Should there be 'kid-free' zones in public places?

Today's guest blogger is Anita Kulick, President & CEO of Educating Communities for Parenting in Philadelphia. ECP offers a variety of programs and services for teen and adult parents, adjudicated delinquent youth, young adults aging out of the foster care system, preschoolers, and children at grave risk of becoming victims or perpetrators of violence.

The hottest non-news story on the morning TV shows early last month was about Rainy MacDuff, the owner of Rainy Days Café in Washington State. She asked two mothers and their young children to leave the restaurant because according to her, they were making a “mess.” 

It didn’t end there. MacDuff took to Facebook and posted the following comment along with a photo, "Like to take a moment to thank our customers with small children whose kids don't make a mess. A couple of ladies came in today and this is the mess their children made."

As a parenting educator and counselor, there were so many things about the situation that provoked me; no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t get it out of my mind. None of my concerns were about the supposed mess left by the children, which didn’t look at all out of the ordinary to me. What drew my attention were the discussions that followed about when, if ever, it’s appropriate to ask customers with children to leave. Or, if we need to go as far as instituting kid-free zones; public places where children are not welcome or allowed.

Just a couple of weeks ago, Singapore Airlines’ budget division, Scoot, announced that for an additional $14 dollars, economy class passengers can purchase seats in a special section that guarantees more legroom and no children under the age of 12. Scoot CEO, Campbell Wilson, commented, "No offence to our young guests or those traveling with them - you still have the rest of the aircraft."

It appears that customer reaction is positive and even those with children agree. “I’d pay to sit in an adults-only section,” said Keri Coull. “I love my 2 1/2 year-old, but returning from Mexico was traumatic for us as well as the other passengers.”

Let’s face it. No one, especially parents who leave their children at home, goes to a movie or restaurant and enjoys listening to a screaming child or trying to avoid a child running around in the aisles. Even worse is listening to a screaming (and embarrassed) parent trying to contain the situation. This goes for “adult’s only” as well as kid-friendly places.  

Times have changed and so has parenting. It’s an economic fact that today most parents have to work outside the home. That leaves little time to do the necessary chores – shopping, laundry, and cooking. Evenings and weekends are no less hectic with homework, music lessons, sports and all the other demands. This hardly leaves time for spending quality time together as a family. So it makes sense that more and more parents with young children are taking them to places once consider adults only.

But is the solution more kid-free zones?  No, no, no! The last thing we need in today’s society is more isolation. Technology has already done enough damage in this area. The answer is just the opposite. Children need more opportunities to learn how to interact with people of all ages in all situations. And just like most important life lessons, the best teachers are their parents.

Does this mean parents should feel free to take their children anytime anywhere? Of course not. Each child and each situation is different. There are as many answers to this question as there are children, and you won’t find them just by reading books and listening to experts.

The answers can only be found by “reading” your children. What is his temperament? Is he: easy going or flexible; active or feisty; slow to warm or cautious?

Is she old enough and developmentally ready to endure a long wait at a restaurant or sit patiently through a wedding?   

Maybe we don’t need more kid-free zones after all. Maybe what we need are more parents who understand and appreciate the uniqueness of their children. And never even under-estimate the value and power of using good old-fashion common sense, consideration, and courtesy. This goes for everyone – family, friends, and strangers. That includes Rainy MacDuff!


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