Feral Children in Public Places

To everything there is a season. A time for bouncing off the walls; a time to sit quietly and listen. Some children have parents who don’t know the difference.  A rant…

I have a low tolerance for children allowed to free-form misbehave in public places, particularly when their acting out and noise detracts from an event that my neighbors and I have spent our time and money to attend.

It took every ounce of restraint not to turn around at the recent music event last weekend at the EcoVillage in Floyd and verbally throttle the mother of the children behind me. The irritant was the children, but SHE was the responsible (or in this case IRRESPONSIBLE) party that should have nipped that misbehavior in the bud.

One of the little darlings–which I assumed must be a very small girl–was dancing behind me  (read hopping in place to no particular rhythm) whenever the classical-contemporary music had any up-tempo at all. My chair bobbed up and down with the impact.

The other child–that I assumed must be a year or two older–talked non-stop in a loud voice while the music played about nothing in particular, taunting the younger, complaining about being bored. This especially helped me appreciate the nuances of the Vivaldi and Dvorak pieces.

In a bluegrass setting, this boisterous pillow fight might have been narrowly and briefly acceptable. In a classical concert where one must attend to both the music, the story and the shifting moods and voices, this behavior made it impossible to enjoy the performance. I considered asking the mother to refund my money.

What I should have done is to get up and move. I should also pull the heck over and let the speed demon behind me go ahead when I’m already going the speed limit. I’m not going to change my behavior so the misbehavior is rewarded. SHE should have jerked those kids to the back of the auditorium–or back to the car–after the first instance.

I wonder. Do parents of this particular stripe  1) just not give a damn about other people in public places? 2) consider their own “rights” supreme in all cases to the rights of others? or 3) are they gutless and powerless because they’ve allowed their kids to operate without boundaries. Ever?

When the concert was over, I made myself take a few deep breaths before standing to turn around and view the source of my hour of discontent. I was shocked.

The children were not 3 and 5 as I had imagined on the basis of their immature, raucous behavior. No, they were more like 5 and 9. Dear lord, woman, you’ll be lucky if you survive long enough to visit these children in prison.

Somewhere, there’s a middle ground between total management of children at all times and complete anarchic permissiveness.

Parents  from the Total Anarchy Camp, I ask in the future that you chose to not bring your feral children to events like VBRMF, since you  have chosen not to train them how to live in this community as if other people mattered.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. I couldn’t agree with you more. I think the problem is that we are into the second generation of such behavior. The parents of these kids were raised that way and so consider it normal and acceptable. Societal norms started to change about forty years ago, when you and I were already adults, so we see things differently.

    According to the book The Fourth Turning each cycle takes four generations so perhaps the grandchildren of these brats will be better.

  2. I would hae made a scene long before the second piece was played. I commend you on holding your wrath, but Mom and those little rats would have been remove by force were I been there. This is a real sore spot for me too.

    I would hae made a scene long before the second piece was played. I commend you on holding your wrath, but Mom and those little rats would have been remove by force were I been there. This is a real sore spot for me too.

    Amen, Amen, and AMEN.

  3. You are absolutely right! And it’s these parents who are likely to be the ones tailgating, cutting off other drivers, etc. And as a former teacher I can just imagine what they and their kids are like when it comes to accountability, responsibility, etc. Ugh!

  4. Choice 3, gutless and powerless, is my best guess explaining such non-parenting. Really sad, for all concerned.

  5. Children should be taught to appreciate the arts. Children should be provided opportunities to attend events such as the one described here – but must do so with respect. My suspicion is that the mother in question was just enjoying a much needed break but had no one to watch her children. If she enjoys and respects the arts, she would have found a way to attend and not bring her children. I believe the overall lack of respect stemmed from her – sorry to say.

    Event staff should be trained to handle these situations – they will only increase with the numbers of this and the next generation. Staff should have asked these folks to leave with minimal disruption – they would have in the 40s (provided the children ever arrived to the event in that era).

    But, I take much offense (well not that much 🙂 to you contrasting with Bluegrass – there is much that is robust in the nuances and story of Bluegrass as well. That was a needless comparison for this blog piece.

  6. I disagree with your final conclusion. Where people are dancing, talking and laughing (think our local Friday night Jubilee) I would not have noticed the additional noise and motion behind me. The soundscape of a chamber music performance is totally different.

    A more formal bluegrass performance (which I enjoy much less) where you are compelled to sit in rows of chairs and listen to a planned program of songs is another matter, of course. And children would be under the same requirements to do no harm with their behavior in that setting.

    Nuance and story in bluegrass compared to classical performance does not seem to me an easy equation, though both move us. Maybe an easier comparison would be bluegrass to opera when it comes to story. I would not be happy to have our problem kids wildly
    enjoying an opera while sitting behind me!

  7. Interesting that you focus primarily on children in this rant when I find parents are just as guilty of such behavior. Talking during performances is routine nowadays as is disruption.

    It is difficult to hear what at public meetings in school boards or boards of supervisors because of people talking behind you. Same for movie theaters or with music at a venue like Oddfellas Cantina or Dogtown.

    Rudeness is now seemingly acceptable behavior. When I shoot video at just about any event, the biggest challenge in editing is eliminating the background noise of talk or chatter.

  8. Happily, there has been no inappropriate chatter from the adults at any of the VBRMF events we have attended. I think, as a rule, folks who choose to attend them understand the negative impact their own private oratory during performances have on innocent victims of rude behavior. Other crowds are not so uniformly courteous, to be sure.

  9. Y’all sure are a grouchy bunch.

    I’ve been in similar situations, and the easiest thing to do is engage a child and let them know the deal. Perhaps asking them if they’ve ever experienced this type of music would open the door to guiding them gently in a way that they would respond to. If you, kind writer, would have taken the time to turn around and shared a little insight you probably would have had a much more enjoyable experience. But you chose to stew, for whatever reason.

    And seriously folks, If a delicate “soundscape” is what you’re looking for you should try a more realistic setting than a public outdoor gathering in Floyd….that truth should be self-evident?

  10. Hi Jim,

    I don’t equate expressing disapproval of behaviour with being grouchy (complaining excessively and for no apparent reason.) To voice fake approval of something that is disturbing would be dishonesty for the sake of feigned civility. I’d rather suffer genuine grouchy than fake fine-and- dandy.

    This was an indoor concert in Celebration Hall at the Ecovillage, both the facility and the program designed to provide a “delicate soundscape” and that is what attendees expected and paid for.

    Perhaps your experience with children like this has been different from mine. No power of persuasion I possess could instantaneously, by way of a very brief whispered soliloquy, create a sea change in the musical receptiveness of any child–much less the kind who seems not to be open to direction or instruction from adults.

    So. Moving on. Next time when encountering feral children in public places, will the Grouch from Goose Creek 1) bust a vein in his neck from stress? 2) pack up his folding chair and move to the back of the room? 3) pack up the offending child’s folding chair and pack him to the far edge of the property? or 4) turn and explain to the boisterous young person the significance of the minor key in Polonaise? : > }

    Thanks for comments, y’all.

  11. Howdy Fred,

    Thanks for the thoughtful response, the last time I replied to a local blog I was accused of wearing Che Guevara tshirts, so you could be grouchier, I’ll give you that much.

    I didn’t mean to imply that you were to feign approval, that’d be silly in such a situation. I’m suggesting that you proactively reach out to your fellow man (in this case a child) and try to make the experience better for everyone, I bet a harried mama might even appreciate such a gesture? Oh my bad, I forgot…you decided that she represents all that is wrong with parenting…silly me?

    Forgive me for interfering, condescension kinda voids the discussion for me…I’ll go back to the occasional read…peace out.