The following has been disgorged from my brain in response to this. It probably lacks organization, but I think it contains some salient points.
I don’t think kids should be banned from public places: we were all kids at one point, after all.
However, I think everyone should realize that no one – regardless of age – is entitled to significantly degrade the public experience of others around them. Should this be law? I don’t think so. It’s just common decency, and people who flout it rightly earn the derision of others.
The problem is that there seems to be a growing portion of the population with children who doesn’t recognize this. It’s OK for your kid to color in the waiting room at the doctor’s office, or talk about what the TV’s showing. It’s not OK for your kid to run around screaming in the Comcast office, driving the rest of us who’re standing in line to the edge of sanity. It’s OK for your kids to play around outside. It’s not OK for your kids to leave their toys laying around on your neighbor’s front lawn after dark when playtime’s over (I completely ignored my neighbors in TX for this reason). It’s OK for your kids to be at the supermarket. It’s not OK for them to impede my shopping while doing so by clogging the aisle and being oblivious to other shopping carts.
These rules don’t just appy to kids, they apply to everyone. I love loud, aggressive music, but I don’t ride around town blaring it with the windows down. I kill the volume when I pull up to the ATM because I realize that not everyone wants to hear “This Calling” by All That Remains (how awesome is that intro? Seriously). I immediately get out of the way of others, I “keep it down” at restaurants, I’m completely silent in waiting areas with the rare exception of conversing with someone there.
The rest of the public should be reasonable in their expectations though: babies don’t scream on planes because they want to make other passengers consider hijacking the flight, they scream because of any combination of 1) being unadjusted to a new environment 2) sinus/ear troubles (very common) 3) hunger/thirst 4) I ran out of reasons. In addition, just because you’re an adult doesn’t mean every public space should be tailored to your liking. Translation: suck it up sometimes, a couple wild kids aren’t the end of the world, you don’t live at this restaurant, there are bigger things in your life to worry about etc.
But on the other hand, IMO any child who can talk can also be quieted. My mom will tell you the story of how, on one flight, I didn’t get a window seat as I’d wanted* and started screaming. Mom simply told me that if I didn’t shush, she’d tell the pilot to stop the plane and let me off. I shut up.
Years later in 2005, I was on a very delayed US Airways** night flight from Charlotte to Houston. A flight attendant asked if I – by my window seat as usual – would mind if a kid took my seat while I took the aisle spot. IIRC, he’d wanted a window seat too but couldn’t get one. It was night and there wouldn’t be much of Charlotte to see besides streetlights, so I acquiesced. He sat next to me and, as I expected, moved and said a lot. I ensured he was properly belted in and otherwise left him to his own devices while I read a magazine. An off-duty pilot across the aisle leaned over and said to me “you sir, are a saint.” I smiled and shrugged: 1) its only 1 flight 2) I don’t live with this kid 3) it’s a kid, relax 4) I’m so tired I’ve mostly disconnected from my surroundings anyway, I’m barely aware you’re talking to me 5) I’m reading and he’s not getting in the way of that, so whatever.
Believe it or not, kids aren’t as “uncontrollable” as many parents seem to think they are, and admininstrative discipline isn’t necessary to keep them quiet either. If you know your kid might disturb others, bring something to keep him/her quietly occupied: e.g. coloring books, several ailses of products at Toys-R-Us and tablets facilitate that. Plan ahead.
Oh and adults: you can distract yourself too! Smartphones, books and thinking about work stuff are great ways to completely zone out.**** Plan ahead. If none of the above works, either remove yourself from the situation – hey, there are other places you can eat/shop at – or avoid situations in which you’re likely to be annoyed.***** The world doesn’t revolve around you any more than it does around those who peeve you.
So basically: parents, control your kids. You’re called parents for a reason.*** Everyone else: be understanding and realize you can help the situation by staying occupied – and oblivious – on your end.
* To this day at age 28, I still request windows seats on every flight I take. I could probably tell you what every approach pattern to Miami International Airport looks like, including the buildings you fly over before you hit the runway. Look out for the Goya warehouse!
** Please do me a favor and never fly this airline. Consistently rude employees who act as if they’re doing you a favor by talking to you, horrible service
*** This seems to be a lost concept in today’s “it’s not my fault”/abdication of responsibility/the “system” is responsible for our kids culture, but that’s for another post
**** It occurred to me after writing this that being lost in your own thoughts is the province of introverts such as myself and my dad, a man who could miss a nuclear strike if he was thinking deeply enough. Extraverts may find this considerably more difficult, if not impossible.
***** Another option is to do something about it. Don’t ask the parent to “keep it down,” that usually makes them defensive. Complain to the manager/whoever’s in charge and let them deal with it. I doubt you’ll have much luck at Chili’s, but I’m sure the folks at McCormick & Schmick’s will do the trick for you.