When Is a Child Old Enough to Learn Movie-Theater Etiquette?

Anyone who goes to see an animated kids’ film -- especially at a daylight showing -- and expects absolute silence from his fellow moviegoers is dreaming. Much of the audience for these films won’t even be potty-trained; you’ve got to give them some leeway. Still there must be a time when parents start explaining to kids that certain behaviors may be acceptable while watching a DVD at home, but don't make people happy if they occur in a crowded theater.

I think there are different ages for different rules of conduct, but you don’t need to wait long to start with the basics. First-graders shouldn't be wandering the aisles. If a child is old enough to sit at a desk for several hours a day in school, he or she should be old enough to sit in a cushioned theater seat for 87 minutes, until the crime-fighting gerbils have finally stopped singing. And while I have no illusions about kindergarteners following the “no talking” rule, they should be old enough to at least whisper their plot-related questions to mom and dad. If they’ve already got the concept of “inside voice” and “outside voice,” why not add one more: “super-inside voice.”

It’s important that we start early with these etiquette lessons. I’ve seen fifth-graders having popcorn fights in the middle of a film, middle-schoolers kicking the backs of other people’s seats, and of course, full-grown adults who use their outside voice to ask a neighbor, “Wait a minute, is that white fox a boy or a girl?” It is up to us, as parents, to put an end to the cycle and teach our children how to behave in movie theaters. Otherwise we’re dooming the world to yet another generation of view-blocking, drink-spilling, loud-talking, spoiler-blabbing audience members.

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