American children are very unsanitary. They cough and sneeze without covering their mouths, they drool and spit, hold their hands in their mouths and touch objects, or people right afterwards with hands sticky of saliva, they lick public objects, they throw food all around, they urinate in public pools, or take a bite of food from a buffet available to other customers and put it back to the container. This list could be much longer. I am leaving out public diaper changing as this subject deserves a post of its own.
I hear from many Americans, those offended by this kind of behavior, that kids are simply disgusting. They say it (or write it online, as most often they are too afraid of saying anything face to face) the way that implies that all kids are simply gross. This is not true, but these people were apparently not exposed to other cultures, and they do not know that children can act much better. Kids are not unsanitary by nature. They are so only when adults fail to teach them otherwise. Unfortunately, the said failure happens way too often in kid-obsessed America, so it is very easy to draw a conclusion that all kids are unsanitary by people who have never traveled to other countries.
The reasons for failure to meet basic hygienic standards by American children are simple:
- Parents fail to teach them and enforce proper standards of behavior both at home and in public places.
- People offended or disgusted by unsanitary behavior fail to require parents to bring the kid to order or to report this behavior to proper authorities.
- Businesses fail to enforce strict hygienic standards on their premises and fail to remove parents and kids that do not abide by these standards.
Countless times I have seen kids in America sneezing right into fruit or vegetables in supermarkets. At first, it was too shocking to me to do anything. I just stood there, my jaw dropped to the floor, as I have never seen such behavior in any other society before. Worse, the staff was there, observing it and doing nothing. At that time I had no idea what public institutions have the authority to inspect and fine businesses for unacceptable hygienic standards. Now I know where to report it, and I also require the management to impose order.
Another time, later on, a kid behind me in line at the supermarket drooled copiously on the conveyor belt where customers put their food to check it out, and the cashier did nothing about it. I cancelled my credit card transaction, and left a cart full of products right there, informing the worker about the reason for my dissatisfaction. Now, knowing better how things work in America, I would rather inform the management and the owner about why they lost my business forever. The place where this incident occurred was a health food store, or rather a germ food store; if they label themselves as “health”, they should keep healthy standards.
Another example: at a farmers market, a woman arrived with a kid that sprung wild out of the car, ran right to the stand with strawberries, and touched all of them with hands taken right out of the still drooling mouth. The farmer did nothing: Did not bring the kid to order, did not require the woman who failed to supervise the kid to buy all of them and did not throw them away. They were most likely sold to the next customer, together with the germs. Back then, I only informed the farmer that I will not spend money on her products for this reason. If this happened now, I would have taken her car’s license plate and informed proper authorities about her failure to ensure hygienic standards of the food products she sells.
I will not list all those times on the New York City Subway or NJ Transit when kids sneezed on people, touched them with dirty hands sticky from snots, kept dirty feet on seats, or licked the poles people hold on to, and their guardians did nothing about it. This behavior is simply selfish, as it threatens public health.
I also read about many cases of kids spitting into buffets, or taking a bite of food and putting it back, with the staff standing nearby, and doing nothing. This is unacceptable, and if you see something similar, you should take the steps listed below. Now I do it, too. It took me some time to get out of the shock when seeing this kind of behavior and to learn proper reporting procedures, but now I always take an action; simply taking other people’s health into account: someone who comes after me may not see what I saw and buy the contaminated food product. It is selfish not to take an action.
There is a lot that adults can do to teach the kids sanitary behavior, and millions of people all around the world succeed in training children, without even putting much thought into it. They do it because this is the way they grew up, and this is the way everyone around them does it. Kids, starting at the youngest age, one to two, are perfectly teachable and trainable to meet the standards of basic respect and hygiene. It is enough to simply grab the hand the kid puts into its mouth, take it out and say, in a strict and short manner: “don’t do it”, or take its hand when it starts coughing, bring it to its mouth and cover it, saying firmly “cover your mouth”. Clear and short requests are the key here. If you do it consistently two or three times, I guarantee the kid will learn.
At this point, Americans will, as usual, claim that their bundle of germs (the kid) of this age does not understand neither the teachings nor orders. True, but understanding is irrelevant at this point. A child does not have to understand it at all, it just needs to develop a good habit, or quit the bad habit automatically. With proper training, good habits will become second nature very soon, just like breathing air. Understanding respect and hygiene will come later on an adequate level of maturity. Kids are smart and learn quickly. Unfortunately, American parents greatly underestimate these abilities, and end up having rude and unsanitary kids.
In my elementary school, kids were punished by teachers for unhygienic behavior, and rejected by other kids for the same reason. It did not happen too often because, by the time we went to school, parents, relatives, and day care teachers taught us how to behave respectfully in a society. However, if an accident of forgetfulness occasionally happened, we could always count on the teachers or other children for corrections.
Some people may claim: “but there are so many adults sneezing or coughing without covering their mouths, or doing other disgusting things”. This is the sad truth, but this happens because their parents failed to teach them respectful habits when they were kids, later on their school failed to correct their parents’ failure, and the society failed to protest against their rudeness. Teach the kids respect and they will grow up to be respectful adults.
What can all of us do to eradicate unsanitary kids’ behavior?
- Require the parent or sitter to respect us and bring the kid to order, and do it strictly, do not accept the “it’s just a kid” excuse. Remember: kids are teachable from the very early ages.
- Require the business management to enforce proper sanitary standards, and remove the violator, if necessary. If the manager talks back, justifies unsanitary behavior, or does not seem to see anything wrong about it, report it to the owner. If you spend money there, imagine that your credit card is your voter’s card. You can make a difference.
- Report lack or violation of sanitary standards, especially in food handling businesses, to proper authorities. Since I learned the proper authorities in charge of food safety, I do it every time I see a violation. These authorities differ from state to state. It can be health, business, or agriculture departments. The easiest way to find them is to Google: “how to report unsanitary conditions + your state”. They often have easy to fill online report forms, or special phone numbers for reporting. Do not forget that someone’s health may depend on your report.
Do not be afraid to point out the unacceptable behavior. I know they told you throughout all your life that kids are sacred. They are not, and if they are doing something wrong, it is your right to require to end the violation.
If the above cases of failure to comply with minimum hygienic standards happened in other countries, i.e. in many of the European countries, the businesses would make the parent pay for all the items contaminated by the kid. Also, the customers would report the unsanitary behavior to the authorities, and the businesses would pay huge fines. Whether the sanitary standards in America remain as low as they are, or get better depends on you. You should not hesitate to react.