GROWING PAINS: Horror Films Ought To Scare Parents More

I was cornered on the metro this morning reading Argumenty i Fakty newspaper when I came across an article close to my heart about horror films on television here and how they affect children. This was particularly pertinent since I was on my way to a video-swap coffee morning where we foreign moms exchange our Disney and Spice Girls tapes - anything to prevent the children innocently turning on Russian television of an evening.

According to the psychologists whom the paper called forth from various erudite and unpronounceable institutions, we citizens of modern- day Moscow just don't have enough nasty things happening to us, so we seek them out on the box. To quote: "Man needs a certain 'dose of terror' so much so that when he doesn't get enough of it, he has to 'inject himself' with a huge amount of blood and murder."

Uh, well, speak for yourselves, guys. Personally, I sometimes feel that Muscovites get a weekly dose of terror that would last your average European a lifetime. But whether we want it or not, horror movies are a Russian fact of life.

What bothers me is that Russian children - including my 11-year-old Sasha's school friends - watch them. As far as I'm concerned, adults can scare themselves witless if they so wish, but children should be protected from the sight of people screaming in agony as they are chopped into little bits - which is what Sasha was watching on television when she had a sleep-over with a classmate the other week. She said she felt so nauseous that she left the room and went to bed. But her pal Anna stayed up until 1 in the morning, glued to the set while mom and dad were snoring away in their room.

At our Halloween party, Sasha's friends shunned my bobbing-for-apples games, preferring instead to sit around a candle and talk about the scariest movies they'd seen. The other kids were mostly heavy into the Freddy Krueger series, while the less trendy enjoyed "Friday the 13th." All that my extremely untrendy Sasha could offer was "Roger Rabbit" and a documentary about how crocodiles in Florida occasionally snap up humans (a National Geographic flick). But as she later commented, it's "gross" watching humans killing humans because at least animals kill to eat.

So why do parents let their kids watch X-rated horror movies? Perhaps because they think if it's on television it must be okay, or because they read Argumenty i Fakty. The psychologists here point out that children cannot separate reality from fantasy on the screen and consequently suffer from neuroses, bed-wetting and nightmares after watching horror movies. And their all-too-natural conclusion? Let your kiddies watch these movies, "but only very rarely and when snuggled up close to mummy or daddy."