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Parents, Not Children, Are Major Troublemakers at Chuck E. Cheese

December 11, 2008 10:29 AM
by Christopher Coats
Angry, overprotective parents, a longtime presence at  youth sporting events, have made one unlikely restaurant chain the latest site for violence and mayhem.

“Something out of a Quentin Tarantino Film”

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Across the country, law enforcement agencies have found themselves increasingly called to the Chuck E. Cheese pizza and game chain of restaurants in response to reports of fighting and misbehavior on the part of parents.

Opened in 1977 as the Chuck E. Cheese's Pizza Time Theatre by Atari founder Nolan Bushnell, the restaurant was intended to offer a friendly and fun environment for the whole family and a place where “a kid could be a kid”.

Citing a mix of “alcohol, loud noise, thick crowds and the high emotions of children's birthday parties,” however, police have seen an uptick in violent incidents at the national family chain.

"The biggest problem is you have a bunch of adults acting like juveniles," Town of Brookfield, Wis. Police Capt. Timothy Imler told The Wall Street Journal. "There's a biker bar down the street, and we rarely get calls there."

Mirroring incidents reported at youth sporting events, the gathering of parents and children invites a “mama bear instinct” among some parents, intent on protecting their children against any perceived threat.

Incidents from Massachusetts to Kansas have been reported, varying from small altercations to melees involving dozens of people.

In March 2008, a nine-year-old’s birthday party came to a quick end in Massachusetts when two mothers came to blows after a disagreement over the “hogging” of an arcade game.

Reports of parental misbehavior at the popular chain are not new and not always directed at other families.

In 2004, a 31-year-old mother in Georgia threw pizza at and threatened to “whip” a 17-year-old employee dressed as the restaurant’s mascot for not paying enough attention to her child.

Reactions: New Restrictions and New Business Ventures

These occurrences, plus additional incidents of violence and theft involving teenagers, have pushed some Chuck E. Cheese locations to cease serving alcohol and begin arming security guards to keep patrons’ behavior under control.

Following a brawl involving 80 people in Flint, Mich., the store issued new rules banning alcohol, profanity and gang symbols.
 
Locally, some city officials have called for more drastic measures, including Milwaukee Alderman Tony Zielinski, who called for a local Chuck E. Cheese to be shut down completely, or at least surrender their liquor license.

For his part, Chuck E. Cheese founder Nolan Bushnell appears to have moved on to projects more clearly targeted to adults, including the uWink Media Bistro in California. Using touch screen technology, guests can order their food and drinks while playing games against other guests.

Related Topic: The Dangers of Parental Overprotectiveness

Parental violence at children’s events has long been seen as a problem in youth sports, prompting the creation of a PSA in May of this year, which condemned parents for being overcritical of young players or occasionally violent in their reaction to the game. However, some were skeptical of the ad’s effectiveness.

“This spot is a game effort, but boorishness is not an affliction much sensitive to consciousness raising,” writes Bob Garfield of Advertising Age.

Incidents beyond the playing field have proven that the aforementioned “mama bear instinct” can have far-reaching and potentially dangerous consequences.

In September, a Norristown, Pennsylvania mother was found guilty of helping her 14-year-old son accumulate an arsenal of weapons to use against classmates in response to bullying about the boy’s weight.
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