Sunday, October 9, 2011

No Brats Allowed

“Effective [this date], we will only be seating children over the age of six. We appreciate your cooperation. Thank you, The Management.” 

I paraphrased the above statement, but a sign sending the same message was recently placed on the front door of a restaurant in Pennsylvania. This restaurant is one of many businesses putting a ban on young children. The brat ban has become a parenting hot topic as parents in increasing numbers are being asked to remove themselves and their unruly children from public venues.

As talk shows and news reports continue to highlight this debate, I see little mention of the real problem. It is unfortunate that the focus has shifted to the children who are simply victims of circumstance. In my attempt to look at this debate for what it really is, I created a few alternative signs for the windows of businesses that would prefer not to serve young children: 

1. “Effective [this date], we will only be seating children with attentive parents.”

I’ll never forget a segment I saw a few months ago on the Today Show about bullying. Matt Lauer interviewed an expert on the topic who, as usual, pointed every bit of fault toward school officials and teachers for not being more attentive to the problem. Lauer asked how much of the responsibility should fall on parents to educate their own children on the issue. Finally, the question that never gets asked! I eagerly awaited her reply, which was quite matter-of-fact: “Parents these days are too busy and simply don’t have the time. Therefore, they need to be able to rely on schools to equip their kids with necessary life skills.” You can imagine my shock. That’s the moment I realized that we live in a society that places responsibilities to work and self above responsibilities to home and family. No doubt such a mentality has given rise to the spread of inattentive parenting habits. If they’re not teaching their kids to be responsible and respectful citizens, they’re certainly not going to stop them from banging their plate on the table at Chili’s. 

2. “Please enlist common sense before entering with children.”

If Reese was suddenly banned from places like McDonald’s or TGI Friday’s, of course I would be offended. But if she was banned from restaurants with white linen tablecloths and businesspeople in formal attire, I think I’d get over it. Some places are just not appropriate for children and most sensible parents understand. Even when the kind of place isn’t the issue though, parents still need to consider the child’s general temperament and current mood before deciding if his presence is appropriate to the venue. Reese is in a screaming phase right now, which means that I rarely take her to restaurants or other quiet places. If the sound is annoying to my ears at times, I can only imagine the opinion of the elderly couple at the next table.

Of course, I am aware that parents can’t predict their children’s behavior with 100% accuracy, but most of us know our kids well enough to determine the type of public setting they can handle on a given day.  (If you aren’t able to do this, please refer to sign #1). It isn’t fair to expect everyone to adopt a “kids will be kids” mentality in the presence of children, especially when someone’s toddler starts launching spaghetti across the room. If parents know their kids can’t handle a certain setting, there are lots of alternatives: hire a sitter, stay home, or go to a place that is always kid-friendly, like McDonald’s.

3. “Due to the inability of our staff and customers to recognize and accept the normal cognitive skills and behavioral patterns of young children, we are only able to serve those over the age of six. We apologize for our ignorance.”

This is where I fall on the opposite side of the debate. Even the greatest, most attentive parents have children who occasionally make a scene in public. I’m amazed that anyone would expect a toddler (or sometimes even an infant!) to have good manners and appropriate social skills. Most people who get upset with children in public do so because they believe the children should “know better.” Most of the time, though, children don’t know better and it’s simply because they’re at a place in their development where they can’t know better. Fortunately, these people are easy to spot, as their lack of knowledge about normal child development is obvious (like the hostess who hands your eight-month-old a kids’ menu and crayons, or the lady at the next table who asks if your tantrum-throwing one-year-old would like a Tootsie-Pop).  

Just as parents with unruly children can stay home to avoid bothering others, people without any patience for the occasional screaming toddler can stay home to avoid being bothered. Parents aren’t the only ones who should have to enlist common sense before entering a public place.

Seriously, though, all jokes and rude signs aside, it saddens me that such a debate is even in question during a time when we have so many other major issues to attend to – like our failing economy and the fact that children in this country are literally getting bullied to death. What really needs to happen is a revival of the long-dead cultural expectations of common sense, common courtesies, and unconditional respect for others. If we do those things, I guarantee we can consider this problem (and many others) to be as good as solved.

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