Sorry kids, Australia is just not that into you

There are a few signs parents can look out for that may indicate your child is bullying.
There are a few signs parents can look out for that may indicate your child is bullying. Photo: Stocksy

A recent trip to Europe with my kids, forced me to think about how Australia treats children. In a tapas bar in Madrid one evening the bartender serves us our drinks and a complimentary plate of sweets for my two young boys, both reading at the bar. Back in Sydney a month later, in a city pub, the kids are tolerated in the dining room but then have to do a walk of shame outside of the pub on the footpath and around the front bar, just to use the toilet.

Sorry kids, Australia is really not that into you.

We're into the idea of you, previous governments even paid us to have you, but once you turn up next to us on a plane, talk too loud in a restaurant, or arrive in a pub we sigh and roll our eyes.

Now, as a former (and occasionally current) child hater myself I get that adults don't want little people in every situation. I am not proposing I have my kids in nightclubs dancing til 3am or throwing bread at you in a three-hatted restaurant on Valentines Day. But I do think we need to end what is a kind of adult and child apartheid in a lot of situations. By which I mean we are either doing a kids' activity – playdate, birthday party or visit to an inane children's park – that makes adults question their life choices or we are doing an adult activity – shopping, working, having dinner parties  – that bores the kids rigid while we pacify them with screens.

Kids are not integrated into the fabric of adult life.

Anne Kennedy, a consultant, trainer, author and researcher who specialises in early childhood education says she often ask the same question: Do we really like children in Australia?

"Individually people love their own kids but as a nation we just don't like them," Kennedy says. "In places like Spain and Italy the waiters go gaga over kids and they can be there quite late at night. In South America children are part of the adult fabric; they are involved in the cooking they are involved with the farm, they're involved with family things, whereas our children are separated."

This parent-child segregation is also what led Simon Daly to set up the Lost Lands music festival which took place at the end of October. It had an adult main stage plus a kids stage and kids spiegeltent - it was not just a festival at which kids were tolerated, they were part of the experience. Above all, many places say they are kid friendly but they mean kids have a roped off area away from adults but with the Lost Lands it was an integrated space for adults and children to explore.

Daly, who was behind the popular Falls Festival, felt that there was a market for a family festival.


"In Europe the culture is different," Daly says. "Kids form part of a number of festivals. If you grow up going to festivals, listening to live music and enjoying the arts – you're more likely to continue this in adulthood. And of course pass it on to your kids. It kind of works full circle."

But why even take kids to festivals aren't we just forcing them to be mini-adults?

"I think a lot of the time we don't give kids enough credit," Simon adds. "The live music and arts scene has a lot to offer. Not only a good time but also learning about music, arts, society and human behaviour." 

At Glastonbury, the world's largest and most successful festival, families are commonplace.

We attended the inaugural Lost Lands festival and it was refreshing to doing something that I loved – like going to a music festival – but not worrying that my kids were wrecking someone's day. Even the kids took some adjusting, if this was kids' time why did they have to come and watch a band with me they didn't like? Well, because this was neither adult nor kid time, it was a shared ebb and flow that we we're not as used to as we should be. Some kids were pains, sure, but less of them than adults at many other festivals.

As the child of a young mother in the 70s who was dragged to a few too many adult parties around the pool cabana I can attest to the fact we can take this idea of having kids in adult situations too far, but I think it is time too look at how we view kids in society. How welcome they are in everyday situations like restaurants, supermarkets and buses? How tolerant are we of people having kids, something that will happen to about three-quarters of the population during their lifetime?

Says Anne Kennedy: "I think it would benefit Australia to have discussion about do we really value children?"

Becoming a parent necessitates some major lifestyle changes. I am not trying to go back to the total social freedom of my pre-child days, my kid is not an accessory I take to a gig to look hip – but I am challenging the idea that just because my kid walks in the door that the party is over.