Are Movies for Toddlers Ever a Good Idea?

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Whether you need to keep your toddler occupied so you can get started on dinner or you're looking for a fun activity for a rainy Saturday afternoon, putting on a movie—or even bringing your baby to a theater—might cross your mind.

As you probably well know, when it comes to screen time and your toddler, there is no shortage of opinions out there about how much time is OK and what type of programming should be allowed. So how do you know what's truly safe for your toddler's developing brain? 

Are Movies OK for Your Toddler? 

Though it's easy to become overwhelmed by the advice being slung at you from every direction, there is actually a consensus among experts regarding the use of media with toddlers. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that screen time, including movies and TV shows, should be avoided with babies younger than 18 months.

For children who are 18 to 24 months of age, a little bit of educational programming can have value, such as shows offered on PBS. Once your toddler turns 2, up to one hour of screen time use is OK, but parents should watch with their children to help them understand what they are viewing. 

So, given that movies range from an hour and a half to two hours long, they should be the rare exception, not the rule, on your toddler's list of activities. Mainly, the concerns about screen time stem from its ability to negatively impact language acquisition, emotional and social development, and even your baby's sleep and weight in the first few years of their life, when their brain is growing the fastest.

Using media more than recommended will displace the physical playtime, hands-on exploration, and face-to-face interaction that your baby needs in order to learn and grow healthily.

That being said, life happens and doesn't always match up with the experts' advice. You may find yourself in a situation where a movie is the best option you've got, for whatever reason.

Can Toddlers Go to the Movies? 

This is less a question of whether you "can" take a baby or young child to the movies and more a question of whether you "should." Given the AAP's recommendations, this, again, should not be a regular occurrence. Brain development aside, there are several practical things to consider bringing a toddler to a theater. 

Movies Are Loud

In fact, movies are very loud, and that might be one of the strongest reasons against bringing a young child. The decibel levels at theaters vary greatly, but the Center for Hearing and Communication warns that theaters often have the volume turned up well beyond 90 decibels. And that's too loud for anyone, but it's especially dangerous for young children whose ears are still developing.

Anything above 85 decibels (roughly the volume of city traffic) can damage your own hearing. If you hear ringing in your ears after going to a show, things were probably too loud. Even if you don't plan to bring a small child to the theater, it's worthwhile to talk to the manager of your local cinema to find out how you can get them to ensure the volume is at a safe level.

If you're thinking of bringing a baby or toddler, you should consider the volume a deal breaker. If the sound is too loud, it's probably a much better decision to wait and see the movie at home.

Certain Images May Be Harmful

Whether or not they understand the images on the screen, your toddler is paying attention. Scary scenes may frighten a young child; even if they don't understand the content, the music and ambiance of the movie can convey fear. In that case, you may need to be aware of the possibility of night terrors.

Young children also pick up bad habits from watching movies. If your little darling watches two hours of people kicking and punching each other, chances are they will imitate some of that behavior later on.

If you want to go to the theater and don't mind seeing a movie geared toward your child, then you may be saddened to realize that "G" rated movies for toddlers are few and far between. Another option, though, is to check your local theaters to see if any of them sponsor "kid-friendly" movie nights.

In many cities, there are theaters that do screenings of G-rated previous releases on a regular basis. One example is the Big Movies for Little Kids program in New York City.

Little Kids Don't Sit Still so Well

You know your child better than anyone, so only you can really tell what they are capable of, but most children at this stage of development will not sit still in a small dark theater for the full length of a movie. In that case, you might only want to try this in cases when you have a second adult with whom you can alternate to walk the baby up the aisle or take frequent potty breaks.

4 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Council on Communications and Media. Media and young mindsPediatrics. 2016;138(5):e20162591. doi:10.1542/peds.2016-2591

  2. Center for Hearing and Communication. The impact of noise on a healthy, happy childhood.

  3. Bhargava S. Diagnosis and management of common sleep problems in children. Pediatrics in Review. 2011;32:91-99. doi:10.1542/pir.32-3-91 

  4. American Psychological Association. Violence in the media.

By Maureen Ryan
Maureen Ryan is a freelance writer, editor, and teaching consultant specializing in health, parenting, and education.