When my sister lived in Ocala, Fla., she sent me a column written by a psychologist/columnist there. He advocated barring children from restaurants because he thought their behavior had become too disruptive and distractive. He created a storm of protests.
To me, it seemed strange to bar a child from any activity where he needs training for adult life. It would be like barring him from the bedroom for snoring.
Education is all about preparing children for adult life, and dining in public is a common activity our whole life through. I have seen tables full of adult drunks and birthday partiers as disruptive as any unruly child and certainly setting a bad example for children.
From my observation, the children who need instruction on proper restaurant behavior are the streakers, peekers and shriekers.
Streakers are those who run at full throttle throughout the restaurant. I am amazed that more of them are not hurt, and they pose a special danger to waiters and waitresses carrying large trays of food over the heads. I have seen parents grin over this behavior, which indicates a black hole of ignorance swirling around in the center of their heads.
I have only seen one peeker, but it's too funny not to tell and yet serious enough to send you to the nearest prayer room. This kid actually climbed into our booth from an adjoining booth and began to show an interest in eating our food. His mother said, "Oh, isn't he cute!" I thought, "No, he is uncivilized, and you need to immediately take on the task of preparing him for a world chiefly populated by other people."
I think most diners can accept the simple screamers, who scream because they are uncomfortable or unhappy. But the more intelligent attention-seeking screamers have discovered the advantages of a high-pitched shriek that almost pierces the eardrum. It is one of the most painful sounds known to man, and I honestly believe more children have discovered its effectiveness. Even parents who can ignore a scream or brief shriek and just keep talking will fly into action on one of these long, drawn-out high-decibel shrieks. Sometimes they'll take the child outside and whomp his bottom a few times.
In telling these stories, I am not seeking to activate child abuse. I do not believe in whipping children. I raised two without it, and both have done very well. I was whipped with a razor strap and turned out OK despite it, but I knew I would never do that to a child myself.
But I do believe in setting clear parameters and limits for children. When my kids streaked, it took only one time of them not getting to go out and dine with us for them to cease their streaking.
When it comes to child-rearing, humility is called for. Although my two kids turned out well, I do not claim to know what to do in all situations.
Each child has a different neurological system and is exposed to vastly different psychological pressures that shape him/her. Many of them might not have responded well to my way of doing it. I do think I would have kept trying different things until something worked.
I do know I could not have stood that high-pitched, eardrum-splitting, ultra-decibel shriek.
Email Dalton Roberts at DownhomeP@aol.com.