Why do kids walk into people?
November 27, 2007 6:54 PM   Subscribe

Why don't kids ever look where they're going? (this question is not anti kid).

I've noticed quite often that kids don't look where they're going. I live in New York, and will often see kids just barrel through a crowd of people coming the opposite way, without moving to let people pass or really doing anything to acknowledge that there are obstacles to their forward momentum. They just don't do that street shuffle that we all know so well. They'll also point to things in stores without acknowledging other people's presence, possibly thwacking passersby in the shoulders or nose, until their parents remind them that there are people around and they should watch out.

I know that clearly little kids, say under five, do this often, and that's understandable because their whole frame of vision is on a different plane, and they're younger, etc. What confuses me is the older kids, say 8-10. I'm 29, and I feel like I remember being that age and having a general sense of people around me and personal space, etc. I could be wrong, though, I may have been just like this.

My question is--why do the non toddler kids do this? Do they really not notice or just not care? Is it social conditioning or something about their development? Do they do this with other kids? At what age do they stop doing this?

I'm just curious if there is some reason for this, I'm not trying to pick on kids. I have no kids myself. It occasionally annoys me, but mostly just confuses me--like, "Dude, you're ten and I'm pretty short. How do you not see you're walking right into me?"
posted by sweetkid to Science & Nature (33 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
At what age do they stop doing this?

Judging from my experience on public transportation, never.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:04 PM on November 27, 2007 [2 favorites]

At what age do they stop doing this?

I live across the street from a middle/high school. Most of the kids around here stop when of the age that they're learning to drive.
posted by toxic at 7:10 PM on November 27, 2007

As a counterpoint to your memories of being 8-10, I remember an incident in 4th grade (that would be 9 years of age) when I walked directly into a pole. Forehead bruise and everything. I was convinced it was because I needed glasses, but now, even sans the much-needed glasses, I'm not exactly walking into poles. They are big. I see them there and do not walk into them. Vision is not an explanation for why this happened then but doesn't happen now.

I will leave the explanation of why to the child psychologists, but I think it's just that kids don't have as good of an idea about where their bodies are in space and how and when to attend to them. I imagine it's a lot like why new drivers tend to bump into things in parking lots more often.
posted by crinklebat at 7:11 PM on November 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

It's kill or be killed on those mad streets yo. A little kid is ignored while on the sidewalk - stepped on, pushed out of the way, etc. Little kids grow up learning that to get anywhere in this city, they gotta push and shove and not let anyone get in there way, you hear me? Word up. They do see you walking there. What they don't understand is why you didn't move outta the way.

And if the adults are going to be dumb enough to run through the New York Marathon while runners are flooding by, do you honestly think the kids are going to learn differently? My advice: push back. Darwin man. Darwin.
posted by Stynxno at 7:12 PM on November 27, 2007 [4 favorites]

Because they believe that they are invincible. You, on the other hand, know that you (and they) are not. How sad for you (us).
posted by R. Mutt at 7:18 PM on November 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

I think it might be the same reason for the 8-10 crowd as for toddlers: in the hierarchy of things that matter, bumping into you (or anyone) is pretty low compared to exercising autonomy or intention in the world. That is, their interest in pointing something out is more important than avoiding hitting someone. They're also used to being manhandled in so many ways ("Hat!" "Coat!" "Into the car!" "Do your homework!") that I think their physical boundaries--and therefore the physical boundaries of others--are just not valued much until they are intellectually or emotionally dealt with as peers. (Hmm, I bet they don't bump into or whack their friends as much.)
posted by cocoagirl at 7:26 PM on November 27, 2007 [3 favorites]

1) Impulsiveness. 2) Their parents aren't there to tell them to watch themselves and stop knocking into people.
posted by desuetude at 7:30 PM on November 27, 2007

The brain's frontal lobe, responsible for judgement and motor function, isn't fully mature until age 25. I think there's a connection here.

(And I would bet that when youre brain was less mature you did this too -- I'm sure you have a parent or teacher who can verify this).
posted by rossmik at 7:39 PM on November 27, 2007

Personally, I actually had a hard time getting out of people's way as a kid, just like you describe. I was all about the courtesy-- I just somehow didn't quite know how to pull it off most of the time. I think I didn't quite have "collisions with people are entirely possible; consciously try to avoid them" in my overall social-interaction paradigm. Sure they happened, but they were exceptions, not worth changing the rule over. And I think it was an aspect of not having grasped the concept that, in general, you could dcause trouble without actively trying to. So I walked wherever, just kinda trusting everything to go smoothly and that the grownups around me would compensate with their superior knowing-what-they-were-doingness.

And then when mom or whoever would point out that I was about to bump into someone, I'd have a deer in headlights moment trying to figure out what to do about it. Left? Right? I hadn't learned the cues people give off for where they're trying to go, so I had to guess. And I guessed wrong a fair amount.

What rossmik said, I suppose.
posted by jinjo at 7:42 PM on November 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

I think a lot of kids, have so many other things on their minds, that they don't process all of their visual information. Or more specifically, they mis-filter their visual information. When I was ten or eleven, I was riding my bike in the parking area of the street. Looking around, checking out the world...forgetting that there are cars parked in the parking lane...I creamed the back bumper of a car with my bike. Just...not payin' attention, because there's so much other stuff going on, both outside and inside my head.
posted by notsnot at 7:42 PM on November 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

Because human children are the most selfish, self-centered animals on the planet. Strictly from an anthropological view.

My advice: push back. Darwin man. Darwin.

Yep, basically. The conditioning and socializing of humans relies on training them to stop looking inward and start looking outward. This manifests itself in a variety of forms: sharing, caring about others, empathy... it also means less walking into people.

You can do your part by not getting out of their way.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:46 PM on November 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

Uh, they're kids. Yell at them. "Get off my lawn" works well.
posted by unSane at 7:52 PM on November 27, 2007 [2 favorites]

My 8 year old son is constantly in his own little world. Add that to a lack of understanding of his physical abilities (ie: I'm pretty sure I can touch the 10' basketball rim), and you have a kid careening around the world.
posted by shinynewnick at 7:57 PM on November 27, 2007

Cocoagirl has it: It's a low priority for them. They don't fear injury, condemnation, or the cold shoulder from adults. They don't care about that stuff, especially not from strangers. Their world is tightly focused on their own goals, visions, desires, and small social network. They also heal faster and don't flinch from interactions that would be social death for grownups - they run away giggling, resilient.

The other thing I would add is that kids are supremely confident. They don't have enough life experience to know that physically fucking up can be very, very serious. That experience is gradually built, certainly, through living. BUt I'd say that personal caution gets the greatest boost around the age of 12, when abstract reasoning sets in, and kids realize that they are one among many beings and that there is no special, magical protection around them that is keeping them from grievous harm. They also become far more attuned to social status - the preoccupation of the teenage years - not standing out, not doing the wrong thing, not bringing disapprobation upon oneself. UNtil that happens, kids can just shrug off the dirty looks and the shaking heads. Embarrassment doesn't truly exist until the age of 12; only haplessness does.

Sometimes they compensate for the loss of their innocently presumed safety with overdeveloped risk-taking behavior and braggadocio; most of the time, they just start acting more mildly and considerately. More like adults.
posted by Miko at 8:03 PM on November 27, 2007 [2 favorites]

I notice that some adults do it frequently as well. I think those were the kids who people always moved out of the way for. Stand in their way, let them whack you, and then glare at them or say 'hey' or something. They're more likely to actually notice and become aware of the situation that way.

It's just a lesson that everyone needs to learn and some inconsiderate adults seem to have skipped. As a child I was always taught to be aware of my surroundings and say 'excuse me' if I ran into someone or got in the way. I'm sure I screwed up plenty, but the point is that I had someone teaching me the right way. And a lot of kids don't.
posted by purelibertine at 8:10 PM on November 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Miko, I understand a lot of your post. But I think abstract reasoning sets in much younger, around 5?
posted by sweetkid at 8:12 PM on November 27, 2007

Seconding stynxno, purelibertine and probably others:

Adults do that too. As I ride around the parks on my bike I'm appalled at how ... stupid ... are the pedestrians, of all ages, about wandering in all directions without looking where they're going. Didn't their mothers teach them anything?

I yield the right of way, i.e., I don't try to run into them, but they seem to have an overactive death wish the way they try to run into me.
posted by JimN2TAW at 8:25 PM on November 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

Not according to Piaget - concrete operational logic around 5, abstract reasoning not until 12.
posted by Miko at 8:29 PM on November 27, 2007

While not directly related to social skills, Piaget's Stages Of Intellectual Development is always helpful to me in making sense of kids' actions.

In this particular case I would say that while "Don't run very fast into hard objects" is a concrete idea that 8-10 year olds can easily grasp, "Bumping into other people is rude." is far more abstract and thus harder for them.
posted by tkolar at 8:31 PM on November 27, 2007

Doh, that's what I get for taking the time to read up :-)

Umm, what Miko said.
posted by tkolar at 8:33 PM on November 27, 2007

Wikipedia doesn't suck too bad on this:

Concrete operations
Formal operations/abstract reasoning

Piaget has critics, but the broad swaths are startlingly accurate from an educator's perspective. The shift into abstract logic is astounding and evident.
posted by Miko at 8:34 PM on November 27, 2007

Additionally, I would like to second Civil_Disobedient's answer, as well. Vygotsky is also a big dude in development and education. His whole notion of cultural mediation and the internalization of external dialogue plays a part here. Vygotsky says development follows "instruction" (play/tasks/symbolic processing). So little kids, by virtue of people not getting out of their way (cultural mediation) and parents/adults verbally instructing them to get out of the way (instruction) internalize that speech and behavior and eventually have those habits of mind integrated and automaticized. The more knowledgeable other (adults, society) "pull' (or mediate) the less knowledgeable other through the task until what was once too difficult for a child to do alone she now does without prompting, and in many cases, conscious effort.

Notice a small child playing with blocks-- often times he or she talks to herself to 'guide' herself through the task of building a wall. Later development sees that talk internalized as internal speech, and later as a habit of mind.

Works in reverse, too-- in times of distress (losing keys, doing something scary) that internalized speech externalizes-- we talk to ourselves to talk ourselves through a task.
posted by oflinkey at 9:20 PM on November 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

Uhhh, sorry, a few errors. Glass of wine. Biggest:
"..we talk to ourselves to guide ourselves through a task.."
posted by oflinkey at 9:22 PM on November 27, 2007

For what it's worth, it seems most people never grow out of this. Ugh.
posted by PuGZ at 9:43 PM on November 27, 2007

Don't forget that when you're small, falling over and smacking into things just doesn't hurt that much, nor do you remember it for long. This is valuable because otherwise you'd never learn to walk. It takes time and repeated accidents and pain to learn to look where you're going, so it doesn't really set in until late teens. I had to yell at a kid this morning who was running straight towards me but looking sideways - and she was at least 12.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 10:11 PM on November 27, 2007

I love this question but I have no idea why. Makes me smile.

My take on it - I work on the Boyles Law principle. Something along the lines of a gas will expand to fill available space (?) - as this is what happens with my three; and the space isn't defined unless contact is made. (Usually fragile, and expensive.)
posted by DrtyBlvd at 2:58 AM on November 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Yea, Piaget and Kepler are both pretty interesting. I wanted to throw out there that there is this neat article in WIRED this month about robots that learn...and what's really neat is that they're modeling their behavior on children. Using algorithms to let the robots learn by watching.

Anyway, one part of it stands out to me. One of the robots in the story learns on its own, by manipulating and mapping every possibility and deciding the best course of action. The writer says something along the lines of "of course kids don't always just DO whatever seems easiest, or there wouldn't have been very many of us make it to adulthood." And he goes on to talk about modeling and about the watchfulness of parents and adults as kids learn to interact with their environment.

So, really, they don't because *they don't have to*, and because they just plain haven't learned it yet.

Well, that and the whole sense-of-self and object-permenance thing. (La la la, I'm walking---OOH MY BALL...la la la, chasing my ball, this is me world and I have nothing to wor...WHERE DID THAT CAR COME FROM?) I know several adults who have a hard time understanding that the gears of the world turn outside of our general purview.
posted by TomMelee at 4:52 AM on November 28, 2007

Some small part of this has got to be growth spurts. Kids' bodies (especially distally) grow in fits and spurts. Sometimes these changes occur in such a short window of time that the child can't process the change fast enough, and becomes clumsy and unaware of the amount of space their body takes up until their brain catches up.

And also, Heelys.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:46 AM on November 28, 2007

Response by poster: But as an adult, I don't not walk into people because I might get hurt. I don't walk into people because it's rude, inconveniences me when I have to untangle myself from someone else, they'll be pissed, plus I would look like a madwoman who didn't notice there was someone right in front of me.

Aren't 8-10 year olds starting to notice boys, at least a little, fashion etc, and are more conscious of what's around them than younger kids? They're not really all "la la, here's my ball." right ?
posted by sweetkid at 9:17 AM on November 28, 2007

I disIt's (usually) not a social thing, a selfish lack of regard for other people, "up yours pops, *I'm* walking here!" That wouldn't explain why little kids, distracted by conversation, will walk RIGHT INTO a post or sign or whatever. I think it's a simple lack of situational awareness, exacerbated by a lack of experience processing their environment and sensory overload -- much like new drivers bumping into stuff (because they aren't yet good at processing all the new inputs and outputs), as somebody previously suggested.

And, yeah, many adults still do this, to a lesser degree. If I'm jogging downtown, I now *expect* pedestrians to dart in front of me if they see something of interest in a store front -- even if they're walking directly towards me -- so I tend to pass them on the street-side. Nevermind that they were just LOOKING RIGHT AT ME. "Oooh, something shiney!"
posted by LordSludge at 9:21 AM on November 28, 2007

Grrr... I dis
posted by LordSludge at 9:22 AM on November 28, 2007

Response by poster: Sorry, my own "Aren't 8-10 year olds starting to notice boys" was a purely straignt girl- and gay boy-centered comment. I'm sure some 8-10 year olds notice girls as well.
posted by sweetkid at 9:25 AM on November 28, 2007

Best answer: You should see this problem applied to a beginner ice skating class sometime. The coaches just learn to stand there in amazement, and at the ready, in case actual blood is shed.

My thoughts, as I am one of the coaches, is that up to about the 4th or 5th grade kids have absolutely no concept that their actions have an effect on other people (although they are quick to complain about other people's actions' effects on them). I guess it's that abstract reasoning thing. It's not that they aren't in control-- even the good skaters do this. And I actually observe this behaviour more among school-aged kids than among the preschoolers.

Case in point: a kid will *repeatedly* crash into anything in his/her way--coach, kid, wall, door--and not change their behavior, no matter if you yell, explain, train, whatever. The major thing you do in a beginner class is traffic management (and never turn your back) But if someone equally oblivious crashes into them, they are *stunned* and *amazed* that anyone could be so STUPID.

Some days it gets you really annoyed, but mostly it's got great entertainment value.
posted by nax at 2:29 PM on November 28, 2007

« Older A ringtone for someone who hates ringtones   |   D-I-Y Christmas Bonus? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.