I've been in a couple restaurants lately that featured uncontrolled children in addition to the standard menu items. In Scottsdale a couple weeks ago, a toddler toddled around a very high end breakfast place; her father was standing near her empty high chair keeping his eye on her, while her seated mother happily and apparently obliviously chowed down. We waited behind the hostess who was trying to seat us as she waited for the toddler to get out of the path to our table. This morning, a gaggle of the under-5 set engaged in various under-5 set behaviors, including shrieking, throwing food, squealing and whining in that annoying "you're not paying enough attention to me" way. Since I left Chicago, I've spent very little time tolerating kids in restaurants. Vegas isn't really a kid place and I rarely go out to anything but dinner, which we eat late. The obvious lesson from the recent experiences is that I should stop going out to breakfast altogether.
But it seems to me there's another lesson, too. The me-first entitlement mentality that seems to pervade our culture more with every passing year could, I think, be one of the long-term effects of children who are not taught socially acceptable behaviors early. I'm all for letting children's creativity develop, but I don't think budding creativity is so fragile that it can't coexist with courtesy and consideration for other people. Pointing out to a child, even a toddler, that grown-ups don't run around in restaurants and that they use their inside voices (most of the time, anyway) isn't likely to stifle the child in any important way. It is far more likely to help the child learn to become an adult that other people can stand to be around.
So much of adult life is a matter of figuring out how to manage your natural instincts and reactions within the context of other people's rules and how to change the behaviors that aren't getting you what you want - at work, in relationships, even in all your little daily interactions with strangers at the grocery store or on the expressway. If you aren't expected to manage yourself appropriately in a restaurant (or, presumably, anywhere else) as a toddler, how are you ever going to do so effectively as you grow up?