Mar 062012

As I wrote yesterday, we went to the Oakland Zoo on Sunday as a family. This was our first family outing to a place jam-packed full of children and families. We had a wonderful time but kept having poor experiences from many other parents.

Disrespectful Adults?

What do I mean by this exactly? Well I don’t mean that we were yelled at or got into verbal or physical fights with anyone, but everywhere we went (we explored the entire park as this was our first visit) we saw poor behavior on behalf of the parents. This behavior mainly had to do with respect for others and one’s surroundings:

  • Specifically, people would stop in the middle of narrow walkways and stand there, blocking dozens of people from going through, apparently aloof to their surroundings.
  • People would take up as much space as possible while viewing exhibits, along with strollers (without children in them) so others couldn’t view an exhibit.
  • People would not move out of the way even when they saw that you were waiting to move around them.
  • Taking a picture? Hope you like random people in it, because no one else cares.
  • Most people don’t want to WAIT to get somewhere, they just trudge ahead causing even more congestion to an area where obviously others are waiting.

I know that these things probably do not seem like a lot, or even bad, but they really ruined my day at the zoo. OK, I had fun and I will go back, but I will do it during the week when there won’t be as many people there.


Do adults lose their respectfulness toward other adults when they are in public? I am basing this off of a few hours at a zoo, but I would have to say yes. The vast majority of people did not seem to care about others at the zoo. There were no apologies, smiles, waves or moments of realization from these parents as the day went on. I felt as though they could not see me or my family, or they just didn’t care.

I’ve had two days to contemplate why the behavior was the way I experienced it and I am still stumped. I have a few theories…

  • Anonymity – Perhaps they feel they can act differently because they’ll never see these people again (this explains a lot of behavior on the internet).
  • Focus on the children – This is time with their kids and everything else takes a backseat?
  • They don’t care – Perhaps they are like this all the time?
  • Rules don’t apply – Maybe I’m just too new of a parent to realize that this is how things are at such places?
  • Toddlers change parents – Perhaps my son is too young still and I haven’t been jaded?

Compared and Contrasted

The reason I am even posting this is because in my day-to-day experiences with adults I do not encounter this type of behavior from adults. In fact I experience the exact opposite. People are friendly and courteous, they hold open doors for me (which as a male I am not used to), they smile and let me go first, etc etc. Basically, there is a standard order and respect for those around them.

Are kids learning to act this way?

I have to wonder then, if the children are learning these behaviors as they experience this from their parents. Of course hardly anything is spoken but they are learning how to treat other people are they not? While I pose that question, I did not experience that at the zoo… the kids were respectful and courteous to the adults walking around. They got out of the way, didn’t loiter, were excited and smiled… Perhaps some of this was a by-product of being at the zoo or perhaps their parents discourteous behavior had not rubbed off them yet. Or perhaps I am completely over-reacting (I do that sometimes).

Am I over-reacting?

I know that I could be over-reacting, reading into something that wasn’t there, but I am pretty courteous in public. I move out of the way not to block walkways or an exhibit, I smile and wave, I am entirely aware of my surroundings, I wait my turn, I say excuse me, thank you, pardon me etc.

I want to raise Thomas to be courteous to everyone, to be respectful in public and to others. I may take this a bit too far as my enjoyment suffers a little so that I do not disrupt anyone else… for example I would rather push the stroller behind my wife instead of walking side-by-side because that takes up too much space for most walkways. Maybe I am too courteous and my expectations are not in-line with others.

What do you think?

What are your thoughts of adult behavior in places like zoos, amusement parks, fairs, pumpkin patches etc? Am I right? Am I over-reacting? Please leave a comment and let me know what your experiences have been like…


I experienced a few couples (without kids) that were roughly my age and they did not exhibit any of the negative behaviors I mentioned above.. food for thought.

  32 Responses to “Does Having Children Make You Disrespectful to Adults in Public?”

  1. Hmm… I don’t think you are overreacting to expect courteous behaviour from anyone, whether adult or child, most people would. I, for one, expect it. But could it be that most parents have a lot on their mind all at the same time and as a result they are so overwhelmed by what is going on in their own heads that sometimes they are oblivious to their immediate surroundings. I am not trying to excuse the behaviour you experienced, but imagine that some of those parents would have had more than one child to contend with in addition to whatever was going on in their heads! I think there may be a case here for parents getting more organised so they don’t all end up in this surreal, almost otherworldly state of walking about oblivious of other people’s space and feelings. Because if they are organised, then they can relax and enjoy the outing and would be more conscious of what was happening all around them. The way I see it a lot of those parents at the Zoo were sleepwalking! Present in body, but out of ‘the Zoo’ ! Frankly speaking I haven’t had this sort of experience, so maybe someone else may have and may be able to offer a better explanation. And I know that these days standards in manners are falling but I don’t think they all intended to come across as rude or inconsiderate, they just didn’t know that they were being rude and inconsiderate. You are right though that it could rub of on the children, which is why I always argue the case of intentional parenting, by which I mean everything must be done with purpose and intention, not leaving anything to chance. For example, I want my child to learn manners so I make it a point to mind my Ps and Qs in public and private and at all times. Don’t know if this helps. Sorry for the long comment!

    • Thanks for the reply and I think you are probably right that many were just trying to keep an eye on their kids and just weren’t “present” mentally for anything else.

      As I mentioned, the interactions I had with the children were all positive.

      I hope that I can stay a “present in mind and body” parent and not go around sleepwalking when I’m out with my kids!

  2. I think you’re right – and I’m probably guilty of this. Sometimes it’s all I can do to keep my kids (and my behavior) under control. When I’m really overwhelmed, I can probably come across as rude.

    • Perhaps what Bethelparenting said is true, the kids take so much attention and focus that the parents end up walking around in a zombie-like state.

      Maybe I am lucky because Thomas is still too young to put me in this state.. he is still in a stroller and not running around and we only have one child…

  3. I received this reply via email…

    Hi, Dave – love reading about your adventures with Thomas! Regarding your latest Zoo experiences with the general public, if this was disconcerting you will really be mind boggled when you go to Disneyland, Knotts Berry Farm, Magic Mountain, the local Aquariums, the Santa Monica Promenade, and most places of interest or amusement including many of the beach areas. Even some of the museums have the obnoxious element in attendance, but the Getty was top notch. A few weeks ago my granddaughters took me to the Victoria Gardens shopping center in Ontario and it was a mob scene for sure and I would never go back there. (except for the restaurants, which were good!)

    The kids do love all these places so for example when I take them to Disneyland I like to get there when the park opens so they can at least go on a few rides before the massive crowds start. (By the way, unlike me, the kids don’t seem to mind the crowds at all and stay focused on the rides and excitement — ) ..

    Regarding the general public at these places, who knows why people do what they do, maybe they are stressed out to the max, had a bad day, lost their job, getting a divorce, or are just plain obnoxious, rude, inconsiderate, mean, unconscious, drunk, high, or crazy, or even mass murderers, etc. etc. No matter, we can’t change them, so don’t let it spoil your day!

    I am reminded of a quantum shift of consciousness I learned about long ago from a wise guru —

    Make no judgments.
    Make no comparisons.
    Delete the need to understand.

    As the saying goes — “Don’t let the turkeys get you down” …. just observe the fools and have a good laugh and continue to do your thing!! The good news is, for the next several years little Thomas will be thrilled doing simple things like playing at home and at the park…..

  4. I’ve felt like this before. I think one of the other readers nailed when stating that perhaps the parents are not present. I know I’ve had my moments. But I do miss people smiling and waving at one another. There were some good laughs in this for me as I can certainly relate at times. Although, you really never know what someone has on their plate so I think laughing it off and making a point to enjoy yourself is a good idea as well. Sarah

  5. I have experienced this phenomenon myself: at the local Museum of Science & Industry, the Zoo, and the Children’s Museum. It’s frustrating and baffling. I also experience it on public transportation – and not just from adults with children. It reminds me of a book I read by Robert A Heinlen, where the protagonist is biomechanically engineered to predict the downfall of civilization by understanding that the death of common courtesy is indicative of the decay of society.

    Perhaps, those of us who notice and are bothered by it, will stave of the decay by ensuring we make a point of being courteous and teaching it to our littles.

  6. I, too, expect people to be courteous in public. When my family does outings the number of children range from 4 to around a dozen. We are dealing with a fairly large group but still take the time to coach our kids on their behavior whenever we are on our way/at a special event or activity. Your post brings to mind this years Santa Claus Parade. We had 9 children in our group (and picked up a random 4 more once we got there…all unknown to us before this day). We showed up almost 2 hours early to find enough front row spots for the kids in our group. We had one group of people about my age try to move in front of there 13 kids about 20 minutes before tlines.rt of the parade. I don’t consider the fact that I asked them to find somewhere else rude…the kids were there first and we were just inside the safety lines. Than another group of people (all adults) to our left kicked the leftmost child in our group…TWICE! We ended up moving the 3 kids closest tho that group for fear of their safety. They were rude about the fact they were at fault and offended that we felt the need to move our kids away from them…some people *shakes head*

    • Wow.. I look forward to taking Thomas to parades as I enjoyed them as a child! The seemingly endless spectacles of varying wonders coming down the road! I’m sorry that you had this experience with such a large group. It really does only take one or two to ruin it for many :-/

  7. As a stay-at-home-parent, I see this behavior all the time at the zoos, museums, stores, and parks. I’ve always believed that these types of parents are so protective of their children that they completely ignore the feelings of others. The main goal of their day is to let their kids have a great day even if it costs other people’s theirs.

    • I figured as much too and what this detracts from is a sense of community really. This made me feel like we could not all enjoy being in one place at one time together, that we were 200 individual families vying for the same things, which felt odd and out of balance.

  8. I think being out in public with your child can almost put ‘blinders’ on you. You, as a parent, are so focused on your child that you don’t realize what else is going on. That is not an excuse to be rude however. The rude factor may just be from simple disregard for fellow Zoo go-ers. When my son and I are out and about, at the zoo for example, I make sure to say ‘excuse me’, ‘oh sorry’, ‘pardon us’ when the time arises. I don’t think that being at a zoo means you should act like an untamed beast.
    When the parents have the good manners, expecially in a public, hectic hot-spot, the child will eventually pick up on these acts and phrases, and hopefully *fingers crossed* start to use these manners as they get older.

    • My hope is that Thomas will have these good manners because not only will we be instructing him to use them, but he will see both Mommy and Daddy using them in public. It may take 20 years for him to realize the difference when he is out on his own, but I feel good about being polite and I hope he will too.

  9. I agree 100%. This is always an issue when we go places with other families in attendance. All decency goes out the window and many become very “me, me, me” focused. Having worked with children for 10 years I can sadly report that many are adopting this way of behaving. Parenting is tough. My kiddo is 4.5 and we are desperately trying to instill manners but with all the bratty rude children around her sometimes it just feels like a losing battle.

    Oh well! We just keep trying to do the best we can and not beat down the idiot blocking the polar bears.

    • I just wonder if my son will understand when I say “let’s wait our turn” while other people just push past us…

  10. Thank you for commenting so clearly on this growing subject. And yes, I believe that we are always on that “stage” and being watched by children. I believe all the above are valid observations of why this is happening, plus a growing sense of “entitlement” that allows us to be selfish and ignore other’s needs. Would you consider a post on KONY 2012? Perhaps there are ways to integrate the little acts in life with the overwhelming acts in life–just a thought. All the best, Barb

    • I’m still reading about “kony2012″ and thought I had missed something, but really it has been in the social media the last two days with some punch… As with any issue there appear to be some differing opinions about who Jason Russell is promoting to stop Kony. Of course that doesn’t detract from the horrible things that seem to be happening.

  11. As a non-family man, I have also noticed this phenomenon.

  12. I live in Houston. It’s the same at our zoo. You sound exactly like my husband…would rather walk behind me than with me because he doesn’t want to incovenience anyone. I am a pretty courteous person, no matter the circumstance, but I will tell you that I was able to notice a lot about other people’s behavior when my son was Thomas’s age and confined. He just turned 2 on February 11th, and the last time we went to the zoo I couldn’t tell you what the heck ANYONE else did or, for that matter, what I did. We were too focused on herding our cat! Get ready my friend…times will be a changin’, as they say. :)

  13. I have only noticed this in two circumstances–when it’s a Saturday or holiday and on free days. I think the main problem is the number of people, which makes people with kids more nervous and also more desperate to capture their times worth in front of certain popular exibits. The second half of this is the “free” day. UGH! I went to a free day at the zoo expecting the crowds but not the rudeness. I was spit on, stepped on, and my kids were yelled at and hit. Then I’m pretty sure I got cussed at for not letting someone cut in line at the ladies room (although I couldn’t understand her). My theory, it’s crowded and on top of that free days not only attract nice families who need to save money, but also the people who expect that they somehow deserve for everything to be a handout when it comes to their own family. Ithink free days are a good idea but are very abused. Now, we save the stress and pay and go on weekdays.

    • Wow, thanks for the tip on “free day”, Tabitha! I’ll be sure to stay away from that.. I’d probably explode!

  14. I didn’t read all of the comments above so I may be repeating, but I have felt the same way sometimes going to places like that, with the big crowds involved. I have just decided to stay away unless it’s during the week when there won’t be big crowds. I, myself, even before kids, was not big on crowds and having kids was the icing on the cake for me. I would say that most of the time parents disrespectfulness towards other people has nothing to do with anything but being frustrated with their own children in crowded places. They are trying to enjoy their day while making sure that everyone else is happy and safe. But yes, sometimes other parents are just plain rude and think that everyone should accommodate their needs before anyone else.

    I try to pick kid friendly restaurants, play areas, etc. to help with the frustrations of going out with children. Other parents, including yourself will be a bit more at ease at places like that b/c you are among others who know about what you just blogged about. :)

  15. Wait until Thomas takes up a sport and you have to be in the bleachers with other parents, yikes! What makes this behavior particularly painful is that children emulate their parents. These parents feel entitled and pass that along to their kids who in turn expect to earn a medal just for showing up. It’s pretty horrifying.

  16. People are rude everywhere. It boggles my mind on how rude people are. Adults especially. I look at people who are much older then me acting in ways I (as a younger adult) think is outlandish. No your not over reacting I completely agree. I hope and pray by the time I have children and by the time your child grows up, that this world won’t be as full of hatred and rudeness as it is now.

    • I’ve seen a few blogs on it recently, some call it apathy, I think it is a shift in our society as we lean and rely more on digital relationships, which is ruining or face-face ones and our communities :(

  17. I don’t think you are over-reacting and have often thought the same things. Although I am not a parent myself, I’ve always said that when the time comes I would try be aware of other people around me and not behave like some in public places. Rude behaviour is not exclusive to any one group and is not really acceptable, regardless of who is displaying the behaviour. I’ve watched some parents who are having a difficult time with their kids when out, and despite the stress they are under just give you some acknowledgement in the form of a smile, a sorry or excuse me and that is all the situation needs, that’s all you want from people really.

    Interesting blog by the way.

    • Professor,

      I agree that some sort of acknowledgement is all that most are looking for (me included) but on this day at the zoo we didn’t even get that from 9 out of 10 rude parents. Of course as others have said, toddlers are a different beast and I may be one of them by the time Thomas is older, but I will my best not to be!

  18. Hi there! I’m not sure this comes under the disrespectful tag but anyway….I was at a function a short while ago, and a mother, just returned from maternity leave was in deep conversation with the headteacher over dinner. So far so good, but as I watched, I saw her reach over to his plate and start cutting up his steak for him!

    It was over a minute before she realised what she was doing! Poor thing! How we laughed.

    Nice blog, I’ll drop by again x

    • Hahaha I think that would be more of a fleeting lapse moment, caught in conversation and doing something out of habit, perhaps not disrespect… I would have found it hilarious!

      Thanks for the comment!

 Leave a Reply



You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>


Get every new post on this blog delivered to your Inbox.

Join other followers: