Why Banning Kids From Restaurants May Be Bad For Everyone In The Long-Run

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I’m not a cultural anthropologist or a psychologist or any other “ist.”  I’m a mom, and something struck me today and I’d like to run it by you and get your input. I have an opinion (almost always! hahaha), but I’d love to hear what others think about this.

I’ve been hearing about this growing trend of places that don’t allow children and I’m hearing how many folks are thrilled to know that there are kid-free restaurants, theaters, airplanes and more.

Sweet Hippie Baby hanging with the family for his Papa's birthday.  It wasn't exactly fine dining but we're working up to it.

Chubby Hippie Baby hanging with the family for his Papa’s birthday. It wasn’t exactly fine dining but we’re working up to it.

My thought is that it would be to the betterment of our society as a whole if the people who seem to be so terribly upset by the mere sight of a runny nose or sticky hand would suck it up and move on with their lives.

Please allow me to share a story:

When Sweet Hippie Daughter was four years old we took her to the symphony.    Before we went we spoke with her at length about appropriate behavior.  “This is the quietest of quiet places,” we told her.  “People really want to hear every single note of the music, so it’s important that you don’t even whisper or wiggle in your chair or click your shoes together because we don’t want to ruin it for anyone.”  She told us she understood and off to the performance we went.

At the door, the usher didn’t want to let us in.  “This is an important performance.  They are recording.”  We assured him that we understood.  “There can’t be any noise.”  We assured him again that we understood.  Finally, reluctantly, he let us in.  Once we reached our seat the woman behind us stage whispered to her husband, “Oh, GREAT! I’m glad we paid good money to listen to their kid.”

Our daughter sat perfectly still and listened with wide eyes to the music.  She perched on the edge of her seat when the violin soloist came out, but she didn’t rustle or say a word… which is more than I can say for the chatty whisperers behind us.

Now, four years later, she has been to several other performances, but she still remembers that one.  She was chomping at the bit to be allowed to learn an instrument for herself.  She was bursting with pride when she played her first concert.

From the audience to the stage.  Our girl is hooked on live performance of any sort.

From the audience to the stage. Our girl is hooked on live performance of any sort.

A second story:  We took my 1 1/2 year old son to a movie theater recently.  (Our girl could have done it at that age, lest you think we’re crazy.)  He was restless about 10 minutes in.  He started to cry.  We took him out.  When he’s a little older we’ll try again.  If it doesn’t work we’ll wait a while and try again.  And we’ll keep trying until he learns to sit nicely and then we’ll try something a little trickier.  Like maybe the symphony.

Young children need to have the chance to try and fail and try again.   When we ban them from public places, we rob them of vital experiences that will make them better mannered, better educated, more well-rounded adults.

Now, I totally get that no one wants to go out for an expensive, long-awaited, romantic dinner only to have it ruined by the screaming baby at the next table or the kid that’s running all over the restaurant picking food off other people’s plates.  But may I suggest that, as this article highlights, it is not the child that you have an issue with, it’s the parent.  Many times I have taken my children to restaurants and they have sat quietly and eaten politely.  A few times we’ve dragged them out to the car and they’ve cried in the parking lot while everyone else finished eating.  Yes, that meant we paid for a dinner that was eaten later out of a box, but our fellow diners weren’t disturbed for more than a few seconds and our child (hopefully) learned an important lesson.

Along the same lines, parents need to know their children’s’ limits.  Even as a baby my daughter could sit quietly for long periods.  My son… not so much.  We’re working up to it.  He will get the same experiences, but perhaps a year or two later than his sister.

And, parents need to exercise a little discretion   I realize the line isn’t always perfectly clear… can a 4th grader watch Twilight or not?  But some things are clearly over the line.  No child needs to see The Freddy Kruger Halloween Chainsaw Massacre.  Then again, no adult really needs to see that, either.

To those who complain about kids in public places I ask you:  who do you want taking care of you when you are old?  A man or woman who was brought up to act politely and learn about many different parts of life from an early age?  Or a man or woman who was allowed to run wild in a “child-only” environment 24/7 and then set loose on the world at age 18?  Regardless of whether or not you have children, the facts of life are that, some day, these kids WILL be running the country you live in.  May I suggest that, instead of hiding them away for the 1st 1/4 of their lives you participate in creating a culture in which they can learn and grow and develop into mature, productive citizens.

As the old proverb suggests, it take a village to raise a child.  YOU (I’m talking to you, chatty whisperer from the symphony) are part of the village.

Parents need to take their kids to nice restaurants.  Children need to see the beauty of live ballet and hear the miracle of a real symphony.  Children need to sit through boring meetings and civic debates.  Children need to be challenged and be bored and be nurtured.

What do you think?  Should restaurants, theaters, airlines, etc ban well-behaved children?

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14 responses »

  1. This whole “issue” has me perplexed. I never…. well, rarely, had any trouble with my boys in theaters or at the symphony. They are always polite at restaurants, even to the point of helping older ladies with their chairs sometimes. I personally think that ANY child can be well mannered, IF heir parents train them young. Like you, I think if a parent actually pays attention, the child won’t disturb anyone much past a few moments.

    I learned with my first child some important things. 1. When it’s late and you’ve been out all day with the child, DON’T expect them to behave themselves. Especially if they are hungry. Take them to the drive thru and get them HOME. Don’t take them inside someplace if they are sick, hungry or tired. They will rebel and you’ll have to leave.

    I remember one time, taking my youngest to a “fancy restaurant”, the type that’s fairly noisy (Casa Bonita) and having my son start crying halfway through the line. When asked why he was crying, he replied “It too noisy, grow ups talking too much, too loud!! Can we just go home?”

    Not every child can tolerate a lot of noise. Maybe we should ban grow ups from certain places as well….

  2. I know your post is pondering children, but it makes me think of my sister-in-law who is handicapped in a wheelchair and has had several occasions in restaurants where she was treated rudely. These range from other customers with stares and comments to the wait staff getting antsy that she takes longer to eat than the average Joe who can feed themselves. I would say that your argument about being out in the world instead of hidden away would apply to people like her, too.

  3. Although I agree with many of your points, I don’t know if it would be that bad to have a few kid free places. I know when I was childless I could get really irritated with some kids being obnoxious and having an effect on my evening/dinner/movie whatever it was. I certainly believe this is a parent problem and not a child problem. But having a place or two that do not allow children would not insult me as a parent. Some people don’t like the distraction of being around kids, I think I am ok with that.

    • But aren’t there already places like that? For example, my husband works in a very nice restaurant attached to a casino. Because of the casino, by law, you have to be 21 to go there. Obviously the casino itself is kid free. In most states kids can’t go to bars or rated-R movies. And, really, on an average night, how many people take their toddler to a place where a meal costs more than $5? I really do understand where the “banners” are coming from and I don’t take it personally. But…really…. if children are well behaved, do you even notice them? Maybe it would be different if a restaurant banned disruptive guests – including children who are disruptive. My concern is that if the trend continues to spread we will end up with an entire generation that has no concept of how to act “in polite company” because they’ve never been made to do it. And… somehow… although I have a hard time articulating it in any coherent way… banning children from public places seems connected to locking away old people in nursing homes once they become too much work. I don’t even know if that makes sense, but it’s tied together in my brain for some reason.

      • “banning children from public places seems connected to locking away old people in nursing homes once they become too much work”

        This! I so agree with this… I need to think more on verbalizing they why, but I agree, and I think that it says something about the selfishness of our society..

  4. AMEN!!! We take our four kids to all kinds of places, they even sit through sunday service quietly! It does take some time and effort to from us to train them, but it works. Invest in teaching your children and the results will make you and others very happy!!!

  5. I agree it is a problem with the parent and not the child, nevertheless it is impossible to ban bad parents as it is impossible to identify those parents prior to their children acting out in public. I took my sons with me to lots of venues, from nice restaurants, concerts, Broadway plays to travel out of country; they knew the rules and the consequences of acting out.

    On the other hand:

    I have spent hours on planes with children kicking the back of my seat. Flipping the trays up and down. Screaming and shouting. Running up and down aisles. Standing on their seats and looking over my seat from behind. Getting up and down, forcing me to get up or move so they can do same.

    I have spent countless meals with children at the next table, screaming, throwing food, running around the restaurant. In one case I was injured in a slip and fall because three children had a food fight and threw their food on the tile floor, the restaurant didn’t clean it up fast enough, I didn’t see it and I stepped down, slipped and dislocated my shoulder and received a concussion.

    I have had untold days and nights disrupted by children running up and down hallways in hotels, playing in elevators and screaming their delight at finally being able to jump up and down on the bed in the room next door.

    I travel in my work, I see these things constantly. When I see children in the waiting lounge in airports I hope they won’t be near me on the plane. I am grateful I am usually on a floor in the hotels I stay in where children aren’t allowed (I smoke). I usually eat in my room when I travel these days, simply avoiding the problem altogether.

    Yes, agreed it is the parents. However, this doesn’t change the fact many parents don’t address the problem thus the rest of us are left with unruly, badly behaved children in venues where we are paying money to enjoy an entertainment be it a meal, theater or travel.

    • Hmm… I hear what you’re saying. I’ve experienced it as well. On the other hand, I’ve also met bunches of badly behaved, rude, disruptive adults in my life. Perhaps we need to put our heads together and come up with a way to ban jerks instead of children! Ahh… if only… can you imagine how lovely it would be? 🙂

      • The issue is I have absolutely no problem saying something to an adult about their bad behavior. I will speak up. I will only say something once and then I will engage management of wherever I am. What I won’t do is correct someone else’s child.

        It would be nice to ban jerks, agreed.

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