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

Sigh.

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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[User Picture]From: rwrylsin
2010-01-27 08:45 am (UTC)
I had a bit of shock when I started going to UK cons.
Oh my goodness, there are kids here! At least a dozen of them! Argh, how annoying this will be. On no, this one's about to ask for a hall costume token, what do I do?!"
That's not sarcasm, only exaggerated a little for explanation purposes. I'm childless and have no clue what to do with kids.

It is, however, amazing how quickly you get used to them.

Turns out they're practically like real people, and even when there's no dedicated kids stream of programming they can participate and enjoy much of the con without being in the way. They even seem to add a certain amount of energy and enthusiasm to it.

It felt really weird returning to Australia. Took a while to realise why the first con back seemed so... quiet, and bit stale.

I guess my point is that while people may not expect to find kids at cons now, it's not a law of nature. It's a choice we collectively make.
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[User Picture]From: the_s_guy
2010-01-27 09:06 am (UTC)
I think it is perhaps something that cons should start to take more control of, now that there are more kid-friendly ones around. Make a definite statement one way or the other, rather than leaving the con in that limbo where there are just enough kids around to restrict an adult con, but not enough to really integrate them into things.
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From: owlrigh
2010-01-27 05:15 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I recall going to a con down in Melbourne years ago and there were some young boys tearing about the con. I sort of looked at them in a bemused manner and thought -- carry on. Because they weren't all that interested in what was going on at the con, really; they were more interested in playing amongst themselves, and the game room.

Kids will always be able to entertain themselves once they're of a certain age, and below that particular age there ought to be a creche.

I think kids DO belong at conventions, and not because I have any. I don't.

I see all these women at every workplace I've ever been at, and I always ask them what their hobbies are. They say: I USED TO LIKE ... and now they can't, won't, do what they USED to do. It's sad that we lose women fans this way. It sucks. For a bunch of supposedly educated and liberal people, fans can be pretty goddamned narrow-minded sometimes.

If I go to a convention and it's just that wee more expensive so that there can be a creche? Fine! I want to see more parents coming along, and then maybe when their younglings have grown old enough to like SF they'll come of their own volition, tear around like those boys I saw at that con years ago. We'll be all the better for it.
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[User Picture]From: callistra
2010-01-27 11:19 pm (UTC)
*loves*
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[User Picture]From: mireille21
2010-01-28 04:22 am (UTC)
Seconds the love.

We seriously investigated childcare for Conjecture and just didn't have the budget for it. At one point however, someone said we should only have it if the parents paid for it. Someone else (who didn't have to worry about childwrangling) piped in with, "Well, we should make sure that only those people gaming pay for the games room. Or perhaps, if we don't have childcare we could reimburse the parents for those panels they can't attend..." Their point was well taken :) They also get my love. And here's the thing, if lack of childcare means 1-2 adults can't and don't attend a convention then you lose out on that membership money anyway. If they can attend, and their children do too, and thay all have a good time, that means more attendance money for years and even generations to come.
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[User Picture]From: logansrogue
2010-01-30 05:32 am (UTC)
I remember children being involved in the two Xena cons I went to back in 2000 and 2001 in the US. They were *adorable*, they dressed up, they were friendly and they added such a lovely dimension to the con. Especially the toddler in the Centaur costume.

Anyway, just agreeing with you. :) Often listening to children's opinions of certain TV shows can be both enlightening and hilarious. My 8 yr old niece opining on BBC's Merlin is something to behold.
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[User Picture]From: mireille21
2010-01-27 01:15 pm (UTC)
Your primary assumption is flawed - who says that Sf cons are 'Adults Only'? Certainly I've seen some panels marked as such, but never an actual convention. And I'm sure I've seen kids at just about every con I've been to, sometimes maybe only a handful, but they are there.
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