Do too many places ban kids?

Last June, Malaysia Airlines listened to grumpy travelers worldwide and banned children from first class. Does your family have the money to actually fly first class? You will have to settle for economy. Do you and your children need to get home quickly from Malaysia and the only seats available are in first class? You’ll have to wait for the next flight.

Kid-free travel has been around for some time, but it’s not just luxury destinations that are banning kids. Restaurants, movie theaters, even some grocery stores are introducing bans on children - and their parents. There is even a Twitter hashtag: #youngkidsshouldbebannedfrom.

Admittedly, there are few such outright bans in the United States. However, there are plenty of examples of businesses trying to push kids out. Recently I loaded my boys up for a trip to the local bookstore. With not one, but two train tables for the boys to play with, it’s a popular spot for indoor fun. We hadn’t been there in a few weeks, so the boys were excited. We spent the ride discussing the name of the bookstore, as it was now under new ownership.

When we arrived, the store was in complete disarray. Shelves pushed into aisles, books misplaced and hurried employees flashing half-smiles. I followed the boys back to the kids’ section, taking in all the new changes. I was admiring the new YA section when I heard the cries.

“Mom! The train tables aren’t here!”

We weren’t the only family standing there, confused and disoriented. Several other moms tried to distract the kids with books as we whispered amongst ourselves and tried to get answers from rushed employees.

“Yes, we took them down,” one lady finally said. “We MIGHT put another one back up later.” Her emphasis made her opinion on the subject obvious.

Just around the corner sits a national grocery that specializes in “whole food.” Despite a small kids table with a wagon of fruit for the taking, I rarely take my boys in there. We get stares from the other patrons, usually accompanied by rolled eyes as I maneuver my kids through the store.

Americans are having fewer kids, according to the 2010 census. As young professionals return to the cities, get married later and have few - if any - kids, it often seems that children are no longer a welcome part of society. Or, if they are included, it is in a way that segregates both them and their parents from the rest of the world. Often even our churches are segregated by age and life stage.

Of course, this isn’t everyone’s experience. Many people feel that our culture is dominated, even controlled, by children. There are kids’ menus at some upscale restaurants and kids’ productions of popular plays and concerts. The story-time lady at the above-mentioned bookstore is a local celebrity and our triple-A baseball stadium boasts a playground to attract bored kids.

In 2010 there were at least 3.9 million mommy bloggers focusing on all things parenting. Toy sections at stores are larger and larger; Etsy is full of homemade products for infants and kids. There are even entire brick-and-mortar stores devoted to various baby “necessities.” With the rise of stay-at-home moms, homeschooling and children’s sports, it often seems as though our parenting is more kid-centric than in the past.

So where should our focus be? Is there a Biblical standard? None of the writers of Scripture directly say, “Thou shalt put children at the center of all.” In ancient cultures the children were there, all the time, everywhere. They worked alongside the parents and went to temple to study God’s word with them, too. Rabbis - i.e. celebrity pastors - would often take young boys and train them in Torah.

I don’t want to head back to ancient Israel any time soon, but the inclusion of children, adults and old people in the fabric of life is something worth emulating. When we embrace and include all segments of culture - including their separate joys and responsibilities - we more fully show the body of Christ to the world.

What is your experience with the place of children in your community: is it kid-centric or are kids not allowed? Should Christians take one side over the other?

(Photo courtesy of iStockphoto.)

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I’ve noticed an increase in what I call “child-haters” since I was a child. Maybe I’m more sensitive to it now that I have children of my own. When my oldest was a toddler, I had her on an airplane for a relatively short trip. When I arrived at my seat, a person sitting in my section looked up at us and unabashedly said “oh no, I was hoping you would keep moving.” My husband and I get dirty looks when we bring our kids into restaurants and, on the flip side, shocked admiration when it turns our our children can eat a bowl of macaroni and cheese without acting like feral animals.

I think it reflects a shift in our overall culture which values distraction and hurry. How often do we see people in a coffee shop choosing to engage with their cell phones rather than the people around them? I fear that we are becoming utterly joyless. And if you can’t embrace the whimsical things in life, you definitely aren’t going to be fond of a two year old.

That said, of course, I do cringe when I see young children in movie theatres at 10 p.m. or in the grocery store at midnight.  Not because they annoy me, but because my internal mom voice screams “that child ought to be in bed.”

Perhaps this backlash is because so many children are not taught to behave. I enjoy respectful children, but ones that are coddled and aren’t required to help I tend to find bothersome. Unfortunately, the high number of these children creates prejudice against the children who act delightful.

I have a child with autism who sometimes acts less than delightful, though, and I appreciate the people who are kind anyway.

Our society and individuals in society often forget that we don’t raise children we raise adults. If we treat our children like second class citizens then they learn it is OK to treat others like second class citizens.

I remember one particularly bad encounter with a “child hater” at the grocery store when I took my young son with me to get some groceries. He was making noise and singing cartoon show songs to himself while we waited in line for checkout. The lady behind me decided to correct my parenting with, “That’s really annoying. You should teach your child better so he doesn’t annoy people in public or leave him at home next time.” To which I replied as calmly as I could. “He has Autism. What’s your excuse?” She pulled out of line and moved to another cashier. - Admittedly not my most Christian moment.

On the up side we had a great experience at Starbucks recently where the girl at the counter was very patient while my son ordered for himself, despite the lineup behind us. 

Parenting a child with a disability has taught me that some people are going to be upset because we exist in their world no matter what measures I take to make it easier on them. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you go, bigotry exists. Sometimes it is towards children because it is one of the last somewhat socially acceptable forms of bigotry. Some of the most hurtful words I have heard as the parent of a child with a disability have come from within “Good Christians” who had theories about why my son was Autistic. 

I chose to listen to Jesus on the matter instead.

Matthew 18:5 “And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”

My husband and I get dirty looks when we bring our kids into restaurants and, on the flip side, shocked admiration when it turns our our children can eat a bowl of macaroni and cheese without acting like feral animals.

I think the latter phrase you wrote there has a lot to do with the former; the reason some of us don’t like places with lots of children is that many parents today haven’t really inculcated their children with the idea that when they’re out in public, they need to behave. They need to be quiet, use indoor voices, speak respectfully to adults, and exhibit good manners. It sounds like you’ve instilled those values in your children.

I personally think that the phenomenon of rowdy children in public is, in part, another symptom of contemporary children’s television and contemporary children’s video games, which are a cacophony of stimulation. When I was a child, my parents limited our television time—but one of the shows we were allowed to watch was Mr. Rogers, who was a kind, calming, and centering influence and who was deeply and personally aware of the dangers of overstimulating children, in contrast to today’s children’s programming which is frenetic and far too energetic. We didn’t have video games until I was 8 or 9; until then, we had action figures and Legos and blocks, and had to use our imaginations. 

Were we rowdy? Sure we were. My mom had three boys; rowdiness is part of the equation. My childhood featured constant wrestling matches, fights, impromptu sporting events, and no shortage of scrapes, cuts, and bruises because my brothers and I were constantly roughhousing. But we also knew that if we misbehaved in public, we would incur The Wrath Of Mom and the consequences would be unpleasant.

Now, there are kids with developmental issues like autism-spectrum disorders and ADHD, which should lead us while in public to err towards mercy and forgiveness rather than judgment when we see children acting out, as we don’t know an individual family’s situation at all. However, societally, I do think today’s children are far too used to high-energy, high-stimulation situations, and have too few centering and calming influences in the media or in their lives. 

That results in childless folks, like me, getting frustrated with people whose children misbehave in public and run around like chickens with their heads cut off—and in the “shocked admiration” we experience when we see children who are, like yours, well-behaved and well-mannered in public. If more parents were like you, I think we’d see a lot less resistance to children in some public places.

My husband & I have been thinking of having a child. I keep hearing rude comments on how overpopulation is destroying the planet. 

I understand how people can be annoyed by bad behavior, but it is unsettling how many people view children as an unwanted problem.  Perhaps many parents are forgoing training their children on what is acceptable behavior. Although most adults act horribly too. Society seems to be getting a lot more detached & cruel.

“Children are the future, but today belongs to me!” - Simpsons quote from an episode about child-haters

Kids need to be taught to behave at home; how to have an “inside” voice, how to be gentle, and kind, and caring, and to have good manners, and to be considerate of others, and to share, and to play well with others . . . . but their lessons need to extend beyond home and family and neighbors—-they need “lab work” in stores and restaurants and in public places to put their training in practice.  Unfortunately so many adults haven’t done too well with their own training and provide poor models for behavior.

Thank you Mara for the reminder that Jesus welcomed children. Jesus also reprimanded his disciples who wanted to push them away. And, Jesus told his disciples that if they wanted to inherit the Kingdom of God they had to become like little children.
Now that doesn’t mean that children don’t need to taught and shown how to behave in public—but how will they learn if they are not allowed to be there?

People who find the mere presence of children is an offense need to get over themselves but parents should also have a plan for dealing with restless kids and occassional meldowns. A screaming child should be a brief interlude not the whole experience for people on planes and in restaurants.

I think the dilemma set by your final question is a false one (and therefore logically fallacious). You can have kids present without making things kid-centric (ie: you can take your kids into a store without that store having to provide entertainment for them, re: the train story), and the two options you present are not the only ones available.

As a childfree woman, the self-righteousness of parents who insist that their children belong everywhere (because “they’re a part of the community” or whatever) is bothersome at best and downright dangerous at worst. No, your child does not belong in a fancy restaurant if they’re unable to sit still and will yell about being bored. And no, I, a complete stranger, am not a substitute for toys when you bring your child on an airplane (this has happened to me personally). No, your child does not belong in the front row of a rock concert (again, this has happened to me). No, the area behind the desk at the movie rental store is not your playground.

Call me a child hater, but if I sit down for some food with my boyfriend in a restaurant, I don’t want to be forced to put up with your three year old ramming his scooter into my chair because he’s taken a liking to me (again, actually happened).

The solution seems to be (from these comments and from the post) that children are a precious gift and we should just put up with them in public, regardless of whether the environment is kid friendly or not. And I refuse to.

Sometimes, which includes reading some of these comments, I think we are entering a time where children should be seen and not heard.  

It is unnatural for children to behave all the time, even the best kids are going to have outbursts at really bad times. 

I can walk in a restaurant and see just as more adults misbehaving.  The only real difference is that adults don’t scream and cry quite as much.

So really - I think it isn’t about who is behaving good or bad but rather, the kind of behavior patterns we are able to tolerate.

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