Australian Council on Children and the Media

Editorial: Fear in front of the screen April 3, 2020


A newly published book adds support to the importance of the work that ACCM has been doing in providing parents with access to information about the age-appropriateness  of movies for their children.  ACCM believes it’s even more important,  at this time, to emphasise the need for parents to have and to use this information.  ( See story page 1)  

ACCM has long been concerned about the short and long term impacts of scary material on the child viewer.   Reliable research  has been telling us for years that exposure to horror themes and images and to graphic violence, can increase the risks that children will develop sleep disturbances, and  ongoing and unnecessary fears and anxieties.  US Emeritus Professor Joanne Cantor has published in this field for many years, and been the source of much wisdom. ( See Ref below)  

Now, a newly published book by Maya Gotz, Dafna Lemish and Andrea Holler, adds new perspectives to these issues.    Fear in front of the screen: children’s fears, nightmares and thrills from TV (2019) London, Roman and Littlefield.  

The publishers say:

Experiencing fear in front of the screen is a common phenomenon in childhood, and a focus of public concern. Yet, research has encountered ethical and methodological challenges and has focused largely on the effects of watching disturbing news. In this innovative book, this universal experience is investigated in depth via two complementary studies:
1) a retrospective study of experiences related by 626 undergraduate students from eight countries; and 2) a study of the current nightmares induced by watching television of 510 children in five countries.
The results presented in this book highlight the most common elements of fear in front of the screen more generally, followed by a focused analysis of the unique features of fear that characterize different developmental stages: pre-school, middle childhood, pre-teens and teenagers. … Finally, the book offers implications for media producers and policy makers as well as for parents and educators.

The authors conclude their book urging readers “to consider the 3 Cs involved in children’s media engagement: the characteristics of the child (age, ability) of the content (age-appropriate content, horror, gory scenes) and the child’s context (family mediation, cultural background).” They say “Fear in front of the screen is a universal phenomenon that should be kept in mind by all who care for the wellbeing of children, and wish for their media experiences to be enriching, satisfying , and entertaining, but  not traumatizing”

The latter is an important objective for the Australian government to hold as it reviews its options for the National Classification Scheme.  

 

References:

Cantor, Joanne (2003) “Media and fear in children and adolescents” in D A gentile (Ed) Media violence and children : a complete guide for parents and professionals (pp 185-203) Westport and London, Praeger.