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R- Rated Parenting…as in “Really Reeks Of Righteous Retchedness”

During my university days, I had the interesting experience of working at the local movie theater for a year.  While age rules are somewhat lax (it really is hard to card for a PG-13 movie when most people in the states don’t have any form if ID until they’re at least 15 or 16), there were two things we were strict about.  No one under the age of 18 could see an R-rated movie without their partent/legal guardian present (this one was actually law, and carried an automatic $5,000 fine if we were caught breaking it), and after 6pm, no one under the age of six was allowed in an R-rated movie at all (this was only company policy, but we enforced it just as strictly).  I can think of dozens of stories off the top of my head where we had problems with this, but one in particular stands out.

A woman bought three tickets to an R-rated movie, then instantly turned around and gave them to three boys (who looked to be between the ages of 8 and 12) and told them to enjoy their show.  I immediately turned the microphone back on, saying, “Ma’am?  Children under the age of 18 are not allowed to see that movie without a parent in the theater with them.  You’ll either have to accompany them yourself, or I can exchange the tickets for another movie.”

She then spent the next five minutes trying to argue that since she – their mother – had bought the tickets, she was giving her permission for them to watch the show, and didn’t actually need to be in attendance.  I did my best to deal with her calmly and politely, even offering to refund the tickets entirely if that was her preference.  Still, she persisted.  Finally, after I offered to call my manager down so he could speak with her, she bought herself a ticket.

I quickly phoned the ushers to warn them that we might have a “ditching parent,” our catch phrase for parents who would seat their children in the theater, then skip out on the movie itself.  So when the boys tried to get past the ticket taker without their mother present, they were once again informed that they had to have a parent or guardian with them to see an R-rated film.  It took another five minutes to relocate the woman – who by this time probably felt rather harassed, though we were as polite as possible – and she went into the theater with her boys.

As soon as the credits started, however, she slipped out the door and began walking toward the exit.  By this time, the managers had been informed of the situation, and one of the ushers pointed her out to them.  The two of them politely stopped her at the door, and informed her that she needed to stay with her sons for the entire movie, or the boys would be escorted out of the show.  Sighing, she went back in.

Not long afterward, the usher on rounds ducked in to check the theater (no, not just becaus of the woman; we check each showing several times, just in case anything goes wrong with either film, theater or audience) and found the three boys alone, no mother in sight.  The managers were informed, and they escorted the very loudly upset children out of the theater.  The three boys were parked on a bench in the lobby to wait, and an usher was assigned to keep an eye on them – both to make sure they didn’t sneak back in as well as to see that nothing happened to them while they waited.

Then our security guard arrived.  He was a city police officer, and worked at the theater on weekend evenings when he was off-duty.  After hearing the entire situation from the management, he went back out to his car, changed into his uniform, and was waiting beside the boys when their mother finally arrived to pick them up – more than an hour after the show they’d been trying to see had let out.

Furious that we had kicked her boys out of the movie, she started railing at the security officer that she wanted her money back, and that it was theft.  He, however, calmly informed her that there was a $5,000 fine for under-aged attendance in a rated-R movie… per child.

As she digested that, he informed her that he could be persuaded not to press charges against her, but she needed to leave the establishment, and neither she nor her sons would be welcome there again.

On her way out the door she still stopped by the box office and demanded her money back.  As polite as ever, I gave it to her and wished her a nice day.  I got the finger in return.  Oh, well.    0815-10


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • X August 20, 2010, 10:15 pm

    The discussion of movie ratings in the comments is fascinating. 🙂 I’m Canadian and, while we actually do tend to use a different system (14A instead of PG-13, 18A instead of NC-17, etc) since there is some overlap (as with R and PG), the two are understood to be fairly interchangeable. In my experience, you’ll see the PG-13 rating next to a film title at the movie theatre (which, Cattra, some of us also call the cinema!); if you buy the DVD in Canada, however, the rating will say 14A.

    Is there a distinction people have noted in their areas between R and 18A? Here (in Canada) they seem to be fairly interchangeable; when I lived in Europe, however, you couldn’t get into an R rated film if you were under 15 (even accompanied by an adult… they required ID to confirm), but you couldn’t get into an 18A film at all if you were under 18.

    Anyhoo, good for the theatre staff for enforcing the rules. I’ve seen too many scared children with oblivious parents at films.

  • chatnoir August 20, 2010, 10:37 pm

    The state where I live DOES enforce age laws, I worked in a movie theater for quite some time and was notorious amongst the middle school regulars for being the strictest ticket taker. In my state it’s actually possible for a theater to lose their business license if they knowingly allow an underage child to see an R rated movie without a parent or Guardian. Also, while 17 year olds are allowed in, they may not escort anyone younger. A child under 17 MUST be accompanied by an adult 21 or older.
    And we have state police officer who’s regular job is to patrol our theater, not only to keep the peace but to enforce the age rules. I completely understand this story, I’ve been in the same position.

  • Storm August 24, 2010, 9:30 pm

    I don’t mind the ratings, the enforcement, etc. What bothers me is that the woman gave OP the finger AFTER her money was refunded. Seriously, she was warned and she still decided to be a disengaged parent.

  • Lenera September 2, 2010, 8:31 pm

    OP here! Thanks so much to all of you for supporting the decisions we made. Yes, this story took place in the US and yes, it was a *state* law that the officer and I referred to, not a national one. The company was Cinemark, though I shan’t say which theater precisely, to avoid embarassing anyone unduly. We also had at least three signs in the lobby about the fine, so she was warned so many times over, the mind boggles.
    As for refunding the money, I did it because it was better than letting her stay there and yell at me through the glass, which was scaring away other potential customers and was starting to get on my – already frazzled – nerves.
    IMHO, I believe she was just looking for a place to dump her boys for a few hours while she went off on her own, and the boys chose the movie they wanted to see. I doubt she even cared what it was, so long as it got them off her hands for a while. A part of me can understand that – I have three younger siblings, and quite an age gap between me and the next one down the line; there were days when I would do almost anything for a moment’s peace – but the rest of me is left amazed by her parental negligence.

  • phoenix September 12, 2010, 4:36 am

    God, I wish it was a state law here. I saw a parent bring a six year old girl to Dark Knight. You know that seen with the pencil? That child was in the aisle, screaming “daddy, I’m scared, I want to go home” over and over and over. Daddy finally said….wait for it…

    “If you’re scared, go wait outside. I’ll come out when it’s over”

    I was stunned. The was a mall cinema. It didn’t really have a lobby, the ticket counter was right off the main mall hallway. There were chairs out there, but basically he was telling a six year old girl to go wait in the mall by herself. Anybody could walk in and walk out with that kid. Nobody would even notice. As the dad was right next to me, I leaned over and said fairly loudly “are you saying you’re planning on abandoning a frightened child, alone, in a crowded mall on a Friday night for over an hour?” He looked at me and slowly got up to leave. A few people clapped.

  • Kai September 29, 2010, 9:25 am

    Barb, I don’t know you so I’m not going to comment on what kind of a parent you are and I hope you don’t take offense. But the simple fact of the matter is, that even though every parent believes they know what is best for their child, the majority do not seem to have a clue.

    I’m amazed at how many parents I see take their very young child into an adult movie, only for the on-screen violence to set the child off crying and screaming in horror. And when you dare tell them maybe they should take the child outside to calm down, you get verbally abused for daring to question their parenting. I remember getting verbally abused during a screening of The Dark Knight, because the on-screen explosions woke up a 4 month old child and started her screaming for the rest of the film. Myself and another person calmly suggested one of the parents (or grandmother) take the baby outside for her own sake as she was obviously upset. All that happened was the grandmother sat at the back of the theatre with the screaming infant so she could still watch. When the other person and myself approached the manager afterwards, the family started abusing all of us. Unfortunately the manager said that they cannot refuse to allow children into movies, even toddlers, even if the movie is incredibly violent, because that is the parents right.

    So, I personally do not have a lot of sympathy for parents saying they know best so therefore they should be allowed to let their kids do whatever the parent wants. Too often the parent is lazy and uninvolved but are the first to complain when they don’t get what they want or feel like someone is telling them what they can’t do. The mother in this story clearly showed she is the type of mother with no parenting skills, so I don’t see that her judgement on what her children watch is too sound.

    Again, I’m not trying to judge you in any way as I don’t know you at all. Just from my experience, kids are running wild and the parents need to take more responsibility. And we simply do need regulations in place for the sake of everyone.

    I’ve seen a lot more, and sadly a lot worse.

  • Natalie September 29, 2010, 10:29 am

    I have to agree wit Kai. My husband and I were watching “The Sixth Sense” on opening night in a very crowded theater. During the scene with the ghost who has been shot in the head, a little girl (seven? ish) a few rows behind us started screaming. She was begging her father to let her go, she kept screaming “I don’t want to see this, I’m scared!” but the father told her to sit down and shut up. She vomited all over herself and the people in front of her within a minute. We got to sit through the rest of the movie with that lovely smell. (The father did take her out after that and my husband and I got passes for a free movie after we complained to a manager.)
    A good parent will do research about the movie and maybe even watch it before taking the kids. My son really wanted to see Transformers, as did my husband, but after reading the online reviews, we decided it was too violent for him. You don’t always get to do what YOU want to do when you’re a parent.

  • Kry December 6, 2010, 1:11 am

    What are parents doing? I am now a mum of a 10yr old girl and if we are going to see a movie I go by myself first to see it and judge the apropriateness of it (and I did this for my youngest brother too- I am 17 years older than him). How anyone can just leave young kids by themselves in a public place like that is beyond my comprihension. Good on the cinima for doing the right thing for the kids.

  • NostalgicGal December 22, 2012, 6:53 am

    Way back when they actually seemed to care about the movie code, and our small town theater actually enforced them… the Exorcist came out. I was 11 and yes I wanted to see it (and I liked scary stuff, honestly, still do, and was not exactly a small child but…) but. It was R-17. My mom actually wanted to see it, but she didn’t want to go alone. My dad totally refused to go. I asked her if I could go… my dad wasn’t terribly happy and she thought about it for a while, but the two of us went. The theater let us in because she was there and said YES my daughter is allowed to see this… and we both sat together. I know I was the youngest one there.

    Mom had nightmares that night. Poor dad. I woke up once 4 nights later with an ‘oh’ blink blink, go back to sleep dream. By 6 years later and a change of ownership, they had quit caring, and an R-17 was full of 8 year olds having popcorn fights….

    Even if it is a late submission; it still stands. Some things are age inappropriate; and in the case of Mom and I, she could or I could have decided this was enough and both of would have left. The world is a different place and look at what’s on TV, streamed on internet, in the video games… but still. Even if it was a G rated, I wouldn’t be leaving kids that young by themselves in a movie theater!