Even though the topic of this post is parenting-related, it’s one that everyone’s got an opinion on, so everyone’s welcome to join in the fray. I’m taking issue with the seemingly universal axiom that “kids should be taken out in public; otherwise how will they ever learn how to behave there?”
I postulate that the pendulum has swung too far in the take-‘em-everywhere direction. I actually can't think of a single reason to take a child below the age of about eight to a store or a mall, or any retail establishment, unless they themselves need clothing, and even then, for instance, my mom’s solution was to stop in at a discount store on her way home from work and buy me half a dozen inexpensive dresses or pairs of pants, let me try them on at home and choose, and return the ones I didn’t want the following day. My mom’s method was simply efficient: Why would anyone opt to take hizzer kid to the Land of Temptation and $$$pending when s/he doesn’t absolutely have to?
The only exception I can think of would be single working parents who have no alternative, i.e., no one to watch their child while they do their shopping. Otherwise, why would anyone be under the impression that any effective commerce could be carried out with a child in tow? Besides which, why would anyone deliberately put their child through the predictable exercise of being tempted by all the colors, shiny stuff, and products that they can’t touch, handle, or own? Why?
A fellow commenter on Tell Me About It argues, “The first trips to any place are going to involve a learning curve, no matter what age that first trip is at.” I disagree. I believe that most people over the age of about 14, taken to their first opera, would be able to sit quietly without disrupting the performance, despite never having been to the opera before. Would there have been value in taking them while the “learning curve” was still in process? Similarly, I’d be willing to bet that upon being taken to Target for the first time at the age of eight, an Amish child who’s never seen the inside of a discount emporium, would not run up and down the aisles squealing, grabbing items off the shelves, and demanding to be bought toys and candy.
That’s because Amish (and ultra-Orthodox, etc.) kids of both genders are expected to adhere to “opera behavior standards” when out in public. When our kids hear us say “boys will be boys (i.e., rambunctious)”, our sons get license to behave rambunctiously, and our daughters learn that girls are supposed to be the opposite, i.e., docile. So the boys act up, the ‘rents can’t handle it, and put ‘em in treatment. Why not instead hold our sons to the same behavior expectations as we do our daughters, i.e., cooperative and well-behaved? No doubt because cooperative and well-behaved boys in our society are termed “sissies” instead of “civilized human beings”.
But back to retail establishments -- which we as a society seem to have forgotten are places where business is transacted, and have confused with places of entertainment -- to which I have a problem bringing small children. I’m not suggesting that they be sequestered with their parents under house arrest until they’re “opera-ready”. There are plenty of public places where toddlers belong:
1. The playground (free!) with lots of healthy snacks brought along
2. A public swimming pool or beach (reasonable membership rates)
3. A Discovery Zone if weather is inclement
4. The public libraries, which run wonderful children’s programs, all free
Note that the above are all public, non-sequestered places, yet they are not places where business is transacted (other than paying the entry fee).
You simply must show Junior the latest movie? That’s what DVDs are for. Why are parents of two- and three-year-olds under the delusion that their children can sit through an entire performance, even a children’s play? Eating out? Well, 21st-century parents should consider themselves fortunate that McDonald’s offers a play area; otherwise feed kids at home until they can handle the IHOP or Denny’s, then progress “up the sophistication ladder” from there. There’s no nobility in the parental boast, “Oh we just take her along everywhere!”