Stop letting your kids watch horror films

Trying to navigate what films and games your child consume can be difficult. But R18 means R18, says Emily Writes, who calls on other parents to monitor what their kids are watching – for the sake of all children.

When our son was two, we took him to an AC/DC concert. It was outside, at The Cake Tin, and he had special ear protectors on. When the show started, a video of a meteor hurtling to earth was shown. My son froze, I froze, my husband froze. We knew the footage would be scary to a child – they don’t know what is real and what isn’t. But as the clip ended and AC/DC launched into ‘Thunderstruck’ or ‘Back in Black’ or whatever it was our son began head-banging away.

He was having a fantastic time, but a few songs in we decided to take him home. Despite being surrounded by families, there were a lot of drunk people around.

Afterward we agreed it wasn’t our finest parenting hour.

Our son had loved it, and talked about it for another year at least, but that didn’t change how we felt. It was not the most responsible parenting on our part. Sure, nothing bad had happened, but we realised our choice to take him had been about us, not him. We wanted him to like AC/DC and we wanted him to enjoy the concert. We were just lucky he did.

A few years later, our favourite band Iron Maiden, the band we named our boy after, came to Auckland. We were sent tickets for Eddie to meet his namesake. He was desperately excited. He made a poster saying “I Love Big Eddie”. We drove to Auckland and saw the Iron Maiden plane “Ed Force One” and we went to Vector Arena with Eddie to see the show. Eddie wore his little leather jacket with Iron Maiden patches on it, and his black jeans, and his Iron Maiden t-shirt. Everywhere he went he pulled the horns at other Iron Maiden fans and got hi-fives from other Maiden kids and families. It was beautiful.

We felt so proud and happy – our little bogan family!

We sat down in our amazing front row seats, seats we would never have been able to get, and prepared to see our absolute favourite band. There was a short video of “Big Eddie” smashing a plane and then flames and the band.

It was loud. It was amazing. It was absolutely terrifying for a four-year-old. We left within two songs, heartbroken.

In the car Eddie perked up and asked for us to play Katy Perry’s awful song ‘Roar’. “Sing it Dad!” he yelled into the front. My husband mumbled the words as enthusiastically as he could, given that we had been mere metres from our heroes and had to give it up.

But we learned a valuable lesson. One we thought we had learned earlier, but clearly hadn’t sunk in.

Sometimes what you think your kid wants, or enjoys, is more about what you as a parent want and enjoy. We wanted to see Iron Maiden, so worries about whether or not our son might be scared of the imagery were brushed away. We thought ‘we play it at home, he’s seen some age appropriate videos, he’ll love it’.

We were wrong.

I’m saying this because I want to let you know that it’s OK that we are wrong as parents sometimes. And it’s not too late to admit you made the wrong choice and change things.

I try my very best not to be prescriptive with my fellow parents, given that we all make mistakes and all have different circumstances and situations. But I feel really strongly about this, so I feel I have to go beyond the “you do you” mantra. So, deep breath, here it is:

Parents have just got to stop showing their young kids horror movies and letting them play scary games.

You just have to stop it.

Having your six-year-old watch Saw with you, or Alien, or It? That is not responsible parenting. Your child cannot process it (no matter how advanced you think they are, they’re not – they cannot process it, it’s that simple.) It’s unfair to put that pressure on them to watch something that they actually, in their heart, don’t want to watch, just because you want to watch it.

It’s also unfair on other children because your child then brings that violent imagery and misogynistic and violent language to school. Where all the other children are. And all these kids have parents who are trying their best to navigate what media is safe for their kids and what isn’t.

A few weeks ago my son stopped being able to go to sleep easily at night. He needed a night light. He needed me to lie with him, sometimes for up to two hours, as he jumped at every noise. He became afraid to go to the toilet at night. He stopped walking the dog because he’d have to walk past sewer drains. Eventually, things got so bad his dad started sleeping next to him to calm him when he woke screaming. School drop offs became a nightmare.

Finally, he told another parent what his recurring nightmare was. He said he couldn’t tell me, because he didn’t want to upset me.

He had dreamed that he was being made to cut me, his mum, up.

When we asked him he began sobbing. “I don’t want to cut you!” he said.

We explained to him that his brain wasn’t making him think that, that there wasn’t something wrong with him, that it wasn’t his fault. We eventually got some more info out of him – it was about some confusing character called a Jigsaw man.

We googled it.

It’s from a movie called Saw.

A character forces someone to cut up their parent. Why any adult is watching this is confusing to me, but why they would put it on for their child to watch is just astonishing to me. Maybe an older child was watching it? Maybe it was a babysitter? I don’t know.

All I know is a child saw a film he should never have ever seen. And now my child is dealing with that fear. And it is spreading among the other kids. And we as a family are exhausted from lack of sleep, trying to navigate through some other parent’s decision to allow them to let a six-year-old see an R18 film.

There’s nothing schools and teachers can do about this. Nothing parents can do to stop other parents letting their kids see these films, or not adequately supervising them so that they know older siblings aren’t showing them these films.

We can all only say this: it has consequences.

You’re stealing childhoods, both my child’s and yours. You’re making other children afraid of your child because they scare them. You’re making my child not want to go to school. Children should not be laying in bed thinking about the horrors introduced to them by their parents or the parents of other children.

We all make mistakes. We all think sometimes our children can handle things that they can’t. It’s OK to make a mistake as long as you make sure you learn from it.

Put your ego to the side and say, My kid comes before my interests. Watch horror films with them when they’re 18.

I’ll be taking my kids to concerts when they’re older and know what they’re getting into.

Until then, it’s our job to protect not just our kids, but other kids.

We are the adults. We will of course make mistakes. But it’s never too late to grow up.

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