Children are people too

Cross posted

Over at Feministe, there’s a monster thread concerned with policing children’s behaviour. According to some people on the thread, children shouldn’t be allowed. Our public spaces should be free of them for fear of them ruining the grown ups’ day.

That’s a bit of an exaggeration. But only a bit. Mostly it’s about children being kept out of restaurants and movie theatres, and how parents are necessarily bad parents if their children cry, or run about, or create any kind of disturbance. In short, if they behave like children.

There’s a lot to not like in the thread, and given that it’s now over well over 300 comments long, I wouldn’t bother with it. I think the thing that disturbs me most is the assumption that many people make (both in the thread, and in real life), that my children will be noisy, and disruptive, and they need to be KEPT UNDER CONTROL. The effect is to treat children as though they were smelly, slimy bugs that have crawled out from under a log, and are objects of disgust.

It’s a commonplace way for children to be treated. Years ago, because another child had cried during a wedding ceremony once, we were told that we could not bring our 13 month old daughter, from whom I had never been apart for more than a few hours, to a wedding ceremony. The assumption was that she would cry, and that I wouldn’t have the sense to take her out. One of the local inexpensive family restaurants we go to on occasion serves drinks to children in nasty plastic mugs, not even mock glasses. We have to ask specially for our sensible and careful daughters to be given glasses. When we got onto a plane with the kids, people roll their eyes, and look put out and angry to be seated beside children. Yet our girls are quite capable of managing a few hours in a seat on a plane without creating any more trouble than any other passenger.

I do not understand why my children, and any other children, are treated with suspicion. Not all the time, by any means. Not everywhere, by any means. But often enough, instead of making the same basic assumption that applies to adults in public spaces, that is, the assumption that the adult will comport her or himself in a way that makes the space easy for everyone to be in, the reverse assumption is made. People assume that the particular children they see right in front of them will do something that disturbs the adult, before even giving the children a chance. It’s a nasty prejudice. And yet it’s one that many people (see that thread at Feministe for example), seem to embrace. It seems that it’s okay to say, “I hate children.”

And even if the children do “misbehave”, so what? Lots of adults do that too. They take calls on their mobile phones and sit bellowing at the restaurant table so everyone can hear them, they talk at the tops of their voices full stop, they fart in crowded lifts, they neglect to wash, they abuse the waiting staff. And yet, they are still allowed to go out in public.

Enough with hating children, with treating them with contempt. Children are people too.


51 responses to “Children are people too

  1. Considerate parents with well behaved children, who in my experience are the majority, are judged by the actions of the few inconsiderate ones with unruly offspring.

    Some countries do it better – in Spain children are welcomed almost anywhere.

  2. Did you notice that the Divine Miranda has a rant in the SMH this weekend about how NZ is much more child friendly than Aus mostly on the basis that NZ has public signs to its child and baby clinics (ie Plunket, I assume). She is saying that The Pill is proving to be the end of civilisation (no, really – hadn’t you noticed how we’ve all gone to hell in a handbasket since it became available?)

    I do get a little anxious when I see people with young children being ushered into an aeroplane seat near me, but that is because I once spent long hours crossing the pacific with a child kicking me in the back, and once with a child kicking me from the side – despite, in both cases, me asking the parent very politely to discipline them. But if I observe that the children are normally well-behaved for their age (and you can usually assess this in the lounge or in the boarding queue) than I relax.

    Travelling with kids is bloody difficult, and my sympathies are with parents. But I don’t absolve them of their responsibilities.

  3. Fantastic, so well put.

    My favourite of your observations is that adults whose behaviour is often so much worse than children just walk around unquestioned often. What’s their excuse? If it was a child behaving like that we’d be looking around, clucking our tongues, wondering where the parent is, and probably thinking to ourselves “needs a good smack”. This thought, directed toward children and their incompetent parent, is never more verbalised than in a supermarket. But that’s a whole other post :).

    Children are not valuable because of the adults they will be – they have inherent worth and value for who they are today.

    Thank you!

  4. I try not to read Miss Divine unless I need something to get angry about. The very odd occassion when I generally disagree agree with her is very off putting so I try to avoid it.

    When did we stop being used to having children around? I don’t remember, as a child, this amount of animosity towards children. Maybe people were just more polite and kept their thoughts to themselves? I do my best, when I can and sometimes I can’t for whatever reason, just like everyone else. Why do people think that it’s a personal affront against them, deliberately perpetrated by parents? (NB: this doesn’t count on aeroplanes with children kicking seats. Children crying are just a fact of life, but no one needs to kick seats).

    [edited per Mindy’s comment below]

  5. Sorry that should be agree with her above.

  6. Great post. The thread at Feministe is horrifying. It is the dehumanization of children that totally blows me away. Treated like little bugs, as you say.

    Despite all the ways that Argentina can be difficult to parent in, I’ve found the acceptance and welcome of kids and kid behaviour in public spaces to be absolutely wonderful.

  7. love your post, I have 4 children and I expect them to use their manners etc and to behave well when we are out, I have flown with 3 of them at once and its doable… not the most fun but if you keep them busy then they are happy.

    children behave well when they are treated with respect, treat them well and they treat you well in return.

  8. Can’t comment on the Hand Mirror atm but then I saw you’d crossposted. had a couple of posts on this too. Comments weren’t too kid-hate-y (by my standards), it mostly degenerated into nitpicking of what amount of “uncomfortableness around kids” was “permitted”.

    Ok it was 3, not 2, though in my defense one is really short.

  9. Sing it. I want to be a mother one day, and the popular “anti-child” current in a lot of progressive discussion spaces really, really rubs me the wrong way. I’ve come up against it in convention politics, and it really frightens me because attentive parents that are with the children are often barred from these spaces along with the children.

    I remember being a child, very vividly. I was very well behaved. I have nieces and nephews now that aren’t just my nieces and nephews – they’re my friends. I keep up with their lives and I ask them how they’re doing. We share music and jokes and laughs, just like I do with any grown person.

    Seeing a baby or child in public brings me a lot of joy, cause I look forward to the day I have my own little one.

    I don’t think I’ll look at the Feministe thread, I don’t feel like being in a bad mood today.

  10. It’s probably because not as many people have kids these days. I was probably a bit anti-child myself, until I have one of my own. It’s amazing how much high-pitched shrieking I can put up with now.

  11. Am always amazed at these kinds of posts (not yours, the other ones hating kids). Where do these adults think they came from?

    I don’t see what’s the big deal if kids misbehave a little. Yes, so sometimes kids will scream and shout or run around etc. Why is it so hard to understand that this is perfectly natural behaviour for kids? Or are they suggesting that parents basically go nowhere? A little bit of community spirit is sorely needed, methinks.

  12. I also don’t understand the (what seems to me) whining about the lack of private space – one’s home is a private space after all; public spaces are called ‘public’ for a reason. But perhaps this is a culture thing and being Indian, perhaps I just don’t get it. Some of the examples that people cited as annoying – like a child throwing a fork down repeatedly or two kids throwing some stuff at each other, made me honestly go, HUH?? Here in India, I think there is so much sensory stimulus around us all the time, we just learn to tune out stuff, unless it’s really jarring.

  13. I think a lot of the annoyance with kids is a manifestation of fear of them. People who don’t have a lot to do with children fear them because they don’t know how to deal with them. They don’t know the boundaries, and what level of discipline you can assert over someone else’s children. So the glares are directed at the parents. A lot of misbehavior by children is easily countered simply by the affected person telling the child to stop themselves. Parents are likely to be grateful rather than resentful for this – it gets really boring having to tell your kids not to mess with other people because the other people won’t do it themselves.

  14. Our neighbour told our girls off for something, and quite fairly so. I went over and a) apologised for the girls’ behaviour and b) thanked him. He replied with some lovely homegrown eggplants for us. Takes a village…

  15. I’m one who is not sure where the limits are on what I am allowed to say or do with children I don’t know. And its mainly out of a fear of what their parent may do in response or even being accused of innappropriate behavior – especially when just an accusation can be highly damaging.

    One example is when I was at a playground with my daughter and noticed a not so stable toddler up about 1.5-2m on some play equipment that has some open edges just near us. Its not a situation I would leave my daughter in but I know that some parents would be ok with it – some kids are pretty careful about edges. It wasn’t until he got much closer to the edge and the mum yelled (in fear) when she realised where he was that I picked him up. I’m honestly not sure at what point I would have picked him up if his mother had not yelled out, especially since my attention was mostly on making sure my daughter was ok.

  16. Great post. Gosh, we have some weird attitudes to children and childhood. The one that really grates my cheese is the nostalgia for childhood as an idyllic time where you had no worries and everything was innocent and therefore great. Personally I don’t miss my parents controlling my whole life, or being too short to reach things, or not having the full intellectual ability to fight back at people talking shit, or times when not getting a toy or being tired was an absolute catastrophe. People gotta learn that children aren’t a separate, lesser species, just adults at an earlier stage of life.

  17. I love it when parents think they’re doing their cause good when they willfully ignore the shit that their side pulls and exaggerate–only slightly, you say—what the childfree side does.

    I really like how you mention how Renee told Amanda Marcotte to shut up, with her ‘stupid childfree logic’ and how Jesse told childfree people to ‘stay home. Just order in.’ The topper was the way Miriam Heddy got feted and applauded for saying that childfree people were saying that mothers chose to get harassed and raped….and closed it with ‘you pussy.’ Because that’s exactly what childfree people say, you know.

    Good job. All the lies the parents tell sure make me trust parents with kids all the more!

  18. Thehomepaddock wrote: Considerate parents with well behaved children, who in my experience are the majority, are judged by the actions of the few inconsiderate ones with unruly offspring.

    Really? I find considerate parents with well-behaved children so rare as to be *remarkable.* And yes, I do remark on it, to both parent and child; I pay compliments to kids whom I see behaving well.

    I don’t get to shell out too many remarks in that vein, and I find that unfortunate.

  19. @ ginmar – you mean the ‘lies’ that actually happened to them personally? Their actual experiences with child-haters? Why do you think they need to lie?

    @ fiona64 – maybe you have unrealistic ideas of what good behaviour is.

  20. that’s so very true. thanks for clarifying this for me!

  21. sorry, that was in reply to Ben Wilson’s comment.

  22. What happens to a girl child who grows up being constantly restricted from using her voice or her body when other people are around her? What kind of woman is she being trained to be?

    I agree with Mindy re @fiona64

  23. NOBODY is obliged to let you bring your kid anywhere and everywhere you want. Especially to private functions such as weddings. The bride and groom pay for it, or their parents do. THEY are entitled to make the rules. Don’t like it? Don’t go. End of story.

    And maybe kids are “treated with suspicion” because so many useless [parents] can’t be bothered to discipline them, because that’d stifle their ickle widdle self-esteeeeeeeems, and then said [parents] insist that the resultant shitty behavior is just “kids being kids.”

    Yeah, how about no. As for the claims that you never really see kids acting up in public, that’s because parental-entitlement culture defines bad behavior down. “Fussing quietly” = screaming its lungs out. (Oh, no, I called a precious child “it,” I’m such an oppressor!) Running around a restaurant and bumping into waitstaff with hot food and drinks = “rambunctious.” And so on and so forth.

    Outside of your little circle of “hipmamas,” nobody really likes you or your kid, and that goes for parents who actually bother to teach their children how to behave in public.

    [edited to remove some particularly offensive phrasing – DFR]

  24. Good to know b.g. is still alive and well then.

  25. LOL, “edited to remove some particularly offensive phrasing.” I was nice, sweetheart. Typical bovine hyperoffensensitivity.

  26. Did you come out of your mother a fully formed adult, or did you never get taken out in public b.g. and that’s why you are like this? Don’t like kids – NOBODY is forcing you to go out in public. Stay home, I’m sure no kid is silly enough to be there. You can have all the tantrums you like there and no one will care. Nor will they have to put up with your crap.

  27. The Little Billy Goat

    Please don’t eat me b.g. Wait for my brother, he is much bigger.

  28. Can’t say I feel the same about you, [redacted].

    [Further comments which call people nasty names will be disemvowelled.]

  29. I don’t know about anyone else, but while I certainly didn’t spring fully formed like Athena from Zeus’s forehead, I do know that my parents would have severely disciplined me (yes, I mean spanking) had I done any of the things that I see kids doing every time I go out in public.

    My siblings and I didn’t run amok through the aisles in grocery stores, we didn’t wander from table to table in restaurants, we didn’t shriek at the tops of our lungs whenever we didn’t get our way. Our parents *parented* us.

    We behaved when we were out in public because we knew there would be consequences if we didn’t.

  30. Three points, SFGC:

    1) I rarely see children behaving like that.

    2) What exactly is the harm in a child wandering around a restaurant anyway, provided they are not creating a hazard for the staff and other customers? A stroll around the tables might be just the thing that a child needs in order to manage a meal out with hir parents.

    3) In case, just because some children behave that way some of the time, doesn’t mean that every child should be treated with suspicion and distrust. We should apply the same standard that we do for other people. That is, we should assume that the child will be pleasant to be around, that hir behaviour will be appropriate for the space, that hir parents will help hir to manage because they too want to enjoy their time in the public space. We should not start with sneers and eyerolls and muttered comments about children, making all children and their parents feel unwelcome. And we shouldn’t do those things at all, of course: passive-aggression is vicious, and nasty. I would call it childish, except that would be an affront to the honesty of children. It’s only adults who delight in the passive-aggression thing.

    Give kids a break, and give the particular children you see the courtesy of basic common everyday politeness, the sort we extend to adults as a matter of course, but somehow think that children don’t deserve.

  31. I have to say, as an employee in a children’s clothing store, that I have rarely seen examples of such terrible misbehaviour such as people keep describing here and on the other blogs discussing the topic.

    Have any of you self-confessed child haters considered that maybe the reason you see so much bad behaviour is because those children know you hate them?

  32. SciFiGamerChick

    For the record, I don’t hate children. I have a niece and nephew whom I love dearly. What I have little tolerance for is parents who refuse to discipline their children and let them constantly disrupt others in supermarkets, restaurants, airplanes, etc.

    For the record, my sister (the mother of said niece and nephew) feels the same way I do about kids running amok. She didn’t let hers do that when they were small, and she doesn’t get why other parents do.

  33. I suspect also Elle that they just don’t notice children who aren’t misbehaving. A meal isn’t memorable because the children two tables over sat quietly and ate their vegetables unless you are looking for that type of thing.

  34. Person Next to You

    You expect people to put up with the noise and fussing of your kid. So do a lot of other parents and after time 3 or 4 of your annoying, crying replicants does become troublesome.

    Several people have commented that THEY got used to the racket, so that makes it ok.

    You’re rude. When people try to tell you something you get all defensive and try to project your incivility on people who just want to follow the social contract that people respect others in public.

    I don’t complain about rude parents everywhere – vd thm nd thr msbhvng chldrn. pld thr dsrptn t YTb.

    The second thing I do not do is hire parents. Most of you can’t control your kids and your friends won’t enlighten you. I’m not going to subsidize the existence of you or your noisy descendants. I lose nothing by overlooking you. There are scores of unemployed people and you are not a “special snowflake.”

    Rd th lws. n th S y cn phtgrph r vd nyn n pblc spc. Gt vlnt r sntt wth m nd ll d th bst thng n th wrld fr yr kds ll hv thm tkn w frm y.

    I’m sitting two tables away, Have a Nice Day.


    [Threats to parents disemvowelled]

  35. The previous commenter made some threats about what she or he would do with respect to children and parents. The threats were not directed at me, nor at any particular parent. Nevertheless, I decline to publish them in full. The commenter has been placed in the permanent moderation queue. Based on hir IP, the commenter appears to be in the United States.

  36. I am curious.

    What was so sinister that we need to be protected from words and sheltered like frail children?

  37. Check the comment policy.

  38. Put the vowels back in and see if you are that curious.

  39. Mindy wrote: I suspect also Elle that they just don’t notice children who aren’t misbehaving. A meal isn’t memorable because the children two tables over sat quietly and ate their vegetables unless you are looking for that type of thing.

    And you would be incorrect — those are exactly the kids I look for, so that I can go pay a compliment to both the kiddo and the parent.

    My idea of “good behavior” in a kid is pretty basic — what was expected of me, in other words. If the kid is on a playground, that’s the place to run, scream and jump — not the library, a restaurant, a museum or the symphony.

    And yes, if I acted up in a public situation one of my parents would take me out to the car and wait until I calmed down so as not to disrupt other diners (just to stick with the restaurant example) or patrons at the movie or whatever. There was no “strolling around to visit other diners.” There was no climbing on banquette backs to see what others were up to, or crawling under the table (let alone another party’s table, as a kid did to me one night — and the parent ripped me a a new one for not finding it acceptable), or “fussing quietly” with enough volume to rattle glass.

  40. Why do you feel the need to compliment people on their children?

    I agree that a parent ripping into you because you objected to their child under your table is unreasonable behaviour on the part of the parent. I wouldn’t let my child crawl under other people’s tables either. All the parents I know, I believe, would think that is unreasonable behaviour – both parent and child. My contention is that, without reason, a lot of people think that I would think it reasonable behaviour and treat me and my children accordingly, as if that behaviour has already occurred.

  41. I agree with Apu, who’s from India. Perhaps it’s a cultural thing. I’m of Maltese parentage, and I find this definition of ‘enjoyment’ and ‘well-behavedness’ as sitting quietly and calmly and eating dinner ever-so-nicely very…Anglo. I love our loud family dinners, and our loud family weddings, and the way children are tumbled around, and pinched, and climb all over 92 year old Nonna and fall asleep on mattresses in the corner, all in a pile. They are generally seen as part of the celebration, not distracting from it.

  42. Oh Molly, same with my family. My Gran was Maltese, my Grandpa was Scottish. It was all about family and friends and everyone caring for each other. The kids were a part of the scene and they soon learnt how to behave, but were also part of the fun shenanigans. We’d have parties that went on till dawn, and Granny would give us kids icecream in cones. There’d be live music and jamming and old friends of Granny’s would come over and drink whole bottles of whisky, then vomit in the yard. It was all a part of growing up in a big, warm, crazy family.

    I find “adult” parties a bit boring, really. There’s nothing like a party with kids. They really know how to let loose and get their party face on.

  43. Ms 11 is what I’m commonly known as on this blog, and as I am only 11, I like to consider myself a child. I am not looking forward to any prospect of not being allowed into restaurants or any other public places, and I enjoy going out as much as the next person, adult or not. I have personally never created too much disturbance in public places (well, that i can remember) and think it very unfair to be punished for a crime I didn’t commit. In my class at school, there is only about four kids who come to mind, that might create a disturbance. Children are people too!

  44. Just to add on, if you don’t want to hear any children screaming (however rare it might be) then don’t go out. And don’t say this is unfair, because in another comment someone has said that if you don’t like it when someone tells you not to bring your kid to a wedding, then don’t go at all. So no complaining!

  45. Ms 11, you make a great case. Thank you for so eloquently bringing your voice to this blog. You bring a face to the kids we’re talking about. Beautifully said!

  46. Thank you nice people who said nice things about my comments!

  47. I’ve worked in restaurants for 10 years. So I’m pretty sure this puts more time under my belt than frequent diners-out. Most children behave just fine, appropriately for their age. The few cases where a child has gotten out of control has been the fault of the parents (out too late, expecting the kid to just sit there with no entertainment, planning too long of a meal – apps, salads, dinner, dessert, coffee). Therefore, it is not the fault of the children and they should not be scorned.

    A three year old whom turns around and says hello to your table is not a disturbance, it is not inappropriate behavior. It took all of 30 seconds to interact with another PERSON; why is this such a hardship because the person is a child.

    Several people have made the argument that if a child is wandering then he/she is in the staffs’ way and will cause problems. If that is the case, the staff will take care of it very quickly. I don’t wish to drop an entire tray of hot meals, spill drinks, hit a kid with a kitchen door accidentally, etc. We will take care of it (though it rarely happens).

    Based on the comments here, and other similar articles/threads, it seems most people are really only upset over very small children based upon the behavior they are describing. Fortunately, only a tiny fraction of the population is at that age at any given time, you will encounter only a tiny fraction of that “very small child” population in a given outing, and an even smaller fraction of the “very small child” population will misbehave to the point of ruining your experience. (You may take notice of more children, but you also take notice of adults). It seems as if most people are making a mountain out of a very tiny molehill. As for those who go to places mainly frequented by little ones, but whom hate kids, why? (for example, if a cafe has an organized mother’s breakfast every Wednesday at 10 am, why would you go? If you hate small children, go somewhere they are less likely to be – the cafe next door probably has everything the first one does minus the 20 babies and toddlers!).

  48. I can’t remember too many unpleasant experiences in aeroplanes and restaurants with young children. I sat across from a delightful four year old on an aeroplane yesterday who made my flight far more enjoyable.
    However, I do have a problem with parents who believe they have the right to take babies, toddlers or bored misbehaving children to concerts, and I don’t mean the Wiggles. Recently I went to a large concert recommended as not being suitable for children under five. You guessed it; there were babies and toddlers everywhere, some behaving well but others doing what small children normally do, making a noise.
    I do have children and I take them to concerts but only at an age where they can sit and sometimes sleep very quietly. Of course it is not only young children who don’t understand concert etiquette – there are plenty of chatty adults who can’t shut up either.
    Have your children in public spaces by all means, but if they are bored, misbehaving and causing havoc, take them somewhere where they can enjoy being children and leave the rest of us in peace.

  49. I’ve always considered this my “mantra” so to speak. I believe my children are as human as I am. I learn new things every day and make mistakes. So do they. There are no “rules” in my house, per se, but we all help each other and my kids learn by example by me and my husband. We ALL have the same “rules”. Some always say to me, “so you’d let your kids drink or watch bad movies?” Of course not! I don’t allow myself to do those things either, so they don’t have any want for that. They don’t think it’s necessary in their lives, just like I don’t. If I do something or behave a certain way, it’s only in a way that I feel would be appropriate for anyone. I believe my children are well-behaved in public, because I am. This is what they see, and so they act as such.