Teens are a pain in the butt at the movies. I'll be the first to admit this. As a theater manager, one of my non-described job requirements was babysitting. But this is a task that sounds easier than it is. For many kids that we would kick out of an auditorium, or have removed from the lobby or parking lot, we would have to deal with angry parents who don't like other people disciplining their sons and daughters. No father wants to hear that his 15-year-old daughter was involved in sexual activity in a movie theater, but if he holds it against the people who discovered her, or against the theater in general, then it's no longer worth the trouble and the complaints. At that point it becomes easier to just let the kids have a run of the place.

Unless you have a laid-out, documented policy against certain activities in your cinema, there exists a problem of how to handle situations. This is probably the reason that some theater chains are in fact making new rules and regulations in order to properly deal with teenagers, who tend to go to the movies just to have a place to hang out, whether they're inside or out. One chain in particular, Kerasotes Theatres, made headlines recently for its controversial ban on teens, who are no longer permitted at late-night shows on Fridays and Saturdays (they call it "Adult Friendly Shows"). Unless they are with a parent and have a special Kerasotes-issued ID card, kids 16 and younger can't attend movies showing after 9pm. The policy wouldn't be as big an issue if there were a more fair explanation for it. But it seems Kerasotes is just being the cinema equivalent of the old man kicking kids off his lawn. Complicating the issue is also the fact that Kerasotes has been criticized for its policies for the past year now. First the chain decided to deal with youths -- gang youths in particular -- by delaying its bookings of releases that attract teens and other troublemakers (read: minorities). Back in January, the company received national attention for declining to show Stomp the Yard during its opening weekend. The decision was in response to violence at one of its theaters, but most of the country saw it as a racist move.

The head of the chain, chairman and CEO Tony Kerasotes, claims that decision and this new anti-teen policy is more for the safety and comfort of his customers. Obviously, though, he's isolating a large percentage of a population that significantly contributes to the movie business. And it also punishes and potentially alienates a number of teens who aren't part of the problem. But with Kerasotes running somewhat of a monopoly in some territories throughout the Midwest, it will be hard for a lot of kids to boycott the chain. Well, they could just never go to the movies, but that isn't a preferable option for most young people.

The policy becomes something of a nuisance for parents, too. Never mind those people who see the cinema as an easy place to dump their kids for a night; that's just lazy parenting. The decent parents who may actually want to attend a late-night movie with their child now have to attend a special 10-minute etiquette lesson with that child at some prior time. I'd love to see something like this tried at my old theaters; I doubt the parents in Connecticut and New Jersey would ever go for such a thing.

The Kerasotes policy isn't at all of its locations. It's being tested in some markets, such as in Cicero, Illinois, which implies more racism on the chain's part. Apparently people in the largely Latino-populated Cicero think their theater was chosen because of demographics. And Tony Kerasotes hasn't made much of an argument against that being the case. He claims test locations can be chosen because they are areas where the company has had persistent gang problems, or where it may "expect" gang problems. Certainly the expectation of gang activity in a minority-centric city has something to do with racism.

Kerasotes isn't the first or only chain to institute a policy regarding teenage attendance. It's just the worst chain in terms of how they're going about the whole thing. Other places simply can't allow teens because they serve alcohol. But still, most of those chains, like Alamo Drafthouse, do permit non-drinking customers between 18 and 21, and even allows people younger than 18 with a parent. Other chains are predictably harsh in terms of blanketing the teen "problem", such as North American Cinemas' Lodi Stadium 12, in California, which has garnered more of a police presence to deal with loitering youths. At that location, cops have begun issuing citations to kids, and so the theater has become less of a hang out.

But where, then, do the teens go to hang out? The cinema doesn't want them. The mall doesn't want them. The parents don't want them (at their house). So, unless there's a good teen center or other place to congregate, the kids are likely to end up somewhere they shouldn't be. Sure, it's easy for Kerasotes. The theater doesn't have to worry about where the kids go. That's not its problem -- not that it necessarily should be. But wouldn't it be a lot better if a place of entertainment business could figure out a way to deal with kids that doesn't involve making them disappear?

Here's my idea, and any theater chain can take it for the humble price of giving me a lifetime pass to the movies: instead of adult-friendly shows, hold teen-friendly shows. Think about it. They are one of the most-movie-going demographics. They often go to the movie theater just because there's nowhere else to go, and they buy a ticket without the intention of paying attention to the movie, or without a care about what they see. They just want a place to go. So, what would be the trouble of having Friday and Saturday shows in one auditorium where only teens are allowed? Of course, there will have to be an usher inside the auditorium at all times monitoring the kids -- so they don't cause any damage or do anything "naughty".

Sometimes these teen-friendly screenings already happen. Do you think any adults want to see Sydney White? Whenever I was working in the projection booth at the multiplex, I would look down into auditoriums playing teen movies and see cell phone lights galore. And a lot of running around. But when I would call downstairs to see if anybody was complaining, I would discover that only teens were in there, and none of them seemed to mind each other. Meanwhile the adults are off watching their stuffy adult movies and having their own good time. Sounds like cinema utopia, doesn't it?

Kerasotes could easily have adult-friendly and teen-friendly showings at the same time. Unless the chain is simply being racist, or ageist, and really doesn't even want the teen business -- in that case the theaters can be happy with possible decreases in attendance or profit. It isn't too cool that movie theaters have become surrogate babysitters, but it doesn't have to be a problem if that's the way it has to be. Personally, except for a few exceptions, I never had an issue with kids loitering, hanging out or doing their thing as long as they weren't disrupting anybody else. And I think other theater owners and managers need to relax, be more tolerant and figure out a way to make everyone happy -- even the kids. Because really, the kids are alright, when they don't have reason not to be.
categories Movies, Columns, Cinematical