The XX Factor

Screaming Children Will NOT Be Tolerated

So says the sign at the Olde Salte restaurant at Carolina Beach. It’s a sign that just as easily could be posted in my kitchen, or in my car. Like most parents, I don’t tolerate screaming by my children at home, let alone in public. A restaurant is not a playground; there should be no excessively loud voices, and no leaving the table except to go quietly to the restroom. In other words, we don’t accept bad manners, and screaming in a restaurant would certainly be rude to the other diners (and allowing a child who’s too young to understand that to remain in a public place while screaming would constitute rudeness on the part of the accompanying adult).

Which is where the trouble with the sign comes in. There’s nothing wrong with the restaurant’s policy: According to WECT news , owner Brenda Armes says that if a child is screaming, a restaurant employee will ask the parent to take the child outside to calm down. It’s unfortunate that sometimes people have to be gently encouraged to practice simple good manners, but it’s not rude for a person in some authority, or with a responsibility to others present, to ask them to do so. But to put a sign that reads “Screaming Children Will NOT Be Tolerated!” with that screamer of an exclamation point and those shouting capitals in the window of your restaurants is far more than a gentle suggestion. It’s an admonishment, an advance assumption that those children will scream. It creates an immediate atmosphere of hostility towards families, and it is, in itself, rude. No one minds a reminder with a little humor: Screaming children will be placated with a cup of coffee and a free puppy. But an angry directive demanding your courtesy reflects an aggression that goes far beyond what’s warranted. This is a sign that comes out swinging before the poster is even certain that another boxer is going to enter then ring.

This obviously harkens back to the question of family sections on airplanes , and the arguments we’ve seen so often of late over whether children belong in some public spaces at all. Not only do we believe we can no longer bear to be in the same room with someone else’s screaming child, we need to be reassured that we won’t have to be, that not even for one minute will we have to wonder if we can rely on our fellow human being, the parent, to resolve the situation. It’s all part of deeper intolerance for one another that’s growing ever more pervasive. When some of us-too many of us-feel intolerant of a behavior or a person, we also feel a need to telegraph that intolerance to as many people as we possibly can and to apply that intolerance to as large a group as might possibly be necessary to prevent another bad experience. We broadcast our fury over a cancelled flight with a tweet cursing the entire airline industry; we unleash our anger over Sarah Palin’s misleading “death panels” on every member of the Republican party and, way out on the far end of the spectrum, we burn the Koran . Going so easily on the offensive is offensive, and it’s habit-forming. It’s a long leap from assuming all children will scream and all parents will readily expose others to their screaming to assuming that all Muslims are extremists, but it’s the same lax standard of thinking and willingness to assume the worst of others that gets you there.

Photograph of family by John Moore/Getty Images.