Professor fears children will be haunted by new Harry Potter film

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — The Harry Potter series began with a boy exploring the world of wizards, but the hero is growing up and the latest film may not be so friendly for children, says a Purdue University expert who studies the effects of scary movies.

“Harry Potter and his friends have matured, and so has the intensity in the films,” says Glenn Sparks, professor of communication. “Parents often follow the rule that the older a child is, the safer it is for the child to see the movie. The research shows that this is not a very helpful rule to use. The older a child is, the more likely he or she will realize the possibility that some movie depictions can be discounted as fantasy, but that other realistic horrors can actually happen to people.

Purdue University professor of communications, Glenn Sparks, says parents ought to think very carefully before permitting their preteen children to see the movie.

Purdue University professor of communications, Glenn Sparks, says parents ought to think very carefully before permitting their preteen children to see the movie.

“Yes, this movie is fantasy, but it is portrayed in such a way to appear as reality. Those realistic horrors can prove to be upsetting to older children and even to adults.”

The previous two Harry Potter movies were rated PG-13, but the sixth film, “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” is rated PG. The film opens July 15.

“In the United Kingdom, the film has received a rating of 12A, which means that it is not recommended for children under 12 years old, and any child younger than 12 must be accompanied by an adult to gain entrance to the film,” Sparks says. “Parents ought to think very carefully before permitting their preteen children to see the movie. It also is unusual that a movie in a series would downgrade its rating from PG-13 to PG, especially when the story’s content, including instances of violence and death, continues to escalate.”

Children under the age of 5 really focus on how things look, and this film is expected to have some grotesque and monstrous looking creatures that are likely to scare younger children, Sparks says. The movie also is expected to have real-life threats, such as the threat of drowning and physical violence. Research shows that violence of this sort can be really upsetting for children ages 6-10 because they realize these things are possible in real life, but they aren’t certain how likely they are or how to cope with them if they do happen, he says.

Sleep disturbances are common in children who are scared, and parents should be open to talk with children about what they’ve seen, Sparks says.

“Most parents can appreciate what’s at stake here if they simply recall a TV program or movie that was especially frightening at some point during childhood. Most parents have at least one film that they regret seeing because of the fear they endured.”

Sparks also recommends that parents research films in advance by reading detailed descriptions of their violent content at http://www.kids-in-mind.com/. The Web site also ranks sex, nudity and profanity.

“The site is great because it simply provides information to parents so they can make their own judgments if the material is appropriate for their children,” he says. “It does not editorialize or make suggestions.”

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