- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 5, 2005

The children, three of them estimated to range in age from 6 to 11, were up and down from the table, running loudly to and fro in the restaurant while the parents sat calmly and seemingly oblivious to the disruption. After he had finished his meal, the oldest, a boy, did something to his shoes and began roller-skating (I have learned that some brands of sneakers have retractable wheels in the soles) around the table where his family sat, holding onto the backs of other customers’ chairs for balance.

At this point, I looked somewhat imploringly at the father, who obviously didn’t get it because he just smiled as if to say, “Isn’t it great that my kids are having such a good time?”

This chaos wouldn’t have merited much notice had the restaurant been a child-oriented establishment like Chuck E. Cheese’s. But this was a four-star restaurant in Atlanta where a three-course meal and a glass of wine runs in the neighborhood of $75 per person, including tip.

My wife, sitting across from me, whispered, “You’re staring.” One discourtesy does not deserve another, so I turned slightly sideways in my chair so as to shift my line of sight, but when I did so, my wife’s eyes opened wide, and she blurted, but quietly, “I don’t believe it.”

I quickly turned to see what had caught her attention and there, at the next table, sat a family of three, one of whom, a little girl, was watching a movie on a portable DVD unit set before her. Thankfully, she was wearing headphones.

That was but one night’s experience. From what I gather in talking to wait staff and restaurant managers across the United States, ever more parents are bringing young children into upscale restaurants and ever more of those children obviously have not been taught the basic rudiments of public behavior. My experience is certainly bearing this out.

I ask: If I were a customer in a nice restaurant — not necessarily upscale, but one at least a step above run-of-the-mill — and I began running around the dining room whooping and giggling, wouldn’t you think that strange?

If I began roller-skating through the establishment, grabbing the backs of other customers’ chairs, wouldn’t you consider asking the management to speak to me and even to ask me to leave if I would not ratchet it down to at least a dull roar?

If I opened a DVD player at the table and began watching a movie, would you not wonder why I had bothered going out to eat?

I’ll wager you answered all three questions in the affirmative, and on the slim chance that you did not, you are excused, or rather banished, to Chuck E. Cheese’s. (By the way, no criticism of that establishment is intended. In fact, I think its mission is laudable and the experience is fun.)

I would like to submit the following seemingly radical proposition: If it is inappropriate for an adult to display the above behaviors in a nice restaurant, it also is inappropriate for children to display them, which means parents should disallow them or refrain from bringing their children to such places.

If the restaurant is known as a place of frivolity, fine. If someone chooses to patronize such an establishment, he has no cause for complaint if the frivolity disturbs him. However, if the restaurant is a fine-dining establishment, or close to it, parents have an obligation to their peers to teach their children the ins and outs of proper restaurant behavior before risking their children’s presence in such a place.

Furthermore, if management would ask an adult to leave if he was disturbing the peace of other diners, then management should quietly and with great courtesy ask the parents of disruptive urchins to take their business and their hunger elsewhere.

Unfortunately, that probably would cause an even greater disruption because many parents of disruptive children seem oblivious to the sensitivities of others. So, management usually — and wisely — chooses the lesser of two evils. Knowing this, my wife and I spend less and less time and money in nice restaurants.

Chuck E. Cheese’s, anyone?

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his Web site (www.rosemond.com).

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