Monday, April 25, 2005

Babies at the Movies

The last several times I've gone to the movies, I've noticed something a bit different. More and more young parents are bringing their infants to the show. In fact, the screen that is shown before the movie starts now includes admonitions about crying babies. Movie theater etiquette suggestions are no longer limited to whispers and cell phones set on vibrate. The parents are instructed to take noisy babies out of the theater. I can only conclude that my observation is not a limited phenomenon. Increasing numbers of people are hauling very young babies to the theater.

I'm not sure I agree with or condone this trend. I'm particularly concerned about babies being taken into adult movies and those for older children. Parents tell me that the baby will sleep through the show. Sleeping babies won't see or hear anything, they say, and so won't be traumatized by what goes on up on the screen.

I beg to differ. You don't have to think very far back in your own memories to find a time when something in the environment affected your dream. Perhaps the ringing telephone found its way into your dream before you woke up. I remember a time when I dreamed of a sumptuous breakfast, and woke to find my husband fixing bacon nearby. Even when we are asleep, our senses are still functioning and taking in information. Your baby is just the same. The little one can still hear and experience parts of that movie, even if he or she is asleep. What kind of dreams do you think those loud sounds of gunshots, screaming, or explosions will cause? What sort of impressions will the tones that the actors are using leave? I'd rather not take that chance.

Other parents argue that even if the child wakes up, the little one won't understand what is going on anyway. A preverbal baby cannot understand what is being said, they say, and it's not important what the youngster overhears. Again, I think this is absolutely wrong. In the first place, babies learn to understand words long before they can talk. Otherwise your baby wouldn't be able to point to body parts and do many of the other cute tricks that babies do. Also, babies are very sensitive to tones and voices. They are attuned to the voices of those around them. We instinctively take this into account and generally try to keep our voices low when babies are around. Care giving adults use a special voice when talking to baby, too. It's higher pitched and sort of sing-song in nature. Babies are easily frightened and upset by loud or raucous voices, too. Now match that with what baby hears in a movie theater. People on the screen are often upset or excited. That's the way movies work, because conflict moves the plot along and makes for an interesting movie experience. But from your baby's perspective, there are huge adults inexplicably yelling and shouting. Even the normal conversation can be too loud for baby because of the theater's sound system settings.

Babies have also been proven to respond to the emotions of others at a very early age. Even in the hospital nursery, nurses tell us that newborns will cry in sympathy when one in the room is upset. They pick up the general tone of the people around them.

No wonder some babies cry at the theater! No matter what their age, young infants have a pretty scary experience there. The noises are loud, the people on the screen are out of focus and huge, and some of the sounds are very scary. The voices convey deep, strong and sometimes negative emotions. I don't know about you, but I feel that infants are best left in the care of a child care provider, friend or relative when parents want to go to the movies. Taking them puts them at risk for trauma even if you have the best intentions and the movie is relatively calm. It's absolutely out of the question if you are seeing an action/adventure movie or one with a lot of violence. Protect them while you can-they will grow up and be out on their own all too soon.

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