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When my niece was young, she would cry while watching sad bits of a cartoon. Maybe the princess was in danger or something, and she would get emotional and empathize deeply enough to shed tears. I always thought this was odd or too serious a reaction to what she was watching.

Now that she is a balanced, nearly-16-year-old, I know it was all right. But I'm just curious, do other children get emotional while watching cartoons?

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It is certainly not unusual. Have you never watched a movie or show and shed a tear? Did Bambi's mother dying (sorry for the spoiler!) not bring a tear to your eye? Developing empathy is an important part of growing up, and while television might not be very good for children overall, it is one thing they can pick up from well-written shows.

Children don't have the depth of experience we do as adults, and when they see a character they identify with or care about in apparently mortal danger, it frightens them. Adults know that a) this is only a show and b) the princess will probably be fine, because we've seen this kind of thing a thousand times already. Children haven't; and they don't have quite the ability to distinguish reality from fantasy that we do.

I've seen different ages for when that develops, but around four years old, as found in this study, seems about right to me. When they fully develop this sense, then stories become less scary, and less emotionally charged; this study on nighttime fears found that younger children tended to have worse fears when they were worse at differentiating fantasy from reality, and that the younger the child, the lower that ability was.

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  • Thank you but I still can't tell if it is a common reaction for children to cry watching cartoons. I don't know any of my friend's kids that cry watching cartoons. – auntycee Oct 3 at 14:20
  • @auntycee According to Joe's answer, its normal. If it normal, its probably common. Are you looking for a poll of sorts, where members of the community say if they have or have not witnessed kids doing this? – learner101 Oct 5 at 12:05
  • @learner101 thanks, I've kind of come to that conclusion too. I was hoping for a personal story or two. But it's okay. Thanks again. – auntycee Oct 6 at 16:25
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At one point in my childhood (age 9 or so) I would cry at any remotely sad film, including Tom and Jerry.

Joe's point about unreality is valid, in that knowing it's only a story can remove the element of fear. However, watching a character being mean to another character still reminds me that there are real-life examples of similar meanness happening all the time. I suppose it also reminds me of upsetting experiences that I have had in the past.

I know plenty of other people (children and adults) who can be moved to tears by a film. I believe it is a continuum: very few people are totally emotionally unaffected by sad stories, most people are slightly affected, a few people are ridiculously over-affected.

To function in society, I learned a few strategies:

  1. control the tears so that companions are not aware of my feelings
  2. divert my thoughts quickly to something else rather than dwelling on them
  3. avoid films that are gratuitously horrible

I still fail to understand why anyone would choose to watch horror movies. If it is scary enough to cause fear, then why would you want to experience that? If it is not actually being scary, then it has failed and what was the point?

Other than that, I'm doing OK, and I'm sure you don't need to worry about your niece.

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