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.

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11 thoughts on “PSA: Children in Public

  1. I heartily agree with every word you wrote. Not setting boundaries for kids (and holding them to them) is a horrible example that leads to the breakdown of public civility. We can’t all be running around, oblivious to the rights of others.

    • It’s more than just “rights”, I mean, it’s common courtesy. They aren’t teaching their children that other people matter. All that matter is the family’s need. It’s ridiculous.

  2. YES YES YES!

    Also, it would be super incredible awesome if the vocal childfree by choice people – the ones who give you dirty looks simply for having children, before the kids set even a toenail out of line – would understand your point about the RESPONSIBILITY of bringing a kid out in public. That it’s necessary in order for them to learn how to behave properly. Too many of this particular crowd of people just see “breeders” and get bent out of shape that they have to put up with children ANYWHERE in public. To which I respond, “Get over it. Kids exist. You’ll never avoid them completely and it’s not a parent’s responsibility to make your public outing a childfree experience.”

    And for the record – I’m fine if people choose not to have kids. I encourage it if you aren’t sure you want to do it because, God knows, the job is a lot of work. But don’t look down your nose at me. I don’t look down my nose at you.

  3. At my kid’s school, the singing part, which is among three grades, lasts almost an hour. Then there is a break, and the band performs. We, along with just about all other band-less parents, have always left before the band started. It never occurred to me that we were being rude until a teacher told me otherwise. However, we are sticklers for bedtime, particularly during the week, and by our leaving at 8, we were able to get our child into bed not a lot later than her usual bedtime. I may rethink this next year (but only if hubby does not come).

    That said, I am impressed that your concert was an hour, and I see no reason why people should not have stayed. I would have in that case. There were only a couple of parent at our school who left after their kids performed, and considering the singing part was broken down into only two segments, with two out of the three grades in the second/last one, there was really no reason to leave unless you absolutely had to.

    And yes to pretty much everything else you said about public behavior. I know I really need to work on getting my kid not to interrupt me and others when an adult is talking. Unfortunately I am one of those parents whose child IS pretty much the center or my world. Admitting you have a problem is the first step, right…

    • Maybe you can request the school have different performances? Just an idea. Maybe other parents would feel the same. Believe me, if I were facing three hours of a school concert, I would consider minimizing my exposure as well. But for an hour? As far as the center of the world comment: I mean, my kids are the center of MY world too. Just not the center of THE world. A lot of parents who are clear on the former are less clear about communicating the latter to the kids, and screwing them up a bit. KWIM? 😉

  4. *clap clap clap* totally agree! My 5th grader had her Winter Choral Concert last night. It was a joy because in the last few years the school has had the band and chorus perform on separate nights. So this concert was only 1/2 hour! (…and it was lovely.) These community gatherings are the perfect time to teach public manners since they are low-risk for failure. A child will never sit still, keep her hands to herself, and use her whisper voice unless she practices.

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