PSA: Children in Public

I can’t believe I’m writing something like this, but after what I witnessed Wednesday night, it’s clear that some parents have no clue what constitutes “public” and “behavior”.

I was at my daughters’ school Christmas concert. I only took Flora because she was the only participant (she played her violin with the beginning violin class — mostly just exercises. Very cute.)

I was appalled by the lack of parental oversight and by the fact that people left when their kids were done. I felt for the teachers who had worked hard to put the concert together, and I really felt bad for the kids in the last group to perform. They were looking at a lot of empty chairs.

I know that a school gymnasium isn’t Heinz Hall. But I still think parents should have told their children to sit with them and to be quiet. When Flora was not on stage, I made her sit with me. She was squirmy and impatient — she has attention deficit issues — but she listened to me (mostly — she folded the program into a paper airplane when I wasn’t looking). I really don’t understand why parents treated the event as a free-for-all for the non-performing children or younger siblings.

The other thing that I found unbelievably, unacceptably rude was parents leaving with their children after their performances. There were four mini-programs: violins, chorus, beginning band, and advanced band. I was stunned to see parents packing off their kids as soon as they came off stage.

The “concert” was an hour. An hour. It was finished shortly after 8 p.m.

The teachers bring a lot of passion to events like this. The children, while they may not bring a lot of skill, certainly bring a lot of enthusiasm, and I think there’s a lot to be said for that. By letting kids wander around (if not run outright), whisper with their friends, and leave early parents are communicating the message that other people aren’t important. All that matters is what *you* want to do. That’s not a good message for kids.

For the record, I am an advocate for children in public. If you are a parent, I believe that not only do you have a right to bring your offspring out in public, but, frankly, you have a duty to do so. Children believe they are the center of the world (and frankly some parents do too much to foster this belief, IMHO). Teaching them they are not serves them well. Manners, common courtesy, boundaries, patience, learning to entertain oneself — all of these are benefits of learning to behave appropriately in public.

I just have a few minor guidelines.

1. Know your audience. It seems to me that there are enough child-friendly, child-centric places to bring a child that parents don’t need to bring their kids places that are (explictly or implicitly NOT child friendly). For example, let’s take restaurants. There are lots of restaurants where kids are kind of expected if not explicitly welcomed: Chuck E. Cheese, obviously; here in Pittsburgh, Eat ‘n’ Park seems to have been opened especially to cater to children and senior citizens; other chains like The Olive Garden. Busy places with brisk turnover and fast service are parents’ best bets. In my opinion, children’s menus are optional.

The small, exclusively French restaurant where a meal takes three hours? Not a good bet.

And then there are places that aren’t optimal for children, but it’s unavoidable sometimes. Airplanes. Church. Try to have a plan to minimize others’ pain. Don’t just give your kids free reign because you have to go visit grandma and grandpa, and they live across the country. I dislike when parents throw up their hands in public, like, “Kids will be kids!” No, kids will be adults some day. You can teach them that self-control is a realistic goal.

2. Know your kid. My children are slaves, to a certain extent, to their schedules. I made them that way, kind of on purpose. Especially when it comes to naps and bedtimes — I wanted my children to get naps and have firm bedtimes, so when it came to running errands or being out in public in general, I avoided the nap and bedtime hours. This goes double for meal time. If going to a restaurant is part of your errand running, good on you. Otherwise, make sure junior (and, possibly, you) has something to snack on. A kid with low blood sugar is sure to make everyone unhappy.

3. Don’t push it. Young children have limits. Don’t push them. We can’t always predict when or why our child will meltdown or have a tantrum. Be flexible, be prepared to drop what you are doing, be prepared to pay the check and leave. The days of coffee and dessert are over for awhile. The wonderful thing about kids is that, eventually, they will be able to sit long enough for you (and probably them) to have your cake and eat it too.