Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The people they ought to ban

Are parents with children becoming the new second-class citizens? Have a look:
"Brat bans could well be the next frontier in destination and leisure-product marketing," writes Robert Klara in an article on the child-free trend in AdWeek. [...]

Traveling is one thing, but what about in kids' own hometowns? Should kids been banned from local movie theaters, like they were at a recent adults-only Harry Potter screening? In Texas, one cinema chain has even flipped the model, banning kids under six altogether, except on specified "baby days".

Even running errands with toddlers may be off limits. This summer Whole Foods stores in Missouri are offering child-free shopping hours and in Florida, a controversy brews over whether kids can be banned from a condominium's outdoor area. That's right, some people don't even want kids outdoors.

When did kids become the equivalent of second-hand smoke? Blame a wave of childless adults with money to spare. "Empty nesters continue to wield a huge swath of discretionary spending dollars, and population dips in first-world countries mean more childless couples than ever," writes AdWeek's Klara. [...]

Most parents with young children have self-imposed limits on spending and leisure. This new movement imposes limits set by the public. And the public isn't as child-friendly as it used to be. As businesses respond to their new breed of 'first-class' clientele, are parents in danger of becoming second-class citizens? [All links in original: E.M.]
I'd like to preface my remarks with three points: first, there are places parents should generally not take small children (the opera comes to mind, as do restaurants where meals cost more than $85 per person, nude beaches, avant-garde theater productions, and across picket lines, but that sort of decision requires the rare quality called common sense, which is no more prevalent among parents than among any other sort of human being). Second, if parents actually practiced the art of disciplining children instead of folding up like cheap beach umbrellas every time their children threaten to act out in public, fewer children would cause the kinds of ill-mannered and distressing scenes that cause non-parents to become increasingly intolerant of the presence of people under age twenty or so. And third, only a narcissistic whiner--which I am not--would try to force private businesses to allow children on their premises using the strong arm of the law, or at least the threat of civil lawsuits.

All of that said, though, I think that most businesses which issue a blanket "No children allowed" policy or severely restrict or limit the hours or places where children are permitted to be present are being colossally short-sighted and even, if I may say so as charitably as possible, monumentally stupid. It is one thing if the businesses that decide such a policy will enhance their adult customers' experiences without causing them to lose family business are actually businesses about which this is true: five-star restaurants, perhaps, or the snobby art museum in my town which has such a bad reputation for being family-unfriendly that the only time I ever visited it was before our family actually moved here (we were visiting relatives)--and that experience was unnerving enough to convince me that I wasn't missing out on anything by not becoming a regular patron, nor, in fact, ever setting foot inside their doors again. It's another thing altogether if businesses which reap a fair share of their profits selling their goods or services to families with children suddenly decide to have child-free hours or place draconian restrictions on when and where children may be served. Busy moms and dads of young children find it hard enough to run errands or travel or otherwise conduct normal business without having to remember that their children aren't welcome at this store on these days or that restaurant during those hours; it's much more likely that such businesses will simply earn the label, like the art museum in my town, "family-unfriendly," and will lose the business of families with young children altogether.

They will also lose the business of people like me, because even though my children are now old enough to be welcome in most places, I myself am ordinarily extremely uncomfortable in establishments where no children are allowed. I dislike being among crowds of selfish, spoiled, egocentric adults who think that having successfully avoided the presence of children they are now free to be as ill-mannered, exacting, demanding, arrogant, rude, and cheap with "the help" as they like; and "the help" includes restaurant servers, theater attendants, flight attendants, hotel staff, and several dozen other groups of employees who get stuck dealing with the toxic levels of entitlement on display among the "No children, please!" crowd.

I can, after all, make excuses for a tired baby fussing, or a momentary toddler meltdown, or an unscheduled bit of six-year-old angst or illness--especially when loving, caring parents are clearly doing their absolute best to deal promptly and efficiently with the situation, whatever it might be. It is harder to make excuses for parents who apparently aren't interested in parenting, and don't seem to care that their children are egregiously misbehaving. But it is hardest of all to excuse the unmitigated boorishness of a loudmouthed and pompous diner reducing a young server to tears for having had the carelessness to bring him the meal he actually ordered, instead of the meal he had, perhaps, considered ordering but had not; or the unbelievable gall of the narcissist who can't resist checking his text messages in the middle of La Boheme, by which he is clearly patently bored.

But, of course, businesses can't ban the people they ought to ban: smug, selfish, badly-behaved, self-centered, spoiled, arrogant, entitled adults. Because if they could, none of us would have anyplace at which to transact any of our business ever again.


kkollwitz said...

Simply another unintended (?)consequence of The Pill.

Anonymous said...

I have kids. I love kids. I even love other peoples' kids when they are having a meltdown. I don't love other people's kids when they run over my ankles at Trader Joe's with those blasted little carts. They aren't misbehaving, they are doing what their parents consider precious. playing at the store with their little cart, while Mom samples products and has a leisurely stroll through the store chatting merrily with the baby in the big cart.... "see the fruit? ooooh, the freezer is cooooold!" Meanwhile, my time is at a premium, as is everyone else's in the store. I don't have the time or patience to witness a family field trip to a small store. Does this make me Narcisstic? maybe. It mostly makes me a person who would likely go to some stores during kid free hours if only to just get out of there quicker. I would also go to theaters during a "no kids under six time" so that I don't have the movie ruined by a toddler.
Yes, common parenting sense would eliminate most of these problems, but business have obviously decided that parents of young children don't have that kind of sense. Although in my experience, baby boomer grandparents seem to be even more ridiculously indulgent than the parents. They find tantrums, sticky hands on strangers and general running amok to be a birthright for their offspring of offspring.

Melissa D said...

First: you are awesome.
Second: public parenting can be so different from what we do in private. Discipline options are limited... when my children throw toys at each other at home or bite or hit or do worse, I can administer a swat on a bottom, enforce time out, etc. In public, my only option is usually to leave the premises (and I do) or hiss at the offender.

And normally good kids do surprising things -- as when my 3YO who had great manners decided to say "Look, Mommy! I'm a pig!" and put her face into her bowl to eat while I was serving my other 2 kids at a (thankfully casual, but not swine-casual) restaurant.

To me the saddest part is that adults who want to enforce wider child banning in public spaces forget that they were once children -- with selfishness, manners in need of training, and small acts of violence that needed quelling. We go so long before having kids now that we think a life dedicated to the preservation of one's self-defined space is a worthy goal. Having kids broke me down, showed me my own sinfulness in detail, and gave me compassion for others. It saved me from myself.

Barbara C. said...

I think businesses should have every right to forbid kids...as long as they are prepared to see a long-term dip in business and profit. Yes, they may get an initial bump from child haters, but the trendiness will fade.

And considering that I have four young kids, I usually spend at least twice as much at a restaurant compared to when it is just me and my husband. Grocery stores also benefit from having children come because the mental stamina of just keeping track of the kids even if they aren't asking for five items in every aisle leads parents to make less cost-effective decisions, impulse buy, and forget items leading to a 2nd trip to the store.

Of course, what's interesting is how this fits into the whole discrimination debate. A lot of these people that are all for banning kids would throw a fit if a business substituted "kids" for Muslims, gays, or Asians. Said business would be slammed as religiously intolerant, homophobic, or racist. Yet this is blatant ageism.

Kate said...

Add "mental disability" to "child" and it's a double whammy. I have a child with autism. The number one way I deal with his behavioral issues is to leave a place. The threshold for understanding and tolerance from others declines as my child gets older. It took forever to find a church that was open and welcoming to us, understanding and caring even when my child starts to cry for some reason I can't figure out initially. This happened two weeks ago, during the Eucharistic prayer at Mass. There was no warning.

Simply put, we don't go to places that are unfriendly to children and to people with disabilities. I'm not just talking about businesses either. There are lots of places and people who think nothing of backseat parenting someone like me. It's a regular occurence these days. So, most of the time I simply don't bother. I can't remember the last time I used a babysitter for any reason, except for a doctor's appointment or emergency. My son is 9 now. Respite? Date night? Don't make me laugh. The good part is we actually love spending time together as a family, doing things together as a family, and don't feel we need "time to ourselves" or "child-free" time. The level of adult self-indulgence I see around me these days is mind-blowing. I don't remember seeing this in my parents' generation or previous ones either. It's just another sign of the times.

Geoff G. said...

I'll just say that my parents took both me and my sister to the opera once we were old enough to enjoy it. It's still a big part of my life and my sister is now a professional singer.

Please do take your kids to the opera (even if you have to leave a bit early because the evening's stretching on a bit too long). One of the things that makes me sad is seeing just how elderly most of the attendees at opera are.

Rebecca in ID said...

I took my children over 4 to the opera once, with my SIL who had six...it was a specificially child-friendly opera--the whole, unabridged Magic Flute, but children were *free* and there were many children performing. It was great. I would love to see more of that kind of thing. The children were all completely rivited for the two hours and asked to listen to The Magic Flute every day for months after. I wish our culture was more welcoming of children, and would stop trying to corral them off, which only makes the problem of their acting in anti-social ways, worse.

Peter said...

Erin, your last paragraph is genius. Would that it could happen.

I like your post b/c I am one of those DINKS (double income, no kids) who seeks out the "no children" Caribbean resort, and the adult pool when possible. And of course I will never let a restaurant hostess seat me next to a table with a child. I work too hard to deal with other people's drama and poor parenting in my off hours and unfortunately, 20 years of working life has proven to me that separating myself physically from strangers with children is never a bad idea.

That said, of course I do love playing in a beach club pool with my 10 nieces and nephews (and the hundreds of other kids!), but when they blow the whistle for Adult Swim, I am relieved. So I hope your readers don't think we are all child-haters, we just remember a better time:

We were 6 children in total; the oldest and youngest only 10 years apart. Raised in the suburbs, we ate out - all 8 of us - at least once a week and we went on many family vacations, movies, airplanes, train rides, tours, etc. My parents gave us every opportunity to be in the presence of adults but we always had to behave well - at restaurants, at club pools, anywhere in public. I suspect they somehow taught us the difference between an amusement park and an Italian restaurant and to behave accordingly. I know that they expressly told us that the people around us were paying good money to enjoy what they were doing and that they weren't on this airplane, or in this theatre, etc. for the purpose of hearing loud children. Respect for adults' quiet enjoyment of their surroinding was drilled into us.

Last thought: I was accustomed - I repeat, accustomed, to watching adult diners stop by our table on their way out and congratulate my mother for such well-behaved children. I suspect she and my father took great pride in hearing it. She has my admiration.

Red Cardigan said...

Geoff, Rebecca, I'd like to take my girls to the opera, and to more cultural events generally (and they're old enough). For now, we've "made do" with some local community college shows and recitals, which were free to the public. :) When the "cheap seats" at the professional shows start ate $30, and you have to factor in parking, etc., the price of cultural events is often prohibitive even for our relatively small family of five.

Someday, maybe. And considering how much it can cost to go to a baseball game (where the ability to see as well as hear is crucial), it's not awful that theater tickets cost what they do.

Red Cardigan said...

That was unclear; I meant that my girls are now old enough to attend these sorts of events but price sort of limits our ability. :)

Clearly I need caffeine.

LarryD said...

Clearly, parents have to declare that they're children are homosexual. Then they can bring them anywhere they want.

Erin - you know me well enough to know where I'm coming from.

LarryD said...

ARRRGGHHH "they're" s/b "their".

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't this be Age Discrimination!?
The FatMan

Charlotte said...

This policy might work at a 4-star restaurant, and I'm all for it at that kind of place. Likewise for an adults-only resort. No problem with that whatsoever.

But everywhere else, it will eventually backfire because the fact of the matter is that the kids are wearing the pants in most families now. Trader Joes has those little carts and find-the-parrot-and-get-a-sucker stuff for the express purpose of engaging the child into a like of the store, which results in Mom liking the store more, staying longer, and buying more stuff.

Likewise, this spring my husband and I watched the "America's Next Great Restaurant " series where TWO episodes were devoted to developing a kids menu and testing it out with children. Why? Because market research shows that children are one of the main drivers in determining where a family will eat. The CHILDREN.

On the flipside, we live in a crazy culture where common sense has left the scene and bad parenting abounds. Yeah, I think there should be some movies offered that are no-kids because if not, we will continue to see dumb-ass parents taking a 4 year old into a movie playing at 9:20 p.m. and getting out at 11:00 p.m. How is that OK and right for a child? It's not, but the parents don't care. To me, some of these proposed rules against kids reflect less an anti-child bias that a parenting-for-dummies approach.

When I was a child, my parents told us that when we were out to eat at a restaurant, if we ever misbehaved we would get ONE trip ever to the bathroom and that we would never misbehave in a restaurant after that ONE trip. Well, both my brother and I eventually got the one trip to the bathroom, where we were spanked within an inch of our lives. (Ah, the good old days when you could discipline your kids in public.) She was right - we never misbehaved again. This is the approach that's missing.

I agree with Melissa D: It is the thing of nightmares to try and find an effective way to discipline your child in public now. The same people who would abort your child in a heartbeat are the same jerks who would call someone if they saw you swat their butt once in aisle 3 at the grocery store. My husband and I have literally almost been reduced to tears in stores not knowing what to anymore about a meltdown or disobedient standoff. Our hands are tied; we have been rendered useless as parents in these situations.

Which leads, of course, to loud, misbehaved brats in stores, restaurants, and other public places. So it's no wonder why they want to restrict children. In my opinion, it's their own fault.

Rebecca in ID said...

Wow, it's really interesting to read the different perspectives. I don't think my kids "wear the pants" in my family but I love TJ's friendliness towards children and I love child menus. When I go out to eat with my children, I like to take their tastes into account and I like it not to be too difficult to find something they like that's their size. It makes things easier and pleasanter for everybody. I also find that my children are well-behaved and pleasant in public, maybe just because they are used to tagging around with me, but I've never had to threaten them, or felt a need to do that.

Geoff G. said...

Rebecca, I'd agree, The Magic Flute is an excellent choice for children. Lots of really cool stuff to hold their attention (animals, interesting costumes, neat villains, lots of fantasy), and (the rather sotto-voce Freemasonry allusions aside) I'd imagine the moral message is acceptable to even the most hardcore of conservatives :)

Red, I'd suggest you check and see if the local company does any outreach programs. Many are targeted specifically at children and/or people in smaller communities that don't have access. You might also see about getting the kids in to watch dress rehearsals.

My sister did a fair amount of outreach stuff while she was still mostly apprenticing and found it very rewarding.

One last place to check is if any local universities have opera programs. Tickets are often very cheap, and I've found the quality of the students to be surprisingly good, even at schools that aren't particularly known for their music programs.

Another benefit of universities with music training programs is that both faculty and students are required to regularly perform in classical music concerts. Very often, these are free and open to the public, yet frequently woefully unattended. An excellent way of passing an evening in these cash-strapped times.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

I love children. I think that adults who want a space free of the presence of children should be free to arrange that, just as men who want a social space free of women, or women who want a social space free of men, should be able to arrange that.

But in general, children are an essential and inescapable part of life. The problem with any exclusion, based on age, race, sex, or whatever criteria, is when essential functions of life, general commerce, the public square, are expected to be reserved for some of us, who can then pretend that the rest of us don't exist.

Anonymous said...

"My husband and I have literally almost been reduced to tears in stores not knowing what to anymore about a meltdown or disobedient standoff. Our hands are tied; we have been rendered useless as parents in these situations."

If you only remedy is to hit your kids or give them a "swat" to stop such behavior, then you've brought this on yourself.

Anonymous said...

No, Anonymous, you're wrong. Stories about (and I can pull people into this commbox to personally testify) discipline that has nothing to do with spanking abound. It's even talking to your child in a certain tone that these nosey jerks don't like, or perhaps even pulling your childs face to yours to get their attention, etc. Our society has fallen to the point where letting your kids run wild in the name of freedom and freedom from perceived emotional tyranny from parents is now the leading, preferred method of discipline.

As to spanking - generations upon generations of children in this country were spanked, and interestingly enough, those generations turned out to be the civilized, half-way moral, and hard-working generations. Kids today, for the most part, are entitled brats. Homes with strong discipline turn out the winners. Discipline doesn't have to include spanking. But a good spanking (which is Biblical), when necessary, isn't going to harm anyone.

Anonymous said...

Spanking isn't Biblical, no matter the "spare the rod" proof texting. Generations of children who were spanked created generations of addiction, violence, and far-from-civilized behavior and adults who are unable to problem solve or discipline their children without resorting to violence.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

The truth is, parents come in so many varities, children come in so many varieties, the contexts of life and work and play and neighborhoods and schools in which families find themselves have so many variables, that it is foolish to try to impose a neat one-size-fits-all standard for all parents and all children.

That is one reason that, within reasonable limits, parents' right to raise their child is constitutionally protected. (See Troxel v. Granville, also Pierce v. Society of Sisters, and Calabretta v. Floyd).

I have known hard-working, thoughtful, self-sacrificing, courteous adults whose mothers swear they were never spanked in their lives. I have also known adults who swear that they themselves would be unfit for human company if their mother hadn't taken a switch to them every day of their childhood. There are many intermediate variations.

Parents often get it wrong, and doing physical damage to life and limb is a legitimate matter for legal intervention, but there is no basis to think that the law, or prevailing fads, or the latest social work graduates, or the consensus of anyone else who happens to be in the store, is going to be better.

Anonymous said...

That's some fancy moral relativism, but I think we can probably agree on a moral code that says 150 pound adults shouldn't hit 30 pound children not matter how bad they are being. Is there really a moral argument for beating other people, especially powerless children? Is there really an argument for an occasional "swat" by an angry adult on a child? Really?

Anonymous said...

Who said anything about an "angry" parent? There's where you're making assumptions.

And who said anything about "beating?" Again, more assumptions.

The anti-spanking crowd always assumed that if someone spanks their kids, then they must be angry, out-of-control freaks beating their kids day and night for years. Laughing! You'd be surprised at who really spanks their kids - including the ones who will spout off your philosophy publically so as appear P.C.

"Spare the rod" isn't proof texting, and it isn't the only reference to physical discipline in the Bible.

You can attribute spanking to all the social ills you want, but the "Greatest Generation" and the ones before it speak otherwise.

Instead, today we have brats raised in moral relativism because parents are being told they should be "friends," rather than parents.

Not buying it. And you're damn straight I'm glad we're protected in this country to raise our children as we see fit. Keep Europe's way out of this country, please and thank you!

Anonymous said...

The greatest generation raised the baby boomers, a generation that brought us high levels of divorce, dysfunction, abuse, and addiction. I wouldn't exactly want to follow their approach, given the disasterous results. If that's what a generation raised with spankings and "swats" on the behind looks like, I'll pass.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

"The Greatest Generation" is Tom Brokaw's fantasy. In real life, absent a lot of propaganda, people don't come in neatly bounded generations. Babies are born every year, not every ten or twenty years in large batches. Some of those who lived through the Great Depression and fought World War II were born before 1900. Others were born after 1920. Some people were teen-agers during the war, old enough to experience it, but too young to be in the military or working in war materiel factories.

Some of the so-called baby-boomers are devout Christians, even Republicans, and while people their very own age were out protesting the War in Vietnam, were voting to "Re-Elect the President."