Does your movie theatre etiquette deserve an R rating?

I am at a stage in my life where I attend a lot of kids’ movies.  My kids are old enough to sit through a movie without getting restless but still too young to go on their own so I spend many Saturday and Sunday afternoons in theatres with other parents and their offspring.  Once in a while, if the filmmakers have inserted some smart adult in-jokes, it’s enjoyable (Megamind).  More often, the humour appeals only to the kindergarten crowd and I’m just passing the time (Mr. Popper’s Penguins) and sometimes, the offerings are so dull, even the kids are bored (Legend of the Guardians).

I learned early on that movie theatre etiquette, already struggling to survive in adult-themed movies, is almost non-existent at screenings of kids’ movies.

Some relaxing of the rules is to be expected.  By their nature, kids are louder, clumsier and messier than most adults and they are still learning the rules of appropriate social behaviour, (presuming their parents are bothering to teach them at all).  They rustle candy wrappers incessantly, loudly guzzle drinks and chew popcorn and, need to get up and visit the facilities more often than their adult counterparts.  And their childlike innocence and sense of wonder is on full view when they exclaim out loud that the anthropomorphic car is in trouble or the princess needs to run away.  I don’t have a problem with any of this.

I have however, noticed a disturbing trend taking shape at these screenings and it has to do with the chaparones.  Some of the adults at kids’ movies seem to think that since they’re not there to see a movie of their choice, they are allowed to behave in ways they would never dare if they were out to see an adult movie.  At a recent screening of CARS 2, I was seated next to a woman and her daughter of about five. She yapped loudly on her cell phone right through the credits and once the movie started, pulled out a paperback novel and used the light from the device to illuminate the pages.  As anyone who has ever sat next to a movie theatre texter knows, this is extremely annoying.  After about ten minutes, I attempted to initiate a polite conversation. Here’s how it went:

Me: Excuse me, would you mind turning off your cell phone?
Rude mom: I beg your pardon? (delivered in a snarky tone)
Me: Could you please turn off your cell phone?  I”m finding the light very distracting.
Rude mom: I can’t believe you would even notice it.  Why don’t you mind your own business?
Me: It’s hard not to notice when you’re sitting right next to me
Rude mom: If you can see the light from my cell phone then you’re focussing too much on me.  There’s no way you should be able to notice this.

Despite her rudeness, I must have gotten through to her on some level because 15 minutes later, she turned it off and took to holding the book up at an angle that would reflect the light from the movie screen and craned her neck so she could read it that way.  Nevertheless, I spent the rest of the movie with my head firmly facing front, lest she accuse me of “focussing on her too much” again.  There was an incident later on where her daughter repeatedly kicked the head of the man in front of her and when he complained about it, he was treated with the same disdain but I won’t get into it here.

As someone who believes in civility, it’s not uncommon for me to politely ask someone to refrain from rude behaviour in public.  And, since I’m often rebuffed, ignored or told to go do something anatomically impossible, I have developed a thick skin around it.  What makes this situation disturbing is the poor example parents like this are setting for their children.  This woman’s daughter heard the whole conversation and at a young age, might conclude that her mother’s behaviour is appropriate, that there is no need to respond to polite requests in kind, and that it’s okay to go through life doing whatever she wants, regardless of its impact on others.

So, is it realistic to expect silence during a screening of a children’s movie?  No, of course not.  But, when you take your child out into public, it behooves you to behave like an adult and set a good example.

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