Mob Mentality: large numbers of people acting in the same ways at the same times. Often blamed for concert riots, car burnings, tramplings, and other explosive actions for which no coherent thought process can be discerned. It’s a phenomenon that spreads across ethnicity, location, background, and, of course, age.
I brought my two-year-old twins to the mall yesterday. It was the third time they’d ever been to a playland, and they’re beginning to feel at home in those surroundings – a result that I expected, but not one that I particularly like.
The mall Playland can be a nightmarish place. People, when allowed to lose their inhibitions, when allowed to disappear into a crowd, can allow unacceptable actions to become acceptable. If it’s spring weekend at your college and you’re 19, this could mean flipping a car, or passing out drunk in the street. If it’s the seventh game of the World Series, and the Red Sox have just won, and you’re 30, this could mean taking to the alleys of Boston and yelling your fool head off in an impromptu jubilee. If you’re at the mall Playland and you’re two, this means throwing your shoes, pulling someone’s hair and screaming at the top of your lungs. When you’re two, however, it’s very difficult to understand that certain actions are only acceptable sometimes, and other actions are never acceptable, even if someone else is doing it.
The first time we went to Playland, it was a Sunday afternoon. The place was mobbed. My girls are small. They are polite. They are quiet. They walk places; they don’t run. They were bullied. Knocked down. Poked at. Kids running everywhere (many far too big to be using the playground setup), flailing about, letting loose, having fun. As a group of five year olds ran past them shrilly shrieking, I saw them startle like an infant would at a loudish sound – they raised their little hands up and opened wide their eyes and everything. It was very sad.
The second time we visited the Playland, the babies felt a little more comfortable, not only because they’d seen it before, but also because it was a Tuesday morning, and the Playland population was halved. They explored, learned how to climb and slide, played with each other, and noticed other kids. When it was time to leave, I had to drag two embarrassingly tantruming toddlers all the way back across the mall, through the parking lot and into the car. I could see that since I introduced a place for typical toddlers into their lives, I was now going to have to better prepare for a typical toddler response. Gone are the days of calmly leaving an area when mommy asks you to leave.
By the third time, they were pros. They ran and jumped and played and screamed. They worked themselves up into a frenzy that would put the biggest eight year old in there to shame. The mob mentality, they had learned, is fun. And isn’t that why anyone allows themselves to get carried away? So, really, these forced areas of play meant to reign in somewhat obnoxious behavior by setting it all in a distinct location away from your everyday life are actually encouraging that behavior, and, to take it a step further, are introducing – are inventing – that behavior.
We all say kids will be kids, but after visiting that Playland, I’m forced to wonder are we simply allowing a child’s nature space to run free in places like that, or are we introducing behavior that might otherwise have been alien to them? Are we, perhaps, encouraging mob mentality in our youth before they are old enough even to process cause and effect? Is the solution actually the problem?
All this being said, I’ll not be that stick-in-the-mud mom. That Playland surely hasn’t seen the last of us.