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This question asks "What age can you expect a child to happily sit through a movie at the theatre"? The answers may not necessarily indicate at what age all the overwhelming sound and light stop being harmful for the kids.

AAP recommends For children ages 2 to 5 years, limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs. I'd think this applies just as much (if not more) to theater screens and surround sound. But I haven't been able to find reliable source indicating this. I have found a lot of anecdotal evidence indicating for what kind of movies, and at what age kids can sit through the movie or enjoy it. But that is no indication of whether or not it is harmful to them.

So, When is it harmless to start taking a child to the cinemas? Both to their health and behaviour. When can we expose them to this level of sensory overloading?

  • I'm not sure anything is harmless. what is the acceptable harm allowed? – tuskiomi Aug 7 '17 at 19:04
  • @tuskiomi The same harm we talk about, when talking of limited screen time for children. – learner101 Aug 8 '17 at 4:02
  • @learner101 the harm in the linked article is rather vague, and seems to be about not socialising when viewing media without anyone else present, so cinema viewing as a social activity would not be harmful but watching a film alone would. – Pete Kirkham Sep 4 '17 at 12:07
  • To be clear, the AAP guidelines in question are based on "expert opinion" rather than hard, clear evidence. There is not any study showing that 1 hour per day or less of screen time results in better outcomes for kids (or that more than 1 hour results in harm). Instead, there are several studies showing that, for example, having a screen on changes interactions in ways that probably limit learning, etc. The expert opinions are valuable, certainly, but they still do suffer from some of the same weakness as regular opinions :) – Rose Hartman Sep 13 '17 at 15:41
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Well the AAP guideline is daily. If you see a movie that is longer than an hour the AAP isn't going to care & you can ask your pediatrician. A single exposure to anything is highly unlikely to prove harm. If your child were watched say by grandparents & they let the child watch 4hrs or television that day, the child isn't going to show long term damage. The screen time is a repeated exposure issue, not the occasional exposure you mean here.

As far as sound, you have to ask at the theater. Generally speaking the decibels they are blasting are in excess of recommended, often for any age. If that concerns you there are wonderful headphones that an be worn even by babies, so you can still attend noisy events, like open air concerts & such. I bought them for my oldest so we could attend very loud indoor sports that other relatives played & we want to go see.

As far as when a child will enjoy it, that is child dependent. For mine that has been (so far) anywhere from 3 to 5 years old. I have a 3yr old now & I know she is not ready to sit for longer than maybe 30 mins but we haven't tried it. She is just a busy one & likes to go, so I can't imagine her sitting through a movie. I also have one that is extremely calm & he was in love with seeing movies at 3, so he went about once a month or something at that age.

I am pretty sure it didn't harm him as he taught himself to read by 3.5 years. I can't imagine it would have been sooner if we skipped the movies.

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    +1. I took my 2 1/2 year old to see Cars 3 recently and he had a great time. I found this article very useful for helping an active toddler sit (relatively) still and enjoy the movie. For example he'd never had popcorn before, and allowing it as a special treat kept him occupied for a good 30 minutes. – Royal Canadian Bandit Aug 8 '17 at 9:48
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    I tried taking my son to the movies for the first time when he was around 4. He was able to sit still and watch movies at home, so I thought he was ready. We went to the movie theater, explored the theater ahead of time (including the video games), bought some popcorn, went potty, and settled into our seats. The previews ran, and the movie started and he was completely focused on the screen. After about 5 minutes of the movie itself (20 minutes altogether in the theater complex), he turned to me and said "I'm done, Mommy." I still have not seen that movie (Chicken Run) all the way through. – magerber Aug 8 '17 at 18:39
  • @magerber that so much sounds like something that would happen to me. I had a good giggle over your story. :P – threetimes Aug 9 '17 at 18:33
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Check with the theater. Many have child friendly matinees that are less loud and less intense. Some have specialty showings of cartoons for a nominal fee. But mostly the answer is going to be child dependent. Each child is different and understanding your child and their needs is going to be your best guide. Can your child sit through a 30 minute video at home or do they lose interest after 10 minutes? 15?

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In my experience, think it's more "at what age can you actually sit down and enjoy a movie with your kids?", because until they are sufficiently cultured they will have no context to understand and have sustainable interest in the movie, and will kick up a fuss until you leave. My kids were about 3 before they were ready to sit through an entire movie, no matter how "child friendly" it pretended to be. Ironically, both children first sat fully through movies that were aimed more at adults than children.

Even though my opinion of the AAP is less than positive, and I disagree with many of the specific stances, I agree wholeheartedly with their statement "Problems begin when media use displaces physical activity, hands-on exploration and face-to-face social interaction in the real world".

As long as the screen time does not displace those other activities, your kids will be fine.

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Just from my own experience, it's going to vary a lot from kid to kid and if you think they can sit for that long, in that environment.

I come from a large family, lots of kids around. There are some 5 and 6 year olds in the family I wouldn't trust to bring, but my 2.5 year old I would.

Try doing a movie night at home, with as similar lighting and seating as you can get. Maybe that will help give a good idea if they can sit for a whole movie?

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