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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.

Your reaction

I have no problem with children who are well behaved and polite

Anne, London, UK
I have no problem with children who are well behaved and polite, as most people will agree. It's the spoilt little brats who stamp and scream when they don't get their way that most of us cannot stand. Well done to the parents who manage to keep their children under control. It is hard, but isn't that what parenting is all about?
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.
Deryck Thorp, UK

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.
Graham, UK

Children are NOT small adults as some would have us believe

Geoff B, UK
Children are NOT small adults as some would have us believe. They are not rational and do not think if their behaviour will effect others. That's what parents should teach them. A badly behaved child is the result of bad parenting, medical conditions aside.
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.
Jason Sanderson, UK

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.
Marian, US

Children are a great gift to any society. Any culture that stops loving and nurturing children prepares itself for economic and social suicide

Sim Onimuke, USA
Children are a great gift to any society. Any culture that stops loving and nurturing children prepares itself for economic and social suicide. The question is not about children but rather the adults who are stressed out due to the strain of modern life. Many respondents talked about their rights to enjoy quiet times in public places. I like quiet times too, but what happens to the rights of children? Parents are helping to build and maintain a culture. If everyone was not interested in having children because it requires sacrifice, we will not be talking of the next generation. And all the parents get is blame? What an ungrateful generation! Be real my friends.
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.
Juliette, United States

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!
Steve, UK

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
The parents are solely to blame if the child is destructive, noisy and unpleasant. The horrible Victorian misconception that children should be seen and not heard is old fashioned and outlived. I treat my daughter (10) as an adult, and always have; children are just small adults. How are they to learn social skills, acceptable behaviour if we do not expose them to various influences from an early age?
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.
Graeme, England

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.
Billy G, UK

I think many UK parents are doing a good job of raising the younger generation; unfortunately, those are not usually the children we notice first!

I have visited Britain numerous times and met several nice children. Usually when I compliment the child on his/her politeness, the parents are amazed that I should take notice of a young person who does not "belong" to me. I think many UK parents are doing a good job of raising the younger generation; unfortunately, those are not usually the children we notice first!

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.
Brett Richardson, New Zealand

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!"
Laurie, US

Britain is generally inflexible for families both at work and leisure

Tim, France
I am astonished by some of the comments on this page. Yes Britain is generally inflexible for families both at work and leisure compared to France where we live now. Children are more accepted socially in restaurants/ bars etc and they are no better or worse behaved over here. But I never imagined that there was such a blatant anti-child portion of the adult population in Britain. Take Nick Hardy or Anon's (chicken) comments for example. I am therefore convinced that Britain will in fifty years time be a nation of old childless whingers. Yes parents are responsible for taking children in hand when they misbehave but please don't slag off kids just because you don't want any. Nick and Anon and others like them were obviously angelic children who never put a foot wrong in public. Get a life!
Tim, France

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.
John B, UK

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??
Gary Dale, England

It's not kids as such that we are intolerant of, but noise and rabble

Brian Blackmore, UK
It's not kids as such that we are intolerant of, but noise and rabble. It doesn't matter if the noise is caused by children, football fans, people with "unshielded" personal stereos or the loud mobile phone user. When I'm in a restaurant or travelling by train I want to be free of all of them.
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!
Chris Riley, Isle of Man, British Isles

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?
Mike H, England

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!
Darren, UK

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.
John - THE father!, Warwick, England

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.
Henbane, UK

I do not want my life constantly interrupted by wining, crying, badly behaved off-spring appallingly managed by incompetent and disinterested parents

Nick Hardy, London, UK
I am sick to death of being expected to 'suffer the children' in public places. I do not want children of my own so I certainly do not want my life constantly interrupted by wining, crying, badly behaved off-spring appallingly managed by incompetent and disinterested parents. There are suitable places to take children and there are very definitely places where children should not be allowed. Why should everyone else have to put up with families who clearly don't give a damn about how socially acceptable they are, who seem unaware that they spoil and ruin events and environments? It's arrogant, selfish and unfair.
Nick Hardy, London, UK

If child-phobia is a pre-condition to being a First World country, then I think I'd rather remain in the Third World.

Ndubisi Obiorah, Nigeria
What a wretched, sad, miserable, people the British must be so be intolerant of children just because you want a quiet time in the pub, restaurant or cinema. No wonder visiting Brits marvel at how Nigerians reach out to touch and play with other peoples' children in public places and this is accepted. Children are accepted for what they are - just children who will eventually grow up to be adults and will know better by then- in Nigeria. If child-phobia is a pre-condition to being a First World country, then I think I'd rather remain in the Third World.
Ndubisi Obiorah, Nigeria

I've lived in the US, and I'd like to know where all these child friendly restuarants 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.
jon livesey, USA

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.
Tom, England

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!
Nigel Eaton, UK

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.
Fraser Boyd, Scotland, UK

As far as I can see, we in Britain are already far too indulgent to children

Curmudgeon, England
As far as I can see, we in Britain are already far too indulgent to children. Every other pub seems to be a Wacky Warehouse or a Fun Factory, and it's becoming increasingly difficult for adult drinkers to enjoy their pint in peace.
Curmudgeon, England

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.
Sue, UK

Pubs are no place for children, full stop

Stan, UK
Pubs are no place for children, full stop and I am glad to see that some chains like Wetherspoons have a strict policy on the subject. And since Richard Evans mentioned it can someone please explain to me why married couples should pay less tax just because they are married?
Stan, UK

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.
Meg, UK

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.
Ash Mishra, Canada

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.
Paul McLernan, Scotland

The child-friendliness here is in no small part due to the number of Southern European immigrants

Andrew Husband, Australia
We are British, though currently living in Adelaide, South Australia. We have always considered Britain child unfriendly in restaurants compared with our European neighbours. Adelaide is extremely child-friendly which is a credit to the South Australians. I feel the child-friendliness is no small part due to the number of Southern European immigrants here.
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'.
BJ Johnson, UK

Children are the most important people on the planet. If you want to be old, lonely and rich.....move to Switzerland!
bob, UK

As a nation, our attitude towards children is very contradictory

Geoff, UK
I have noticed that, as a nation, our attitude towards children is very contradictory. On the one hand, we have a very sentimental, romantic view of children as "little angels" which really comes to the fore over issues of child abuse. On the other hand, we have no interest in what children have to say. Children have enquiring, if not philosophical minds, and even in schools there is little opportunity for them to raise questions and think them through. I'm reminded of visiting a Chicago Rock restaurant recently where the children were issued with headphones so that they could be hypnotised by the cartoons on the screen, presumably so that the parents would not have to interact with them!
Geoff, UK

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.
Andrew Hoover, California, USA

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.
Jules, UK

Perhaps if parents actually taught their children manners they would be more widely welcomed

E. Arnaud, Canada
Those who are whining about how Britain is intolerant of children seem to have forgotten something - you chose to have them. If you don't like the result, it's hardly the responsibility of the rest of the world to make it up to you by kowtowing to your whims. Perhaps if parents actually taught their children manners and exercised some consideration of others they would be more widely welcomed.
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.
Ray Marsh, Australia

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.
Alan Chattaway, Canada & USA

In India we are to taught to love our family members

Albert Devakaram, India
In India we are to taught to love our family members, parents included, with all our heart and soul. This friendliness is natured in us by the parents from a very tender age. This quality is our greatest asset which runs through the veins of most Indians, rich or poor. It keeps the family together even in the toughest of times.
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.
G.K.W, England

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!
Haile, UK

Pushing a pushchair along an average pavement is major trauma, and no-one appears to care

Andy Cameron, United Kingdom
As a new parent, I have experienced some weird things that I didn't notice before that make me think that we are very unsympathetic towards families. The biggest grumble I have follows pushing a baby laden pushchair to my local shops. I would challenge most Councillors to try it. You will truly then discover what it is like to struggle. There are holes, lumps, bumps, curbs, no curbs, obstacles, dog fowled paths, broken glass, parked cars to name just a few things that should not be on a pavement. Pushing a pushchair along an average pavement is major trauma, and no-one appears to care.
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.
David Brain, Canada

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.
JeanetteH, UK

I, like many people find children noisy, and extremely annoying

Anon, UK
I, like many people find children noisy, and extremely annoying. Before anyone shouts me down for being intolerant, I have chosen not to have children... ever. I simply don't want the children of other people spoiling my evenings in restaurants, cinemas, or more increasingly - pubs. I know they can't help it, but there have to be areas of sanctuary, where people like me can go, who can't stand the sight of kids. Additionally there have to be places where families can go too. Preferably well advertised, so that I can avoid them!
Anon, UK

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.
Jeremy Woods, United States of America

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.
Richard Evans, England

Attitudes vary wildly by area it seems

Jon Bradbury, UK
Attitudes vary wildly by area it seems. For example, in Brighton nobody thinks twice about mothers breastfeeding in public (in the instance I am referring to the mother was sitting at a pavement table of a trendy cafe with a friend). In Worthing, 10 miles further up the coast, you'd get people "tut-tutting" as they walk past. How pathetic of them.
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!
Jon, USA

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.
Saeed, USA

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.
Matt, Amsterdam, Netherlands (ex. UK)

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'.
Ed, Brit in Italy

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