of three and six were allowed to pet a tame and friendly cat": R. DeVries, Constancy of Generic Identity in the Years Three to Six, Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, serial no. 127, vol. 34, no. 3 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press for the Society for Research in Child Development, 1969).

Chapter 5: "But It's Only Make-Believe"

pp. 89-90 "Developmental psychologists have noted that children only gradually come to understand the difference between reality and fantasy": For example, P. Morison and H. Gardner, "Dragons and Dinosaurs: The Child's Capacity to Differentiate Fantasy from Reality," Child Development 49 (1978): 642-48.

p. 91 "Piaget's take on this situation was to say that preschool, or preoperational, children do not distinguish play and reality as two distinct realms with different ground rules": J. Flavell, The Developmental Psychology of Jean Piaget (New York: Van Nostrand, 1963).

pp. 92-93 "At first children believe that the things they are seeing are actually inside the television set -- that if they look inside, they'll find those things and that what's in there might actually be able to come out": J. H. Flavell, et al., "Do Young Children Think of Television Images as Pictures or Real Objects?" Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 34, no. 4 (1990): 399-419.

p. 93 "They come to judge whether something on television is real on the basis of whether the things they see in a story actually exist in the real world": P. Morison, H. Kelly, and H. Gardner, "Reasoning about the Realities on Television: A Developmental Study." Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 25, no. 3 (1981): 229-41.

p. 95 "In the survey we conducted in the early eighties ... we categorized the content as either fantasy or fiction": J. Cantor and G. G. Sparks, "Children's Fear Responses to Mass Media: Testing Some Piagetian Predictions," Journal of Communication 34 no. 2 (1984): 90-103.

p. 95 "Our more recent survey of parents of children in kindergarten, second, fourth, and sixth grade reconfirmed the importance of the fantasy-reality distinction in what frightens children": Some of these findings are reported in J. Cantor and A. Nathanson, "Children's Fright Reactions to Television News, "Journal of Communication 46, no. 4 (1996): 139-52.

p. 98 "There are several reasons why we respond so intensely to television shows and movies, even when we know that what we're seeing is fiction": For more discussion of these ideas, see J. Cantor, "Fright Reactions to Mass Media," in Media Effects: Advances in Theory and Research, ed. by J. Bryant and D. Zillmann (Hillsdale, NJ.: Erlbaum, 1994): 213-45.

p. 102 "Most scary programs and movies let us know what is going to happen or what might happen, and we become anxious well in advance of the horrifying outcome. Research shows that it's much more frightening this way": J. Cantor, D. Ziemke, and G. G. Sparks, "The Effect of Forewarning on Emotional Responses to a Horror Film, " Journal of Broadcasting 28 (1984): 21-31; C. Hoffner and J. Cantor, "Forewarning of Threat and Prior Knowledge of Outcome: Effects on Children's Emotional Responses to a Film Sequence," Human Communication Research 16 (1990): 323-54.

p. 102 "It seems that music and sound effects dramatically affect our emotional reactions": There is surprisingly little controlled research that supports this claim. One study showed that different musical scores increased or reduced physiological responses to a stressful film but did not affect viewers' ratings of their feelings of anxiety: J. F. Thayer and R. W. Levenson, "Effects of Music on Psychophysiological Responses to a Stressful Film," Psychomusicology 3, no. 1 (1983): 44-52. Another study reported that of three animated cartoons, the one that produced the most anxiety in children was the one that had no violence but had the most "fear-eliciting sound effects": K. Bjorkqvist and K. Lagerspetz, "Children's Experience of Three Types of Cartoon at Two Age Levels," International Journal of Psychology 20 (1985): 77-93. More research is needed on the power of music and sound effects.

p. 104 "Content analyses have shown that in horror movies, attacks against men are usually over and done with quickly, but attacks against women are longer and more drawn out": F. Molitor and B. S. Sapolsky, "Sex, Violence, and Victimization in Slasher Films," Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 37, no. 2 (1993): 233-42.

Chapter 6: When Reality Is a Nightmare

p. 112 "A recent study reported that local news is especially violent": "Body Bag Journalism," Sacramento Bee, May 22, 1997, see. B, p. 6.

p. 112 "In the survey we did in the early eighties, in which we asked parents to name the television shows and movies that had frightened their child, television news stories were in the top ten": J. Cantor and G. G. Sparks, "Children's Fear Responses to Mass Media: Testing Some Piagetian Predictions," Journal of Communication 34 no. 2 (1984): 90-103.

p. 113 "shortly after the war in the Persian Gulf, almost half of a random sample of parents my colleagues and I contacted said their child had been upset by television coverage of the war": J. Cantor, M. L. Mares, and M. B. Oliver, "Parents' and Children's Emotional Reactions to Televised Coverage of the Gulf War," in Desert Storm and the Mass Media, ed. by B. Greenberg and W. Gantz (Cresskill, NJ.: Hampton Press, 1993): 325-40.

p. 113 "in the random survey of parents with children in kindergarten through sixth grade that we did in the spring of 1994, we found that 37 percent said their child had been frightened or upset by a television news story during the preceding year": J. Cantor and A. Nathanson, "Children's Fright Reactions to Television News," Journal of Communication 46, no. 4 (1996): 139-52.

p. 115 "Dozens of studies have been conducted in which children have been asked what frightens them, and there is a large consensus regarding age trends in fears": For a review, see J. Cantor, B.J. Wilson, and C. Hoffner, "Emotional Responses to a Televised Nuclear Holocaust Film," Communication Research 13 (1986): 257-77.

p. 119 "In our most recent random survey of parents, Rescue 911 was mentioned more often than any other program (including fantasy and fiction genres) as causing fear in children": Other findings from this survey are reported in J. Cantor and A. Nathanson, "Children's Fright Reactions to Television News," Journal of Communication 46, no. 4 (1996): 139-52.

Chapter 7: When Words Won't Work

p. 125 "An early study of children and fear tells the story of the young child who sat down and classified fairytale characters as 'real' or 'unreal'": A. T. Jersild and F. B. Holmes, "Methods of Overcoming Children's Fears," Journal of Psychology 1 (1935): 75-104.

p. 125 "When my colleagues and I questioned parents of preschoolers in a survey, most of them said they used that type of explanation when coping with their child's TV fears": B. J. Wilson and J. Cantor, "Reducing Children's Fear Reactions to Mass Media: Effects of Visual Exposure and Verbal Explanation," in Communication Yearbook 10 (Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage, 1987): 553-73.

p. 125 "We took a scene from The Wizard of Oz that many children find especially scary": J. Cantor and B.J. Wilson, "Modifying Fear Responses to Mass Media in Preschool and Elementary School Children," Journal of Broadcasting 28 (1984): 431-43.

p. 126 "When my colleagues and I asked children to indicate how helpful different methods would be in making them feel better if they were scared by something on TV": B.J. Wilson, C. Hoffner, and J. Cantor, "Children's Perceptions of the Effectiveness of Techniques to Reduce Fear from Mass Media," Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 8 (1987): 39-52.

p. 127 "Another experiment my colleagues and I conducted is a case in point. The results surprised us": B.J. Wilson and J. Cantor, "Reducing Children's Fear Reactions to Mass Media: Effects of Visual Exposure and Verbal Explanation," in Communication Yearbook 10 (Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage, 1987): 553-73.

p. 129 "The same preschoolers ... said that getting something to eat or drink or holding a blanket or cuddly toy would help them the most": B. J. Wilson, C. Hoffner, and J. Cantor, "Children's Perceptions of the Effectiveness of Techniques to Reduce Fear from Mass Media," Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 8 (1987): 39-52.

p. 129 "An interesting experiment was recently reported in which preschoolers watched a scary television movie with or without their older sister or brother": B. J. Wilson and A. J. Weiss, "The Effects of Sibling Co-viewing on Preschoolers' Reactions to a Suspenseful Movie Scene," Communication Research 20, no. 2 (1993): 214-48.

p. 132 "Experts differ, sometimes vehemently, on whether [sleeping in a parent's bed] should ever be allowed": Rather than jumping into this controversy, I'll direct you to some differing opinions on the subject R. Ferber, Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1985). This book argues against letting your child sleep with you and has many thoughtful recommendations regarding how to handle children's nighttime fears. R Wright, "Go Ahead ... Sleep with Your Children," APA Monitor (American Psychological Association) (June 1997): 16. (Also published in Slate, http://www.slate.com/Code/Reg3/Login.as ... Earthling/ 97-03-27/Earthling.asp). Wright proposes, using arguments from evolutionary theory, that "the family bed" is superior to having your baby sleep alone. Both Penelope Leach and T. Berry Brazelton steer a middle ground, and present the benefits and drawbacks of both approaches: P. Leach, Your Baby and Child: From Birth to Age Five (New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1990); T. B. Brazelton, Touchpoints: Your Child's Emotional and Behavioral Development (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1992).

p. 135 "exposing themselves to bits and pieces of the program rather than the whole thing. Research shows that these techniques can actually reduce younger children's fright while viewing scary programs": B. J. Wilson, "The Effects of Two Control Strategies on Children's Emotional Reactions to a Frightening Movie Scene," Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 33 (1989): 397-418.

p. 135 "In the experiment we did with Raiders of the Lost Ark we also explored whether we could make the snake scene less frightening by desensitizing children to the visual image of snakes": B. J. Wilson and J. Cantor, "Reducing Children's Fear Reactions to Mass Media: Effects of Visual Exposure and Verbal Explanation," in Communication Yearbook 10 (Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage, 1987): 553-73.

p. 136 "Other researchers have found similar results by allowing children to hold rubber replicas of spiders or showing them real lizards and worms before they saw scary movies involving these creatures": B. J. Wilson, "Reducing Children's Emotional Reactions to Mass Media Through Rehearsed Explanation and Exposure to a Replica of a Fear Object," Human Communication Research 14 (1987): 3-26; B. J. Wilson, "Desensitizing Children's Emotional Reactions to the Mass Media," Communication Research 16 (1989): 723-45; A. J. Weiss, D. L. Imrich, and B. J. Wilson, "Prior Exposure to Creatures from a Horror Film: Live Versus Photographic Representation," Human Communication Research 20 (1993): 41-66.

p. 136 "My colleagues and I have also taken on The Incredible Hulk, using segments of a Mister Rogers' Neighborhood episode intended to reduce children's fear of the Hulk": J. Cantor, G. G. Sparks, and C. Hoffner, "Calming Children's Television Fears: Mr. Rogers vs. the Incredible Hulk," Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 32 (1988): 271-88.

Chapter 8: Making Explanations Child-Friendly

p. 142 "In the Wizard of Oz study, nine- to eleven-year-olds who were told to remember that the witch was not real showed less fear while watching her in a scene": J. Cantor and B.J. Wilson, "Modifying Fear Responses to Mass Media in Preschool and Elementary School Children," Journal of Broadcasting 28 (1984): 431-43.

pp. 142-43 "Similarly, other researchers have reported that seven- to nine-year-olds had their vampire-movie fears reduced by an explanation of how makeup made the vampires look scary, while five- to six-year-olds were not helped": B.J. Wilson and A.J. Weiss, "The effects of two reality explanations on children's reactions to a frightening movie scene," Communication Monographs 58 (1991): 307-26.

p. 143 "in a study involving The Incredible Hulk, my colleagues and I tried to counteract children's fears by giving them simple explanations of how the Hulk likes to help people, while showing them footage": J. Cantor, G. G. Sparks, and C. Hoffner, "Calming Children's Television Fears: Mr. Rogers vs. the Incredible Hulk," Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 32 (1988): 271-88.

p. 143 "For that study, in which we used a scene from the sci-fi thriller The Blob, we tried to reassure children by describing the special effects that made the blob look real and letting them create their own 'blobs' out of gelatin and food coloring": J. Cantor and C. Hoffner, "Children's Fear Reactions to a Televised Film as a Function of Perceived Immediacy of Depicted Threat," Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 34, no. 4 (1990): 421-42. This technique was used after the study was over, to ensure that children did not leave the experiment with residual feelings of anxiety. Because there was no control condition that did not receive this treatment, we did not collect data to support the treatment's effectiveness as a fear reducer.

pp. 145-46 "In the study involving The Blob ... we explained to a group of five- to eight-year-olds that a frightening event in a movie could never happen anywhere": J. Cantor and C. Hoffner, "Children's Fear Reactions to a Televised Film as a Function of Perceived Immediacy of Depicted Threat," Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 34 (1990): 421-42.

p. 146 "This finding is consistent with research my colleagues and I have done on children's understanding of concepts related to probability and likelihood": D. M. Badzinski, J. Cantor, and C. Hoffner, "Children's Understanding of Quantifiers," Child Study Journal 19 (1989): 241-58; C. Hoffner, J. Cantor, and D. M. Badzinski, "Children's Understanding of Adverbs Denoting Degree of Likelihood," Journal of Child Language 17 (1990): 217-31.

p. 146 "However, research indicates that older children and even adults also overestimate the likelihood of outcomes that are intensely threatening, even when the chances of their happening are infinitesimal": See P. Siovic, B. Fischhoff, and S. Lichtenstein, "Facts versus Fears: Understanding Perceived Risk," in Judgment under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases, ed. by D. Kahneman, P. Siovic, and A. Tversky (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982).

p. 150 "In the study I reported in chapter 1, in which we showed the schoolhouse burn down in Little House on the Prairie, we ended the session by giving children basic fire-safety guidelines": J. Cantor and B. Omdahl, "Effects of Fictional Media Depictions of Realistic Threats on Children's Emotional Responses, Expectations, Worries, and Liking for Related Activities," Communication Monographs 58 (1991): 384-401.

p. 155 "In fact, I never did make that appointment with the therapist": Some interesting research in interpersonal communication suggests that when you think about a problem with the intention of talking about it, your thoughts become better suited to solving the problem, whether you ultimately have a conversation about it or not. See D. H. Cloven and M. E. Roloff, "Sense-Making Activities and Interpersonal Conflict, II: The Effects of Communicative Intentions on Internal Dialogue," Western Journal of Communication 57 (1993): 309-29. By simply thinking about what I would say to a therapist, I was apparently able to put the problem in a more reasonable perspective.

Chapter 9: Why Kids Are Drawn to Scary Entertainment

Many of the ideas in this chapter are distilled from J. Cantor, "Children's Attraction to Violent Television Programming," in Why We Watch: The Attractions of Violent Entertainment, ed. by J. Goldstein (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998).

p. 158 "Nielsen ratings consistently show that most of the Saturday-morning programs with the highest child viewership are violent": For example, H. Stipp, "Children's Viewing of News, Reality-Shows, and Other Programming" (paper presented at the Convention of the International Communication Association, Albuquerque, N.M., May 1995).

p. 159 "A second reason we have so many violent programs and movies is that it is more profitable to produce shows that can be exported to foreign countries": S. Stossel, "The Man Who Counts the Killings," The Atlantic Monthly 279, no. 5 (1997): 86-104. This claim is attributed to media researcher and activist George Gerbner. The article chronicles Dr. Gerbner's research on the content of television over the past 30 years. Gerbner contends, as I do, that television viewing promotes feelings of anxiety. His work has a different emphasis from mine: He focuses on the cumulative effects of exposure to violent programming on our perceptions of the world as a mean and dangerous place, rather than on the emotional impact of a single frightening program or movie.

p. 161 "when a researcher asked sixth- to eighth-grade children in Milwaukee the question: 'Would you watch a television program if you knew it contained a lot of violence?' 82 percent replied 'yes''': L. Bruce, "At the Intersection of Real-Life and Television Violence: Emotional Effects, Cognitive Effects, and Interpretive Activities of Children" (PH.D. diss., University of Wisconsin, Madison, 1995).

p. 163 "Some researchers have even argued that it is action (characters moving fast) rather than violence (characters injuring each other) that attracts children's attention to violent television programs": R. Potts, A. Huston, and J. C. Wright, "The Effects of Television Form and Violent Content on Boys' Attention and Social Behavior," Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 41 (1986): 1-17.

p. 163 "Many people, and children especially, enjoy violent, scary shows because they like the thrill of being stimulated and aroused by entertainment": For an interesting analysis of the role of arousal in media entertainment, see D. Zillmann, "Television Viewing and Physiological Arousal," in Responding to the Screen: Reception and Reaction Processes, ed. by J. Bryant and D. Zillmann (Hillsdale, NJ.: Erlbaum, 1991): 103-33.

p. 164 "Some psychologists believe that this difference is due to the fact that we treat our little boys differently from our little girls": A. Frodi, J. Macaulay, and P. Thome, "Are Women Always Less Aggressive Than Men? A Review of the Experimental Literature," Psychological Bulletin 84 (1977): 634-60.

p. 164 "Other psychologists maintain that boys' greater interest in violence is rooted in their hormones, and that biology predisposes them to be more aggressive and to be more interested in aggressive things": J. Goldstein, "Immortal Kombat: War Toys and Violent Videogames," in Why We Watch: The Attractions of Violent Entertainment, ed. by J. Goldstein (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998).

pp. 164-65 "It has also been shown that children who are more violent themselves are more interested in viewing violent programs": For example, C. Atkin, et al., "Selective Exposure to Televised Violence," Journal of Broadcasting 23, no. 1 (1979): 5-13.

p. 165 "Viewing violence contributes to children becoming more violent, and children who are violent are more interested in viewing violence": See L. R. Huesmann, "Psychological Processes Promoting the Relation between Exposure to Media Violence and Aggressive Behavior by the Viewer," Journal of Social Issues 42, no. 3 (1986): 125-40.

p. 166 "In one study, college students took a six-weeks' heavy dose of action-adventure programs featuring good triumphing over evil": J. Bryant, R. A. Carveth, and D. Brown, "Television Viewing and Anxiety: An Experimental Examination," Journal of Communication 31, no. 1 (1981): 106-19.

p. 166 "In one survey of parents, for example, we found that children who had been frightened by television were especially interested in violent programs in which good triumphed over evil": J. Cantor and A. Nathanson, "Predictors of Children's Interest in Violent Television Programming," Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 41 (1997): 155-67.

p. 168 "In a study of children in inner-city Milwaukee": L. Bruce, "At the Intersection of Real-Life and Television Violence: Emotional Effects, Cognitive Effects, and Interpretive Activities of Children" (Ph.D. diss., University of Wisconsin, Madison, 1995).

p. 169 "Research shows that children who watch a lot of violence become less aroused by it over time and that children become less bothered by real interpersonal aggression after watching fictionalized violence": V. B. Cline, R. G. Croft, and S. Courrier, "Desensitization of Children to Television Violence," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 27, no. 3 (1973): 360-65; F. Molitor and K. W. Hirsch, "Children's Toleration of Real-life Aggression after Exposure to Media Violence: a Replication of the Drabman and Thomas Studies," Child Study Journal 24, no. 3 (1994): 191-207.

p. 169 "Research also shows that repeated exposure to violence leads to less sympathy for its victims and to the adoption of violent attitudes and behaviors": D. G. Linz, E. Donnerstein, and S. Penrod, "Effects of long-term exposure to violent and sexually degrading depictions of women," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 55 (1988): 758-68; C. R. Mullin and D. Linz, "Desensitization and Resensitization to Violence Against Women: Effects of Exposure to Sexually Violent Films on Judgments of Domestic Violence Victims," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 69 (1995): 449-59; L. R. Huesmann, "Psychological Processes Promoting the Relation Between Exposure to Media Violence and Aggressive Behavior by the Viewer," Journal of Social Issues 42, no. 3 (1986): 125-40.

Chapter 10: Ratings Roulette

p. 172 "We told our son "; Unlike all the other vignettes that are presented in italics in this book, this anecdote is not a verbatim transcription. It is my re-creation of the story a woman told me when I addressed a group of parents at a local church.

pp. 175-76 "my colleagues and I found that more than one-fourth of [PG-rated movies] had bad language only": J. Cantor, A. Nathanson, and L. L. Henzl, "Reasons Why Movies Received a PG Rating: 1995-1996," Unpublished Report Filed in Comments of Joanne Cantor to the Federal Communications Commission (CS Docket No. 97-55), April 7, 1997.

p. 176 "When my colleagues and I looked at the content of a random sample of movies shown on television, there was only a whisper of a difference between movies rated PG and those rated PG-13": J. Cantor, K. S. Harrison, and M. Kremar, "Ratings and Advisories: Implications for the New Rating System for Television," in Television Violence and Public Policy, ed. by J. T. Hamilton (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1998).

p. 177 "one mother who answered a recent nationwide survey of ours": J. Cantor, S. Stutman, and V. Duran, "What Parents Want in a Television Rating System: Results of a National Survey," report released on Capitol Hill (November 21, 1996), available at http://www.pta.org/ programs/tvrpttoc.htm.

p. 177 "the explanation of the rating supplied by MPAA president Jack Valenti hedges a bit": The excerpt comes from J. Federman, Media Ratings: Design, Use, and Consequences (Studio City, Calif.: Mediascope, 1996). This book gives an excellent review of the use of media ratings around the world.

p. 178 "In a story in the Boston Globe, one mother complained that the wolves in [Beauty and the Beast] had caused her three-year-old daughter to become terrified of dogs": B. F. Meltz, "The Sometimes Terrifying World of Disney," Boston Globe, February 20, 1997, see. F., pp. 1, 5. The woman, Jacquie Sears, who also reported that her daughter started worrying that her parents would die after seeing Bambi, has founded "Mothers Offended by the Media" (MOM), and has been crusading for better movie ratings ever since.

pp. 183-84 "I joined with the National PTA and the Institute for Mental Health Initiatives (IMHI) to do a nationwide survey to find out what parents wanted in a rating system": J. Cantor, S. Stutman, and V. Duran, "What Parents Want in a Television Rating System: Results of a National Survey," report released on Capitol Hill (November 21, 1996), available at http://www.pta.org/ programs/ tvrpttoc.htm.

p. 186 "This spontaneous comment came from a ten-year-old girl who participated in research my colleagues and I conducted for the National Television Violence Study": M. Kremar and J. Cantor, "The Role of Television Advisories and Ratings in Parent-Child Discussion of Television Viewing Choices," Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 41 (1997): 393-411.

p. 187 "My colleagues and I also did some studies to find out how these ratings affect kids who make viewing decisions in the absence of their parents": J. Cantor, K. S. Harrison, and A. Nathanson, "Ratings and Advisories for Television Programming," in National Television Violence Study, vol. 2, ed. by Center for Communication and Social Policy, University of California, Santa Barbara (Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications, 1997): 267-322.

p. 189 "Jack Valenti had warned critics that he'd see them in court 'in a nanosecond' if they tried to force any changes": G. Browning, "No Oscar for Jack," National Journal (August 23, 1997): 1688-91.

Chapter 11: Taming the Resident Monster

p. 195 "Many studies show that viewing more than one or two hours of television a day interferes with a child's other activities": For an interesting review of the literature on this topic, see T. M. MacBeth, "Indirect Effects of Television: Creativity, Persistence, School Achievement, and Participation in Other Activities," in Tuning in to Young Viewers: Social Science Perspectives on Television, ed. by T. M. MacBeth (Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications, 1996): 149-219.

p. 196 "Our research on TV ratings and advisories showed that children whose parents watch TV with them and discuss it with them are less likely to choose restricted content when their parents are not around": These results come from the National Television Violence Study. J. Cantor and K. S. Harrison, "Ratings and Advisories for Television Programming," in National Television Violence Study, vol. 1 (Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications, 1996): 361-410; J. Cantor, K. S. Harrison, and A. I. Nathanson, "Ratings and Advisories for Television Programming," in National Television Violence Study, vol. 2, ed. by Center for Communication and Social Policy, University of California, Santa Barbara (Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications, 1997): 267-322.

p. 197 "Research also shows that many parents are concerned about their children's exposure to sexual dialogue, sexual situations, and coarse language, and that parents differ in terms of how strongly they worry about the effects of different types of content": See the parent survey I did with the National PTA and IMHI: J. Cantor, S. Stutman, and V. Duran, "What Parents Want in a Television Rating System: Results of a National Survey," report released on Capitol Hill (November 21, 1996), available at http://www.pta.org/programs/tvrpttoc.htm.
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