The sign is distinct, yet tactful. A similar sign adorns the pillars in the dining room of the family resort at which I am employed and is a subtle reminder to parents that they are responsible for their children’s behaviour or the consequences could be dire. To my knowledge, we have never given away a puppy or offered a child a libation of the purest caffeine, but the impending threat is still felt within those walls.
The idiom “children should be seen and not heard” was a popular string of words when I was rapidly growing through my childhood. Back in those days, and I may be slightly showing my age, we respected our parents wishes. We didn’t put our elbows on the table during meals, we didn’t talk with our mouths full and we wouldn’t even entertain the idea of leaving the family dinner table without being excused. Sadly, (or not, depending on how you look at it) I would have never been a candidate for the espresso or the free puppy.
I write this post with mixed emotions.
Kids learn by doing. Experience incorporates more of a lesson than words can ever teach. If they never have the opportunity to encounter culture and fine dining, they may never learn to be cultured or understand how to act in a situation that is far removed from the “norm”. But parents need to know when the child is ready for that learning curve. Kids need worldly experience, however those learning moments must be punctuated by behavioural corrections, if necessary. Tackling that battle at too young an age will only frustrate the child, as well as the surrounding crowd. When they are at an age that they don’t fully comprehend what is expected of them, they are bound to lash out. Therein lies the rub.
Adults that wish to experience exquisite meals enhanced by vintage wines and ambiance don’t aspire to have that savoir-faire tarnished by young diners that have not had the opportunity to learn the etiquette required to frequent such an establishment. I would not ever deny a child an opportunity to learn from such a dining experience, but perhaps there is a happy medium.
The same can be said for any cultural undertaking. Although children need exposure to all of life’s mysteries, there needs to be a divide between the right time and the right place. And maybe more importantly, the right attitude towards that broadening experience. Yes, children need to learn, but not at the expense of others attempting to allow themselves that rare moment that they are able to steal precious seconds of escape from their day-to-day reality.
Give children the benefit of cultural awareness, but also of situational awareness. They may not be able to define the lesson they are learning, but it will serve them well into their adult lives. Take them to a fine dining restaurant. Take them to the museum. But take them when it is more appropriate for younger people to frequent those particular venues while they are still in the learning stages of their development. They will still gain the much required knowledge to take forward into their teen and adult years, but they will still show the respect and allow the freedom for adults to thrive in an atmosphere that is designed for a crowd that is over a certain age.
Let the children learn in rich and vivid detail, but also let them learn the boundaries and obstacles that are held within the confines of the rules of etiquette. There is a lesson is everything we do – and maybe dining with a toddler at Nobu at 7:00 pm is not the lesson that the pre-schooler needs to learn at that particular moment of their developmental stage. Respect for children’s knowledge is accepted and encouraged. Respect for an adult’s sanctuary is priceless.