Feministe has a post that sparked tons of discussion and controversy.
I’m currently childless, but very much pro-kid, which puts me in an odd spot in this conversation. I think that, of course, in places where “adult” activities are going on, it’s reasonable to prohibit children–most bars or nightclubs, adult toy stores, strip clubs. You know, places where the mere presence of a kid is likely breaking a law. And I doubt anyone is seriously arguing against that, but more against the expansion of “child-free spaces” from places that should absolutely never have children to include places where it might be a bad idea for children to be, or places where someone has arbitrarily decided that they don’t want children.
As a comment to the original post, La Lubu describes a ridiculously child-unfriendly hospital:
A cousin of mine sustained serious systemic injury and was airlifted to one of those “destination” hospitals that can handle that sort of thing[…]
So. She’s in the ICU, and in incredibly bad condition. Her kidneys are producing urine the color of motor oil, she had fasciotomies done on both legs (yep, open wounds that expose the muscle), and is in a great deal of pain. I knew my daughter (age 10, who as a preemie has her own litany of stories about hospitals and surgeries and the scars to prove it) wouldn’t be allowed in the ICU. I could live with that. I could live with that even though she has more internal resources for dealing with what she would see in the ICU more than most adults. But fine…I wasn’t going to press the issue, and I explained to my daughter she could sit in the waiting room and read a book, and I’d go visit in a few 30-minute sessions (seeing my daughter in between). Problem solved, right?
Nope. The age restriction to be in the waiting room is age 12. […] I gritted my teeth, told my daughter to be very quiet and invisible, just read her book, and everything would be fine. I got my daughter settled with her book and a drink, and I went to see my cousin.
When I got back, the Hall Monitor of the waiting room immediately started grilling me on my daughter’s age (though she was quietly sitting there in the back of the room, reading her book, disturbing no one). I wouldn’t lie. I told the Hall Monitor my situation […]—could she call her supervisor so we could get this resolved? Nope. […]
So I went off down the hall with my daughter, and we went to a nurse’s station to explain what was going on, and could they call for help. (this was going to be an ongoing problem; might as well make some kind of arrangement now). The nurses helped us out by putting us in a family conference room—which incidentally, had a television, puzzles, board games, and books in it.
That’s a prime example of the arbitrary and ridiculous. Kid’s harming no one, doing nothing wrong. And her mom has to waste valuable time that she could be visiting her injured cousin trying to find a place for her daughter to be.
Someone further down in the comment thread suggested that it was less because “kids are disruptive” and more because “kids are germy” and that it was a health and safety precaution. To which I call BS. If an adult was there coughing, the hospital staff would probably hand them a mask and some hand sanitizer, not tell them to go away. Plus, this is the waiting room, not the ICU. Even if 11-year-olds are more likely to spread germs than 12-year-olds, it isn’t as though she’s going to touch or breathe on someone who’s in intensive care. (Plus, if it were health and safety, I think the age level would be lower. By eleven, most kids have pretty well figured out hygiene.)
More likely, the rule is based on the assumption that kids eleven and younger are likely to be disruptive. Statistically speaking, that might be true, but it’s not fair to tell a kid “get lost” from a space they have a reason to be, and whose rules they are following, just because they’re of an age that they *might* cause problems. Adults don’t get thrown out of public spaces until they actually cause problems; the same “innocent until proven obnoxious” standard should be applied to kids.
It also seems really irrational to keep kids out of an ICU waiting room. What if it were this girl’s parent or sibling who was injured and maybe dying? Even if she can’t be in the room with the family member, why deny her the ability to be nearby, to have the adult visiting relay “I love you’s” between the injured person and the kid? And it’s not like illness and injury only affect people who are “old enough” to handle it. That girl’s been a patient in the ICU, after all.
Further down in the comments, Ellie, a restaurant owner, talks about the flip side of the “child-free spaces” issue:
If an adult were behaving disruptively or inappropriately in my business, I would ask them to stop or ask them to leave. If a child is causing that same disruption, I can’t expect them to know any better– they are learning, after all. Many parents are upset by strangers, even in a helpful or constructive way, trying to calm children or redirect disruptive behavior. Should I address the parent, ask them to address the behavior? Should I ask the child to stop, realizing that the parent may think I’m overstepping my boundaries? I don’t know how to handle this.
I can address an adult that causes disruption in my business. I feel powerless to address children. I think this is a lot of the reason behind many adults’ anxiety towards children in these spaces.
She further pointed out that if parents are asked to quiet a disruptive child, it can be taken as telling them how to parent or being child-hating. Another commenter talked about how she was talking REALLY LOUDLY in a restaurant. The waiter asked her to quiet down, and she did. Meanwhile, a two-year-old behind her was screaming and jumping up and down in her high chair, eventually tipping it, which resulted in even more screaming.
On BitchPhD, Sibyl Vane has a post about why “not liking kids” is bigoted, similar to any other dislike of a big group of people (a race, religion, nationality, disability, etc., though she points out really clearly that she’s not saying “being a kid is just like being Minority X”). She points out, and is annoyed that she has to point out:
[Children] are human beings. Actual members of society. Who, yes, happen to be in a dependent position. Nonetheless, inasmuch as they are members of society, they have a claim on society to help care for them in their dependence so that they do not starve.[…] you do have to deal with his presence in public spaces, even if he’s acting like a little turd; […] you do need to deal with the times when I bring him into work because there is work I can’t put off and there is no one else who can care for him on that day […] And in exchange, my friends, I and he have an obligation to deal with you when you have had a shitty day and are being a turd in a public space
So, okay, lots of conflicting needs and issues to reconcile and try to address. There’s the fact that certain activities, like drinking, have a legal age limit. And because people providing alcohol are held responsible if someone underage gets some from their establishment (even if they provided a really good fake ID or were given a sip on the sly by an adult who was carded), it’s reasonable for those business-people to ban kids all-together. Some don’t, particularly bar & grill restaurants, because a lot of their customers are families, but that’s their call to make.
For any public space where there’s not a law being broken (or likely to be broken) by a child just *being* there, it’s not reasonable to ban kids or set arbitrary age limits. A library or a hospital or a restaurant shouldn’t have the right to kick someone out for being the wrong age. This is not only discriminatory towards children, but also effectively sexist. As tons of people pointed out, restrictions on kids end up being restrictions on women, who still end up doing most of the childcare.
What they *should* be allowed to do, however, is enforce behavior requirements that are appropriate to that space. If I’m at a library trying to do homework, I have a reasonable expectation that a kid running around and screaming will be asked to leave. I have the same reasonable expectation that a grown-up couple having a loud argument, or an adult talking loudly on their cell phone, will be asked to leave. Similar thing for a fancy restaurant. If I go to a busy, popular chain and I’m annoyed by loud conversation (kids or adults), too bad for me for going to a characteristically noisy space and expecting quiet. But if it’s a swanky restaurant where Mr. Thinkstoomuch and I are celebrating an anniversary, yeah, we do have a reasonable expectation of our dinner being quiet and peaceful.
That doesn’t mean that kids shouldn’t be *allowed* in that space, just that the standards of behavior for a space should be adhered to. Kids aren’t always to blame for not adhering to those standards. They don’t get to choose where they go, and they have shorter attention spans than grown-ups, and babies especially don’t have a way to make discomfort or anxiety known other than screaming. But, if parents are in a space where there’s an expectation of quiet, and they can’t get a kid settled down, it’s not unreasonable to ask the group to leave. It sucks, because it’s not the kid’s fault, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable as long as the waiter or librarian or hospital staff waits til there’s an actual problem, points out the problem, and only kicks people out if they won’t or can’t solve it.
The idea of behavior rules rather than age limits pretty much strikes a balance between the right of kids to be in public spaces, the right of parents to actually have lives, and the expectation of certain public spaces to be quiet, or conducive to adult conversation, or other requirements.
I say “pretty much” because people certainly use behavior requirements as a sort-of-but-not-really subtle way of discriminating against a group. You could certainly still discriminate against kids by making behavior requirements so stringent that no kid could ever follow them (like kicking a family out the instant a child cries, even if they’re soothed in thirty seconds and it never escalates to full-volume screaming).
Overall, I don’t think we integrate kids into society enough. We separate them, putting them with just their age group most of the day, and then expect them to know the rules and expectations of mixed-age groups, without ever really being taught. So, the more chances kids have to be in public spaces and learn to navigate them, the better. And this has the added benefit of not screwing over parents, mothers in particular. So it should be a win all around.