Strategies for Taming The Media Beast


How TV and Movies Frighten Children And What We Can Do to Protect Them

By Joanne Cantor

Harcourt Brace

320 pp., $25

As a parent, how can I know if the latest G-rated movie is really appropriate for my six-year-old? Will she love it, or will she have fears afterward about evil queens or vicious wolf attacks?

I often ask around the neighborhood first. The prevailing view - at least among moms at the school bus stop - is that most of what is marketed toward children is too violent and too frightening for them.

At last, someone is taking this "fear factor" seriously. After 15 years of research, Joanne Cantor has concluded that TV programs and movies are the No. 1 preventable cause of fears and anxieties in children. Her book, "Mommy, I'm Scared," sends up warning flares about what types of visual images scare kids the most - from a two-year-old's fear of fantastical character transformations to a 12-year-old's fear of stories with child victims.

With convincing analysis, Cantor debunks the notion that "a good scare never hurt anyone." Portrayals of violence and personal injury (enhanced by all manner of sound effects) are linked to long-term problems such as sleep difficulties, aversions to certain animals, and fear of swimming or of being alone in certain areas of the house, she states. The nightly news is also not safe territory.

Cantor is not out to ban "Snow White" or promote censorship, she says. But she does prescribe common-sense advice for wise family viewing, as well as thoughtful tips on how to reassure frightened children of differing ages. Her book includes a candid and detailed discussion of the TV and motion-picture ratings systems, which she says fall short of being truly useful to parents.

Alerted to the dangers Cantor exposes, parents can more easily form their own strategies for taming the media beast.

* Laura Van Tuyl Clayton is a former Monitor writer.

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