Our family loves going to the movies! As parents of a teenager, we are enjoying the fact that he is old enough to come with us to most of the movies we want to see. Unfortunately, it wasn’t always like this. When he was little, we had to think about meals, potty breaks, appropriate movie content, etc — it was quite the undertaking. There were times when we just opted to wait for video. Regardless, we did venture out to the theater often and here are some methods and resources that helped us in our three main areas of concern: the movie’s content, our child’s behavior, and the venue.
Trailers are often a hit or miss when it comes to knowing what the movie is really like. Even rating systems are not 100% reliable. When it comes down to it, we parents are the best judges for our individual kid’s needs. Some kids can handle questionable content, while other children are sensitive to things the rating systems may not even consider.
Case in point: we took our son to see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. He was young, but we felt it would be within his individual content level. He did great, until one scene started with the camera scanning a mountainside and focusing on my son’s mortal enemy: the cactus. This was the only quiet part of the whole movie, and my son yelled, “CACTUS!” He was sure someone would be severely wounded if they walked within 10 feet of the plant. Unfortunately, there weren’t any rating systems that warned us about cactus content.
There are several websites you can check for general movie content and ratings before heading to the theater. We’ve had the best luck with the following two sites, which are good at presenting the facts and letting you decide what is best for your family based on your own priorities:
- IMDB (internet movie database) is a very detailed resource for any movie, new or old. When you look up a movie title, scroll down to the “Storyline” section and look for “Parent’s Guide.” There is a link to view the content advisory for that movie. It will provide details about the following categories: sex and nudity, violence and gore, profanity, substances (alcohol, drugs, smoking), and frightening or intense scenes. If they don’t have a parent guide for that particular movie, they should still provide a general story line.
- Common Sense Media is another great resource, especially for younger children. You can search for movies, TV shows, games, books, apps, websites, and music. Everything is rated based on several categories, and you can read a rundown of the content premise.
Some kids do fine with sitting still and remembering all of the rules, but others struggle – especially when there’s a huge screen with an exciting movie playing. Our son did pretty well, but we definitely had to work on some appropriate behaviors. When he was little, he struggled with forgetting to whisper and kicking the seats. We found the best way to address these issues was to talk about it beforehand in the car. We would practice whispering and we would talk about keeping our feet still.
We also had to address how to ask questions during a movie. We would do our best to preempt the need for questions by talking about the general movie premise ahead of time, but he almost always had questions. We did not want to squash his curiosity, so we worked on establishing an understanding:
you can whisper a question, but if you don’t understand our answer during the movie, Mom and Dad will talk to you in more detail after the movie – we promise!
Practicing ahead of time seemed to help the most. You can take this as far as you want – even to the point of having a theater night at your house with seats, low lights, and popcorn. If you can, look for a movie where the characters in the movie go to a theater. This can be a good opportunity to discuss how the characters behaved at the movie (after it’s over and the lights are back up, of course).
Another issue that many parents face is the dreaded mid-movie potty break. Your child starts bouncing up and down in their seat, and you wonder if they’re going to make it to the end or if you need to start the biggest fight of your life. Asking my son to leave during a movie was akin to asking if I could amputate his leg. I wish I had known about the potty break app for your phone. RunPee tells you the best spots in a movie to take a quick potty break without missing anything important. You can even set it to vibrate when those times are coming up. I think it still would have been difficult to get my son to leave, but I’d like to think that we could have worked with the app ahead of time, letting him see the timer and know that we were only missing a small, “boring” part of the movie.
If you are struggling at the theater on a regular basis, consider looking at different venues. Not all theaters are created equal, and you may find one that you and your kids like better. I wish we had some of the theater set-ups from today back when our son was little. Some have seats that are far enough away that his swinging legs wouldn’t have been an issue. Some theaters even host kid-friendly movies showings. You can look up your nearby theaters online or call them to see if they offer any family or kid friendly events. Here are a few special resources in Denver:
- Alamo Drafthouse has “Baby Day.” Every movie showing before 2:05 pm on Tuesdays and Wednesdays will cater to families with babies. The lights are a little brighter, sounds are a little softer, and infants are admitted free of charge. Alamo Drafthouse also lets you pick your seats ahead of time, and you can order complete meals or snacks. *Please note that holidays and special festival screenings are not included.
- AMC Theaters have sensory-friendly film showings specifically honoring families with autistic children. Lights are brighter, sounds are softer, and the audience is invited to dance, walk, or talk if they want. Basically, normal movie manners are excused and everyone is welcome.
- Regal Theaters offer special $1 screenings of previously released movies during the summer. While the theater doesn’t specifically list any exceptions, I can tell you from experience that there are several kids at the theater, and everyone is more relaxed about kids doing kid things at these showings.