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Family in plane


Babies, get to the back.

AirAsia introduced "quiet zones" meant "exclusively for guests age 12 and above" in economy class this week, effectively shunning ankle-biters and their parents to the rear of the plane, by the lavatory, on all flights as of next February.

The Atlantic Wire's John Hudson dubbed AirAsia's plan "baby apartheid." It's just the latest flash point in a slow rejection of squawking children from public life. Earlier this month, a Brooklyn beer garden banned kids from the premises after 4 p.m. "Screaming Children Will NOT Be Tolerated!" read the notice at another juvenile-weary restaurant in North Carolina. A Pensacola Beach, Fla., restaurant did them one better: "Unruley [sic] children will be cooked and eaten," read the sign at Peg Leg Pete's Oyster Bar.

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Nor do sleepy toddlers appear welcome by all at music festivals traditionally intended for near-adults. On the Tumblr "Babies at Concerts," users send in surreptitiously snapped photos of other people's children ensconced in oversized headphones. Don't count on a Raffi hologram, wrote one revolted blogger after Alicia Silverstone showed off her son "Bear" at the Coachella festival last April.

As for airplanes (much more confined but by no means adult venues), babies have long been an annoyance. Malaysia Airlines banned children under age 2 from first class last year, while a 2010 poll from Skyscanner, a fare-comparison website, found that 60 per cent of travellers wanted family-only sections; 20 per cent clamoured for completely child-free flights.

We can hardly expect adult-only commercial aircraft, but as more urbanites remain childless by choice, some are fending off the intrusions of the baby-sling-set, especially in spaces typically reserved for big people.

Their bans and restrictions "pre-judge" parents on their skills, said Jen Singer, editor-in-chief of the blog and author of You're a Good Mom (and Your Kids Aren't So Bad Either).

"Parents spend more time with their kids and less time as couples or with adults. It's part of the child-centric culture that started with the first Baby on Board sign in a minivan. We are less likely to get a sitter and go out, but we still want to go out. So we bring the kids."

Parents and children are highly enmeshed now, argued Dr. Jean Twenge, a San Diego State University psychology professor who researches generational shifts and sees a highly permissive parenting culture taking hold in the middle class. She said the current outcry isn't so much anti-child as it is critical of bad parenting: When your kid is hanging over a neighbour's booth and running circles around the waiter, it makes de facto babysitters of us all.

"There are parents who just let their kids get away with murder and then everybody hates them. That, I think most people agree, is reprehensible," said Twenge, who is also a mother of three and author of The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement.

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She argued that some parents are blindly accessorizing with their brood: "They're a part of them: 'Look at me, I can be hip and have a kid, I can have it all. If my kid bothers you, that's your problem.'"

These folks would be wise to negotiate adult spaces, said Twenge, being "very aware of how welcome the kid actually is" – not least of all because the tensions extend to other parents who've chosen to leave the minors at home: "There are parents who say, 'Look, I got a babysitter, and so what I want is not to be around kids for two hours. Can we manage that?'"

After exploring why people opt out of having kids for the Childless By Choice Project, Laura S. Scott sees the other side. "Those who used to hang out in the trendy bars and restaurants as singles still want that experience as parents …but then [object] when a patron drops the f-bomb in conversations at the bar," she said.

Scott said some she interviewed didn't want to make the sacrifice to raise a child, and feel that parents who drag a "bawling infant" to a restaurant or concert want it all. So how did hauling your toddler to Bonnaroo become preferable to hiring a sitter?

"In the realm of the affluent, working parent … if you're away all day and you don't have as much time with your child as wish you did, then you want to incorporate them into the rest of your life," said Ann Hulbert, author of Raising America: Experts, Parents, and a Century of Advice About Children.

Hulbert said the child bans aren't the first backlash against perceived parental laxness: "Back in the era when people were up in arms about permissive parenting, when Dr. Spock was indicted for being the expert who would let children run havoc and created our anti-war protesters, there was a little of that same view: That a school of parenting had created adults who took no responsibility for their progeny."

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Today, parenting rhetoric has looked to France for alternatives, especially after Pamela Druckerman's landmark tome Bringing up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting.

"You want your child to have something to contribute when she enters a group, but you also don't want her to dominate. You want her to be able to adjust to different environments," said Marie-Anne Suizzo, an associate professor in educational psychology at the University of Texas at Austin who researches French cultural beliefs about infants and child-rearing.

Suizzo recalled that when she was child and "got loud and ran around" her own French mother would say, "Tu n'es pas tout seul." ("You are not all alone.") In France, she spotted fewer children at fine restaurants and surmised that's because parents there are more pragmatic. "A big part of that is, why would you submit your child to that? They'd be disruptive and they're really not at an age where they can participate."

Ultimately, Suizzo argues that child restrictions in public spaces are misguided: What makes a noisy toddler worse than an obnoxious adult?

"It's ageist, in a weird way."

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