Put Down that Calculus Book & Come to the Bathroom with Mommy

Oh, Readers: Here’s one from Glasgow, Scotland: By law, any time anyone under the age of 16 is in a “licensed premise” — i.e., a pub, or a restaurant that serves liquor, it seems — he cannot be out of his parents’ sight. Even in the loo. Even if it’s a young man with his “mum,” or a lass with her dad.

As nutters as that sounds — don’t the Scots deal with enough under-the-kilt jokes already? — the bathroom angle isn’t even the most disturbing part of this story. No, I’m appalled by the way this local law treats 15-year-olds the same as toddlers simply because there are no legal provisions for distinguishing them.

So make some!

And yet, here in America, we have the same problem on a different front: The consumer protection laws passed after the lead-in-toys-from-China scandal insist that every item sold to children under 12 be tested for trace amounts of lead, in case the child puts it in his mouth.

Now, I can understand testing a doll or even a baby shoe. Kids’ll gum them. But my 11-year-old is not going to chew the buttons on his shirt. Nonetheless, those buttons have to be sent for testing same as a pacifier, as if they pose the exact same threat.

There is a huge difference between babies, school children and older kids. Lumping them together makes babies of them all. Come to think of it, it makes babies of us adults, too: too helpless to do anything when faced with legal overkill but roll over.  — Lenore

58 Responses

  1. I know! They’re going in the article “Well, we have no way of dividing kids this age from kids that age, even though we know it’s stupid”, but how hard is it to write a law that says “Kids under this age need to be accompanied when inside places that serve alcohol”?

  2. The lead-free consumer protection laws also apply to things like bicycles sold to children under 12.

  3. But Mike – lead flavored bikes are really yummy. Until your 13th birthday when the very idea of chewing on your bicycle becomes something so stupid that only a 12 year old baby would do it.

  4. I suppose they don’t have urinals in the men’s bathrooms in Scotland? cause that would give those 15 yo girls a start. 🙂

  5. Actually, isn’t this law designed to apply to teen-agers? I wouldn’t want a bunch of rowdy 15-year-olds in my pub. (If I had a pub that is.) It seems like this problem can be solved by making a simple provision in the law “anywhere on the premises except bathrooms” (which would also allow the owners to let an unaccompanied kid in for a few minutes to use the facilities.)

    Of course, it is a shame that pub owners are so afraid of breaking the letter of the law that they would rather play it safe and insist everyone be accompanied to the bathroom, but I think it is still a much better law than we have in some US states where people under 21 (21!) are prohibited altogether from being in a place that serves or sells alcohol.

    This means I cannot invite a younger friend to a rock concert in a cafe that serves alcohol, missing out on some vital intergenerational bonding. It also means I cannot bring my 7-year-old in with me when I stop by the liquor store to pick up a bottle of wine for dinner.

  6. Up until the 11th hour that lead law applied to books too. As a librarian I know that there was A LOT of scrambling on the part of the American Library Association to get books exempt because the way the law was written was going to make it ILLEGAL to have children’s sections in the library unless each and every book on every shelf in every library in the country was tested for lead. I understand that toddlers and babies will gum board books, but how many 8 years olds do you know who confuse books and food?

  7. This is a problem with vague laws rather than overprotectiveness. The pub owners say they will enforce the rule strictly for fear of ponishment. The law makers say OF COURSE they expect common sense to be used, and the law not to be followed so strictly. I agree that it would have been easy to put an age range in the wording, but I suspect it was left intentionally vague to give extra means of punishing bars who allow teen drinking (is that even as much an issue in Scotland?). Instead they’ve left the door open to unbalanced enforcement, and lots of other problems. Vague laws drive me nuts.

  8. And of course, the lower the expectations we have of our kids, the lower they will perform.
    I wonder what that law is supposed to accomplish? Are they afraid that kids might be accessing alcohol if they are out of their parent’s sight? It just seems wholly bizarre and overdone.

  9. Jacquelyn, what’s bizarre and overdone is making alcohol illegal for anyone under the age of 21 and prohibiting people under 21 from even setting foot in a pub. Requiring that younger teenagers be accompanied by adults in such establishments (instead of their 16-year-old buddies) and perhaps even trying a sip of beer with their parents’ permission, seems very reasonable to me. Guys, correct me if I am wrong , but I don’t think they are nearly as obsessed with underage drinking in Scotland as we are here. And isn’t 16 the legal drinking age there?

  10. All or nothing rules make no logical sense.
    Besides who drinks in the bathroom?

  11. The main danger with vague laws is that they get left open to interpretation. Pub owners can use common sense all they want, but if one gung-ho cop decides to fine the pub, the letter of the law says he can. Then other pub owners will stick to the letter of the law, even if law enforcement in their area sees escorting your 15 yo child to the bathroom ridiculous. What we really need is less regulation. Making laws to protect the .000001% of the population who would be victimized in that situation is not only ridiculous but wastes the time and money of the taxpayers.

  12. Our twelve- year- old does chew on the buttons on his shirt sleeves. It’s a nervous habit. Not that we want them tested for lead. We’re happy to retain responsibility for our unique child’s health and deal with one less law. We buy him shirts without buttons on the sleeves.

  13. I don’t know, my 11 year old puts everything in his mouth still. In fact almost every time I look at him he has something in his mouth – frequently his fingers. And yes he is perfectly normal. I have seen him chewing on a Polly Pocket shoe, lego, k’nex, and paper all in the past month. So, I guess I am grateful for those laws right now.

  14. Jennifer, I am a nervous nail-biter type myself, and my kids have somewhat picked up my habits. But I told them both a couple years ago (when the youngest was only four) that if they put toys in their mouths, it could KILL them. I don’t believe that I had to remind them since. Seriously, your child is old enough to learn that lesson, and you shouldn’t be relying on the government to protect you from easily-preventable problems. And buy him some lollipops or other safe things to put in his mouth.

  15. Yes – let’s still keep our Victorian views that children should always be seen and never heard. No singing in the toilets please!

    For your information, the very same Glasgow City Council has just refused to compensate a teacher who required extensive dental surgery after she intervened in a fight between two pupils at a special needs school. As a consequence all Scottish teaching unions are now recommending that no teacher intervenes in any fight that occurs as they cannot be guaranteed the support of their employers. Hmm…what sort of message does this send to children in Scottish schools?!?

  16. I came across an Etsy listing recently for a plush toy with button eyes and a warning that it wasn’t for kids under 12. Talking about covering your ass well.

  17. I don’t know about the lead testing for under 12. My 4 and 6 year olds are fine. My 9 year old puts EVERYTHING in his mouth. Nervous habit. Found him with 5 Magnetix balls in there the other day… those went to the attic. We have a rule that if he’s reading or watching TV, he’s not allowed to have anything in his hands. It’s the mindless times that he does it.

    Not that I’m all that concerned about the lead. I would rather them spend all their money coming up with a way to make him stop 🙂

  18. Here is a crazy thought – leave it to the Pub Owner. If there are bunch of 15 year olds making trouble in the Pub kick them out. And to the custmoer, if the owner won’t don’t go to that pub. There is absolutely no reason for the gov’t to be involved. You can’t make every little annoyance in life the basis for a new law.

    When adults act like kids and demand that big brother take care of such trivial things we send our kids a message that says, “Don’t worry. You don’t really have to grow up, you just have to look to the gov’t once mommy and daddy are done raising you.”

  19. Krolik, the legal drinking age in Britain is 18… HOWEVER, an accompanying adult (parent/guardian) may take a 16-year old to a pub with a family licence and buy that 16-year old a (one) half pint of cider/beer or a glass of wine to eat *with a meal*.

    I suspect this law will be ignored except when people cause trouble. Hopefully the city council will see sense and make a sensible corollary.

  20. Joe,

    I see your point. But what if the pub owner has financial interest in allowing a group of say 14-18 year-olds to party at his pub, with the 18-year-olds buying lots of drinks for everyone else. The law Liz mentioned makes sense but it also sounds like it would be hard to enforce. I don’t know. I think I’d have to know more about the reasoning behind the “unaccompanied minors” law (i.e. have any children been seriously hurt as a result of not having a law like that in place, are pub owners able and willing to enforce reasonable rules themselves) before I decide whether it was appropriate for the government to mandate it.

  21. that if they put toys in their mouths, it could KILL them

    I hope that you’re joking about this. Lying to kids about risks is counter-productive (it’s not technically lying because it could kill them, but so could walking down the stairs). Once the kids realize that you exaggerated the risk, they won’t take you seriously anymore. After I learned that that my teachers had been dishonest and that touching matches won’t cause my house to instantly burn down, accidentally glancing at a solar eclipse won’t make me go suddenly and permanently blind, and the eating unwrapped trick-or-treat candy won’t make me die a horrible death from poison, I really stopped disregarding all the “advice” that my teachers gave me after that.

  22. @Krolik – “people under 21 (21!) are prohibited altogether from being in a place that serves or sells alcohol.

    This means I cannot invite a younger friend to a rock concert in a cafe that serves alcohol, missing out on some vital intergenerational bonding. It also means I cannot bring my 7-year-old in with me when I stop by the liquor store to pick up a bottle of wine for dinner.”

    Please, please tell me you’re exaggerating. Seriously, does that mean you can’t even take your children to a restaurant? Where I live even the family restaurants (Swiss Chalet, Denny’s, etc.) all serve alcohol. And if I couldn’t take a child into the liquor store with me that would really reduce my already negligible level of drinking!! What would those same people say if we had the kiddies wait outside (alone, natch) while we make our purchases?

  23. @Gail,

    Where I live, it’s a percentage of sales thing. You can take kids to restaurants that serve alcohol, as long as some percent of their sales is non-alcohol. I want to say it’s about 70% in my state, but I could be wrong. And while 18 year olds can legally go to bars, most bars have a 21 and older only policy because then they don’t have to worry as much about serving alcohol illegally. In my college town, there was one bar that let 18 and up in, and used stamps on hands to indicate who could/couldn’t buy drinks. They were the most likely bar to be investigated for underage drinking, and had a lot of financial trouble. I think it changed owners 3 times in the 6 years I lived there. The other bars simply didn’t want to deal with it, so they had 21 and older policies.

  24. I could buy my 9yo a bushel of lollipops, it wouldn’t matter. he’d still chew papers, pencils, pens, very small rocks, etc. i assume he’ll outgrow it. god, i hope so.

  25. While your 9 year old or 11 year old might not chew the buttons on her/his shirt, s/he may well have a younger sibling who would. So in the case of lead testing, I don’t know that there is a way to differentiate amongst age groups, as many households have more than one child.

  26. My 9yo chews his buttons, and I’m fairly certain he still will at 11. BUT…that isn’t and shouldn’t be your problem. He has sensory issues; we’re dealing with them. I’m a big girl, and I’m well aware that if I’m going to buy him shirts with buttons on them, I’m taking a risk that they might be made of something that shouldn’t be swallowed, because almost all kids won’t. I don’t need legislators to watch out for my kid; I can do that just fine by myself.

  27. Here’s a new one:

    My older niece is six and a half and in the first grade. We live on a very quiet street, and occasionally send her to the corner store on small errands. To get to the corner store she has to cross our very small street, turn the corner, and walk down a block.

    Today, her principal stopped her mother and said that “some people” had told her that they’d seen Ana “crossing a busy street” “after dark” (BS – she’s not allowed out on her own after sunset, she’s too small) and “going places”.

    It’s bad enough that these people are worried about a normal human activity, but to drag the principal into it (my sister was nicer than I would’ve been, because *I* would have pointed out that the school has no authority over the kids once the school day is over and they’ve left the building) and then, furthermore, to LIE to the woman because “We saw her cross a quiet street with no cars in broad daylight” is, I suppose, insufficiently scary – appalling.

    If you’re worried about how a kid acts, take it up with the parents yourself. The kids might not talk to strangers, but you’re a grown-up. You’re allowed.

  28. To those who have said that their kids eat/chew inedible objects — when was the last time you had your child checked for iron deficiency? The craving for inedible objects is known as Pica and is a symptom of iron deficiency anemia and can happen to anyone (and is quite common).

  29. T-shirt Hell used to have a shirt that said “Chinese Toys Taste Better”

    Sadly it went out of print before I could buy one for my son to wear.

    Seriously though….I hate the fact that I have to label anything I sell toy wise to say “Not for kids under the age of 12”.

  30. Many children put inedible objects in their mouths. It’s called an oral phase for a reason. Pica is a craving lasting more than one month for non-nutritive items at a developmentally inappropriate age. And yes, it is often a sign of a mineral deficiency (usually, though not always, iron).

  31. I would have DIED if my mom came with me to the bathroom when I was 15, or 7 for that matter.

    The whole putting things in mouths business is truly out of hand. I teach children from 2-5. Typically, some of the the 2-year-olds are still putting random things in their mouths, but by the time they’re 2.5 it’s already rare. Occasionally, a parent will show me one of our classroom toys (like a Fisher Price little person) and suggest that it’s a choking hazard. I’m usually a little gentler than this, but my answer is essentially, “They won’t choke on it if you tell them to not put it in their mouth.” Alternatively, I’ll point out that rocks, sticks, bark chips, pine cones, etc. are also theoretical choking hazards. The world is full of them. If you don’t want kids choking on stuff, TEACH them to not put things in their mouths!

    Our job isn’t to protect them, it’s to teach them to protect themselves.

  32. i’m from glasgow and i’ve never encountered this law. if it does exist then i’ve never seen it enforced and doubt it ever would be. no one cares.

  33. Additionally, aren’t those children in the oral phase apt to chew on anything? That means that testing toys intended for them is fine, but essentially you would need to test anything that they might encounter. Where would it end?

  34. Yeah…I guess in this stranger danger world of ours is that anyone under the age of 16 (or legally in 18 or 21 for the drinking age) are just babies and are complete and total idiots.

  35. How about this? Stop importing toys (and anything else) from a country that doesn’t care if we get lead poisoning. I have been refusing to buy ANYTHING from China for nearly twenty years. Believe me, it’s difficult, especially at Christmas-time (I have seven children) but it can be done.

  36. My 8yo son and 7yo daughter still put everything in their mouth. I’m constantly telling them to stop chewing on their toys/clothes. It’s mostly the 8yo. Lately he’s taken to chewing the collars of his shirts. They are always a sloppy mess.
    I guess they get that from me. I was always a compulsive chewer I just never really noticed or thought about. My chewing has always been confined to pens/pencils or my fingers. I actually have a callus on my left pinky finger because I would chew on it while leaning my head on my hand in school. I’m 33 and I still catch myself doing it without even thinking.
    BUT…I still don’t need the government regulating what toys my kids get. It’s my job to keep them from putting dangerous things in their mouths.
    Hopefully they will grow out of it (looks like the 7yo is getting there) or learn to control their impulses better because it’s a pain. Luckily my youngest was never like that. She stopped putting things her mouth around 18 months.
    As for the pub thing…might as well just ban kids all together because next there will be a rule about kids going into opposite sex bathrooms because it’s inappropriate, etc so if a kid is in a pub with a parent of the opposite sex and can’t be out of their parent’s sight…

  37. 1. http://www.impactlab.com/2009/12/06/smart-baby-case-disaster-ready-baby-carriage/

    This is not, thankfully, a real product, but I LOL’d.

    2. “BUT…I still don’t need the government regulating what toys my kids get. It’s my job to keep them from putting dangerous things in their mouths.”

    Well, I wouldn’t go that far. Part of the problem with these lead recalls (which is what led to the irrational law in the first place) is that parents TRUSTED these big corporations when they said “No, we don’t use lead paint” and they TRUSTED the law when it said “No, no lead paints allowed”.

    Regulating hazardous materials is one of the reasons we even HAVE a government. However, there was no need for a new, draconian law to cover possible lead contamination – all they really needed to do was *enforce existing laws*.

  38. I love your blog so much. Reading about all this ridiculousness all over the world makes me want to yell. Loudly. I don’t know if I’m a better person for reading about all these things that make me upset. It’s like watching the news. ugh. Don’t worry, I’ll still read your blog. It’s like a train wreck…I just can’t look away. Plus, it validates my parenting choices. xo

  39. Sorry, but the title of this thread gave me a creepy feeling. I got better when I read the article.

  40. Why is it that people can’t make decisons unless elected oficials pass a law? There have been enough scandels to raise questions about their judgments. Somehow a 16 year old girl in the men’s roo$ seems problamatic to me.

  41. Probably, though, the lead-testing policy makes it easier to sell national, more expensive product before the cheaper foreign one is for sale.

  42. Krolik – of course a pub owner has a financial interest in letting 15 year olds into his pub with their 18 year old friends. But that is not a call to action by johnny legislator. The point is: 1. if it is not a problem for anyone, let it alone. 2. if the other customers don’t like it, they can change the fanancial interest of the owner by telling him, “toss the kids or we’re leaving” 3. the pub owner can just decide to kick them out anyway. As I understand it they can’t legally drink at 15, so what further protection are we providing them? The danger of seeing someone else drink a pint? If you don’t think it is a good place for 15 year olds to hang out, then tell you kids not to hang out there and punish them if they do. If the bar keeper is serving the minors then charge him with breaking the already existing drinking age law.

  43. Gail,

    Emaloo is right. Restaurants who also sell food are ok, but bars will not let in anyone under 21, nor will liquor stores.

  44. A pub in the UK is somewhere for grown-ups to get away from children, and to drink in peace. Teenagers are allowed in with their parents as a concession, to allow them to eat together. I see no reason to change the law. It isn’t always about protecting the *children*.

  45. Actually, Lola, the opposite is the case – big corporations (who have their products made overseas and STARTED these lead scares in the first place) can more easily afford to test their products while small American businesses can’t.

  46. It’s not just baby products, it’s any product that can be used by “children”. That includes small motorcycles. Seriously. Starter kids bikes are banned because, after all, they contain lead (in the battery) and children might eat them.

    Yes. Kids might eat motorcycles. Therefore, they must be banned.

  47. Mike: That gives the traffic warning “caution: children crossing” a whole new meaning!
    Careful! Lead vampires ahead! Roll up your windows and pray they don’t pry open the hood to eat the spark plugs! 😀

  48. Krolik, I don’t know where in the US you live, but I have had no problem taking my children into places that sell or serve alcohol. Some establishments don’t admit minors after a certain time (9 PM I think?) There are many bars that also serve meals and have a handful of tables, and I have eaten at these places with my husband and children.

  49. Catherine, CPSIA does still affect books. Any pre-1985 books and any books that use specialty inks ( anything other than standard 4 color printing) are subject to testing.

  50. Here in America, you can be old enough to join the army and get killed and not be old enough to drink. Isn’t that cool?

  51. When your livelihood depends on following vague laws to the letter, common sense suggests to err on the side of caution.

  52. MrsE,
    I agree with you, but on another board I found this to be very touchy subject. I personally see a big difference between restaurants that serve alcohol, the bar, and a bar.

    As kids we went regularly to restaurants that served alcohol without our parents. Honestly I can’t think of a restaurant that doesn’t around here except chain fast food places that were hostile to Teens. The burger joint down the road was friendly as long as we behaved, and we behaved because we valued their trust. We started riding our bikes over there, just off I-10 starting about 10 or 12. They served at least beer and wine.

    “the bar” is a place in the restaurant that serves as a holding pen for those waiting for tables. You can get sodas, appraisers, as well as alcohol. As a teen grabbing a bite I often was asked to sit at the bar rather than take up a whole table if I was by myself. Even the TABC (Texas alcohol beverage commission) doesn’t have a problem with that.

    A bar is a place that the main point is to drink alcohol and for many to get drunk. Not the place underaged people should be.

    Others disagreed with me.

    Some were convinced being in “the bar” would turn kids into raging drunks. They reminded me of a busy body neighbor.

    Dad worked for a Pearl then a Miller distributor. My sister and I grew up playing in oversized T-Shirts from events my Dad’s company sponsored. They were covered with logos of the different sponsors. This by simple osmosis was going to turn us into raging drunks. Her kids weren’t allowed to play with us. Which left them on the outside looking in, because the other parents (even the two religious – playing pretend sends you to hell for lying families) had no problem with it.

    When we showed up to play in someones yard, or everyone trooped over to our yard – her kids had to leave. No one would play at their house, because “Your mom is mean to Kimberly and Sis”.

  53. I’m writing my thesis about the history of leadpoisoning, and you’ll be amazed at the things you find out! Did you know that leadsalts taste very sweet? In the 1930s kids in hospitals (which were painted ‘hygienically’ white with leadwhite paint) would eat the paintchips of walls and their bedframes because of their sweet flavour (one doctor who say this tried a chip himself and reported that it “taste like boiled sweets with an alcoholic aftertaste”)
    Kids would get seriously ill and would even die because of this.

    Having said that, modern lead-hysteria has gone out of control. Forty years ago, a doctor wouldn’t even diagnose a kid with leadpoison if it had less than 60 mu lead per deciliter blood, let alone prescribe treatment. Nowadays kids are officially diagnosed AND given radical treatment when their blood have 10 mu lead per deciliter.

    The bar has been raised, and since the seventies, when the WHO and UNESCO started to ring the alarmbell, regulations have been passed, which means that leadpoisoning nowadays is extremely rare. The weird effect (or maybe not so weird, because we freerangers are aquainted with the concept) is that the safer one is, the more afraid people seem to become.

    Oh, @ Kimberley, although I agree with you, I must stress that pubs in Britain (and Scotland) are not bars, and certainly not ‘places where you go to get drunk’. They are places where you go to socialize, or to eat (ranging from sandwiches, aka ‘sarnies’, to simple but delicious ‘pub-grub’, to the more upscale food from ‘gastro-pubs’). I love to go to my favourite pub with friends, and I don’t even drink alcohol!

  54. My 9 year old puts everything in his mouth when he get nervous or is thinking… if it is in his hand it ends up in his mouth. Ironically he didn’t start doing it until about age 6… when he was a toddler he knew better.

  55. Yay Kathy! My point exactly. I’ve been boycotting every Chinese product I could ever since the Tianamen Massacre – being a large trading partner doesn’t keep a country from being a brutal dictatorship run by hoodlum thugs. I knew Western Civilization had come to the end of its road when I heard that American Flyer was closing their little red wagon plant in Chicago and outsourcing the jobs to China.

  56. There’s a law derived from organisational theory research that states that messages are amplified on the way down, and weakened on the way up. An example is the boss says something vaguely uncomplementary about the colour of the elevator doors and this leads to the entire building being redecorated (silly, made up example but you get the point). In contrast, large numbers of employees later fall ill because of the carcinogenic paint used during the refurbishment but all the boss hears is that a small number employees are bit unhappy about the redecorating.

    This also applies to legislation: the intent and purpose of the law gets lost as it is overinterpretted and overapplied ‘just in case’.

    That said, the British are nuts over the whole under 16 thing. When I was living and working in England one of my colleagues was always very careful never to leave her two children without adult supervision because it was/is an offense to do so if the chidlren are under 16. Her children were both older (15, 13) than mine were when they started doing paid baby sitting, in Australia.

    I don’t know whether she was overinterpretting the law or whether it really was a situation where child protection would be called in if two sensible teenagers were left alone in their well-appointed home in a safe neighbourhood for a couple of hours while their mother did a few chores or whatever.

    It certainly caused my friend endless inconvenience and I bet had little impact on the real issue, which would have been the tiny minority of parents who really are dangerously neglectful.

    Ah, I have just remembered an American colleague, a single mother of two well grown (ie teenage) boys, who would never give anyone her home address – me included – in case somehow the information that she occasionally left the boys at home for short periods was given to the child protection authorities and they acted against her.

    She SEEMED normal, thus I assume her fears had some basis.

  57. @ Catherine Scott

    Your colleague was mistaken. It is *not* an offense to leave under an 16 year old without supervision in the England. There is no set age at which a child must be supervised, you may not put them “at risk” which may be what she was concerned about, but under 16 year olds are routinely left to do all sorts of things on their own in the UK without their parents being prosecuted.

    She might have been concerned that someone would call Social Services regardless of how safe her kids actually were – there seem to be the same concerns about being investigated when innocent in the UK as in the US.

  58. All or nothing rules make no logical sense.
    Besides who drinks in the bathroom?

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