Monday, May 17, 2010

Competing needs

So, have you been following the train wreck that is "On Hating Children" over on Feministe? One commenter pointed out that there'll be a rash of "I have the answer" posts on personal blogs, and I wouldn't like to disappoint.

While the argument rages with ridiculous extremes on both sides (for the record, I don't think anyone thinks that children should be allowed to do whatever the hell they want in a public space, nor do I think anyone thinks that children should never speak above a whisper, but that seems to be what both sides are accusing each other of), a few very important points were made. The main one being competing needs.

Jackie commented that she experiences sensitivity to noise, and kids being loud are really quite unbearable for her. I have a kid who is still really struggling to control his impulses, and is well known for loud, frustrated outbursts. How would I handle it if Jackie (or someone with similar sound sensitivity - it ain't that uncommon) were a friend, or just someone who regularly shares the same space? Well firstly, I'd explain to my kids that not everyone experiences sound the same way, so that at least they understood the situation. In the end, though, I'd really need to keep noisy kid(s) away from Jackie, through sensible negotiation and a bit of thought.

All good and well if I know who she is and where she might be. But what if I don't know who she is, but she's often at the same places? It seems that the only real solution is that which has been implemented on some UK commuter trains - quiet spaces. It doesn't seem at all beyond the realms of plausibility that restaurants and cafes could choose to advertise as "Quiet" spaces, or reserve "Quiet" areas. We have cafes clearly designated as "loud" by virtue of having play equipment for kids, I'm sure you could do well opening the "quiet" one across the road.

This addresses a whole range of problems - the hens/bucks night at the table next to you when you were hoping for a quiet, romantic meal, the business meeting when you're trying to study and so on.

It also strikes me that parents would be a good group to advocate for such a thing - after all, when we do manage to escape the kids for a wee while, it'd be awesome to know there was a place we could go that was quiet. In addition, if the space is not designated as quiet, then we'd have better rules of engagement with the death starers and drive-by parenting suggesters.

I don't, of course, have any answers for the rest of the battle over there, except maybe downgrading the defensiveness. It seems like a lot of people have had so many bad experiences in way or another, they've given up believing that anyone is reasonable, which is a self-fulfilling prophecy.


  1. One of the interesting things about that thread was the failure to recognise that noise sensitivity isn't limited to adults without children.

    Coping with environmental noise uses up my spoons real fast, and noisy environments also tends to set my kid off into difficulties, including meltdowns. This is one of the reasons we avoid noisy fast food joints and cafes, which sets us very much at odds with the posters who believe that noisy eateries are the only appropriate places for children. Once again, PWD and children with particular needs are left with no options that would satisfy people who want to assert the right to child-free public spaces.

  2. Absolutely. This post is where I started thinking about this, and I kept thinking about it in comments on other people's posts - and exactly that need for all people - adults with and without kids and kids themselves - to have access to quiet places is kind of obvious when you put down the flame guns and think about it.

    It's something I've been aware of subconsciously ever since I started learning about perceptual differences, as well as the simple observation that some infants thrive (and sleep) in noisy environments, whereas others drop their bundle entirely. It took a bit of thought to get it into a form that I could express though.

  3. I like the idea of designated quiet venues, and/or quiet spaces within venues. Making it obvious would help kids deal with expectations too - most kids manage to deal with the rules about being quiet in libraries reasonably well once they understand the rule exists.

  4. It seems so obvious a concept, I don't really know why it hasn't been adopted a long time ago.