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Children's Social Etiquette in Decline

What's the etiquette on loud kids in public these days? Is that still a taboo, or are we now allowing this as a society? Are we letting it slide, like how marijuana isn't a big deal anymore, or you can say the S-word on cable TV after 10:00 pm?

It seems like children are louder and more obnoxious than they were 20 years ago. Or maybe I'm getting more curmudgeonly. Or more likely, both.

I'm getting less tolerant of the increasing number of children who shriek, scream, cry, kick, throw things, and shout "NO!" at parents who do a half-assed job of getting their kid to calm down.

When I was a kid, it was a social taboo for kids to misbehave in public. Nowadays, it seems the grownups who weren't allowed to be brats as kids are delighted to let their own kids be brats.

Meanwhile, people who don't appreciate having their quiet evening out spoiled by obnoxious brats aren't allowed to ask the parents to keep their kids quiet, because we're somehow questioning the parents' abilities.

Actually, we're totally questioning their parenting abilities, because they suck at keeping their kids quiet.

I was recently at a Christmas Eve service at church where four kids, all old enough to know better, were constantly shrieking and crying, demanding their parents' attention. A mom or dad would take the child out for two minutes, bring them back, only to take them out again because of more shrieking and crying.

It was more than distracting, it ruined the mood of the evening. There's nothing like hearing "O Holy Night," when you hear some kid across the sanctuary shriek "I WANT JUICE!"

And apparently, yelling "HEY KID, SHUT THE HELL UP, I'M TRYING TO HEAR ABOUT JESUS!" is distinctly frowned upon.

Or so I've been told.

Is it that the standards of acceptable behavior have changed? Is society allowing children to make an obnoxious spectacle of themselves? Or is there some new philosophy that allows little Caitlyn and little Jayden to loudly express themselves in a safe and nurturing space with helicopter parents who use phrases like "nurturing space?"

When I was a kid, we weren't allowed to run around after dinner. We sat until everyone was finished, which given the thoroughness that my dad chewed his food meant sitting until breakfast.

Even now, at 71, my dad chew each bite of food 50 times. I know this, because I counted, since there was nothing else to do except watch him chew and chew and chew.

And chew and chew and chew.

And chew and chew and chew.

Once, he only chewed his food 45 times, and I said, "what's your hurry?"

If my dad spends 30 minutes at each meal, he's spent roughly 4.45 years chewing his food.

(Seriously. I worked it out on a spreadsheet.)

I mention this to say I understand the drudging weariness every kid feels when they have to sit at the table and wait for everyone else. I know the agony of watching the clock actually move backward as your parents literally and figuratively eat into your only free time for the rest of the day.

I was just as impatient as their kids at that age. But that didn't mean I was allowed to get away with that kind of behavior in public, or at home.

We weren't allowed to leave the table, we weren't allowed to play games, and our parents didn't think it was necessary to keep us entertained every second. We learned to sit politely and wait until everyone was done.

My wife and I had the same expectations for our own kids when they were little. No getting up, no playing, no climbing in the booth. When we went out to eat, they sat quietly and colored before and after they ate.

My favorite part of going out though was when a nearby child would misbehave, and my kids would stare in wide-eyed disbelief at the little miscreant, as if he had just taken his pants off and sat in his dinner.

Maybe I am getting less tolerant as I get older, but I don't see why we can't expect children to behave themselves in public. Or why parents won't remove their loud children from a restaurant, church, or movie theater until the latest outburst is under control again.

I promise not to create my own spectacle by hollering at those parents and their miscreant children. But believe me, when I get home, I will write a strongly worded newspaper column about it! That'll show 'em.


Photo credit: Emran Kassim (Flickr, Creative Commons)

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