Monday, September 01, 2008

Children should be neither seen nor heard

In 2005 I came across this article in the NYT, on child-free establishments, and was sufficiently provoked to write the following letter (which, of course, was not published):

I read "At Center of a Clash, Rowdy Children in Coffee Shops" (Nov 9) and the responses on the letters page (Nov 10) with disbelief. I have lived in the US and Europe and have noticed the child-unfriendliness of these places but never realised that the hostility is so institutionalised.

Here in India, such attitudes towards unhappy children would be unthinkable. A bawling child in a restaurant or cafe would very likely be comforted by strangers or given freebies by the management, certainly not given hostile stares or asked to leave.

Fortunately not all Americans react in the latter manner either. Some years ago, a few minutes into a Pete Seeger concert I attended in Bangalore, a child started crying -- mutedly but audibly. Seeger murmured "Oh, poor thing" and launched into a lullaby, and the child stopped.

In America, of course, the child would never have been allowed in.

"Unthinkable" in India? According to today's ToI, not any more.

PS - Space Bar doesn't find it unthinkable either. Odd. When I'm in a public place, it's generally the other adults whom I find annoying. An unalloyed dose of adults in all directions is not my idea of relaxation.


Space Bar said...

I don't mind kids (well, obviously!) but I really don't want them around all the time. I might not have said this if I'd didn't have a kid of my own; now that I do, I do look for places I can go where there are no kids.

That said, it wouldn't ruin my day if I went to watch a film and there were kids in the audience. (Unless it was a Bergman or a Tsai Ming-liang, but that's academic. I don't see parents bringing their kids to those films).

I don't think this is hostility. I think it's a fair demand for some spaces that are child-free, in a culture that's overwhelmingly family-oriented.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

Indeed there are times when I'd not want kids running around creating a racket, but at those times I'd rather not have adult strangers talking loudly about their business deals or love lives or jabbering into mobile phones or shouting at waiters either... so I just stay home.

As for movie halls -- again my bigger peeve is mobile phones (that compete with each other for Most Annoying Ringtone Award). But that's another topic...

Rahul Siddharthan said...

ps - and I do have a kid (who, I remember, even got mentioned in your blog), but I guess he's not old enough that I want to get away from him. (Even if he's the reason I've been up since 5 am today.) Plus I do get away from him, five days a week, a few hours a day, in a mostly kid-free place. My wife may have a different perspective.

Space Bar said...

I was just going to say that! That she may have a different perspective. :D

see, the reason i support moves in these directions is that a very conservative position is often the default one. look at that woman's intolerant comment, for instance.

and yes, i remember you standing at the door, ready to move away in case your kid started crying! :D

gaddeswarup said...

Wait till you have grand kids. Things may change again. We find that we keep advising our duaghter not to be tough with her kid even though I was much worse and wait for our baby-sitting days.

Anonymous said...

I have two kids who are mostly good as gold but occasionally very bratty. I do often want to spend time away from them and from all kids. But I've never seen any justification for making public places like restaurants / movie halls closed to kids. I can simply choose to not go there if the kids there are bothering me.

I get my kid-free time, other than when in office, in many different ways - my kids and my friend's kids often spend evenings together, perhaps with a sleepover following, so in turns we both get our "evening off". Sometimes my kids spend the day with their aunt, and we are free. My kids spend their vacations with my parents or parents-in-law, so there's more kid-free time.

Of course, not all families have such excellent options. But then I'd probably
worry more about the kids not networking enough and less about the parents not getting their time off.


Anonymous said...

Of course the wife had to get dragged into this.;) Let me say, I take a break of three + commute hours say in three months to go watch a movie before your readers assume I abandon my child to go out partying. :P. I would gladly take him if the cinema halls are not dark places that potentially can scare a 20 month old. And that's because I know how to unfuss him if he gets fussy.
If she wants to get away, it is because she "needs" a dose of sunshine once in a while. :P.
Back to topic.
IMO, there are no rowdy children, only parents who do not do the job of raising happy, responsive kids because their parenting is neither. There are millions of little people like K that you wont hear a peep from most of the times. Even if he is protesting something, it is so easy to acknowledge, explain, divert and engage in other more pleasant activities. To penalise those like us and those who have done a better job than us, keeping them away from public spheres in pursuit of relaxing activities, where is the fairness. I do not care for the way I see some parents keep children on a tight leash, constantly telling them to NOT do this or that. Children will then act out their frustration. And then blaming the children for alleged transgressions of propriety, that logic beats me.
The article does not speak of academic places, but resorts which have traditionally been family spaces. I would rather enjoy the company of a "rowdy" child than boorish 20 somethings who have had way too much to drink and whose idea of having fun is screaming their guts out or worse still shouting obscenities at each other.

Space Bar said...

Krithika: Agree about the parents' responsibility bit.

(The NYT article sounds more extreme. Are you talking about that or the ToI one?)

Rahul Siddharthan said...

Gaddeswarup -- yes I can see how grandparents enjoy the kid's company.

Meena - agree about the networking thing. In our society it's usually family/friends, or regular helpers, not one-time babysitters, who take care of the kid. That helps.

Spacebar -- I think Krithika was talking of the ToI article, and in particular the Coonoor place and the bloggers Aadisht Khanna and Jai Arjun Singh mentioned in the article (who, I would not be surprised to learn, fits her description of boorish 20-year-olds).

I actually have no problem with child-free establishments if they loudly proclaim themselves thus, in all their advertising material, so that nobody is turned away at the door. I'd rather avoid such places myself, so I want to know in advance.

As to the boorish (and usually male-dominated) crowds at bars/clubs/resorts here: many places in the west disallow males unaccompanied by females and I think that's an excellent idea. I'd also be interested in establishments that disallow adults who are not accompanied by children. (Again, such restrictions should be well-advertised.) Unfortunately I don't know if such a place exists. None of these things absolutely preclude boorishness, but they would make bad behaviour a little less likely.

Space Bar said...

I'd also be interested in establishments that disallow adults who are not accompanied by children

:D that sounds like an establishment lewis carrol would approve of!

Rahul Siddharthan said...

For those who didn't think of hitting Google on reading the TOI article (and I didn't, but Krithika did): here is the TOI's trumpeted Aadisht Khanna, in his own words.

Just so you know.

Anonymous said...

"Establishments that disallow adults who are not accompanied by children":

In good old Chennai, there's a group that puts up a musical show called Sing Along every July/Aug. The target audience is kids age 3-9. I first noticed their ad six years ago, when my kids were 5+ and 3-. The most striking thing in it, which had a cartoon sketch of a boy and a girl singing, was the printed byline: Adults not allowed unless accompanied by kids". I remember being really struck by it then. Six Sing Along's later, I am still impressed with the group's child-friendliness and their ability to look at most situations from the child's rather than the adult's perspective.

I don't think I've encountered this line (or this kids-only sentiment) anywhere else.


Rahul Siddharthan said...

Nice. I should keep an eye out next year. Tell me if they're doing anything else that you know of in the meantime...