Monday, August 21, 2006

Chicken or Egg Syndrome

I read this article, No Brats Allowed!, and wondered...

What came first? The adult or the child?

The article discusses how the public is becoming more and more non-child oriented. People think children are acting increasingly inappropriate in stores, restaurants, airplanes, museums, etc. Is this true? Are we really seeing a rise in misbehavior, or has it been there all along?

I had a high school teacher who brought this subject up. He joked about it, but put it in perspective for me, saying, "Even the Romans complained about their youth. Back then adults complained about teenage chariot drivers running over pedestrians."

Since kids naturally do act up and always have, then why does a growing number of people think child misbehavior is getting out of control? Are adults getting more uptight, or are we letting our youth run amuck? Maybe it's a little of both.

Children should be allowed to run, giggle, scream, jump, and wonder. Using all of their senses, they are learning about the world around them. Parks, playgrounds, back and front yards, beaches, and gymnasiums offer bountiful opportunities for them to explore. At the same time, children are usually thrown into the mix with other people, peers and adults included. That's when rules have to be observed. Now they have to be considerate of others (as much as they can for their specific ages). Toddlers may have difficulty sharing and controlling their voice level, but they can understand not to hit or bite others. Preschoolers know how to use an indoor voice but are still learning to not interupt when a conversation is already in progress. (Alright, so I'm making a guess on that last one since neither of my kiddos are that age yet.)

Yes, when in public, children should be expected to be among the mix, within reason that is. We parents are responsible for keeping the needs of our children in mind. It just doesn't make sense to take a toddler to an adult oriented museum or a fancy restaurant. Some parents justify such actions saying they work and want to spend time with their children. That's understandable, but they need to go to a place where a Kid can be a Kid. Zoos, family style restaurants, malls, parks and youth museums are better alternatives. I don't expect my toddler to sit still at a coffee shop while I enjoy my Frappuccino. However, I can enjoy said beverage while I watch him play at the park.

Once the family is in a child friendly location, that doesn't mean we let our children have free rein. Being out in public gives parents the opportunity and obligation to teach social etiquette one skill at a time. Today my toddler is learning to stay with mommy and not run off, tomorrow he'll learn to use an indoor voice. It takes time and patience, and won't happen overnight. In fact, it won't happen at all if parents don't take the lead, and lead we must!

Children tend to mirror their parents' behaviors. If mommy cusses, her son probably will too. Daddy is rude towards others, his daughter is also. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, has a lot of truth in it. Our children are constantly watching and learning what we model for them. That's how they learn most of the rules in the game of life. If we expect our youth to display manners and respect, we need to start with ourselves.

What about the ever dreaded airplane scenario? The best of parents can have difficulty keeping their toddler happy in such a confining space. Some passengers are understanding, some not so. If parents are doing their best to help their child cope, then anyone with a complaint just needs to suck it up. An airplane is definitely a public place, and not always a pleasant one at that (delays, security, delays). I realize there are passengers trying to work or get some sleep, but you know what, children are people too and have rights. Toddlers' needs are different from adults, but they are still needs and not just wants. If letting a child walk/toddle up and down the aisle keeps him from crying, then let him. If a child reaches a point of crying, be understanding. Criticism and dagger looks only teach inappropriate behaviors, not solve them.

So, what came first, the adult or the child? Definitely, the adult! As parents, we have the responsibility to model and teach our children what behaviors are acceptable, especially when in public places. Those of us who are not parents also have the responsibility to model appropriate behaviors. We are all citizens of this world, age does not matter. Eventually, we interact with one another. Treat others as you want to be treated, not just a cliche, it's LIFE!

Edit note: the following was added Tues., Aug. 22 9:45 p.m.

Thanks for the responses. I thought I needed to add some clarification to my thinking:

I taught various grades (2, 3, 4, and 6) at an elementary school for 11 years before becoming a SAHM. I didn't think behaviors got progressively worse year to year. Some of the toughest classes I taught were early in my career. Maybe I just got better at disciplining and it reflected in how the students acted in my class. I had high expectations of every student and was very consistent with rules, rewards and consequences. My students knew the rules, rewards and consequences, and knew I was consistent in dealing with behaviors, both appropriate and inappropriate (I'm not going to use the words bad and good). I had students with extreme behavioral problems (ADHD, bipolar, depression) that could function and behave appropriately in a mainstreamed classroom setting. I took the time and was consistent in order for that to happen. Not all teachers do that, although in my opinion they should. Then again, so should the parents. Were my students perfect? By no means NO. Whenever someone took a step backwards, we would try again, maybe try a different strategy, but never give up and just let them continue misbehaving.

Out in public, I think I see children, and adults for that matter, acting more and more inappropriately. One reason I feel this is happening, is because people are always in such a hurry and don't care who they run over while they are trying to get things done. Hello, everybody, let's be a little more considerate of others. Another reason, is many parents drag their children around everywhere they go; the grocery store, the post office, department stores, restaurants, even to Starbucks! It is not reasonable to expect toddlers, or even older kids, to remain calm when they've been sitting in a shopping cart, stroller, and a car for hours on end. Parents need to keep themselves in check and not let this happen. Kids need opportunities to run and play.

Those of us concerned with this topic, can't exactly go out there and tell others how to parent their kids. I do my part by: (a) being a good role model to my children, and maybe even to other adults; (b) having high, but reasonable expectations of my children (Ian can walk through a store without touching things); (c) keeping my children's needs in mind and not expecting the impossible out of them (I'm not taking my two year old to see The Marriage of Figaro); (d)reinforcing my children's appropriate behaviors; (e) minimizing my children's inappropriate behaviors through positive disciplining and using natural consequences; (f)teaching again once my own children are school age.


Knitting Maniac said...


I have noticed an increased lack of tolerance for small people. It seems that as soon as you walk into a restaurant or a store, the stares start. And I think we instantly expect a child to misbehave, so when they do, our expectations are met. When they don't act up, we receive comments like "beautiful family" or "such well-behaved children."

People want children to be mainstreamed into an adult world, and expect them to act like mini adults.

Pattie said...

First time commenter here. I couldn't agree with you more. Actually, I read the same article and posted my opinion a few days ago on my blog. I thought that article (and the comments that ensued) were very thought provoking.

Nut's mom said...

whoa. that's f-ed up! it is so discrimtory as well. but parents should keep their kids in line at the same time. sigh... don't know what to make of it.

PS elmo is still evil

Mommy off the Record said...

Great post. I hadn't heard of this issue and I didn't read the whole article, but I did read your post and the whole issue makes me wonder: do you think that people are so busy these days that when they DO get out, they are increasingly impatient of anything that would interrupt their good time (i.e., noisy, "annoying" kids)? And if people can no longer stand to see children in public, do you think that speaks negatively in some way of where our priorities are? Because granted, kids can be annoying when out in public (heck even I get annoyed by kids now and then) but kids are kids. They're going to be loud, they're going to be disruptive, little toddlers are going to throw food from their highchairs at restaurants. As parents, we do what we can to keep our kids in line, but it's inevitable that they won't always be perfectly polite. I think that people should relax a little bit more, not be so serious about it, and be a little more tolerant of children--ESPECIALLY when they can tell the parents are doing their best to keep them in line. Anyway, that's just my 2cents!

Happy Mom Tonja said...

As a daycare provider for 10 yrs plus, I can tell you I see a huge difference in how children behave now, compared to just 5 years ago. There is no discipline. They run the show at home and unfortunately it does not stop while in public. The parents either don't know what to do or just don't do anything and it is rude and annoying to those of us who are trying to enjoy our time in public doing whatever it is we want to do - from eating out to going to the movies. I have two boys and I made them wait a few weeks before I'd take them to see Cars. Why? Because I didn't want to have to miss half the movie from all the screaming kids running around unsupervised in the theater.
As long as this "gentle discipline" (which is actually "do anything you want and I'll let you gently get away with it") stops, you're going to continue to see children not behaving and running around uncontrollable while in public. There is no consequence for their actions and a little quiet "no no honey" is just not going to get it.

I hope this didn't offend you, as it's my first time reading and commenting on your blog. I normally wouldn't have started off in such a opinionated state, but this is one thing I deal with on a daily basis. Just within the last month I've thought very hard about closing up my daycare in the near future because of this very thing. Fortunately my little daycare kiddos know there are rules AND consequences when they're in my care and they do pretty good. But let a parent walk through the door and it's a different story. It's very sad. For both parties.

carrie said...

What is that saying, something like "you can tell a lot about a culture be how it treats its children"?? I really, really hope that we don't become a culture that undervalues the importance of letting our children experience our world.

That said, there are inappropriate places for children and parents need to be considerate of those situations. And, I'm sorry, but going to see "Cars" and not expecting to hear at least one child, is a ridiculous expectation, in my opinion. Not that kids should be unruly or running around in a movie, but to be seen and not heard during a Disney/Pixar flick, come on.

I loved your post, and I hope that people can see that children are an important component to our humanness, if you don't want to have anything to do with them, than you should remove yourself to a place where other like-minded people dwell (like an "adults only community), and put on your game face when you join the rest of the world.


Happy Mom Tonja said...

Hmmm, I'm just rereading my comment here and I'm not sure where you're getting that I said I expected total silence in a Disney/Pixar movie, but whatever.