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Are you kidding?

Why can’t parents keep their children under control – at least when they are in public spaces? writes Seema Goswami.

india Updated: Apr 18, 2009 15:54 IST
Seema Goswami

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a column on the demise of common courtesy in our society. The response I received – both on email from readers and from friends and colleagues – made it clear that the problem was as endemic as I had thought.

Everyone had horror stories of their own to tell, but my favourite one came from a hotelier friend whom I met for dinner soon after.

He had just returned from a holiday in Thailand and arrived at work wearing a new Giorgio Armani suit he had snagged at the sales. As is customary with these hotel types, he set off on his rounds of the property soon after. After checking on the restaurants, he ventured into the pool area to make sure that all was well here.

No sooner had he stepped outside than a couple of children frolicking in the kiddies pool decided to have some fun with him. They splashed in the water with such enthusiasm that copious quantities of it descended on his previously pristine jacket.

Needless to say, my friend beat a hasty retreat before this concerted attack. He hurriedly toweled himself off, assessed the damage and then took a cautious look outside to see why these kids had been left unsupervised in the pool by their parents.Well, guess what? Of course, they hadn’t. The fond Mummy and Daddy were paddling contentedly a few feet away. There was no way that they could not have witnessed their children dousing my friend with water. But no, there was no apology, not the slightest sign of remorse, not even a whiff of embarrassment.

Of course, this being a five-star hotel and my friend a well-behaved member of senior staff, there was little he could do besides look indulgent and make himself scarce. And that’s exactly what he did with all the dignity he could muster.
I was reminded of this incident last Sunday when I ventured out for some light shopping in one of the many malls that litter the neighbourhood these days. I was browsing through one clothing store, quietly minding my own business, when a little missile came hurtling in my direction. One look at his determined assault and I sought cover, taking position behind a strategically-positioned rack, cowering abjectly.

Honestly, I can almost hear you mutter, how frightening could a four year old be? And how much damage could he possibly inflict on a grown woman?

In the ordinary course of affairs, probably not much. And nothing that a well-directed kick couldn’t take care of (no, I can’t believe I said that either). But the problem was that this particular unguided missile came with its own lollipop. This was fluorescent green and gleaming evilly as he held it aloft, while advancing menacingly in my direction. It was anybody’s guess where his attention would be focused: my beige trousers, my leather handbag, or my freshly blow-dried hair.
Thankfully, he hurtled past me and fell upon a pretty young thing whose funky Jimmy Choos will never be the same again. And then he scuttled along to inflict further damage in another area of the store.

What do you suppose his doting mother was doing all this time? Why, she was hanging around outside the changing room, waiting to give her nod of approval to the clothes her husband was trying on, pretending that this little horror had nothing to do with her. No matter how much people in the shop stared at her, hoping to shame her into controlling her child, she refused resolutely to take any notice.

After skulking behind a rack for some time, I finally gave up and moved on to the next store. But even here, there was a pint-sized army in residence terrorising everyone, tripping unwary passers-by, shouting and screaming at the top of their lungs, sometimes even lying down on the floor to have a full-scale tantrum.

On to store number three. Same story repeated here as well. Store number four was no better. Finally after a fruitless hour spent trying to find a (badly-behaved) child-free zone, I gave up and returned home for a nap to calm my shattered nerves.
I know what you are thinking. I must be one of those horrible women who hates all children, who thinks that they should be seen and not heard. But before you start inundating me with hate mail, let me clarify that I don’t have a problem with such kids, pesky though they undoubtedly are. I don’t really blame them for misbehaving so spectacularly – after all, the little sods don’t know any better.

It’s the parents that I blame. And quite frankly, I’m beginning to hate the sight of all those feckless Mums and Dads who refuse to take any responsibility for their offspring in public spaces.

The children may be the ones acting up, but it is the parents who are truly rude and obnoxious. And while I am against corporal punishment for kids, when it comes to such parents, it might not be such a bad idea. In fact, if you ask me, spanking is far too good for them.