When did it become socially acceptable for parents to allow their kids to scream in public? The unruly precious ones scream for attention, when happy or sad, sulking, tired, not getting their way, excited, to get the food or drink they want. They scream at the pool or gym, in parking lots, restaurants, churches, libraries, airplanes! Recently, my special celebration lunch at a high-end restaurant was spoiled by a trio of short screamers. I removed my kids from even McDonalds if that behaviour broke out. Scream, you go out to the car under my arm. What's to be done? Stare, say something, scream louder at the kid or the parents?
No doubt there's been a paradigm shift in how we parent.
There used to be a saying, "Children should be seen but not heard."
Can you even imagine that now?
I've been to parties where – well, first, you're handed a pop, which is frankly just kind of puzzling. "So we're all going to drink kiddie drinks?"
And for the rest of the party the adults are basically pressed up against the wall, trying to speak over the din as kids run around playing tag or whatever.
Listen: I would never want to go back to the old "seen but not heard" days. Ever since they could string a sentence together, I always loved talking to my kids – talked to them like adults and always felt that I learned a lot from them. Kids are innate philosophers and have lots of wisdom to offer.
In fact, I feel a little sorry for parents of previous, seen-not-heard generations who missed out on hearing what their kids might have had to say.
But surely the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction – especially when you're talking about restaurants.
When I was a kid, on the rare occasions we went out for dinner it was all about impulse control.
As we sat there in our good clothes, with side-parted hair, fidgeting, being admonished not to play with our silverware and that we could have only one Coke, we knew we had to behave at a higher standard than we did at home.
In fact, I'd say that was the point. Taking us to restaurants was part of the civilizing process. As was taking us to church, where you fidgeted like crazy on the rock-hard pews, and were always standing and sitting and wanting to scream.
Now we have restaurants such as Chuck E. Cheese, where there's a turnstile, games and the din is unholy. Parents an accessory, an afterthought.
Which is fine … but when it comes to adult restaurants a different ethic pertains.
Some restaurants are taking a stand against screaming kids on the premises.
A restaurant called "Olde Salty's" in the United States caused a stir when it declared: "Screaming children will NOT be tolerated." They lost some parent-customers, but over all gained more business.
Here in Canada, last year, a Cape Breton restaurant tried to do it, but after a barrage of "hate and threats," reversed its policy and apologized.
On the other side of the coin are people such as journalist/author Jon Ronson, author of The Men Who Stare At Goats, who's on record as saying: "There are people who would like to eat breakfast without the screams of toddlers all around them, but those people should get over themselves and stop being stuck up and idiotic."
Uh, wrong. You should control your kids. People have the right to a quiet dining experience. They've paid good money for the experience.
So what can you do, realistically? My temptation originally was to say: "Speak to management, tell them the screaming kids are wrecking your enjoyment of your meal and ask them to speak to the parents."
But that's being a rat, a bit, I feel. I think the truly menschy thing to do is politely approach the parents first, say: "Hey, would you mind? Your kid is impinging on my ability to enjoy my meal."
The parents might squawk. They might refuse, with maximum rude-itude.
Fine. At that point, you have my permission to rat them out to management. If management refuses to accommodate you, pay bill, dab lips with napkin and tell them you will be taking your business elsewhere in future.
Goes double for churches and libraries. How anyone could let kids scream in either of those silence sanctuaries is beyond me and you have every right to speak up, to the parents, librarian, or religious figure – whoever will get results.
Planes are a special category, though. Speaking as a parent, it's tough to keep a kid quiet on a plane and there's nowhere to go. So just grin, bear it and have some compassion for the poor schlub wrestling with his kid 35,000 feet in the sky.
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