Is Our Society Becoming Intolerant of Children?

I’m the first person to cringe when a child is screaming in a restaurant or a mall. I seem to be more sensitive to it than a lot of other people I know – when I hear a child screaming, all I want to do is help the child and stop the noise. I don’t know if this is because my job is attuning myself to the angry or upset cries of children, or if it’s just hardwired in my brain that screaming equals “OH GOD STOP IT NOW”. Either way, I can’t ignore it like a lot of my friends and family can, and so I can understand why this mall in Australia recently banned screaming children from their food court.

I get it. No one wants to hear a child scream or have to dodge them running around wildly, as the article describes. However, I have a few quibbles, because as much as I hate listening to children scream and watching them misbehave or run wild, I don’t believe that putting up intolerant signs banning a group of people from a public spot is the answer.

Children are unpredictable. A perfectly calm child can be screaming his or her head off in another moment, and it can be over absolutely nothing. This is kind of par for the course with children, and you need to be prepared for it. Sure, having a child scream on and on without stopping is annoying, but it’s also pretty annoying to be the caregiver of that child and be unable to console him or her. It’s also pretty annoying to be a toddler and be unable to communicate in a way that people can understand. So I’d say that everyone in this situation is annoyed, and no one’s annoyance means more than anyone else’s. Putting up signs forbidding screaming is cool, I guess, but I don’t really think it’s going to make a difference to that child who is upset about something and unable to communicate why except through crying and screaming.

And really, this sort of thing is leading me to wonder if our society is just becoming more and more intolerant of children. Recently, the Toronto Transit Commission released a public inquiry about whether or not strollers should be banned on buses and streetcars. There was an inordinate amount of people who felt they should be, and gave all sorts of reasons why. They’re annoying. They take up too much space. Parents are entitled. On and on.

I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to ban something that makes parents’ and nannies’ lives easier, but I did understand the complaints about entitlement. I’ve met many a parent or caregiver who feels that having a child in their company means they’re entitled to do anything they want or have anything they want. However, I caution people not to conflate entitled people with children – because they’re not the same thing, and children can’t really be blamed for the type of behaviour their parents may be showing them is okay to display.

So is this sense of entitlement shown by some parents or caregivers the reason why people want to ban children in public?

There are childfree pubs and restaurants. There are signs stating that unattended children will be given espresso and a puppy. There are people who hate children and people who love them. And it goes on and on, to whether breastfeeding in public is okay, or diaper-changing in public is okay, or in the end, whether children in public are okay.

The issue is, entitlement doesn’t stop with one group of people. When you start restricting one group of people in order to appease someone else, you’re restricting society – and that’s entitled. How is a child going to learn to behave in public if he or she isn’t allowed in public due to the off chance screaming might happen? How is a child eating, or a child needing to be changed, awful or inappropriate? It’s not the child or the acts we should be calling out, it’s the entitlement of certain people who are ruining it for the rest, on both sides of this debate. And I really have no suggestions on how to stop that. I guess we all need to learn to be more tolerant  and empathetic to each other’s needs. There are always going to be people who will annoy us. That doesn’t mean they don’t have the same rights we do.

In the Australian mall article, the mall manager stated, “People deserve the quiet enjoyment of their cup of tea. Mothers have to be more responsible. We’ve had so many complaints.”

Well, how about fathers? What about grandparents, or nannies, or adults who are selfishly bawling about the presence of a child because oh no, he or she might SCREAM or CRY?!

This entitlement is what’s wrong with society, not screaming children. I hate hearing screams, but I also hate people stating that one group’s enjoyment of a space matters more than another group’s. Everyone needs to be considerate of others, and I’m sorry, you can buy a Starbucks, but you don’t have the unalienable right to drink it in peace and quiet when you’re in a public space.

If you want to do that, then take it home and enjoy it on your couch. Children deserve to be seen, heard, and respected by society, the same as adults do.

And the next time you hear a child scream? Why not ask his or her parent how you can help instead of demanding that signs be put up forbidding it?

I’ll take an espresso and a free puppy!


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