Good Media Manners – Scary Movie Strategies

Dear Good Media Manners,

The next few weeks find my children home from school due to the holidays and us finding ways to entertain them.  One of our favorite ways to do this is by watching holiday films with them – sometimes in the theater, sometimes at home.  What we don’t know is how well our oldest, 9, will react to some of the more intense choices we have for this year.  It is slightly outside what you do, but are there good coping strategies for this in public, so we don’t ruin the film for everyone else?
Happy holidays,
Vince G.
Dear Vince,
That is certainly a thorny issue.  As you presumably know from my first column, I hate noise in the movie theater (it is a white hot intensity that I can never overestimate).  There used to be a place in Baltimore called the Senator (don’t know if it’s still there) that would do a thing before every show about respecting those around you by being quiet and silencing your cell phone.  It really served as a great reminder.
But, that’s just me stalling for time and not really addressing your question.  So, here goes…
I have a daughter slightly younger than your child and she is somewhat timid.  By the time I was her age—as I regularly remind my wife—I had seen “Robocop” on the big screen, and to this day vividly, and excitedly, remember that experience.  My daughter’s head might explode if she saw “Robocop.”  It isn’t a good choice for her, but my goodness, as an eight-year-old, that was the greatest movie ever.
We actually had the same debate in our house as what you’re going through – in the summer of 2013 my daughter read the first “Harry Potter” book, but she’s been too timid to watch the movie and in the coming weeks, the first movie is showing on the big screen.  I, too, remember seeing it for the first time and thinking just how magical it was.  I would love for her to have the same sort of experience as I did (despite my being far older when “Sorcerer’s Stone” was released), and desperately want to take her to see it.
Neither myself nor my wife are terribly sure that’s a good idea.
It’s the end of “The Sun Also Rises.”  I want that magical experience for her and I can imagine just how great it will be, and then there’s that voice that brings me back to reality. “Isn’t it pretty to think so.”
It is.  It is pretty to think so, but the reality will be far different.  Those early Potters, I think, are magical in a way that the later ones aren’t, and I think that as wondrous as they are, it makes the evil that much more vicious.  You are sucked into those  movies, brought into that world, and the evil—to me—is that much worse for it.
All of that is to say that I won’t be bringing my daughter to see “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” this year.  I want to, and I want to believe it will be magical, but I just can’t do it.
The question you’re asking, of course, is what would I do if I brought her and it wasn’t going well.  You can’t really hand a child a phone and tell her to play “Candy Crush” during the scary parts (I can see someone getting zapped with the Cruciatus Curse followed by a “Sweet!” from the game), so what do you do?
Not knowing your family, the propensity for bad dreams, and how you guys as parents deal with them, it’s a little tough to say exactly what you should do.  So, instead, I’ll offer you some options I’ve considered:
– An easy answer is that you don’t go, you watch the movie at home with the lights on and have it be something pause-able.  That is also rather less magical.
– Another choice is to so hugely load up on candy and drinks and popcorn at the theater that your child is distracted throughout.  I’m actually serious.  A box of Sno-Caps is a wonderful thing, there’s a list of ingredients and pictures on it and you can look at it as Snape gets all angry at Harry.  If you buy the really awful candy that list of ingredients gets longer and has weird names, so that may be the way to go.
– Holding hands.  I like to, as something potentially scary approaches, subtly take my daughter’s hand so that she might squeeze mine should something be terrifying.  Again, this strategy may not work for your child.
– One of my absolute go-to’s though, whether at home or in the theater, is a deep discussion ahead of time about what to expect.  The unknown is scary, explaining it all demystifies things.  Depending on the movie you’re seeing, perhaps there are some behind-the-scenes videos about how they did the make-up or some of the more intense action bits.
I now refer you back once more to the first piece in this series which suggests that if you can’t hold your tongue (or your kids’ can’t hold theirs) that you shouldn’t be at a theater.  I stand by that and repeat my mention of the white hot intensity with which I hate theater-talkers.
There is a moment, of course, when you do have to take the leap and push forward, doing something outside everyone’s comfort zone.  You just have to prepare appropriately.  And I hope you do find a strategy that works for you – the world of movies is an amazing one and something that we should all share… just not loudly.
Good luck strategizing, I hope some of the above works,
Good Media Manners
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photo credit: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

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