Child Development, Horror Movies Effects, and Causes of ADHD Symptoms

Child development is affected by the movies he or she regularly watches.

Child development is affected by the movies a child regularly watches.

“I can’t stop thinking about that movie.” 2nd grade girl in a Newark, NJ classroom, about movie “Child’s Play” (or related movies, horror movies featuring sadistic child figure “Chucky”). Why can’t Rosalie* concentrate in class today? Her mind is not on her school work, but she is thinking about the horror fantasy that she watched in her home on cable television. She exhibits some ADHD symptoms including inattention.

In the same public school in Newark, approximately 65% of 2nd graders in one typical classroom watched violent R-rated movies without parental supervision or guidance on cable TV movie channels at home. Some of the children watched such films with their older siblings, others had open access to cable movies without restrictions. A common comment of teachers in the public schools, with increasing emphasis on teacher accountability for student performance in class, is that parents are the first line of accountability for a child or teen student’s academic achievement of failure. Teachers do  play a role in child development; however, parents play an even greater role. Teachers do share part of the responsibility for a student’s success, but parents also need to take full responsibility for their child’s academics as well. That would include setting appropriate limits at home on the type of movies their children watch, both in the movie theater and on cable and satellite television.

Movies are powerful mediums of communication; the ideas and images presented to children and teens in the movies often linger in the child’s mind long after the movie is over. Movies affect child development; elements of film and television easily processed by adults are not so easily processed by the minds of children. A group of 10-year-old boys in a Newark classroom were thinking with concern about sexual innuendos in the newest Sponge Bob movie, as well as the sexual orientation of the main characters, a preoccupation on their minds in class that they were having a difficult time processing, as another example. Sponge Bob cartoons for school children are fast-paced with a sometimes powerful fantasy with “fantastic” out-of-this world events laced with cartoon violence; it can overwhelm a child’s mind and contribute to lack of focus and other ADHD symptoms in children. And clinical studies do indicate that cartoons such as Sponge Bob impact symptoms associated with ADHD in children.

A child’s inability to concentrate in class can’t be simply written off to a disorder such as ADHD, which in many cases can be used merely as a label. Parents and professionals need to closely consider causes of ADHD symptoms. When behavioral modifications are made and when positive non-pharmaceutical interventions are implemented, the disorder may go into retreat for a significant percentage of children.

Questions such as “Why is a 2nd grade school child not concentrating in class? What movies and what music is the child regularly watching or listening to? What cartoons does the child watch and for how long daily?” need to be asked by parents and professionals, including pediatricians and primary care doctors. Are parents following the guidelines established by such organizations as the American Academy of Pediatrics which encourages limiting television to children over two-years-old to one hour per day of “quality programming”, or do they indulge children with hours of fast-paced cartoons and movies daily?

Children's ADHD symptoms can be positively affected and a child's mind can be trained to focus through art. Image: Stuart Miles /

Children’s ADHD symptoms can be positively affected and a child’s mind can be trained to focus through art. Image: Stuart Miles /

Consider indulging a child in art lessons instead. Children often prefer creating art to watching movies and television if given the choice in the classroom. The same can be said for a child at home. One hour with crayons and a coloring book is time well spent for a child in terms of developing powers of focus. Lack of focus is one of the core symptoms of ADHD. Not all children are wired the same, some have more resilience than others, some are more impressionable, so blanket statements as to causes of ADHD symptoms cannot be made. However, parents who carefully direct their children’s activities in a positive way, shielding them from potential negative influences, will be more successful on numerous fronts. See Overcoming ADHD Without Medication for documentation of the above references.

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