"You can mess with a lot of things, but you can't mess with kids on Christmas." There are many memorable one-liners from the Home Alone movies, which rank high on my list of favorite Christmas comedies. Directed by John Hughes, the original hit 1990 film revolves around a young boy mistakenly left at home when his family flies to Paris for Christmas — and a mother's desperate journey to get back to him. Themes of family, love, and forgiveness abound, but there's also a fair amount of scary situations when a pair of crooks (however inept they might be) start breaking into houses in the neighborhood. Which begs the question, is Home Alone too scary for kids? As with a lot of entertainment, determining if your child is ready to experience it really comes down to their age, emotional maturity, and how well they can determine what is real and what is not. Let's break it down.
Let me start with a disclaimer: my family and I love these movies. Home Alone was definitely one of those classic films that I loved as a pre-teen, and looked forward to watching together with my own children one day, when the time was right. Last year, at ages 8 and 10, my husband and I decided our daughters were old enough, and I think we made the right decision. While Joe Pesci (Harry) and Daniel Stern (Marv) make very convincing burglars, there are enough funny moments that balance out their menacing behavior. In the role that made him the most famous child actor of the 1990s, Macauley Culkin is adorable as Kevin McCallister, age 8. He's also pretty darn clever as he comes up with a series of booby traps for The Wet Bandits, and those scenes provide some of the funniest moments in the movie, as Kevin's plan to protect his home involves everything from a paint can to the head to stepping barefoot on broken glass ornaments. Now, if your child has any fears about your home being robbed or being left at home alone, this is obviously not the right time for Home Alone. If a spider crawling over Daniel Stern's face would make your child scream with fear, now is, again, not the right time for Home Alone. Asking yourself these types of questions is the first step in determining if your child is old enough for the movie.
While Commonsense Media has ranked Home Alone as appropriate for children ages 10 and older, we obviously thought it was fine for our (at the time) 8-year-old. We know our children can determine what's really scary and what is not, especially because most of those scenes are masked with humor. But again, it's simply knowing your child and what makes them tick, so to speak. When I asked my older child if she thinks kids could be scared of Home Alone, she said, "Definitely. Little kids might have nightmares of being left at home alone or someone trying to break into their house."
Honestly, what I think parents might also need to know about Home Alone happens in the first few scenes of the movie. While adorable, Culkin's Kevin is downright disrespectful to his mother. There is name calling between siblings and a few curse words thrown around as well. I kind of hate how all the children are acting, honestly, so if the parents had decided to leave all their children behind for a couples-only trip to Paris, I can't say I would have blamed them.
My personal opinion is this film is appropriate for ages 8 and above, but again, it comes down to your child's understanding of slapstick comedy (don't repeat the paint can to the head at home, kids) and the fact that movies are simply made up stories on film. In the quiet moments, like Kevin's conversation in the church with his neighbor, Old Man Marley, you'll find the heart of Home Alone is really the importance of love and family. And there's nothing scary about that.