"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. [...]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.
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.]
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.