Should children under 14 be allowed in pubs?

By Sophie Atherton

- Last updated on GMT

Positive role models: some children - and parents - know how to behave in public
Positive role models: some children - and parents - know how to behave in public
Sophie Atherton wonders, with unruly children creating havoc in outlets across the country, whether it is time to consider a return to the days of no under-14s in pubs

I sometimes quip that I’ve spent a lifetime down the pub and I’m not really exaggerating. I grew up in the 70s and 80s and to my parents ‘going out’ meant going to the pub. It was both a treat and a place to relax. My dad went to the pub near the betting shop for a lunchtime pint on his own every Saturday and if it were summer he’d take us to the pub in the evening.

In the seaside towns we went to for our summer holidays many pubs had children’s rooms, essential if the weather were typical of a British summer. Otherwise we’d sit in the garden, as these were the days when under-14s weren’t allowed inside. When I was older but quite far from being 14, and usually in inclement weather, my parents would sometimes sneak me into the bar. They’d say no one would notice if we ‘tucked ourselves away’ in a corner.

They were right. It may have been against the law but we were never turfed out because I was brought up to behave politely, especially when we went out. In a pub garden I might run around and whoop, especially if there were swings to go on. Once I was inside, illicitly or otherwise, I knew how to be quiet and therefore go unnoticed.

Those days are long gone – and that’s what has caused me to reminisce about my childhood pubgoing. As I sat in a pub this week, enjoying the sort of quiet Saturday lunchtime pint my dad so loved, a family came in. I wouldn’t have noticed except for the behaviour of their child. Based on his height I’m guessing he was five or six. He grabbed the bar top and tried to pull himself up to see over it, jumping up and down repeatedly without being told to stop. His parents did nothing. The bar staff said nothing. The top of the bar was crowded with dirty glasses. I wondered if he’d end up knocking them on to his head, but the danger passed once the parents were served.

Running around unattended

This sort of thing isn’t a one off. I’ve seen it repeated in pubs all over the place and I’ve seen much worse. The examples that bother me most are much younger children allowed to run around pubs unattended. Although it’s true that I personally feel noisy kids in pubs are unwelcome and would enjoy a return to the days of no under-14s, the reason I’m writing this is from a standpoint of concern.

I often see quite small children running around near the bar of a pub. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve held my breath as a customer with a tray of drinks or staff carrying hot plates of food have narrowly avoided being tripped by a child moving at speed. It seems a miracle to me that I have yet to see one cause an accident.

Sometimes the parents are nowhere to be seen, other times they are not far behind, but no one ever seems to say anything about it. I once heard a member of bar staff call out limply and ineffectually, “Guys, please don’t run!” – which unsurprisingly went unheard and unheeded – but rarely do I witness a parent putting a stop to it and even less frequently a member of pub staff. Which brings me to the conclusion that we’ve reached a point where people – including parents – are scared to tell off misbehaving kids.

Afraid to remonstrate

Pub staff even seem afraid to remonstrate with parents of unruly children. I can imagine why. I suspect they don’t want to be on the receiving end of an adult temper tantrum – which the sort of parent who doesn’t even bother to make sure their kids behave politely in public might very well unleash. But this is a dangerous state of affairs in the age of no-win-no-fee ambulance-chasing legal firms.

I’m not completely misty-eyed about how pubs were in the past, and although my parents flouted the no under-14s law, I also recall the respect usually showed to a good pub landlord or landlady.

A stern word from one or the other was always enough to quell any rowdy behaviour in my local. If modern pubs want to avoid legal action over kids running riot, they’d do well to remember that.

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