A few weeks ago I received the following question from a parent:
A good friend of mine allows her children to view scary movies and images. For example, she will allow her toddler to watch the Michael Jackson video “Thriller.” He will watch it over and over. I feel this is child abuse. I really don’t want her children around mine. Her other son will talk about how a boy's legs were cut of from going down the slide at the park. I know I show tell her how I feel. I’ve read a research paper you wrote on the subject. I feel she can entertain her children with these images, like a babysitter. (I have a few theories of my own)
Any feedback would be appreciated.
Here's how I answered:
Thanks for writing!
I agree that showing scary movies and images to children can be extremely harmful. Some kids become anxious and have trouble sleeping; others may become more violent, more accepting of violence, or less empathic. A toddler is definitely too young to put these images in perspective -- my research is full of reports of children who were traumatized by viewing "Thriller" at a young age.
Some children are less sensitive than others, but you are right to be concerned about the home environment of your children's friends. You certainly should be wary that if your children visit their house, they are likely to be exposed to images that could be potentially traumatizing.
I know that there are parents who think the concern about media violence is overblown. Often these are parents who love to watch violence themselves and might see any information about harm as a criticism of them.
Aside from not wanting your children to be exposed to your friend's choice of media, you probably also want your children to hang around with kids like them, who are sensitive and empathic and not overly attracted to violence. So you certainly are not overreacting if you want your children to play with kids whose values are more like yours.
If, as you say, this person is a good friend of yours, you might want to bring up the issue gently, perhaps with some information and data to back you up (there are things on my web site that might be helpful (e.g.,, http://www.joannecantor.com/longtermfright.html). But be prepared for your friend to be defensive. She may never agree with you, but at least she will understand the basis of your decisions.
Whatever you do about your friend, keep being a wise steward of your child's media use. Your child's physical and mental health will surely benefit.