Scared Movie Patrons


Dear Reader,

Welcome to another Media Moment! In this post, Kristelle Lavallee, CMCH’s Content Strategist, shares how an experience one Halloween night affected her current work creating resources for parents. These stories are meant to help create a village square of commiserating and co-celebrating the many ways media intersect with the lives of children. Please comment and even submit your own ‘Moment’ to share with your fellow readers.

Enjoy your media and use them wisely,

~ The Mediatrician®


Screaming at the Screen

It was Halloween.

I was with my then boyfriend attending a midnight screening of The Grudge, the latest R-rated horror movie out, and I was already scared. The theater darkened and the screen lit up as the newest trailers for upcoming frightening features played.

And then I heard it; screams of terror.

But they weren’t from the actors on screen. No, it was worse. These screams were emanating from the audience, several rows ahead of me, and they sounded young.

The screams continued, followed by muffled shushing, and then somewhat quieter wails. The trailers stopped, the movie started, and that’s when the screams became worse. I was concerned, but couldn’t see anything in the dark theater. Suddenly, I began to hear audible complaints, “Be quiet!” “Shut up!” And then, above the clamor, a loud, thunderous voice bellowed, “Dude, take care of your baby!”

Silence–both on screen (it was a tension building moment in the plot) and in the theater. And then I saw two parents in the front row, carrying out the source of the screams…their child. She looked no older than 4 and was clearly scared, but also relieved to be leaving. I was outraged. My fellow movie patrons clapped joyously as the embarrassed couple exited.

The movie finished and I was still seething. I wondered how parents could be so blatantly irresponsible. I was thrilled that they had been shamed into leaving, and quite honestly, didn’t think that was enough. Being in grad school at the time, I decided to write a whole paper on how I thought new legislation should be drawn to make it illegal for parents to bring children to “inappropriate” movies. There were glaring holes in my argument, and my grade reflected it.

I think back on that Halloween often. In my current work, I see a lot of parents trying to figure out what is and what is not “appropriate” for their children. The lack of resources when it comes to understanding media content and how it affects children is devastating to me, and parents’ frustrations are (now) completely understandable. I’m ashamed that my former self was made absolutely giddy by the public shaming that occurred in the movie theater years ago. If anything, my memory of the occurrence has only fueled my quest to help parents understand what may and may not be “developmentally optimal” for their children.

Not too long ago, I went to see the latest Hunger Games movie on opening night. As I waited in line, a little girl in front of me asked her mom if the movie was going to be “scary.” Her mom sighed and said, “I hope not, I don’t want you to have nightmares.” And that’s when I piped up–I let them know about the violence, the dystopian themes, and the adult content. I was fully prepared to take a verbal lashing and be told to mind my own business (rightfully so), but to my pleasant (and utter) surprise, the mom thanked me, and asked me to come with her to the box office. I obliged and found myself explaining the plot of the movie to a teenaged ticket taker who was confused, but called over his manager so I could explain it again. Long story short, the mother and daughter exchanged their Hunger Games tickets for a child-friendly feature, thanked me again, and took off for their movie.

Seeing a young child at an adult movie is still frightening to me, but only because it reminds me of how much work we still have to do to help parents and caregivers make informed decisions about the media choices they make for children. While I may not be able to determine what is or is not “appropriate” for every single child, the evidence-based resources myself and the CMCH team develop may help families understand how the media they consume affects them, and subsequently, they can make more informed, and better decisions.

~ Kristelle Lavallee

2 Responses to “Media Moment: Screaming at the Screen”

  1. Brandy King

    This is such a great reflection on how your understanding of the situation has changed over the years. I’m so glad you were able to make up for it with the Hunger Games situation; must have felt good to see someone make an immediate change in behavior based on the information you provided. Great work!

  2. Lauren Rubenzahl

    I second Brandy’s comments–I love this story and how clearly you take ownership of your assumptions and reactions, both in grad school and today. It sounds like the approach you took with the second mom was one of sharing information and so felt less judgmental, both to you and possibly to her as well. It’s inspiring to hear how your opinions and approach have changed. Thank you for sharing!


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