Tolerance of screaming children

Note that this entry isn’t about screaming children per se, but about learned tolerance of a specific irritant. After having lunch at a very packed, and child-heavy, Noddles & Co earlier today screaming children just happens to be on my mind.

I believe that humans are born with a sensitivity to loud noises. Just watch what happens when an unexpected loud noise happens in a quiet room — everyone is startled. Extended exposure to the same loud noises can result in an attenuation in the attention-drawing power of them, either due to a physical reaction of becoming deaf to that range of noise (like an airplane engine) or to a psychological reaction of just ‘tuning it out’ (like living near train tracks and never hearing the train after a few weeks).

It seems clear that a tolerance for screaming children fits pretty well into that thought framework too. Screaming is suppose to get your attention, otherwise what’s the point? Parents are exposed to their children’s loud noises and become, to a degree, desensitized to the sound. I do question if it happens more on the physical side of things or the psychological side of things. I’m leaning more to the psychological side of it as I’ve known people who seemed to tolerate their own children’s noises fine but many years later had to readjust to their grandchildren.

Either way, parents have a leg up on tolerating screaming children than us non-parents do. Those of us without kids are often not exposed to children on a regular basis and thus have no opportunity to build up a tolerance. Thus when we’re in a public area, or an enclosed airplane, and a child begins to scream, we’re put on edge.

The parents I’ve talked to have expressed frustration at both the situation, ie: when your child’s screaming there’s only so much you can do about it in an enclosed space you can’t escape from, and reaction of other people. I can sympathize with their frustration about the situation. But just as they can’t stop their child from screaming on demand, we can’t control our lack of tolerance for said screaming.

One thing is for certain: when a child starts screaming on an airplane, everyone will be frustrated at the situation, be it the parent of the child or the poor sod sitting next to them. At least everyone is equally miserable.

And if any airline executive out there is reading this entry: You keep looking for ways to bring in more money. I am willing to pay a 10-25% premium on the price of my airline ticket for flying on a child-free (say all passengers must be 12-years or older) flight.

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I'm a gay geek living in Seattle, WA.

One thought on “Tolerance of screaming children”

  1. I read somewhere a suggestion (from a economist & parent) that airlines work to provide more child-friendly experiences on the airline (non-crumbly, easily accessible food, games, etc). I think that would help – though I’d probably pay a premium for a non-child flight as well.

    It’s not perfect, but I’ve found since I started carrying earplugs, I have been a MUCH happier camper on planes. Of course, this precludes talking to your neighbor.


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