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Measuring the fear barometer: Is Halloween fun actually too much for your kids?

Published: Thursday, Oct. 3 2013 4:35 p.m. MDT

"The Haunted Mansion"

Disney

Something wicked this way comes — this time right into your living room.

Mother of five Staci Packer, a resident of Leavenworth, Kan., doesn't let kids watch any Halloween movies because it's too much for them to handle.

"My kids are afraid of all scary things," Packer said. "The voodoo man in 'Princess and the Frog' is too scary so we don't watch any (Halloween) shows. All of them would be too scary."

Packer said it is especially difficult because her oldest, James, is autistic and has a hard time differentiating between reality and fiction.

"Halloween is super hard for him," she said.

For many, Halloween is supposed to be scary. But do parents stop to consider their children's sensitivities? Judging the fear barometer can sometimes be tricky when Halloween images — even seemingly age-appropriate ones — are everywhere.

According to a 2005 study by Cindy Dell Clark, associate professor of human development and family studies at Penn State's Delaware County Campus, Halloween may be a double standard.

"Halloween entails symbol and practices that run counter to condoned social frameworks in ordinary American families," according to Clark's study, "Tricks of Festival: Halloween, Children and Enculturation." "Motifs of evil — witches, monsters, vampires, ghouls — are interwoven with taboo emblems of death — ghosts, skeletons, mummies, graveyards, coffins — and staged hauntings in which good and evil, death and life intersect."

And while culturally, Halloween is an acceptable time to turn death and fear into a themed party, Clark suggests that by doing so, parents may be introducing children to the very content they normally try to regulate.

"Adults who would not take a 6- or 7-year-old to a funeral … or would not take a tot to a movie with decadent violent themes, on Halloween decorated home, yard and community with deadly icons, (which are) deemed to be 'fun' in the turnabout of festival."

Popular movie web site IMDb's list of 15 family-friendly Halloween movies is filled with themes of death, witches, the afterlife and returning from the grave.

"Hocus Pocus," the first movie on the list, is rated PG for scary sequences and language. Common Sense Media gives an age recommendation of 11. The family media website says the film features a plot to suck the life force out of children, as well as other content that may cause concern with one caveat.

"Main features of the story are a book bound in human skin and a candle made from the fat of a hanged man. A tale is told about the Devil, and there are various gross-out moments. But it's important to note that all of the above is done in the playful, spooky spirit of Halloween," according to the website.

Also on IMDb's list are "The Witches," "The Addams' Family," "Casper," "Ghostbusters," "The Nightmare Before Christmas," "Gremlins," "The Haunted Mansion" and "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown."

But whether your family's movie night features a crew of Ghostbusters protecting New York City, or a house haunted by three trouble-making ghosts, Salt Lake City-based psychologist Steven Chen said he thinks parents should use discretion when viewing Halloween films with young children.

"The movie grades we have do give some indications. Movies that are rated PG — well that means parental guidance suggested. Movies rated PG-13 suggests parental guidance under 13," Chen said. "I think it would do well for parents to very carefully consider what those ratings are and evaluate them using their value system."

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