- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 1, 2008

It is a sign of these postmodern times that a simple, straightforward bit of seemingly innocuous news can turn quickly into a controversy. Said dust-up began when the Charlotte Observer in North Carolina reported that one of the first organic grocery stores in town, a relatively small establishment that no longer could compete with the big greens, was closing. Too bad.

Several days later, the paper published a letter to the editor from a woman who said the reason she stopped giving her business to said store had nothing to do with prices. She complained that children were being allowed to run amok through the aisles while pushing child-size “future shopper in training” carts that have become standard equipment in many grocery stores.

According to her, it seemed that neither management nor the parents of these children were inclined to put a stop to this unruliness, so she took her business to more civilized places.

Yet another letter followed, this from a fellow suggesting that perhaps the writer of the first letter should be more tolerant of children. Perhaps unwittingly, he seemed to be confirming the woman’s complaint: Children had been allowed to turn a place of business into a playground, thus disturbing the peace of other shoppers. In any case, he was saying, “So what?”

I am not in a position to discover whether the woman had grounds for her complaint. More often than not, the “future shoppers” I have encountered in the grocery stores where I shop have been under the control and supervision of their parents.

However, the gentleman who wrote letter No. 2 effectively changed the issue from whether a considerable number of future shoppers were out of control in said store to whether the woman who wrote letter No. 1 is sufficiently tolerant of children. I think he missed the point. The woman demonstrated no animosity toward children. She was complaining about adults who were not accepting proper responsibility. I second her emotion.

I have been in stores, restaurants and other public places where adults seemed oblivious to the fact that small children were creating disturbances. In those situations, I am not annoyed at the children. After all, young children are inclined to boisterousness. Furthermore, they don’t know when they are being a public nuisance.

It is the responsibility of their parents to keep them under control in public places. When parents do not properly assume that responsibility, I am more than slightly annoyed at them, not their children. To use the above fellow’s terminology, I am decidedly intolerant of parents who allow their children to disturb the general peace. There’s no excuse for it.

This is really about respect, not tolerance. In that regard, I propose what apparently has become a somewhat radical notion: It is disrespectful, in any context, to inflict one’s underdisciplined child on other people.

It does not matter whether the inflicting takes place in a home, store, restaurant, airport, airplane, library, theater, gallery, park or parking lot, it is disrespectful. As such, it is self-centered. The message behind it is, “My children have more rights than you, and if you do not recognize this, then you are the problem.”

I can excuse the self-centeredness of young children. I find it impossible to excuse the narcissism of people old enough to know better, which is to say, I am intolerant of them.

Being a child does not entitle one to anything other than love and proper care, one aspect of which is proper discipline. Being a parent carries with it responsibilities, not entitlements. By assuming proper responsibility for the love, care and discipline of a child, a parent simultaneously discharges his responsibilities to his fellow citizens.

In the final analysis, it all boils down to this rather old-fashioned idea: Love thy neighbor by controlling your children in public places, and if they refuse to be controlled, remove them.

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