A new study from University of Sussex psychologists says that the impact of scary television on the wellbeing of children has been grossly overstated. The research did show that a small minority of children did have extreme reactions to the scary film or program, but overall the children showed very little reaction in terms of anxiety, fear, sleep problems or sadness. The author of the study does not discount the children who did show anxiety from the scary shows, because that is still present on some level, and this is what becomes the intriguing part for further investigation.
Laura Pearce, a University of Sussex research student and and Andy Field, a professor of Child Psychopathology at the University of Sussex, ended up reviewing all of the research on this topic for the past 25 years. The findings of the study and the final report were published in the journal Human Communication Research, and the suggestion was that children are resilient to scary things that might show up on television and film. Children in the United Kingdom between ages 4 and 9 end up watching 17 hours and 34 minutes of television each week, and children between ages 10 to 15 watch 16 hours and 31 minutes. Professor Field noted that the scary television did have an impact on the wellbeing of the children, but it was so low that it did not affect the children very much.
Fear and anxiety of among children and teenagers is on the rise though, but this has been a trend on the rise for many years. The children from the 1980s reported higher levels of anxiety than the children from the 1950s, and this is something that has been going on ever since then, so it is more of a cultural thing more than anything. Research needs to be done into why certain children are being severely impacted by the content they see on television or in the media. There are theories that anxious or already introverted children are more susceptible to the scary content on television. Rather than assuming that all of the scary content on television is bad for all children, studies need to find out why some children are impacted while others are not. Some children end up worrying about information they see on the news, which then ends up causing psychological stress or phobias. This research is suggesting that if we can find out why certain children are impacted more than others, then we can give parents better information on how to help their children.
The interesting part is that most guidelines on television focus on violence, but there is actually a lot of other content that can be considered scary that is not violent. It would be difficult however to put more guidelines into place concerning the television because this study shows that certain children with certain backgrounds might be more impacted than others, which means that a blanket rule for guidelines will not stop specific types of children from being scared or worried over things they see on television. The authors of the study suggest that the best way to deal with this study is to look into why the children are scared and then trace that back to possibly an undiagnosed mental condition or anxiety disorder that will eventually show up later in life through other activities as well. As for now, the best advice is to watch what your kids are watching, and then if they show signs of anxiety from various shows, just don’t let them watch it.