CONFRONTING CHILDREN'S FRIGHT RESPONSES TO MASS MEDIA
University of Wisconsin--Madison
Anyone who has grown up in our culture knows that exposure to television shows, films, and other mass media presentations depicting danger, injury, bizarre images, and terror-stricken victims can scare an audience. Most of us seem to be able to remember at least one specific program or movie that terrified us when we were a child and that made us nervous, remained in our thoughts, and affected other aspects of our behavior for some time afterwards. Anecdotal evidence abounds, and, although research interest in this topic has been sporadic over the years, studies published in every decade starting with the 1930s have indicated that transitory fright responses to mass media stimuli are quite typical, and that enduring, and sometimes severe, emotional disturbances occur in a substantial proportion of children ( Cantor, 1991).
The research literature also shows that parents are frequently unaware of their children's fright reactions ( Cantor & Reilly, 1982; Preston, 1941), and that children are widely exposed to televised stimuli that were originally intended for adults and that are typically considered inappropriate for young children ( Meyrowitz, 1985). A study by Sparks ( 1986), for example, reported that almost half of a sample of 4- to 10- year-olds had seen Poltergeist and Jaws, and substantial proportions of the sample had seen