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Kids @ Cons [Jan. 27th, 2010|04:29 pm]
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[mood |quixoticquixotic]

Way back in '91, (or was it '92?) I ran a convention and very deliberately insisted on a panel about being a parent and staying active in fandom. It had two two fan mums on it. Back at that point, I think I knew three people with kids that were still active fans.

There were quite a few more who had basically dropped out for various reasons - time/money constraints, had moved on to other interests, lost interest in fandom in the face of the new little person who needed them, just felt they couldn't do both, etc.

That was why I wanted this panel, because there were people dropping out simply because they didn't think they could do both, be a parent and an active fan. I wanted people to be able to hear from some parents who were still going to cons and clubs, and to be able to pick up some tips, so they could do the same if they wanted to.

What amazed me was the sheer lack of attendance. Especially by women who were talking about having children themselves. Because, to me, it wasn't a subject that was just about keeping yourself in fandom, it was about how to maintain the aspects of your life that you wanted to hang on to in the face of the world altering addition of another person in your life.

I thought this way a decade and a half before I even had kids, because I knew that many people will end up looking after a child at some point. And it'd be a shame to lose them simply because they didn't think they could do the stuff that they enjoyed, and still care for their kid. No-one wins in that scenario.

There are people who say that kids shouldn't be allowed at cons, and I can honestly see their point. Kids can be disruptive, excitable, loud, and annoying. They can run around, bump into people, and wave things about with no regard for the people nearby who might be hit. They can be a huge imposition to those around them who genuinely shouldn't have to put up with it. People have paid to enjoy the convention, they shouldn't have that enjoyment lessened by some out of control child.

Of course there are more than a few adult fans the above paragraph applies to as well. I can think of instances where I have seen supposedly mature adults doing all these things. In some cases at con after con after con.

Shall we stop them coming to cons too? 'Cause I'm sure I can easily list a few names that I'd rather not attend cons any more. People who always fucking yell stuff out from the audience whether it's warranted or not, especially the ones who think they're funny. Who drink too much and then proceed to be completely obnoxious fucking tools for the rest of the night. Panelists that never seem to prepare, or who always seem to talk over the top of their fellow panelists. Con-runners that never try to do a good job, but always aim for average, and con-runners that will step on whomever they please because running cons is not about community but power.

These people seriously lessen my con experience. They lessen it substantially more than any child ever has. (Except perhaps my own, but he basically kept us trapped in our room most of the time, and was pretty delightful to everyone else, so I'm prepared to put up with him - for now!)

But, you know, at the end of the day, if a child is acting up in any way, the first person who is aware of it is usually the parent. In fact, they will often be cringing. They will usually try to sort the situation out in fairly short order, and if they can't, they will take the child and leave. And as annoyed as you may be by the two minutes of a kid annoying you, how about a bit of thought for the poor parent who has to leave the item they wanted to see and continue dealing with the unruly child.

Oh there are some selfish parents. People who will just let their kid do what it wants, won't keep an eye on it, or worse, will expect other people to do so without being asked. But you know, it's not hard to go up to them and ask them to do something about their disruptive child. And if you don't want to be the bad guy, it's usually not hard to find a committee member who can do it for you.

I have Chaired four conventions and been on several committees, but I've never had a situation where I had to ask a parent to take their child and leave. I have, however, had occasion to chastise and threaten with expulsion a couple of adults, and I've had to ask one professional author to leave a con for breaking convention rules that he was well aware of beforehand.

Maybe kids don't belong at cons, but I prefer their behaviour to some of the adults who attend, because at least the children have a legitimate excuse to behave immaturely.

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[User Picture]From: cassiphone
2010-01-27 05:46 am (UTC)
Thanks for saying this.

Too often, people are too willing to make all parents with young children feel excluded and unwelcome, without considering any of the aspects you address above.

In the same way, of course, that they happily suggest that any element of a convention they don't personally enjoy is jettisoned...

What it comes down to is that, you know, some people are selfish and stupid and will make the experience less enjoyable for other people. Some of those people will be parents, and some will not.
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[User Picture]From: dalekboy
2010-01-27 08:18 am (UTC)

tikiwanderer made a wonderful comment on her LJ about Professional and Community events. I'm paraphrasing outrageously but it boils down to 'what sort of community doesn't include children as part of that community?'

If a con was a professional event, I would not take Lex there unless they specifically stated that it was child friendly. My assumption would be that it's professional, and should be treated as such.

I don't think I've been to a fan run con that I would class as professional.
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[User Picture]From: arcadiagt5
2010-01-27 06:35 am (UTC)
Given the recent discussions I've been trying to put my own position on kids at cons into words and failing dismally.

Thanks. I think I now know what to say and (apart from linking back to here) will be posting on the subject later.
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[User Picture]From: purrdence
2010-01-27 06:59 am (UTC)
What I find funny (and not in a haha way)is that the people who are saying 'we need more people at Swancon!' and the people who are saying 'we don't need children at Swancon!' are often the same people. I'm not sure they can have their cake AND eat it, as if you suddenly prevent children of a certain age from coming, then, more often than not you'll have one/both parents just not come and suddenly numbers are down even more. I'm not sure I'd want to be part of something that discriminates against someone because they're a little kid, yet accepting some pretty horrible adults with open arms.
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[User Picture]From: arcadiagt5
2010-01-27 09:41 am (UTC)
Especially since I can name at least one adult member (as in: can vote) of recent SwanCons who was born after I started attending...
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[User Picture]From: the_s_guy
2010-01-27 07:12 am (UTC)
And as annoyed as you may be by the two minutes of a kid annoying you, how about a bit of thought for the poor parent who has to leave the item they wanted to see and continue dealing with the unruly child.

I get the impression that a lot of people are going to think "Hell no they get no sympathy; they brought the kid along in the first place. That's like feeling sorry for the library user who brought the automatic self-playing bagpipes."

There does appear to be a change in priorities when people have kids. I've seen it happen time and time again. Once there's a kid, especially a baby, it jumps to the top of the queue - even if that means royally hacking off large numbers of other adults in a manner which could have been avoided in the first place.

The overriding viewpoint of those-with-children seems to be "I must protect my kids, but I want to do X (attend a con, go to a movie, have a meal at a restaurant, hit the opera) because that's what I liked doing before."

Which is fine, but a problem arises when that leads to "And so I shall do X, but bring the kid along so I can keep an eye on them, as is my parental duty." Consideration for other patrons simply doesn't factor into the mental process, and there's often severe backlash against suggestions like "Hey, have you maybe considered a babysitter, or leaving the kid with friends or family for a couple of hours, or using playgroup/creche services, or swapping a day's childminding with another new parent...?" because it's seen as an attack on the I MUST BE WHERE CHILD IS TO PROTECT IT GRR GRR reflex.

On occasion, this can escalate until the child-enhanced customer is ejected forcefully (and optionally banned) from the premises (at which they will be SHOCKED, SHOCKED I say!), or where the other patrons simply walk out or make a quiet note not to return to that establishment.

Unless a child is old enough to be able to appreciate the event/surroundings (of ANY type), there is really no excuse whatsoever for dragging them along. Conventions in particular are known for being noisy, smelly, full of strange people and moving shapes, and catering to a crowd which does not expect a two-foot mini-human to suddenly step out in front of them obliviously, or a stroller to whack them across the knees, or a piercing hundred-decibel wail to continue throughout the entire movie screening.

None of these may even be the child's actual fault. They don't have adult levels of control over their circumstances or themselves. Conventions are just one of the many places which are (in general) not geared towards having small kids there - and that includes safety issues and the general age-rating of anything a kid might stumble into on the premises. If there isn't a childminding service or creche at the con, it's a pretty loud statement that they do not want kids there, full stop.

Deliberately going against that, and risking wrecking the enjoyment of dozens of hundreds of people just to attend a couple of panels and maybe buy some merchandise while having to continually worry about the needs of the kid the whole time is, as far as I can tell, not in the top 100 list of most-appreciated plans ever.

Could cons do more? Possibly. The creche service aside, they could even have ways that parents who want to attend could contact each other and talk about things like recommendations for babysitters, or arranging childminding swaps (or a con kiddie room) amongst themselves. Cons could have handouts, or brochures, or areas on their website addressing the issue of bringing kids.

But to be honest, they generally don't need to. Most people are savvy enough to know that a pop-culture expo with Dora the Explorer stands and a choice of creches and baby feeding rooms will be okay with kids, and a hard SF con held in a hotel featuring live fan music and panels about the history of SF probably won't.
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[User Picture]From: the_s_guy
2010-01-27 07:12 am (UTC)
What concerns me is that there will always be the group who deliberately ignore no-kids-please policies. The website saying ADULT CONCEPTS, the sign on the door saying NO CHILDREN ALLOWED (THIS MEANS YOU), the fact that there's no way to get a stroller inside without twenty minutes of struggling, the complete lack of kids' concession tickets, the way that security tosses them and their kids into the outside dumpster... it just doesn't register.

Yes, there are adult fans who act up and should probably be introduced to Mr Dumpster as well. And yes, there are kids which aren't air raid sirens 24/7. That's not the point. The point, in a lot of cases, is that people came to an adult-oriented SF convention because they were expecting an environment which was, amongst other things, free of kids. You don't expect to find kids down the pub, you don't expect to find kids in top-class restaurants, you don't expect to find kids at the 9:30pm movie session on a school night, and you don't expect to find kids at cons aimed at serious fans.

It's disconcerting, disruptive, and deleterious to the atmosphere and enjoyment for attendees, even if the kids themselves are perfectly behaved. People now have to curb their language, tone down their behaviour, watch out for small crawling, stumbling, or charging things at ankle and groin level, put away their more risque or delicate costumes, lock the doors on M-, R-, and X-rated viewings, avoid telling some of the more interesting anecdotes on panels, pack up non-child-friendly merchandise, move their other items out of grabbing range, and so on and so forth - all because SOME IDIOT BROUGHT A GODDAMN CHILD.


Kids, y'know... kids are fine. Kids are great. There are pop-culture expos and whatnot that cater for kids. There are creches and childminding services and babysitters and friends and family and fellow fans and a hundred and one ways to be a parent and still attend cons.

Deliberately and gratuitously pissing off 95% of the fandom by dragging a kid along to a non-kid-friendly convention purely for the purposes of getting a convention fix is... well, I won't say "horribly fucking selfish in so many ways" here, because I'm sure there will be someone along shortly to do so.

It does amaze me, though, that there really does seem to be some kind of mental block that all too often falls into place when people have kids they're responsible for (and this doesn't just apply to parents). It's as if they have enough processing room for "Must protect the kid" and "I want", but nothing left over for "How many people are going to hate my guts for doing this". It's as if the mere fact of having a kid absolves them from all other social responsibility to the point where it doesn't even have to be considered in the first place - regardless of whether it's even for the kid's benefit.

Back to the original topic, though - parents and fandom. I agree that it couldn't hurt to raise more awareness of how it's possible to be a parent and stay in fandom (including attending cons). Parenthood and fandom are two things which can easily clash - both can be drains on time, money, and schedules. Simply being in one can partially preclude the other, and when it comes to the crunch, fandom is going to lose out every time.

How have other parent-fans managed to successfully stay in fandom? It might be worth a look to see how people have made the transition, particularly after having their first child. Perhaps there's enough material for a panel on "Fandom vs major life events".
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From: gutter_monkey
2010-01-27 07:46 am (UTC)
Ha, now I want to hear the stories of the people you had to kick out of cons
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[User Picture]From: dalekboy
2010-01-27 08:06 am (UTC)
They aren't that exciting, sadly.

It's basically, I take them very quietly aside and say, "Excuse me, but what you're doing is a bit of an issue. Here's a choice, you can change what you're doing, which you already know shouldn't be doing, or I'll have to ask you to leave. What's that? No, those are your only two choices. Well then, I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to leave."

*they leave, but not before making a big deal about being asked to leave, as if they are the injured party*

"What a fucking knob-end!" says the crowd of people after that person leaves.
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[User Picture]From: davidcook
2010-01-27 08:14 am (UTC)
Conjecture handled at-con kids pretty well, possibly because four of the kids they were taking care of belonged to committee members/helpers :)
I don't think I have too many problems with kids at cons in general, but of course the con has to adapt a bit to cater for them.

... I want to say something insightful here about how it's not healthy for society in general to think that kids should be bundled out of sight for most of the time and not interfere with this all-important "adult business", but I'm too tired. Maybe later :)
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[User Picture]From: logansrogue
2010-01-30 05:58 am (UTC)
I find socialisation with different age groups is highly beneficial for children. I went to a lot of parties as a child that a lot of people would consider "Adult". Drinking, joking, merry-making, swearing. Children everywhere, of course, but we made our own fun and the adults were unimpeded in their adult pleasures.

Kids are both highly adaptable and very open to new activities, which makes keeping them occupied at cons not quite as hard as people would imagine.
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[User Picture]From: editormum
2010-01-27 08:49 am (UTC)
Thanks Danny, this post is really appreciated. I have taken kids of various ages to conventions for varying durations of time for the past six years, and I like to think I've done a reasonable job of ensuring they don't have an impact on anyone else's con (although, of course, yes, they seriously impact upon my own con experience, but then, that's my choice). And I think people underestimate the indoctrination process we put our kids through - if we get them into cons at an early age, understanding what conventions are, and being part of that scene, surely that's breeding the next generation of fans, hopefully a generation who are going to be understanding of all of fandom in all its glory?!
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[User Picture]From: cassiphone
2010-01-27 08:52 am (UTC)
There's also the part where kids don't learn to interact politely and discreetly in adult/community environments without, you know, practice at doing exactly that.
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[User Picture]From: paulhaines
2010-01-27 09:39 am (UTC)
Kids are the future. Indoctrinate them young!
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[User Picture]From: catundra
2010-01-27 09:50 am (UTC)
I was pointed here by cassiphone and find the ongoing debate very interesting. As you probably know, I kind of whacked together the children's space at Swancon last year. I don't have children although I have friends who do. I have read some of the comments about this issue (not just here but other places too) and always wonder why I feel upset that there would be people who want or even expect cons to be child free zones. I agree that they can be loud, in the way and immature. I also agree that some adults can be too and frankly, I find their behaviour far less acceptable.
Anyway, back to why I feel upset...I think it comes down to the fact that I don't see why fans should assume a fan based SF con should be child free. It is a community that represents the demographic of society and communities like that have children as well as teenagers and adults. Five star restaurants are not a community. Pubs might be a community but you would be lucky to find other demographics there (teens and even women) let alone kids.
The wonderful, welcoming thing about fandom is how it is a family and within that family are families. It doesn't mean we have to all love each other, there is the embarassing uncle, the sibling rivalry and now, as fandom matures, the irritating kids...but they are our kids and one day we are going to be the embarassing uncles and aunts drooling in the corner and I would hope that these kids show us more respect that some people are currently showing them. Maybe we won't be welcomed by them...
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[User Picture]From: dalekboy
2010-01-27 10:36 am (UTC)
I heard nothing but glowing praise for your efforts :)

Continuum has at a few points discussed having child care, creches, etc. It hasn't been practical or affordable to do due to insurance issues, public liability, venue size or cost, numbers that would make use of it, etc.. But it was certainly discussed, and something we tried (and failed) to find ways of doing.

So I don't mind if a con doesn't provide child related services or programming, because I know first hand how hard it can be to get off the ground. And if a con wanted to say that it was a child-free event, that's fine with me, I support their right to do that. I may not agree with the idea, but it's their con. If people don't like it, they won't go.

The sorts of pubs I grew up around, were more of a community. They're where I learned to play pool, and developed my love of raspberry cordial. No one ever seemed worried about the various kids that were brought in from time to time. As an adult I've been to pubs that were the same. I've never heard anyone complain that merely having a child present meant they couldn't talk to their mates, swear, and drink the way they wanted.
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[User Picture]From: strangedave
2010-01-27 10:29 am (UTC)
On the other hand, I've known at least one situation in which absurdly bad parenting put the con into serious legal jeopardy. Nothing happened, but if it had the con would have been fucked. So, I haven't seen situations in which people have been told to take their kid and leave - but I have seen situations in which people have had to be firmly told to take their kid and not let them roam the halls while they booze it up. People who try to use the con as cheap baby-sitting appall me, and you have to have rules in place to prevent it. But it's rare.

I'm not talking about people who have kids who are old enough to actively participate in age appropriate items that their parents know they are at - if your kids are enjoying the con, are old enough to be left unattended, and you know where they are and they know where you are, fine. But kids in corridors crying at midnight is another story.

This isn't an argument against kids at cons, just that con committees do actually need to think about the rights and responsibilities of both the con and the attendees.
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[User Picture]From: dalekboy
2010-01-27 11:04 am (UTC)
I was kind of rapt when I heard about them being on committee :)

And that's one of the things, we need young people coming to cons, and then running them, because they're the ones that will steer them and keep them relevant to the new generation.

I've no idea about the ages of the complainers, but my first con I was about 13 or 14, and attended by myself i.e. no adult supervision. I've been active in fandom since I was 12, and at no time did I ever have anyone tell me I wasn't welcome at something due to my age.
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From: leecetheartist
2010-01-27 11:30 am (UTC)
I'm all for kids at conventions.

I think there should be areas for them to enjoy themselves, and programming for them and creches.

But I'm not altogether sold on this I've seen adults behaving badly so it's okay to have kids anywhere there too reasoning.
An adult can be held responsible for themselves in most cases. If they're acting obnoxiously they can be cautioned by peers or committee.

Most people would feel uncomfortable cautioning a child out of the blue, it's perceived as being the parents' job.

A committee member can't really say to a child that they must leave.

Great discussion Danny, I'd say the time was very ripe to have a "surviving Swancon with kids panel" both for parents and other participants.
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[User Picture]From: dalekboy
2010-01-27 09:57 pm (UTC)
My point isn't that kids can be anywhere because there have been ratty adults. Ew! :)

The folks who say that children don't belong at cons, always back it up by saying that they ruin it for other people, are disruptive, etc.

What I'm saying is, if the argument is that children shouldn't be allowed at a con because they spoil it for other people, well there are adults that regularly ruin other people's times at cons as well, so it's only fair that we should also be looking at banning those disruptive adults.

The 'annoying beings shouldn't be allowed at cons' idea shouldn't have an age limit that means adults are exempt.

Thanks matey :)
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[User Picture]From: mireille21
2010-01-27 01:06 pm (UTC)
Late so I'll have to hone in on just a few points.

it has been observed by more than one person in one of the various parental type groupos that I attend that children are regularly excluded from 'life' basically, as if they should be kept behind closed doors. No, this is wrong, they are part of our community and deserve to be treated with respect as well.

My experience with J at Conjectue compared to Worldcon was interesting. One main thing was that Conjecture being fairly small it was OK to let him roam at will and most people adored him. He happily crawled around and never once disrupted a panel. Worldcon was packed so I didnt' have that luxury and had to leave panels at times, or use different tactics.

most people at Worldcon were great, I did get some interesting and stupid experiences though. I think one of the top ten had to be the panel where i got to the room early and secured a seat down the front right next to the wall. This was so the pram would not obstruct anyone's view and also so I could make a quick exit via the doors at the front of the room if necessary. I got there early because I knew he was due for a sleep and if I had sufficient time to rock the pram back and forth he would nod off. I was still rocking the pram when the panel started, well out of everyone's way, when some woman behind me went, "Tsk, it's sooo distracting." I felt like saying to her, "Well I could stop rocking the pram and then see how distracting his screaming would be". J nodded off as expected and slept through the entire panel, but it just goes to show how intolerant some people can be because of their perception of children and not because the child has actually done anything.

Observing people's behaviour towards a pram vs a wheelchair was also equally interesting and annoying. At one point someone complained to the friend about the pram being in their way, and kicked up a fuss when they could have just quietly asked me to move. i was sitting in a seat reserved for 'disabled' because it was the only place I could sit without blocking the centre aisle, (and there were no disabled people actually in this panel). If a person in a wheelchair had been sitting there they would have been faced with the same problem of not easily being able o exit the row, but would they have complained to a disabled person? I was considerate with my child throughout my whoel con attendance. Shame the same can't be said for some of the other people there.

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From: trs80 [typekey.com]
2010-01-27 03:17 pm (UTC)
Part of the problem of this discussion is "kids" covers ages 0-18, which is far to vague to have any meaning - I doubt anyone has too many problems with teenagers compared to the straw-man crying baby, leading to both sides talking past each other.
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[User Picture]From: dalekboy
2010-01-28 12:09 am (UTC)
But one of the issues is that the people who say 'no children at cons' rarely set any kind of cut-off age to that. And some will repeatedly say that conventions are adult events - in Australia most 'adult' events are for 18+.

The real issue is that it's a 'I don't like A, so I don't want any instance of it around,' and A is a highly subject element. It's just another form of bigotry.

Hell, one of the most persistently unpleasant people I've had to deal with at conventions is from another country, but I'd never think, 'Hey we should ban anyone from that country from attending, on the off chance that they will be the same.'

I'm not saying all children are perfect little angels or anything, there have been those I could cheerfully strangle. The same goes for adults. Physical age is not indicative of maturity or behaviour, these things need to be taken on a case by case basis.

Which is why I believe blanket bans of any age group of children is unworkable and unfair - because you will always have individuals within that range that are well behaved, and individuals outside that range, and well into adulthood, whose behaviour is annoying at best.
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[User Picture]From: dr_jekyl
2010-01-28 04:48 am (UTC)
One of the more interesting assumptions in your post - and, by extension, your note on the swancon journal - seems to be that those of us who aren't in favour of young children at cons are somehow in favour of adults acting like idiots. I think, on the whole, you'll probably find us *more* in favour of ejecting them promptly, and barring them from attendance all together following repeat offenses.
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[User Picture]From: dalekboy
2010-01-28 06:38 am (UTC)
It's poor wording on my part.

The point is that, in regards to perceived benefit to the greater membership, children attending the con and impacting on people's enjoyment by their mere presence is a lesser issue than say, someone who makes a sizeable portion of the membership uncomfortable because they are constantly trying to crack on to them. And not taking no for an answer. Again and again.

I do actually think that there needs to be serious thought given to how to handle troublesome adults. Especially if we manage to significantly increase membership levels, because then problems are more likely to arise.

I do think people need to be given warnings and chances, and when necessary, they need to be barred. It's a matter of making sure there are the checks and balances in place to stop it being abused. That said, sometimes the committee just needs to show some backbone and act.

Worst thing I have seen is a young teenager physically assaulted by an adult (not related to them) for no better reason than the teenager beating them at a game. This happened in front of a room full of people. The committee did nothing. If I'd been on committee for the event, I would have insisted we refund the assailant's money, and then banned them for life.
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