My husband and I attend multiple geeky conventions a year, so the question is always: do we bring our 6 year-old son or not? I thought it might be helpful to other geek parents to read the process we go through to reach this decision.
First, especially in the case of a convention I’m not familiar with, I go to the con website’s “about us” page. This page usually tells me the focus of the convention, maybe some history of the convention, and a general idea of who the target audience is. This also tells me if there is anything that will interest my son. There is nothing worst than spending the time and money to get to a convention, only to deal with a bored child. At which point you have two choices: drag the child around while they are complaining or leave, which might make you upset at the wasted time and money. Again, neither option is fun for anyone. Definitely start with the general information about the con to help you figure if it is worth attending.
Next look at the pictures on the website. Are there pictures of school-age kids, families, or mostly adults? If there are pictures of kids around your child’s age, then it is a good indicator there will be programming that will interest them. Not always, since everyone is different, but it at least shows the possibility of kid friendly programming. Also, pictures will help you figure out the next question.
Will there be stuff I don’t want my child exposed to? For example, how much skin and exposed body parts are you comfortable with your child seeing or asking questions about? Is there violence or costumes that are sexual in nature? Does it seem like the atmosphere changes as it gets later? Does there seem to be more adult behavior or more nudity as the day progresses? The answers to these questions depend on your comfort level and what you feel your child can handle. Your child may be old enough to deal with adult language or might be too young to notice. Determine your boundaries before you attend the convention.
Another thing pictures show is how crowded the convention looks. This helps you plan logistics like: whether you can bring a stroller or how close your child needs to stay next to you. Noise and crowds overwhelm our son, so large conventions are not an option for him. If I’m not familiar with a con, I estimate crowds from pictures and determine if I need to find a babysitter while I enjoy the con.
After I get some basics, decide there may be stuff to interest my child, and I’m comfortable with the atmosphere of the con, I move on to programming. Are there tracks or panels I can put in the day to keep his interest in between my stuff? Is it all panels or are there hands on activities for when he gets restless and needs to move? Is there a panel geared to a young age group or teens? Are there panel rooms that won’t be crowded so he can nap or draw while I listen? Again, some of these will depend on your child, but you get the idea.
That is the basic way we approach the question on whether to bring him or not. Some of our answers have changed as he has grown and matured and some are still the same. There are no right or wrong answers; it all depends on your child and their personality. At the end of the day,the most important thing is that everyone is happy and no one wants to kill anyone (including the parents).