After reading about a recent incident wherein a mother and her 2-year-old son were kicked off a flight due to the child's yelling, Dr. James C. Kaufman penned a piece for Psychology Today, asking "Why Does Our Society Hate Children?"
Kaufman, who has a three-year-old son, notes that he understands the frustration people feel when they're subjected to out-of-control kids or lousy parenting methods: "I can't stand bad parents or bad children, either," he writes, "There are parents who are over-permissive to the point of absurdity. There are kids who are just hyper or obnoxious." But Kaufman argues that society, as a whole, confuses "bad children" and "bad parents" with kids who are just tired, or cranky, and parents who are doing their best to keep their kids under control, as "anyone who's been in charge of a toddler for more than three minutes knows that even the most perfect parent in the entire world can't prevent or stop every tantrum."
I'll admit that in my early twenties, I was one of those people who would start pouting as soon as I walked onto a plane and saw a toddler squirming about in his seat. "Oh great," I'd hiss to my boyfriend, "he'll be crying in ten minutes." I had no concern for the parents or the child, who were probably just as stressed about the flight and what would happen in the air; I saw them as an inconvenience to my own traveling, as if they should hop aboard the Magic School Bus or some such to reach their destination instead of flying on the plane with the rest of us. I was a complete crab when it came to crabby children, and I instantly blamed their parents for not being able to "control" their kid's tears. In short, I was a total jerk.
As Kaufman notes, there's a big difference between getting annoyed at a parent who allows little Suzie or Timmy to kick the seat repeatedly as if it's some type of adorable behavior and getting annoyed at a parent who is desperately trying to get Timmy to stop throwing his tantrums. It wasn't until my niece was born 7 years ago that I began to understand this; watching my sister and my brother-in-law handle her tantrum phase was rough, as I knew they were great parents and my niece was a great kid, but tantrums happen, and, as Kaufman notes, "Toddlers have to have tantrums. It's how they learn boundaries."
Now, whenever I hear a kid crying on a plane, my thoughts immediately move to sympathy for both the child and the parent; maybe the kid is teething, maybe she's just exhausted, maybe she's scared, poor thing. Every child, in some way, has become my niece or my nephew, and their parents my sister or brother-in-law. I am not a parent myself, but by trying to put myself in the other person's shoes (or even in the kid's shoes) has made me a much more understanding person. Of course, this doesn't mean that I still don't get extremely annoyed when I have to sit in front of someone who thinks it's just charming that little Billy likes to throw Matchbox cars at strangers, but taking the position that all crying or slightly obnoxious behavior in public on the part of children and/or their parents automatically makes them "bad" people isn't fair to anyone.
I don't think we live in a child-hating society, but I do agree with Kaufman's argument that the public does often make enemies of parents and small children who are just trying to live their lives. "I don't like screaming in my ear, either," he writes, "I also don't like people who wrestle the armrest away from me, people who lean their seat ALL the way back, and people who claim their suitcase is a purse and cram the overhead compartment with too many bags. But that's life. That's what traveling by air means. Heck, that's what it means to live in this world." Yes, kids can be annoying, but so can everyone else. It took me years to realize that the eyeroll from the 20 year old who thinks she knows everything can be just as painful and irritating as the screams of a 3-year-old who just needs to take a nap.
Why Does Our Society Hate Children [PsychologyToday]