As my daughter approached two-and-a-half years of age, I realized that she was one of the only children her age who had never seen a movie in theaters. I found myself wondering when it would be best to take her for this enjoyable milestone in her development. After checking with a few friends and family members, I took her to see Toy Story 3, but quickly learned that it was a mistake.
Although some toddlers can enjoy seeing a movie in theaters, I don’t think that my daughter was prepared for the experience. In retrospect, I don’t think that a child should go to a movie theater until she has already outgrown the toddler stage of development. I don’t intend to take her to a movie again until she is about four years old. Here’s why.
My toddler rarely watches TV or movies at home, so she has not been desensitized to the sight of scary images on a screen. To her, Toy Story 3‘s G-rated violence and tense moments were overwhelming. To a toddler with no frame of reference and no ability to comprehend a plot-line, a massive screen showing flames, talking dolls and night-time traffic can look genuinely terrifying.
Less of a Chance to Preview
If I buy my daughter a movie to watch at home, I’ve probably already seen it and have a good idea of its contents. However, a movie that is newly released to theaters may have scenes that I didn’t anticipate. None of the reviews I saw mentioned that my daughter would see a massive 3D truck ready to “run over” the main characters. If I had known that it included that scene, I wouldn’t have taken my toddler to see the film.
Fantasy vs. Reality
No toddler can grasp the difference between fantasy and reality until age 4 or later. The 3D truck zooming toward my toddler’s line of sight looked every bit as real as an 18-wheeler on the freeway. How could I have expected her to understand that she wasn’t in danger? Furthermore, how can a toddler understand that the characters are just pretend and that dolls don’t actually talk? At home, there is more room for interactive discussion. In a theater, this isn’t possible.
No one wants to be the embarrassed parent attempting to coddle a frightened or over-excited toddler in a movie theater. Although my daughter behaved well during her first trip to the theater, there is no way to fully suppress her urge to yell, “Look! An aster-not toy!” or her reflexive whimper during a scary scene. Older children are much more capable of understanding what is– and isn’t– appropriate behavior in a theater.
The bottom line? Do yourself and your toddler a favor. Wait until he’s at least three or four years old before you introduce him to the big screen.