Can't Take The Kids Anywhere? This month, a Pa. restaurant banned children under age six, and Malaysian Airlines banned babies from first class. To learn whether these policies are ever appropriate, and how to keep kids from throwing public tantrums, guest host Allison Keyes speaks with parenting contributors Leslie Morgan Steiner and Jolene Ivey, as well as "Speakeasy" Editor Christopher John Farley.
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Can't Take The Kids Anywhere?

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Can't Take The Kids Anywhere?

Can't Take The Kids Anywhere?

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I'm Allison Keyes and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away.

They say it takes a village to raise a child, but maybe you just need a few moms in your corner. Every week we check in with a diverse group of parents for their common sense and savvy parenting advice. And this week we're talking about "the look," meaning the one a parent on an airplane or in a fancy restaurant gets when their child makes this charming noise.


KEYES: This month, an upscale casual Pennsylvania restaurant barred children under six. Owner Michael Vuick was fed up and says he's gotten more than 400 emails thanking him for it. But some parents are offended. Malaysian Airlines had the same idea, recently banning babies from first class. And a movie theater in the U.K. is doing movie screenings only for people over 18.

We wonder just what our panel of parents would think about this. So we are joined now my Leslie Morgan Steiner. She is author of the book "Crazy Love" and the mother of three. Jolene Ivey is the mom of five boys and a Maryland state representative. And we have a dad with us today. Christopher John Farley is editor of The Wall Street Journal's "Speakeasy" blog. Welcome, all.

JOLENE IVEY: Hey. How you doing, Allison?


KEYES: I suspect you all have some opinions on this issue. But, first, I want to set this up with a short clip from "Sex and the City." The ladies are having coffee when a young boy runs screaming past their table.


KIM CATTRALL: (As Samantha Jones) I am so sick of these people with their children. I'm telling you, they're everywhere sitting next to me in first class, eating at the next table like...


CATTRALL: Look at that. This place is for double cappuccinos, not double strollers. I'm sorry.

CYNTHIA NIXON: (As Miranda Hobbes) Hey, no need to apologize. I wouldn't bring Brady here. Mommy needs two hands to eat her $8 cake.

KRISTIN DAVIS: (As Charlotte York) You're not going to defend children?

NIXON: No. I don't like any children but my own.

KEYES: Yeah, never heard that before.


KEYES: Jolene, of course, parents want to think their own children are little angels. But do you think these bans are ever appropriate?

IVEY: Absolutely. We've actually banned individual children and a couple of entire families from our home.

KEYES: Ouch.

IVEY: Yeah. And they will come back in once they learn how to behave.

KEYES: What do they do specifically to get the ban?

IVEY: You know, you have to act pretty bad in my house because I mentioned it to someone else and they said, well, what were they doing? Standing on the furniture? And I was, like, oh, no, no, that's OK. They ride bikes in the house? No, no, that's OK too. So it's more like being mean and not listening, being disrespectful, that kind of thing.

KEYES: Hurling plates to the floor.

IVEY: I don't like that.

KEYES: Chris, what do you think?

JOHN FARLEY: Well, you know, I don't think it's fair to ban all kids of a certain age because, you know, kids act in different ways. I think you really have to institute these kinds of bans on a case by case basis. I mean there are some six-year-olds who maybe, you know, don't act right and really shouldn't be at certain restaurants with tablecloths. And there are other kids who are like Mozart and they'll put on a performance for the adults and they'll be terrific and everyone will love them.

And so you have to recognize that kids, you know, come in different shapes and sizes and attitudes and not have bans that are sort of one size fits all.

KEYES: But if Mozart is screaming at the top of his lungs as he writes his symphony next to you on a plane, or worse, is at the table next to you at the restaurant, walks over and puts his hand in your food, I mean, how is that OK?

JOHN FARLEY: You know, when I was single and I didn't have kids, I didn't mind having kids around me making noise. I think you can still focus on your meal. I don't think it's a problem. Everyone has some demographic or some age range that's bothering them. We have to get past it and just sort of deal with people as people.

KEYES: Leslie, you're shaking your head a little bit there.

LESLIE MORGAN STEINER: Well, I think it's a complicated issue. And I need to confess that I'm a complete hypocrite about it. I feel one way when my kids are with me. And when they're not, I look at it more objectively. And the way I see it is that movie theaters and airplanes and restaurants have every right to ban certain behaviors - because that's what they're doing, they're not banning children per se. They're saying, if you throw food and knock over the table and scream, then you're not welcome here, whether you're 5 or 55.

And I think that's totally fair. But the problem is - and this is the problem with what Chris suggested is that we parents, at least all the parents I know, myself included, we are very sensitive when you criticize us or our children. And, you know, I have been with my kids when they've been misbehaving in restaurants and other places. And if somebody comes up to me, I have this primal reaction that I want to kill them, you know, they're insulting my children.


MORGAN STEINER: And I think that it's much better business, actually, to have a policy to ban certain ages or certain behaviors - because when you do it on a case-by-case basis parents naturally are going to take it really personally and you don't want to have to tell a parent to get their kid out of first class or out of a movie theater or out of a restaurant. Because there's no doubt about it, they're going to react emotionally.

KEYES: Because the child I was speaking of who actually walked over to our table and put his hands in our food while his mother sat there and was like, what do you mean you're outraged that my child is touching your food? Hello. So the Pennsylvania restaurant owner we mentioned wrote in an email: We feel that the McDain's is not a place for young children, their volume can't be controlled and many. many times they've disturbed other customers.

Leslie, what did you do when your kids were little?

MORGAN STEINER: Well, you know, you have that wonderful time when they really can't make that much noise...


MORGAN STEINER: the first six months or so and I took him everywhere. And then I tell you, it got so unpleasant for me and my husband that there was a long stretch where we didn't take our children out to restaurants.

KEYES: How long?

MORGAN STEINER: It was years. Especially...

KEYES: Five, 15?

MORGAN STEINER: You know what? They're 14, 12 and nine, and I don't relish taking all three of them anywhere, anywhere. Because they misbehave. And even if we just have to of them sometimes they misbehave and it's very hard in the moment to discipline them. Although you recognize that if you never take them to restaurants they're never going to learn how to behave.

And also, I believe a little bit kind of what I heard Chris saying is that it's a wonderful thing to live in a culture that's very accepting of children. And we were all children once and everybody screams and cries every once in a while and why can't we just all love each other a little bit more and be a little more tolerant?

KEYES: Jolene, you've got five boys. I'm sure you've never run into this in public.


IVEY: Well, in public we really don't have a problem. My kids are actually really good in public. Now at home I can't swear that they're all little angels - that would be a big lie. But when they're out they're really good. In fact last summer my husband and I went on vacation with only the two younger ones who were 12 and 10 at the time and they came up with this contest that when we would go out to eat, which was every day, three meals a day pretty much...

KEYES: Mm-hmm.

IVEY: ...they would compete, unbeknownst to other children, with who was going to be the most perfect family. So they would have extra extra good manners for this period of time and they went like ha, ha, we are better than they are. We are so good.


IVEY: So they really enjoyed it. So as long as they're out they're good. When they're home they're not always good.

KEYES: Yeah, because at our family if we misbehaved in public we weren't sure we were going to live to get home, so there was that.

IVEY: Pretty much.

KEYES: Chris, I wonder if you think that's changed a bit, if parents have, are exercising less control publicly than they used to?

JOHN FARLEY: Well, I think it's hard to judge. I do think it is up to parents to decide what really is appropriate for their kids and whether their kids can handle a certain kind of situation. I know all parents don't do that but they should. I mean there's a movie theater near to where I live in New Rochelle, and I go there, I'm sometimes there for late-night screenings, and I'll see kids there for like R-rated movies or aliens in the screen ripping people apart.

There are people, you know, having sex on the screen and they're there with like two and three and seven-year-olds are running up and down the aisles. It doesn't bother me but I wonder if they made an appropriate decision for their kids to have them in that kind of situation.

KEYES: So in other words, the parents should be banned, not the kids.


JOHN FARLEY: I think so. The parents really need to do a reality check. I mean get a sitter, do something but, you know, if you're going to observe a surgical procedure at a hospital maybe don't bring the kids. Think about the situation you're putting the kids in and decide whether or not this is really a place for your kid and whether they can handle it.

KEYES: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're having our weekly visit with our parents, talking about a few recent businesses that have banned children from visiting, including a restaurant and an airline.

We're joined by Jolene Ivey, a Maryland state representative, Leslie Morgan Steiner, author of the book "Crazy Love," and Christopher John Farley, editor of The Wall Street Journal's "Speakeasy" blog.

Chris, how did your parents determine when it was appropriate to take you out when you were young?

JOHN FARLEY: Well, I mean from a very early age they decided that, you know, we could basically go to a lot of places. I remember as a child being taken to trips to Jamaica and going to reggae concerts and going to other kinds of situations along with college kids, because they figured I could probably handle it and I tried to behave in the right way. I certainly have good memories of my behavior, I don't know if they're accurate.


KEYES: Leslie, I wonder, when do you think it changed that parents instead of being embarrassed by what their children were doing were instead offended that you pointed out their children's bad behavior?

MORGAN STEINER: Well, I'm 46 and it's definitely changed in my lifetime. Because I remember when I was a little kid growing up in a family of four kids we never went to a restaurant with the exception of very early on Sunday morning and we would be the only family there. And I think that my parents took us intentionally to try to train us when we couldn't disturb other people.

KEYES: Mm-hmm.

MORGAN STEINER: But there was a great sense that children were not meant to disrupt everybody else's life, and I think that that has changed. Probably maybe 20 or 25 years ago I would say is when I remember starting to see a lot of kids in restaurants and movie theaters. And it does seem that there's a great sense of entitlement today and I think I'm guilty of this too, just because I have kids I don't want my life to stop. I still want to go to the movies. I still want to go to my favorite restaurant and so I think that's part of the problem is that we want to have it all his parents.

KEYES: Jolene's smiling.

IVEY: Well, I'm just laughing thinking about situations that I've been in with friends where I have one set of rules and my friend might have a different set of rules. And my kid sees the other kid climbing the walls. And he's like no, no. Stop.


IVEY: And, you know, it is very difficult sometimes to deal with your friends when their rules are different.

MORGAN STEINER: But it's actually great peer pressure. You know, I think that my kids would not eat with a spoon and a fork and a knife if it hadn't been for other kids, watching that other kids did that too. So it's great that your kids are putting that pressure.


MORGAN STEINER: And I think they should spend some time with my children.

KEYES: So Chris, are your kids the kids on the plane that are very quiet and they're playing with their toys or are they the kids standing up in the seat yelling at the top of their lungs as the plane is trying to take off?

JOHN FARLEY: Well, they're definitely not those kids.


JOHN FARLEY: And it's always a good idea I think for parents to bring things for a kid to do. You know, books, preferably really long books that they have to read the whole way through and books that they're actually interested in. Or, you know, an iPad for them to read the books. As long as they have something that is going to hold their interest the whole time I think that really keeps them out of trouble.

I think the other thing that really needs to be talked about is, you know, whether or not that some parents are putting themselves in situations where they should expect kids to be there. I mean for instance in the UK the one theater that says okay, we are going to have screening for over 18, including the Harry Potter movie. I mean there should be kids at the Harry Potter movie.

KEYES: Being a Harry Potter fan, I will note that there are geeks there that are trying to listen to every tiny little thing so there's that, but that's a whole other issue. Leslie, now that your kids are nine to 14, would you take a baby-free flight or would you boycott the airline?

MORGAN STEINER: Babies don't bother me at all. But when I do see little children in first class that always bugs me. I don't fly, I've never flown first-class myself but I feel like if I was paying that money I would not, part of what you're paying for is the peace and quiet.

KEYES: Mm-hmm.

MORGAN STEINER: And so I wouldn't do that. And for the record, my kids are great on airplanes.


MORGAN STEINER: I don't know how it happened. They're terrible in restaurants and great on airplanes.

KEYES: Jolene...

JOHN FARLEY: When I see anyone in first class, it bugs me because I'm usually just in coach, so.


IVEY: Right.

MORGAN STEINER: That's really true.

KEYES: That's his real problem. I knew it. Jolene, are you offended that people even want the option of being able to ban children from a certain level of air travel? If it was a whole plane would that be different and than them saying it's just first-class?

IVEY: Legally I don't see how you could ban children from an entire plane because, you know, you're using public air space, so I don't see how that would work. And actually, like Leslie, I don't have any problem with babies or even young kids on planes because what are you going to do, you know? I'm even willing to help people with their kids on the plane. I don't have a problem with it. But once we land it's over.


KEYES: I must admit, I have joked if I was rich I would open a child-free airline. Yes, I am that girl. I'm so sorry.


KEYES: Chris, I want to ask how you decide which public places are appropriate for children, besides Harry Potter movies, of course?

JOHN FARLEY: I have a very scientific system to figuring out where the kids can go and can't go, and that is I ask my wife.


JOHN FARLEY: I say should I take them there?

IVEY: Married forever.

JOHN FARLEY: For example, I was about to take my six-year-old to the Rihanna concert, which was terrific, but my wife decided no, it really is not an appropriate place for six-year-olds, it's going on too late and it turns out she's right.

KEYES: Could it be the outfits?

JOHN FARLEY: Well, I think it was that song "S&M"...


JOHN FARLEY: ...which I think my six-year-old, it would've taken a lot of explaining what was going on in that song.

KEYES: I've got to ask you Chris, you live in New York and I've been in Park Slope. Yeah, I'm looking at you Park Slope, where parents feel they're entitled to take their children anywhere - restaurant, theater, bar, I don't care what time it is, it's two in the morning and there are kids there. I mean that can't be good, can it?

JOHN FARLEY: You know, people do feel that they can take their kids anywhere. And again, I think it is a case-by-case, kid-by-kid basis. Parents really have to understand their kids, understand the situation and make appropriate decisions about where they can go.

KEYES: Jolene, if you were at a restaurant where the children were misbehaving would you say something to the parents and try to help or would you just kind of suck it up?

IVEY: The most I will do, and whether it's a restaurant or the nail shop, or wherever I am, if I run into kids who are having issues I usually think it's because they're bored, you know?

KEYES: Mm-hmm.

IVEY: Especially like someplace there's just nothing for them to do and the mom or the dad didn't think to bring anything for them to do.

KEYES: As Chris was saying.

IVEY: Right. I look in my pocketbook and try to find what do I have that this kid could play with or I'll go through the magazines and call the kid over and say hey, show me the numbers or whatever. I will try to help. If the kid's just flat out bad though and the parents aren't doing anything, I try to ignore it because I'm really not into getting shot.

KEYES: There's that.


KEYES: Leslie, what about you? You were saying that you take it very personally if a parent approached you. If a parent approached you in that way and say listen, I have a book, I have a toy, maybe I can help you with your child issue.

MORGAN STEINER: No, I mean as I said at the beginning, I am a hypocrite and I would go up to a parent and I would ask them to control their kids. I think what I would do is I would point out that the children are really disturbing others. Because I think kids should be welcomed absolutely anywhere as long as they're well-behaved, it's a behavior issue. And, you know, our society functions because we have respect for other people. And if a child is disturbing somebody else the parent should do something about it. So I wouldn't have a problem with talking, confronting a parent but I'd try to do it in a nice way that didn't get me in trouble but I think I have an obligation to do that.

KEYES: In the brief time we have left I'm just going to ask for suggestions in having your kids behave well in public. And I'm going to start with you Chris.

JOHN FARLEY: Well, I think number one, again, have things for them to do, whether it's books, whether you resort to video games, just have something for them to do so if they do get bored with the situation there's something for them to fall back on. It'll make everyone happier. It'll make the time go faster. And it will make the situation just be better for everyone involved.

KEYES: Jolene, besides a toy or something, a sock puppet, what else do you suggest?


IVEY: I suggest you be consistent and tell your kids what you expect and let them know that you really, really mean it. So as long as your kids know that you mean they'll generally behave.

KEYES: Leslie?

MORGAN STEINER: I don't know if that's always true. It sounds like it's true in Jolene's family so I'm thinking a lot about trying this with my family.


MORGAN STEINER: But I am a big fan of bribery and threats and they are really effective. I also think distraction is great. I think it's wonderful to have cards or, you know, a little kit that they can draw with or something that they could read. But I think it's hard. I think so much of parenting is much harder than it should be. And you think you tell them one time, look, if you don't behave you're not going to come again or you're not going to get dessert. And you follow through with it, but they still ruin the whole dinner for everybody else - your family and the other people - and it's one of those just really frustrating times in parenthood where you just go home and try to think of another way to deal with it.

KEYES: All right parents, we're out of time, although we do want to hear from you parents out there so please tweet us. Let us know what you think. We were joined today by Leslie Morgan Steiner, author of the book "Crazy Love" and mother of three. Jolene Ivey is a mom of five boys - five - and a Maryland state representative. They both joined us right here in our Washington, D.C. studios. And Christopher John Farley is a father of two, and edits the "Speakeasy" blog for The Wall Street Journal, where he joined us on the line.


KEYES: Thank you all for coming.

IVEY: Thanks, Allison.


JOHN FARLEY: Thank you.

KEYES: And that's our program for today. I'm Allison Keyes and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

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