Please Stop Watching Your Kids Ruin Things

by Annie Reneau
Originally Published: 
Africa Studio / Shutterstock

Can we talk for a minute about parents who ignore their kids when they are being disruptive?

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about: A foreign language school in our area offered a story time for kids ages 4 to 6 at our local library. Each week, the stories and songs were conducted in a different language. I thought that sounded neat, so I took my 5-year-old one week. There were six or seven other families there with their preschool and kindergarten-aged children. The kids sat on the floor in front of the storyteller, and the parents all watched from benches on the perimeter a few feet back.

The storytime started off with some fun greetings, all in Italian. Ciao, bella! Then the storyteller pulled out some puppets and props and started telling a story.

A few minutes into it, a little girl walked up to the storyteller and started pulling on his puppet. He just smiled, held his hand up out of her reach, and continued telling the story. So she started jumping up to try to get the puppet. Then a little boy started trying to grab the other props sitting in front of the storyteller. The storyteller barely broke stride, moving the props behind him as he continued the story of the piccolo bambino. Undeterred, the little girl and boy both tried to reach behind him to get to the other props. The storyteller did his best to ask them to sit down, which they did for about three seconds before trying to grab his props again.

All of this was terribly disruptive, but not altogether surprising behavior for preschoolers. What was surprising was the fact that the parents were right there, watching the whole thing, without saying a word to their children. I kept looking over at them, waiting for them to intervene, but nope — nothing but adoring smiles.

This was not the first time I’ve witnessed parents watch their children ruin experiences for other people. I’ve seen parents let their toddler try to climb onstage during someone’s musical performance. I’ve been in movie theaters where parents brought a fussy baby and didn’t take them out when they started to cry. Did you see the news story of the two women filming two little boys breaking a glass sculpture behind a rope barrier at an art museum in China? Just lovely.

I am a huge fan of not judging parents, but I cannot for the life of me imagine a legitimate reason to watch your kids ruin something — either an actual thing or an experience — without attempting to stop them.

Is this hands-off parenting gone awry? Is it deluded parents thinking their kids are simply adorable, so everyone else must too? Is it parents thinking their children have a right to do whatever they want, regardless of how it affects others? Is it just general cluelessness? I seriously want to understand the mentality that it takes to watch your kid disrupt a performance or destroy someone’s creation and not raise a finger or say a word.

I’m not one who believes that kids are all too entitled these days. I’m not a “kids these days” kind of person at all. I think, for the most part, the kids are all right. But I’m growing more and more weary of parents who think bad behavior is cute. It’s really not.

I’m not a confrontational person by nature, so I didn’t feel comfortable at that story time stepping in and telling the kids to stop trying to grab the freaking props. And I shouldn’t have to when their parents are sitting right there watching this unfold. I felt really sorry for the storyteller, who was clearly irritated but trying desperately not to show it. (He was, after all, basically trying to get parents to sign up for foreign language classes at his school.) I did finally hit my wit’s end and was just about to say something, but then the story was finished and the storyteller quickly moved on.

I know there are hundreds of ways to raise children, and I respect that different parenting styles work for different people. But there is such a thing as basic, common courtesy. If my child were trying to grab a storyteller’s props, I would gently pull him back and tell him to stop. If he continued, I would make him sit with me. If he still continued, we’d leave. This seems like basic parenting 101, no?

Kids with special needs get a little extra leeway, I think. I know there are certain developmental delays and challenges that can cause outbursts or noises, and I don’t think that special needs kids should be prevented from enjoying a performance. But even then, there have to be some limits to how disruptive a kid is allowed to be without intervention. Basic social etiquette can be learned by almost anyone, but it does have to be taught. (None of the kids in my stories above fit any special needs descriptions, by the way. I just want to acknowledge that there are instances where a little noise or errant behavior might be expected and tolerated.)

The bottom line is that parents need to stop watching their kids be jerks. If your child is being disruptive, interrupting someone’s performance or affecting others’ enjoyment of it, please make them stop. If you see your kid breaking clearly laid out rules, please make them stop. If you see your kid being flat-out rude, please make them stop — at least make a freaking attempt, for crying out loud.

No kid is an exception to common sense manners, no matter how special or adorable their parents think they are. Isn’t that something we can all agree on?

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