Noisy kid punched in theater: Parents, what were you thinking?

Disruptive kids in theaters are nothing new, but a recent violent incident highlights what steps parents and theater managers should take to make sure unsupervised kids follow basic movie-going etiquette.

Andy Nelson/Staff/File
Left unsupervised, a noisy kid at a Washington movie theater was hit in the face by another patron who was fed up by his disruptive behavior. In this photo, a crowd watches a movie at the American Film Institute Silver Theater in Silver Spring, Maryland.

The age of a noisy kid at a Washington State movie theater has raised eyebrows among parents, police, and the film-going public in general – regardless of their opinions about the other patron who ended up punching the disruptive child in the face.

The boy, it turns out, was 10 – too young, some say, for unaccompanied movie going, and also too young to observe increasingly important movie etiquette rules.

Pat Lowery, assistant police chief in Kent, Wash., where the April 11 disruption took place, said he would never send a 10-year-old child to a theater without parental supervision, especially if he or she were going with a group of friends.

“We encourage people, that if you have young kids going to the movies, take the time to be there with them,” Lowery said. “If your kid is 14, 15 or 16 years old, they are probably mature enough to handle being at the movies on their own.”

The 10-year-old boy and his three friends were talking to each other and tossing popcorn. Lowery said that the police reports did not include exactly what the kids were saying, but that the man charged with hitting the boy asked the kids more than once to be quiet. One report also said that the kids were running around. The incident was not racially motivated (the suspect is Asian), but what Lowery described as an “ongoing disturbance."

“This was just a young man who ran out of patience,” Lowery said.

There have been other incidents in the past few years of movie theater disturbances turning violent, usually involving teenagers, which have raised concerns about who is responsible for preventing these incidents.

On its website, the National Association of Theatre Owners give several strategies for theater management to curb disruptive behavior during movies. Some theaters prohibit unaccompanied teenagers and children from attending late-night movies. Others are using new technology to monitor the auditorium, allowing staff to respond quicker to incidents.

Lowery said that the theater in Kent, part of the national AMC chain, trains its staff in how to deal with disruptive patrons. “Ninety-five percent of the time, the staff can handle disturbances without police involvement,” he said.

Another common disturbance in movie theaters is cell phone usage. Anyone who has been been to the movies recently has probably seen the “entertaining policy trailers” telling patrons not to talk or use their cell phones during the movie.  According to NATO, one suggestion to prevent cell phone usage in theaters is to install signal-jamming devices. These “jammers” became legal in France in 2004, but the U.S. Communications Act of 1934 prohibits the use of cell phone “jamming” or using a device to block cell phone, Wi-Fi or GPS signals, according to the Federal Communications Commission. The main argument is that the jammers would prevent emergency calls from going through to responders.

For parents who are willing to send their kids to the movies without supervision, there are a few etiquette lessons that may be helpful:

  • Don’t talk during the movie, or previews if you can help it.
  • Turn your cell phone off during the movie. Texting and emailing can be put on hold for two hours.
  • Don’t leave food in the theater.
  • Lastly, don’t throw food at fellow patrons
  • And, don’t punch them either.
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