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Friday, 27 October, 2000, 11:35 GMT 12:35 UK
Are the British intolerant of children?
The old fashioned view that children should be seen and not heard is still alive and well in the UK according to new research.
The National Family and Parenting Institute says Britain has one of the worst records in Europe for being "family unfriendly". Parents believe restaurants make them feel unwelcome, and people running public transport do little to help.
The report also highlights big differences between Britain and the rest of Europe in terms of maternity leave pay, leave for fathers, working hours and childcare.
Do you think the UK needs to become a more family-friendly nation? What are attitudes towards children like in your country? Send us your views and experiences.
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
Anne, London, UK
I would like to remind all those who seem to revel in the glee of running down those who chose to have children - remember this:
These children will be supplying YOUR services in the future, growing your food, caring for you in hospitals and homes, ensuring that you have power and so on and so forth. They can be little terrors at times and the liberal attitude by some parents is just stupid. But, children are children and should be allowed as such.
To find out how bad British children are.... Go away on holiday a week before British school holidays begin... Enjoy the peace and tranquillity for a week in the company of French, German, Italian, Scandinavian, Dutch kids... and then a week later suffer the HELL of out of control, screaming, neglected British kids.
Geoff B, UK
Children are our future and as such should be brought up in a way to ensure that it is a successful future. My personal views to children as all my friends would confirm is that they are to be respected and treated as equals.
Children learn from their parents so therefore if the child misbehaves in public, then the parent should be the one that should be frowned on. I myself raised 2 children and never hesitated to take them in public. We teach them the manners that they display - good or bad.
Sim Onimuke, USA
As a British parent living in San Francisco I must say that I haven't noticed a great difference in the tolerance/helpfulness between the two countries. Although the UK has much better maternity leave and obviously provides free health care and education for children which is unthinkable to most Americans.
I find the attitude that "I've chosen not to have children so I do not want to be bothered with yours" absolutely amazing. Without wanting to sound like the American Live Aid song, it is true that children are our future. It's probably a good example of Darwinism at work that these selfish people have chosen not to pass on their genes!
Stop looking at the children as little noisy monsters, but look at the parents who are doing their children a disservice for not loving them enough to discipline them.
Gretl Coudrille, UK
We are intolerant of brats, not children. Badly behaved, arrogant, selfish, noisy brats are products of lazy/incompetent parents - the sort that allow their children to run around screaming in waiting rooms, or restaurants. That's where the problem lies. Children will only get away with what their parents let them.
Noisy children are particularly annoying in crowded places where it's impossible to get away from them. It's also annoying when a very small child occupies a seat on a packed train when they travel for free. Since they travel for free it doesn't seem so unreasonable they should sit on Mummy's or Daddy's lap, and let the fare-paying passengers have the seat.
I don't think that intolerance is only an English thing. I would admit to it myself until such time as I had children of my own. We always try to have our children behave as well as possible, and consider before taking children out the environment we will be putting them in, but we cannot always guarantee the results no matter what previous or expected behaviours we have had. Even though we have children we compare ours to others and moan when they do not measure up even though we know how hard it can be.
I am a mother of 3 and I too wish that children would not be allowed in certain places. If I pay for a sitter to get away from my well-mannered children, why should I be subjected those so ill mannered? I blame the parents, not the children! Perhaps parenting classes should become mandatory before leaving the hospitals with new-born babies.. or tags attached to said babies that read, "Please remove from public places when child screams and throws tantrums!"
When I was a toddler screaming in a restaurant was not considered an acceptable thing to allow a child to do - the child would be removed, or not taken in the first place. Now the attitude is "s/he's only three, what do you expect?" I expect parents to keep their kids out of restaurants unless they are well behaved. They claim the "right" to take their kids with them - I would like to claim my right to enjoy a quiet meal free from (literally) screaming kids.
Adults should be 'seen but not heard' until they can behave themselves. Imagine any self-respecting child wanting to go on a boring trip to a supermarket with a badly behaved parent. And as for sitting in a room full of smoke in a restaurant, or suffering the smell of alcohol on adults' breath, or hearing all that rudeness and bad language, or .......
Yes, why can't adults behave themselves??
Brian Blackmore, UK
When my mother took our family on social outings, she was often congratulated on how well behaved and well mannered her (five) children were. Travel the European continent and you will find that almost all children encountered are well behaved, heed their parents' wishes and are respectful of their elders, as we were when we were children.
English parents of today, wherever they go, let their obnoxious brats run riot, then seem to have the attitude that if you (the unfortunate observer) don't like it, go elsewhere!
From the comments here it seems that there are children friendly restaurants and other facilities in this country as well as some which are "adults only". Perhaps parents and non-parents should check what to expect when booking. Normally asking if there is a children's menu should suffice. For the record I'm a non-parent but sometimes go out with nieces, nephews and children of friends. Incidentally where did all these (impeccably mannered) adults who were never children come from?
As someone who's just turned 21, I've had a good chance to look at children and families around various places. The main thing is that the few spoil it for the many - the toddler incessantly screaming while their parents look on apathetically is remembered far more than the quiet baby at another table at a pub, for example. It has to be said that Europeans, though, are generally friendlier - I remember getting sweets from restaurant staff in Italy, for example - that didn't happen here!
When you have children, it is your job to bring them up in a responsible manner. However, in the UK this seems to be almost forgotten! Children are pushed into a corner and told to be quiet. What do their parents expect them to do? They will scream and make as much trouble as they think they can get away with, of course! Then other people tell the parents to sort the kids out or get out! If the parents respected their kids in the first place, this would not happen.
Britain is not hostile to its children; the problem is a large minority of really horrible children. Noone should have to endure these foulmouthed brats who ruin any environment they inhabit. If parents want a 'friendly' reception they should raise their children properly.
Nick Hardy, London, UK
Ndubisi Obiorah, Nigeria
I've lived in the US,
and I'd like to know
where all these child
are supposed to be.
In my area, you see
kids in McDonald's
and Burger King, and
that's about it.
Mind you, plenty of
American adults yell
in public, talk loudly
in bookstores, barge
around without looking,
and generally behave
like children, so
maybe that is where
the confusion arises.
A common excuse for intolerance seems to be "I chose not to have kids, so why should I put up with anyone elses?"
Well your parents chose to have kids, and everybody has to put up with you.
Last week at the end of a hectic working day I slumped onto a (delayed) train and headed for the "quiet" coach (no mobile phones, some chance of a spot of kip). Unfortunately the next 90 minutes were filled by the Kid From Hell screaming non-stop whilst its simpering parents made no attempt to prevent it making other peoples' lives unbearable. Intolerant of children? Not particularly. Intolerant of useless, ineffectual parents? Oh yes!
I've worked for the past 3 summers with kids in the USA and I can't help but notice how much more loving and tolerant adults are towards kids over there. Coming back to Britain sometimes makes me feel sorry for the kids of this country. Kids here aren't encouraged to show emotions, express themselves and are often quite subdued and withdrawn compared to their American counterparts.
When I had my kids if I wanted to go out I employed a babysitter. I did not drag them into a smoky environment and expect others to tolerate them, or even look after them. Now they are older and able to behave I happily take them out. If you want to have kids you should be prepared to make sacrifices, and not try to live your life the same as before they arrived.
I think it is appalling that we cannot tolerate families in today's society, although I am guilty of the crimes myself. I find it distracting having noisy children around and also feel uncomfortable as to what my obligations are when I see someone obviously struggling with a pushchair of similar. But in the same instance, I would be just as annoyed if I was in a restaurant and had a noisy group of adults disrupting the atmosphere, although if it were adults, I would be more likely to complain.
Those of you who claim the need for peace and quiet as the reason you have no tolerance for children, is a reflection of your blatant lack of respect for parents and their children. It's not easy to have a child and to raise one well in society. It becomes considerably more difficult when grown adults discriminate against those who choose to. Many of you are truly pathetic.
It is now a ridiculous
state of affairs that we have to put up
with: just the other day I saw a baby
of about 2 years old being held by
her mother in a shopping centre, crying
her eyes out. Who do these children
think they are? It was much different
when I was a child...I of course, like
all of today's adults, didn't make a sound.
Andrew Husband, Australia
There is a difference, I think, of being intolerant of noisy, badly behaved children who are screaming and running around a restaurant with the permission of their parents, which is totally understandable, and being intolerant of quiet, well behaved children eating dinner quietly with the rest of their family, which isn't.
This report mentions other EU contries being better, but I have been in French, Italian and Spanish restaurants where there are many families with children, all of whom are quietly eating and are well mannered and considerate of the other patrons.
If more parents in this country bought children up to respect others in the same way, we wouldn't have this 'intolerance'.
Children are the most important people on the planet. If you want to be old, lonely and rich.....move to Switzerland!
Perhaps the intolerance should
be viewed as a fear of children.
Then the question that begs to be
asked is, "Why are adults in the UK
afraid of children?". After some
short consideration of the question,
barriers to children in UK public life
should start falling. Please don't
be critical of me, just be brave adults.
As someone who has worked in various 'unfriendly' restaurants and pubs over the past few years I find this report highly insulting. In the places I have worked kids who are well mannered and moderately well behaved are treated with respect and welcomed. If parents find there children being unwelcome in restaurants then maybe they should look to the behaviour of their children.
E. Arnaud, Canada
As one who enjoys peace and quiet in a theatre or restaurant, I believe that many parents show an appalling lack of consideration for others by bringing their young children into those venues. They don't appear to be able to distinguish between a proper adult restaurant, and one with plastic furniture. There's no such thing as adults' rights, it seems. Parents can be immensely selfish.
I was born in the UK, grew up in Africa and have lived in Canada and the USA for the past 30 years. Several years ago, a new immigrant from Japan to Canada said to me "Ah, you were born in Britain - where they love their dogs more than their children!" I've often thought about that stereotype, and have concluded that while many British families love their own children as much as people in any other nation, as a society the attitude toward children leaves a lot to be desired.
Albert Devakaram, India
Personally, I agree with the statement. Children should be seen and not heard. I can't believe what children get up to in society today. Hurling racist abuse, joy riding, breaking into vehicles and houses, even things such as murder in some rare cases. Do you think that we had all these problems anywhere near as bad in our past, when if a child was not doing as he/she was told, he/she was given a good smack on the rump??? This country is despicable when it comes to the issue of raising a child. Teachers and parents not able to administer fair punishment when a child deserves it.
There are definitely no places
where the family can go out
together, especially in the evenings.
All leisure is designed
for young adults, who have no time
for anything but their careers,
drink and sleeping around. It's time
the government stopped worrying
about teaching gay rights to
children and did something about
creating a family environment
where family values can be learnt
much better than in schools!
Andy Cameron, United Kingdom
Several years ago, one London hotel charged us a full "per person - double occupancy" rate for our young child to occupy our small room. Another hotel charged us eight pounds for a breakfast buffet for our then three-year-old. For that he had a piece of toast, one egg and a small glass of milk. To be fair: another London hotel offered the dinner buffet complimentary to our son, then five. Thanks to that, he has acquired a taste for smoked salmon and roast lamb.
It is an absurd idea that Britain is intolerant towards parents and children. I think parents with children should be more respectful towards other people instead of letting their brood run riot at all times (the supermarket is just one example).
If people have children it is their choice and they must accept that the world will not change so that it suits them. I feel that handicapped people are far more disadvantaged in this society and they have not brought their misfortune on themselves in the first place.
We currently live in the USA and have two small children. Everywhere we go in this country, restaurants, state parks, musuems,etc, all go out of their way to make children welcome. This makes economic sense as well as our lives much easier. I'm afraid to report that this has been one of the most noticeable differences between living at home and here in the US. With regret I can only endorse the findings of the report.
What Rubbish! As a married man who chooses not to have children, I have lost my married person allowance and am no longer considered a family by the Blair government. British fathers work the longest hours in Europe well so do the rest of us men and after work I want a quiet drink in a pub or a nice meal in a restaurant without screaming children everywhere. If you chose to have children you chose to make sacrifices.
Jon Bradbury, UK
Most definitely. Having lived in the USA for the last 5 years with my family I see a completely different attitude here. We have no issue taking our children into restaurants or anywhere else in the States. When we visit the UK it is very noticeable that families still have a difficult time unless they want to constantly eat at McDonalds!
I was on holiday last year with my wife and 2 year old and was astonished at the lack of consideration. No one offered them a seat on the tube despite seeing that standing was quite uncomfortable for the two of them. Things were not much better at restaurants either. People obviously saw a woman with a child at McDonald's and yet didn't even think about giving up their seat. Unfortunately, the UK seems to be like the town in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, where all of the children were removed.
In Amsterdam, as you would expect, there is a very tolerant attitude to children. They are encouraged to explore, test and work things out. However, with this comes the very strong Dutch responsibility of not hurting or affecting others. I am happy to report that their are very few "commissions" or "legal battles" to get things to work this way, just the realisation that they are not little demons, but small people that are great fun to have around.
Living in a country where children are idolised, pampered and spoilt I have to admit that I am extremely intolerant of children. However, my dislike really comes to the fore when my enjoyment in cinemas, restaurants and pubs is ruined by the bawling and tantrums of some 'little Napoleon' who deserves a good belting instead of a cuddle and a 'there-there'.
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