The apathetic pre-adolescent child’s tendency towards whining and boredom when required to participate in a family vacation event has been documented by child psychologists. One method of entertaining a child who prefers video games to outside activity was tested on a 10-year-old male subject. The subject was given a slice of Italian bread and instructed to offer it to a flock of laughing gulls in order observe the length of time he would interact with the birds and if he would have a positive reaction, thereby indicating amusement and providing his parents with an extended period of time devoid of disgruntled complaints during which they might dilute their emotional fatigue with an inhibition-lowering ethyl alcohol. The human-seabird interactions were studied from a distance of 30 ft by researchers lying prone on a beach towel. The subject was not amused by the interaction with the laughing gulls, as evidenced by a series of beak-inflicted wounds on the right and left forearms. Results of the experiment indicate feeding laughing gulls may result in injury and emotional trauma for the subject, as well as an overwhelming sense of parental regret that may trigger unintended gifts purchased out of guilt.
A typical middle-class American couple with 2 children spends, on average, a total of $2,834 for a 7-day beach vacation, including airfare, vehicle rental, and food. Parents will spend roughly 18.7 hours in the swimming pool and 6.4 hours in traffic. They will receive a mean of 5.1 hours of sleep each night, take only 1 solitary shower, and boil 32 hot dogs, 12.5 of which will be rejected for reasons unknown. They will prevent their children from stepping on 3.4 stingrays, refuse to purchase a jet ski ride 8.8 times, and spend an average of $217 on alcohol to make the whole vacation more tolerable.
In a survey conducted among parents who took their children aged 9-12 to the beach for a period of 4 hours, 79.3% said that their children had openly expressed disinterest and discontent. The question “Can we go home?” was most likely to be heard 30 min after arrival. The number of times 9- to 12-year-old children asked for an electronic device such as a tablet or smart phone increased by a factor of 11 after the first hour of beach time. The most common adjectives used by the 9- to 12-year-old children to describe the beach were “stupid” and “lame.” After the second hour, the child’s vocalizations were 45% more likely to exceed 73 decibels, which directly correlated with a 39% likelihood that the child’s parents would become frustrated and respond by taking the child home. 45% of parents surveyed said that they didn’t know why they had bothered to spend money to come to the beach when their child could have played video games at home for free. 11% of parents used the phrase “little shit.”
Interestingly, a 5-year-old child is 64% more likely to amuse himself by playing in the surf or poking at fire ants. Though these activities require up to 74% more parental supervision, parents were 4x more likely to describe the experience of playing with a younger child as satisfactory. Reasons given by parents include the innocence of the younger child, the observable joyful attitude projected by 5-year-olds, and the distinct lack of eye-rolling and use of the phrase “this sucks,” indicating an inversely proportional relationship between parental effort and an excremental attitude.
The beaches of southwestern Florida are populated by a variety of species of gull, one of the most common being the laughing gull, Leucophaeus atricilla, which are a coastal species. The laughing gull is 36–41 cm (14–16 in) long with a wingspan of 98–110 cm (39–43 in). The summer adult’s body is white with dark grey back and wings and black hood. Its wings are dark grey with black tips. The laughing gull has a long, red beak and loses its black hood in the winter. Leucophaeus atricilla is known for its squalling cry and uncanny ability to steal securely-packed human snack food. Gulls have been known to take submarine sandwiches out of human hands before the first bite has been taken. They are also capable of defecating on beachgoers with a 59% accuracy from heights of 30 feet and can befoul both sunhats and uncovered heads. In addition to the beach, laughing gulls frequent sand and mud bars as well as parking lots and garbage dumps. The species is rarely seen inland. In a survey, 68% of residents of coastal Florida said they felt angry and resentful of tourists who fed the gulls. Of that percentage, a further 62% had been pooped on within the prior 90 days, indicating a direct correlation between irascibility and scatological trauma. Researchers noted frequent comparisons of gulls to disease-carrying rodents such as mice and rats as well as the use of colorful expletives in reference to the gulls.
For the purposes of the experiment, the subject—a 10-year-old male who was reaching extreme limits of surliness on Fort Myers Beach—was given two heels of white bread and directed towards a wading group of laughing gulls. The subject was then studied to determine how long the feeding of seabirds would hold his attention and how long the subject would refrain from uttering remonstrative declarations about his surroundings and his family. The hypothesis that the subject would spend at least 20 min engaged in feeding the gulls and that the gulls would gather around the subject to consume the offered food thereby actively entertaining the subject and providing his parents with an extended period of time devoid of youthful repining at levels exceeding 55 decibels, was tested.
Materials and Methods
The experiment was performed outdoors on Fort Myers Beach, in Florida, on August 11, 2015. Italian bread was purchased from the local Publix grocery store five days prior to the experiment. The particular brand of bread, Schwebels’ ‘taliano, was chosen by the subject because it was not covered in what the subject referred to as “disgusting little seeds” and because the color of the crust, which the subject would later demand to be excised from his sandwich, was 67% lighter than wheat bread crust, 41% lighter than rye bread crust, and did not look “too crusty,” thereby rendering the bread unsatisfactory. A distilled sugarcane byproduct was also purchased by the researchers to simulate the habits of real, beach-going parents.
The subject was permitted to engage himself in activity on the beach until he became observably censorious of his surroundings and asked return to his dwelling to play video games. At such time, 2 heels of Schwebels’ Italian bread measuring 4.6” x 5.2” and weighing 28 grams each were placed in the subject’s hands. The bread was taken fifty feet to the north where three Leucophaeus atricilla were standing in the shallow water. The bread was tossed in an overhand motion to the gulls. The level of engagement in the subject was observed and recorded to determine how effective the gull feeding activity was in halting the subject’s compulsive whining behavior, specific moodiness, number of complaints uttered, and overuse of the words “stupid” and “lame.” The encounter was recorded with a camera hidden behind a glass container of distilled sugarcane byproduct.
The bread was thrown by the subject towards a group of three laughing gulls standing in a tidal pool. The gulls were immediately aroused and approached the subject. No signs of gull timidity were noted in their initial interactions, and there was a significant aggressive reaction on the part of the birds when the subject offered the bread. Loud gull vocalizations were heard and 22 other gulls, of which 84% were Leucophaeus atricilla, were observed arriving from both the north and south sections of the beach within 90 seconds. The subject was observed to be intimidated and two steps back were taken as the birds approached. He was then swarmed by 25 laughing gulls. His arms were pecked and bitten. The subject’s eyes and face were covered with his forearms and he turned 180 degrees to the south and began to move towards the researchers at an accelerated pace. He was actively followed by the birds until the bread was dropped on the ground. The bread was consumed by a group of 17 birds. The subject was visibly upset, and tears were shed. His arms were scratched but not lacerated. The researchers were blamed for making him do something that “really sucked.” His abrasions were treated with an antibiotic cream and he was purchased a ride on a jet ski for 60 minutes. The results of the experiment indicate that feeding a flock of seagulls on the beach is not a safe way to engage a malcontent 10-year-old child.
The results of the experiment differed significantly from the hypothesized outcome. It was believed that more time for adults to relax and drink alcoholic beverages on the beach could be obtained by sending the cantankerous subject up the beach to engage a flock of gulls. It was also believed that by providing the subject with several slices of stale bread, he would attract a flock of birds that would feed calmly at his feet, thereby allowing him to observe wild animals while simultaneously giving his parents a break from his constant stream of gripes. The subject had been complaining for several days that the beach was not a satisfactory way to engage his interest and that he preferred to stay in an air-conditioned condominium playing a video game. The experiment was conducted in the hope that the subject would overcome his pre-adolescent whining and poor attitude and rejoin the family as a more pleasant individual.
The choice to feed laughing gulls rather than another species of bird directly affected the outcome of the experiment. While a bird such as a pelican or sanderling shows little interest in humans and often displays a fear response when approached, gulls are opportunistic feeders. Their diet consists of crabs, small fish, and whatever they can steal from another individual. Human presence makes the gulls’ feeding patterns easier with discarded beach pickings and easily accessible food sources. Humans often fail to put their garbage in the proper receptacles, and on occasion they intentionally offer food to gulls. Leucophaeus atricilla has learned to associate human presence with food and reacts with eager aggression when hand-fed.
The results of the experiment indicate that feeding laughing gulls is not a prudent way for parents to amuse their children. It would appear that the child is likely to be swarmed, pecked, defecated on, and traumatized. It should be noted that after the experiment concluded, the subject was sullen and withdrawn, and he was resentful of his forced participation in the experiment. After his jet ski ride, he was escorted back to his bedroom where he was given his video gaming device and left alone, only emerging when he became hungry. Researchers acknowledged, in hindsight, that the outcome of subjecting him to an untested group of gulls should have been more apparent, and that the experiment’s negative results indicate further testing on his younger sibling is ill-advisable.
Thank you to Andy for his participation in the study. We hope that the nightmares will stop soon. Feel free to beef up your Christmas list in December.
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Laura Jackson Roberts is a freelance writer in West Virginia. She’s an MFA graduate of Chatham University and a blog editor for Literary Mama. Her work has recently appeared on Matador Network, in Brain, Child Magazine, and on Vandaleer.com. She lets her kids play with sharp objects, hates earwigs, and has unusually small feet.