Tips for Taking Children to the Theater
Children and Theatre in the Same Sentence?
I'm sure every parent has been put in a challenging position when taking children to the theater.
Your focus is constantly on them to make sure they are staying in their seats, not playing and making noise, getting up every 10 minutes to go the bathroom, and my favorite, finding that treasured popcorn or leftover candy on the floor and putting it in their mouths! Ahhhh the joy of parenthood!
Theater vs. Theatre
There are two types of theater that require certain etiquette and rules when attending, especially with children. The following tips can be very helpful and should be used for both the movie theater and for live theatre.
The movie theater is considered a cinema house where we all go to watch the current movies and purchase our favorite munchies from the concession stands.
Live theatre is a play or musical that is performed live on a stage in a theatre house, school, convention hall, etc.
Children and Movie Ratings
As parents and teachers, we should always be concerned with what our children are watching on TV, the computer, and at the movies.
CARA (Classification and Rating Administration) is responsible for rating motion pictures that are intended to be distributed commercially to the public in the United States and to provide parents with valuable information regarding the content of those motion pictures.
Every motion picture is assigned a rating along with a description of that rating, by CARA which will help a parent decide which film is appropriate for their child's age.
The following ratings and descriptions are as follows:
- G - General Audiences (All Ages Admitted)
A G-rate motion picture contains nothing in theme, language, nudity, sex, violence, or other matters. The G rating is not a certificate of approval nor does it signify a children's movie.
- PG - Parental Guidance Suggested (Some Material May Not Be Suitable For Children)
Motion pictures with a PG rating should be investigated by parents before they allow their children to attend. There is a chance that a PG rated movie may have elements of profanity as well as depictions of violence and/or brief nudity.
Checking The Movie Ratings
Do you check the ratings and the content of a movie before deciding if it is appropriate for your child to watch it?
- PG-13 - Parents Strongly Cautioned (Some Material May Be Inappropriate For Children Under 13)
A PG-13 rating is a sterner rating issued by CARA to enable parents to determine whether or not they should allow their children under the age of 13 to view a movie that may have material that may not be suitable for them. A PG-13 rating goes beyond a PG rating where the language can be stronger, more sensuality, violence, and the nudity is more than brief, yet not quite an R rating. Any drug use in a motion picture will require at least a PG-13 rating.
- R - Restricted (Children Under 17 Require Accompanying Parent or Legal Guardian)
According to CARA, an R rated motion picture will contain more adult material. It may contain adult themes and activity, intense and persistent violence, strong language, sexually-oriented nudity, drug abuse and other elements. Therefore, it is strongly urged that parents do research on an R rated film before bringing children to that movie.
- NC-17 (No One 17 and Under Admitted)
Exactly what it says and means: NO ONE 17 AND UNDER ADMITTED! According to CARA, an NC-17 rating signifies that the content is appropriate only for adults because of the content. AN NC-17 rating can be based on sex, violence, aberrational behavior, drug abuse, Hard language, and any other elements that parents would consider too strong for their children.
Children and Theater Etiquette: with an "ER"
When bringing small children to the movie theater, it's very important to understand that small children have a very short attention span. Some of the most popular and familiar challenges you may face are the following:
"Mommy, I gotta go potty!"
If your child has the tendency to want to "go potty" every ten minutes, choose seats near the back of the theater and on the end if possible. This way, the other theater patrons will not be disturbed.
"Mommy, I'm Hungry!"
Ahhhh, the infamous sound of the "cry for food!" You can avoid this most of the time by having the appropriate munchies ready for your children. Give it to them in limitations so they last throughout the movie. In addition, instead of giving your child soda or a high sugar drink, give them water or a mild low-sugar juice that you can easily store in a small water bottle and keep in your purse. This way, your child won't get the "High Speedies" and then have the urge to run up and down the isles....which brings us to:
"Look how fast I can run Mommy!"
We've all seen it and we have all rolled our eyes as we've watched parents allow their precious babies run up and down the isles while waiting for the movie to start. Then the movie starts and they are still running up and down the isles. WRONG! Teach your children from the first time you attend a movie that this is not appropriate.
Solutions to Theater Etiquette
It is more likely than not that most parents will eventually have to deal with these challenges when taking their children to the theater. It may take a few times to teach your child the proper way to behave when in the theater. One thing that we must remember as parents is that children are in that stage of learning, exploring, touching, feeling, and so much more. They are not in the wrong if they need to go potty 10 times, it's because they are in a new place and want to explore. They are not wrong when they want to run up and down the isles, they simply want to have fun and exercise.
If they begin doing these "things" early into the movie, try these tips to help both you and the child:
- Quietly take them outside into the lobby and let them walk around. Usually most theaters today have video machines, etc. to play. When the child seems to be less antsy, ask them if they want to go back in and watch the movie. Allow them to make that choice. You can even make up a game with them to see if they can find the correct theater you came out of and also the correct seats. If Daddy is still in the theater, see if they can "find daddy!" At first you may not be able to watch entire movies, but as the child goes more often, they will learn to sit a little longer.
- instead of sugar drinks and candy, give your child water or low-sugared drinks and bring a bag of crackers or Cheerios. Those are healthier and will keep the child calmer during the show.
- Potty breaks are going to happen. Take them quietly, allow for their time to do their "business" and again, make a game with them to see if they can find their way back to the right theater and the right seat.
Children and Theatre Etiquette: with an "RE"
Taking children to a live theatre performance is an entirely different way of acting and thinking.
It can be very stressful for the parent, child, theatre patrons, and the actors when a child acts out during a performance.
As a musical theatre director for nearly 35 years, I have seen parents allow their children to run a muck in the lobby, screaming and yelling while a performance was happening. This is totally unacceptable behavior for any type of production in live theatre.
Where parents are responsible for their children, so are the producers, directors, and advertisers of a live production just as responsible.
Classic Example of Live Theatre Etiquette Disregarded
The following scenario recently took place during a live performance of Cole Porter's "Anything Goes." Although this example has nothing to do with children acting out during a performance, it does have everything to do with Theatre Etiquette and responsibility on both sides.
Anything Goes is a wonderful, high energy classic musical that has drawn audiences for years. During a community theatre production of Anything Goes, teachers from a local school took their 3rd graders to a performance with the assurance from the director that it was suitable for audiences of all ages.
They attended the production, and approximately halfway through the first act, the teachers were upset at the adult content in the show. They were going to wait until the intermission and then take the children home until a scene that they felt was inappropriate began. The teachers immediately stood up in the middle of the performance and took their children home.
The choreographer of the production took great offense to this and wrote the local paper stating how rude the teachers were by interrupting the performance and making it hard for the actors to concentrate. Of course the parents and other teachers stood by those teachers who made a brave decision. I also commend them as I would have done the same thing. However, this is where the responsibility lies on both sides:
Responsibility of the Parent or Teacher
The teachers claimed that the director of the show assured them that the show was age appropriate. As a director, I am aware of the adult content in the show, where most people who have not seen the production are not. Therefore, as a teacher (or parent) I would have taken it a step further and asked specific questions:
- Any foul language?
- Any explicit scenes or sexual undertones?
- Any guns/violence used
- Any hints of drugs used
- Ask about anything that you would not want your child to see or hear. This is not only your right to do so, but your responsibility. Someone's interpretation of "age appropriate" can mean something entirely different than what your interpretation might be!
- The internet is perfect for searching content of a show and should also help you make that decision. See "Anything Goes" (From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
By asking the right questions, you as a parent can then decide if you want your child to see that production. If you know full well what the production content is, then proper theatre etiquette requires you to sit through the production until the intermission or the end before you get up and disrupt the performance.
Remember that you should always ask the same questions that you would when screening for a TV show, or movie at the theater, or video game, etc.
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Responsibility of the Theatre Production Company
Once again, as a director or producer of a show, you have the responsibility to advertise the production correctly. There are shows that you can take liberty of licence and edit portions with foul language or explicit scenes to make it more age appropriate, however, in most cases, that is not allowed. Therefore, the advertising must state if it is not recommended for children under a certain age "Due to mature content" or language, etc.
I always take mine a step further when I do a show that has strobe lighting or loud bangs, or frightening scenes. This also allows for those with medical conditions to be aware of anything that could not be inappropriate for them as well. This was the case when I did Wizard of Oz, as we used pyrotechnics and fog.
I would never give false information to anyone just to sell a few tickets.
To Sum it All Up!
Whether taking your children to a movie theater or a live theatre production:
- Always do your research on the production or movie.
- Prepare to sit in an easy access exit just in case little ones need to get up.
- Be respectful of the other patrons and performers.
- Bring necessary munchies that are healthy. (Movies only. Live theatre does not allow food or drinks inside during a performance)
- Be prepared to go home early, but don't leave disruptive.
- Make it as pleasant as possible so everyone can enjoy it
- Search for age appropriate productions.
- When in doubt, don't go. Rent a movie and stay home and enjoy each other!
About the Author
Lisa has directed and acted in musical theatre for nearly 30 years. Her musical upbringing allowed her to pursue her career in teaching and directing and continues to direct shows today. As the owner of 2 online Home Décor sites, Lisa’s passion for Rustic Living all begins with her love for the home, outdoors, and her many hobbies. Lisa loves to laugh, and she share’s that love through her comedic hubs centered on her MOM. Lisa’s passions include writing, directing, acting, photography, singing, cooking, crafts, gardening, and home improvement, including decorating. Lisa also writes under her penned name, Elizabeth Rayen.
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