Lack of parental discipline has led to the ‘no children allowed’ rule

The need for discipline has been watered down and diluted to such an extent, that it is no wonder so many are horrified when a family with a gaggle of kids enters a restaurant or cafe

A lot has happened this week, ranging from political upheaval on the global stage to the more mundane happenings on a local level.

The shambolic mess of British politics is starting to sound more and more like what happens over in Italy where the government falls apart on a regular basis and no one seems to bat an eye.

In the UK, Prime Minister Liz Truss spent the last few weeks facing a barrage of calls for her resignation because of her economic policies and abysmal leadership. As the situation heated up, and with typical British humour, a newspaper bought a head of lettuce and asked its readers to guess who would last longer. As it turned out, the lettuce won.

On Thursday, Truss resigned from her post after a mere 45 days in office, and will probably be most remembered for being the last PM to meet Queen Elizabeth before she died. Maybe that was an omen. The drama is not quite over – as I write, her critics are up in arms that, despite occupying the post for the shortest time in the country’s history, Truss might still be entitled to an allowance of up to £115,000 a year as a former Prime Minister. Given the current mood of the country, if she had any decency and common sense she would turn it down.

But the British political meltdown pales into comparison when set against the ire caused by a small bistro in Mgarr which made the announcement that it would only be open to those 18+ from now on.

The issue of whether private establishments have the right to set an age limit for their customers has been rattling around for a while. A few years ago, I remember a similar controversy broke out when a fine dining restaurant did the same thing, much to the chagrin of those calling to book a table only to be told that “no children are not allowed” (although why you would want to take a child to a fancy, upmarket restaurant beats me).

In this more recent case, the venue is open as a coffee shop during the day which is why its decision was met with such rancour. There have been calls to boycott the place, and angry parents vowing to take their custom elsewhere. On the other hand, the announcement was met with applause by others, including those who have children themselves, who have welcomed a chance to go somewhere where they can enjoy a coffee or have something to eat, without being disturbed by other people’s unruly offspring.

In explaining its decision, the owners pointed out that the place has a limited space with only 14 tables so they cannot have children running around unattended. It is true that banning anyone under the age of 18 is a bit drastic, perhaps under 12 would have been more realistic, but they must have had their reasons for choosing this age limit. After all, even teenagers can be rowdy when they are in a group and can also be a nuisance to others.

The decision by this one cafe did not stop there but erupted into an entire debate about where children belong in our society. The FB post not only went viral but was picked up by every single newsroom, and attracted thousands of comments. Of course, there were the usual extreme views, with some melodramatically claiming that these owners “hate children” and others (equally unrealistic) claiming that children should always be left at home. In its essence, when you remove all the hyperbole, the crux of the issue came down to parenting, or rather, the lack of proper parenting.

Let’s face it, we have to admit that many Maltese parents take their children everywhere, irrespective of whether the environment is suitable for them or not. High-end restaurants, rock concerts, pubs, you see the little tots everywhere - once I even saw someone bring a pram with their sleeping baby into a cinema which they left in the aisle as they watched the movie. It is as if certain parents cannot accept that for a while their “going out” will have to be geared towards kid-friendly places, and that they cannot just drag their young children with them to grown up places. In fact, the very concept that children do not belong in certain places is alien to them. It is hard, of course, to make this adjustment to the limitations imposed by parenthood, but the blunt truth is that raising children does entail curbing your previous, carefree lifestyle. You need to either find family oriented activities and venues, get a babysitter, or stay home.

Now comes the part which many find hard to swallow: when children are out and about with their parents, they need to be controlled and not allowed to run riot. Whatever happened to those stern lectures in the car admonishing children that they must behave themselves in public or at someone’s house? We used to be given so many warnings that we could rattle them off by heart. And which of our generation does not remember receiving “The Look” if we misbehaved?

There is a lot to be said for instilling good manners from when children are young, starting from the basics when they are at home, but unfortunately the need for discipline has been watered down and diluted to such an extent, that it is no wonder so many are horrified when a family with a gaggle of kids enters a restaurant or cafe.

It is not the children’s fault: if you have never been told to sit down properly to eat your meal and use cutlery rather than your hands, you have no clue that you are doing anything wrong. Socially acceptable behaviour does not just fall down magically from the sky into a toddler’s brain, it requires patience and constant repetition. They have no idea that they should not touch things when they go into a shop – that object is nice and bright and shiny and with the typical ego of a child’s brain, they just want it and want it now. Who else is there to teach them that they cannot throw a tantrum when they don’t get what they want, if not the parents? But this type of parenting is very tiring, so the easy way out for some is to just not bother… and the result is visible all around us.

The second part of the equation will also stick in some people’s craw: if your child is disturbing others it is your duty to stop them. Sometimes it is not misbehaviour but the volume of their piercing voices: why do they have to be so LOUD when they play or simply talk to each other?

But not only have these parents completely washed their hands of controlling their own children, but they also expect the rest of us to indulge their bratty behaviour as well. In fact, they get offended by dirty looks and huffs of annoyance, so that it turns into one of those ugly scenes of “how DARE you be irritated by my child?” I hate to break it to you lady (because yes, the offended person is usually the Mama), but you might think the sun shines out of the precious backside of your little prince or princess, but the rest of the world patently – does not.

And this is not only the viewpoint of those who are childless, because what I found extremely significant is that many who are (or were) parents themselves, roundly applauded the owners of the Mġarr cafe/bistro for their “brave” decision. The general sentiment of those whose children are now adults is, “been there/done that, so I don’t want to have to deal with other people’s children when I go out.”

And why “brave” decision you may ask? – well because it is also true that the owners faced quite an onslaught of criticism and were even accused of illegal discrimination. But I hardly think the latter claim holds water when there are so many other family friendly places to choose from.

On the whole, I would say there were more people who welcomed the move than those who showed umbrage. And it is precisely the “I don’t believe in being strict” school of thought which has led us to this state of affairs. Apart from restaurants, there are now beach lidos and even a hotel which are “kid free zones”.

There was obviously a niche in the leisure industry market and some entrepreneurs have filled it. Meanwhile, there is no need to panic, because practically everywhere else on the island is still open to children. I just wish more parents could understand that bringing your child along does not give you the licence to spoil the atmosphere for everyone else.