Chris Heyes, now 16, remembers the first time he went to an all-ages concert when he was 13. “My uncle was playing in a Led Zeppelin cover band,” he says. “They weren’t selling booze at all — everyone was getting sodas.”
Heyes’ father came too, but the atmosphere still felt a bit intimidating. “There were a lot of older teens, and I felt like everyone was taller than me,” says Heyes. “I stuck close to my dad at first. Then the band came out and played the first song, and I loved it. I mean, it was Led Zeppelin music. I had a great time and so did my dad.”
Got a kid who loves music? Then you’ve probably had some begging and pleading about going to concerts or clubs. And while saying no to a regular concert or band playing in a bar (that you know is going to include plenty of alcohol and more) might be a straightforward decision, you may be wondering if the “all-ages” events you see advertised could work for your kid.
These events vary from place to place, and may be quite common in one community but rare in another. At some, no alcohol is served; at others, the younger teens who attend get a wristband or stamp at the door to signal the servers that they’re too young to drink.
Calgary parent educator Judy Arnall says: “I’d be more comfortable with an event that wasn’t serving alcohol, not so much because of concerns about my child drinking, but because you really don’t want to expose younger teens to uninhibited drunk people. It just increases the risk of something unpleasant happening.”
Go with them
Jake Marcus feels the best way to make sure her kids are safe at these events is to go along. “Really, my kids have been going to concerts and music festivals since they were infants because music is such a central part of our lives,” she says. The only difference is that now the kids are the ones searching the Internet for tour schedules and musical events.
Most of the time their experiences have been positive, but there have been a few glitches. “Once my son asked to leave at intermission because the music was too loud,” says Marcus. Another event that didn’t turn out well was the Philadelphia Folk Festival. There was a family area set up in the campground that was supposed to be quiet and drug-free. Unfortunately, some bad behaviour from fellow campers made it an unpleasant experience for her. Despite that, she says, “all my son remembers is the music and the games the kids played, and he fell in love with one performer and insisted we go see him again a few months later when he was playing a local club.”
On the other hand, Marcus says, “I don’t think I would let my boys go to a concert with peers and no adult.”
Use your intuition
Lisa Dixon, however, has no problem with dropping her kids off at all-ages events and picking them up later. “I know they’re with friends, and I’m confident they can handle themselves,” she says.
Her approach has been to encourage her kids from an early age to be problem solvers. “I think that talking over safety issues with them before the concert just muddles things. Safety needs to start when they’re much younger, by learning to be aware of what’s going on around you, and by listening to their intuition. They might make some wrong turns, but they’ll figure it out.”
So what’s the best response when your 13-year-old comes home bursting with excitement because a local club is hosting an all-ages event featuring one of his favourite bands? Arnall says: “As a parent, you’ve got to know your child. If he’s going for the music, that’s one thing. If he’s looking to party, there are people who may take advantage of that. You’ll need to judge each situation separately — what is the venue like? What will the crowd be like? Who is your child planning to go with? If you’re uncertain, I’d suggest you get a friend — maybe another parent — and go along. You can keep an eye on your child unobtrusively, and who knows? You might have a really good time.”
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