Last week, a "family friendly" restaurant in Houston banned children under nine from its premises after 7 p.m. Two years ago, a restaurant in Pittsburgh did the same but their cut-off age was six. I was thinking about kids in restaurants while eating a very late lunch with a group of friends last weekend in a mall restaurant, one of a famous restaurant chain. Looking around the extremely noisy dining area in our immediate vicinity, I noticed one table after another, usually booths, with one or more children under the age of six or seven. None screamed or cried. The adults were paying them close attention, even holding them on their laps or feeding them. If I hadn't looked around for them, I wouldn't have known the children were there.
I have a friend with two young sons, aged six and nine. They are loud, full of energy, and when together, nearly constantly bickering unless they're playing an electronic game on an e-reader. She brings them occasionally with her to a group we're both members of that meets at a Barnes & Noble cafe in the evening. I love seeing them. The boys usually run off to either explore the legos section, play with legos, or explore the children's books. Yes, they run, not walk. My friend admonishes them often about being loud, about fighting, about walking not running, but they continue to misbehave. I began to wonder, why? After thinking about it, I realized that there were no consequences for their misbehavior. Yes, it made their mother angry. But they did not suffer any consequences such as a time out, or even having to leave because of their behavior.
Is it just me, or does it seem like the number of misbehaving children in public has increased over the years? Another friend, who works in a large city hospital emergency room, claims that it's bad parenting. Parents bring their children into the ER because they can't control them. For example, the parent does or says something that angers the kid, so the kid picks up a knife and tells the parent she'll kill her. Or the kid acts out in some other way. The parents feel they have no control over their kids. Well, they don't. They have no one else to blame but themselves.
My parents were overly strict. They believed in the "children are seen not heard" system of parenting. If I misbehaved, I suffered consequences, e.g. spanking or being hit on the back of my legs with a lilac switch, banishment to my room without supper (or lunch), and being grounded for a specific period of time. My parents made it excruciatingly clear which behaviors were unacceptable and which were acceptable. I do not believe in spanking or switching a child, or physical violence as parenting. But the denial of something the child wants can be very effective, too. I can remember being denied things, not for a day or a week, but for forever if I misbehaved. I understood the importance of acceptable behavior, especially in public spaces.
As a society, we have a system of laws that determine what behavior is unacceptable. Families are micro-societies and also need a system of laws, and the parents need to actively enforce those laws. The punishment needs to be equal to the transgression and consistent. No physical violence. Other methods of discipline have been shown to be more effective. And I think it should be part of the preparation for a baby, much as Lamaze classes prepare for the delivery, that the proud pregnant adults (men and women) take required parenting classes that include the stages of child development and effective methods of discipline. For something as important as a new human life and parenting that new human, we need to insure that parents know how.
No one is perfect or omniscient. Parents will make mistakes, and how they deal with those mistakes models for the children an important lesson. We often forget, I think, that children absorb from us how to be in the world -- not only their parents but teachers and other adults that are in their lives. We model correct behavior for them, or not, as the case may be. My friend in the hospital ER has told me that she's seen parents yell and swear at their kids and the kids yell and swear back. Unlike restaurants, who can decide whom they'll serve, ERs must serve these families in distress.
What do you think about this?