QUESTION: We just returned from a long overseas trip. After an already-long day, we got to the Dallas/Fort Worth airport for a several-hour layover until our Oklahoma City flight. The waiting room was very crowded. A group of six apparently unsupervised preteens was turning cartwheels, dancing in the aisles and shrieking across the room to each other. Emboldened by the glares and eye-rolling of other passengers, and knowing the mother would want someone to intervene, I approached the girls.
I was shocked to find that two of the ones who appeared to be preteens were actually mothers of the others. Having gotten that far, I simply asked that they lower the decibel level and refrain from activities that might hurt others, as I waggled my cane at them. (I’m really not old, but I’m sure I sounded like a crone). Several passengers applauded.
As karma would have it, two of the girls and their mother were seated right in front of us on the plane. Soon after take off, the mom slammed her seat back into my husband’s lap. The daughter in front of me immediately did the same. When I could catch my breath, I said “Sweetie, I have a broken knee cap. Would you mind please leaving your seat-back upright?” I was stunned when the mother wheeled around on me and said “She is just acting like a normal child. Besides, we paid as much for our seats as you did.”
That left me speechless and feeling rotten. Obviously I did something wrong, but WHAT?
CALLIE’S ANSWER: Well, clearly the mother was offended by you telling her and her children to be quiet. The fact that people clapped probably embarrassed her more. Instead of acting like the grownup she is, she got even with you. She used poor taste and is, unfortunately, teaching her bad manners to her daughter.
LILLIE-BETH’S ANSWER: I don’t know that you did anything wrong. I can’t quite tell the age of the mothers and the kids you are talking about — I guess they all looked really, really young — but it sounds like you are dealing with immature people. All you can do is ask, but keep in mind there could be a backlash just for asking, just like there was for you. I am so sorry that happened.
A great story similar to yours made the rounds of the Internet recently. In it, the familiar story of kids acting up in public and the parents allowing the behavior actually gets resolved in favor of the person who asked them to stop.
The person who did it posted the story to reddit.com and called it “Am I a bad person for this?,” so he seems to be having second thoughts about its spitefulness, and there is room for debate about that. He even commented later on the “offmychest” reddit thread that “it felt petty.”
He was in line at Burger King, and a child behind him was throwing fits — slamming his video game down in anger during a game and screaming and cussing at his mother to tell her that he wanted pies. The observer of this behavior who posted the story to reddit said he had a migraine at the time and asked the mother to calm the child down. The mother screamed at him instead. So when he got to the front of the line, he bought all 23 pies in the store. The child didn’t get any, and the original poster left as the mom glared at him for depriving her child of pies, he said.
Whether it’s true or not, this story has struck a chord, and many people are cheering on the poster who stood up to bad-behaving children and their parents in a way that didn’t lead to a physical confrontation or hurt the child. “Finally!” the Internet decreed. “Someone won the battle against rude, inconsiderate and self-centered people!” It’s too bad some parents allow behavior that disturbs others in public without at least trying to calm down their children. Yes, there are some exceptional cases where the parent has special challenges, but I don’t think we’re talking about that here. And I don’t know what else you can do but make a plea to the parents to intervene, or ignore it. Or buy all the pies in the store.
HELEN’S ANSWER: It was definitely rude of the mothers to allow their children to “run wild” at the airport. You did the right thing by asking “the children” to get control of themselves. Maybe the mothers learned from your intervention that the behavior was not appropriate, but probably they did not take advantage of this learning experience as shown by their seat behavior in the airplane.
If this ever happens again, involve the airline personnel. It is definitely a space issue, and airline people should be involved in maintaining control of their waiting areas and maintaining comfort for all their passengers in the airplane.
GUEST’S ANSWER: Richard Rosser, “Piggy Nation” children’s author, playwright, cartoonist: Here’s what you did wrong — you tried to be nice. It seems that thoughtfulness and consideration have gone the way of airline meals. Piggy behavior that most would have found shocking a decade ago, now earns a million hits on Youtube. And Piggies are oblivious to glares and eye-rolling. Nowadays, we have to put up with rude behavior at every turn. I’ve learned that it sometimes pays to appeal to a higher authority. You might have spoken to an airline employee about the disturbance in the terminal or requested a different seat on the plane. But then again, you might have been the recipient of more rude behavior by the overworked worker at the gate or overwhelmed flight attendant. Sometimes it’s easier just to ignore the Piggies.
Callie Gordon is 20-something, Lillie-Beth Brinkman is in her 40s, and social columnist Helen Ford Wallace is 60-plus. To ask an etiquette question, email email@example.com.