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The Kids are Alright–Except When They Aren't

Young Homer at a concert!

A couple of months ago I mentioned an incident in which Pink stopped a show and scolded a bunch of fans for fighting and scaring a little girl who was down on the floor near them (as she offered the girl a stuffed frog and a rice krispy treat to make her feel better). I did a bit of scolding of my own, as I wrote: “And PSA: People, please do not bring little kids onto the floor at live shows! SERIOUSLY, listen to this mama, it is NOT safe.”

 I’ve been thinking ever since about the topic of bringing kids to live shows. When I was in high school, a friend told me that his parents had brought him along to see Cream when he was two or three years old. At the time I thought, “Cool!” but now I think, “Seriously?” I look at the film from Woodstock, with the naked toddlers meandering around in the mud, and it’s not a pretty picture. On the other hand, I saw little kids (clothed) frolicking on the lawn when I saw Simon and Garfunkel perform at Dodger Stadium in 1983, and that was very nice. Of course, different kind of show, much different era.

 But what I’m really talking about is people who bring small children to big, loud stadium shows. I saw Green Day a few years ago and was appalled at the number of really tiny kids down on the floor. Billie Joe Armstrong wanted to bring up a little kid before they did “St. Jimmy,” so the crowd passed a little guy of about four hand-over-hand and up onto the stage. He was absolutely frozen with terror, wide-eyed and unable to speak. Billie Joe is a dad himself, so he realized the kid was too little and needed to go back to his parents, so they passed him back down. I couldn’t believe the parents thought this would be cool. I spent a lot of show cringing, watching the little kids down below, worrying that they were going to get in the way of the slam-dancing and pogoing. 

 It’s not even a matter of being down on the floor and the safety issues associated with that. Some friends took their sons, aged about eight and nine, to see Green Day as well (different venue, different tour) and they felt really badly about it afterwards. As soon as the volume hit them, the boys just sort of melted back into their seats. They were assaulted by the sound, and it was just too overwhelming, even with earplugs. They had to leave pretty soon after that. Maybe it would have been better if they were farther away from the stage, but how much were they really going to get out of the experience anyway? My sister took her kids to see INXS many years ago, and they were up in the nosebleeds, but my nephew, who was about five at the time, spent the whole concert with his hands clamped over his ears because the girls behind them were screaming so loudly. Where is the fun in that?

 However, I am not saying there is no place at live shows for young children. On the contrary, I think it’s of vital importance that kids experience live music. When children are very young, they don’t really understand that the music they hear coming out of CD players and the radio is made by real-live people using instruments and their own voices. It’s a developmentally enriching experience for them to learn how music is made, and for them to understand that music is a living, breathing entity, one that they can enjoy with others in an energetic environment. They become participants in the performance through their listening. Also, music is so emotionally evocative that it resonates with kids, for whom emotions are right there on the surface all the time. So it’s a matter of making live music age-appropriate for kids. Venues need to be smaller, the type of music needs to be quieter (I’m not saying it’s got to be nothing but The Wiggles or even Raffi, but young kids are more able to process music in which the notes are farther apart and at gentler volumes).

 So what about older kids? I suppose it’s a function of how ready your child is to handle the volume of a big stadium show. Some kids can certainly deal with it better than others. Most kids choose the first show they go to, and it’ll probably be some kind of teeny-bopper boy band or American Idol alumnus. I would encourage parents to try and balance that out with introducing their kids to other types of music, in smaller venues, without all the screaming fans. Carnegie Hall offers a great program for families, in which the kids can see the instruments up close before the performance and hear how each one sounds. It’s our responsibility to introduce “good” music to our kids, so they are not influenced solely by the current Top 40 (though I admit I haven’t always been consistent about following through on this. I once swore that my kids would know all about the Beatles, and well, they do not. I have a friend whose kids know all the words to Bohemian Rhapsody, and I think to myself, “Now that’s a GREAT mom!”) As for teenagers, well, they are going to do what they want to do anyway, and they are capable of deciding who they see and where (though Mom or Dad might have to drive them to and from the show).

 Ultimately, I think that bringing young kids to loud live shows is a selfish act. The parents are doing it for themselves, because they think it’ll be cool that they took their kids to Muse or Nickelback or whatever. I suppose parents have been bringing kids to public events that were not appropriate since the beginning of time, but that doesn’t make it right. People used to bring the kids to public hangings and beheadings, but that doesn’t make it a good idea.

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