zanzjan: (manuscript)
[personal profile] zanzjan
This replaces my earlier post about this. Much of the text is the same. However, I had both bad information and missing information that I think is important enough to restart this discussion cleanly. Also, I want to be clear from the very beginning that what I want from this is not to foster recrimination or dwell on my own aggravation, but to look proactively at ways to make this situation better throughout con-going fandom.

So let's talk about this.

First, I know that a lot of SFF fans choose not to have kids. I respect that. I'm all for people who don't want kids not having them. I don't believe children are necessary to having a fulfilling and meaningful life, nor do I hold anything against people who just want to remain kids themselves for as much of their lives as they can. I mean, I'm a lifelong SFF fan, I totally get that.

Conversely, some of us made the choice *to* have children, and that should be just as respected.

Now, as fans-with-kids, we like to go to conventions just as much as the fans-without-kids. Maybe even more, because when you have kids getting out and seeing people socially and doing things that are about your own energies and interests and self-identities can be a lot harder, and also a lot more necessary to one's well-being.

Going to conventions with kids can be tricky. Running a convention with kids doesn't have to be.

Yeah, having a kid program at a convention takes resources. It also takes a certain mindfulness about the ways in which children and security and responsibility and fun all intersect. Kids have different developmental levels, different needs, different independences. For the purposes of this post, I'm going to loosely divide them up into three groups: baby/toddler, young fan-kid, and older fan-kid.

Baby/Toddler, aka childcare
Babysitting/childcare for baby/toddler-age kids is the most resource-intensive group to provide for. You need people who genuinely know what they're doing to be in charge of this, if you're going to do it. A lot of conventions don't or can't handle this age group. It's really, really nice when they do. It's also not unexpected when they don't.

Young Kid/Older Kid, aka kid programming:
For small conventions, having a kid program may legitimately be beyond the scope of what they can offer. Readercon is a good example of this. It's just not a kid-enabled convention, and they're right up front about that from the get-go. This is, incidentally, why every year I only go to Readercon for the day on Saturday; I love the con, but that's my window for getting someone to watch my kids for me.

For mid-size conventions, maybe it's not so clear. Have a kid program or don't have a kid program, but either way, be clear about what you're providing, and don't half-ass it.

Assume from this point forward I'm talking about the larger conventions.

For large conventions, especially, say, the World Science Fiction Convention, there is absolutely no excuse for not having good kid programming, and having detailed information about exactly what you're providing available EARLY in the planning process. (IMO, kid programming info ought to be included as part of the bid proposal for a Worldcon.) When there is insufficient information and communication until after parents are already financially committed to going, it can be disastrous. This is the situation I find myself in with the current Worldcon, although I am becoming convinced that the vast majority of issues -- if not all of them -- sit squarely on concom heads, and that the kid programming people have been just as much a victim of the disorganization and poor commmunication that has plagued many other aspects of this con. I'm not there, I don't know, I don't want to get in anyone's face about it, but I don't want this to happen again. As a parent, when a convention says they're going to have a kid program, you assume certain things about it. And you should be able to assume certain things about it.

So let's talk about what kid programming needs to be.

Kid Programming is for kids who don't need constant, individual supervision. This can include younger kids who maybe need some direction on crafts or short attention-span activities. It can include older kids who are entirely self-entertaining. What parents need is for kid programming to be a safe space where their kids can enjoy convention activities tailored to them while the parents go off to activities of their own.

It needs to cover a reasonable number of hours of the day so parents can go to other convention program items, especially large events such as the masquerade, Hugo awards, etc. If the kid program has breaks, it should try to have reasonably large blocks of time between them, so that parents don't spend their entire free time walking back and forth to pick up/drop off their kids. It should be mindful of how regular programming is blocked out on the schedule, so that parents can get to kid programming on time without having to leave a panel early.

Having the kid programming shut down for an hour at lunch and dinner so parents can pick up their kids and go feed them is totally understandable. With all the food allergies and dietary weirdnesses out there, it's reasonable for kid programs to NOT want to be responsible for feeding the participants. (And while I certainly wouldn't like to suppose that a few fen might forget to feed their little darlings if they didn't have to pick them up anyway, best not to test that, right?)

This is where the young-fan/older-fan distinction becomes important. By default, kids should not be able to leave kid programming space without being picked up by an authorized adult unless the parents have given the kid program permission to let the kid roam. This is not hard to do: a flag/ribbon on a kid's badge declaring them free-roaming, and one gopher at the door checking badges is sufficient. The idea that only "babysitting" should have to check where their kids are and who they are leaving with is grossly negligent of the realities of being responsible for children. Unless you're going to set the minimum age for your program in the teens, you're failing the community if you do not have door security.

So, why have a kid program at all, then?

Here's why: kids are YOUR FUTURE. Even when they're not your kids. They're the future fans, the future scientists, future writers and artists and inventors, future interesting people. Many of them are those things RIGHT NOW. There is an enormous blind-spot in the vision of some parts of fandom that don't want to give respect to or value elements of fandom they deem less worthy than the cult of books*: cosplay, anime, media SF, those danged superhero comic books, etc. And they don't want to see kids, or hear kids, or deal with kids. And they have conventions where they have panels with titles like "Where is the next generation of fans?" or "Why aren't we attracting younger fans?" and you'd laugh except its a lot like people at sea throwing themselves overboard in order to seriously discuss why don't we have a boat?

The larger conventions that are welcoming to fan families in my experience are also the ones that have better diversity in their membership all around. They also have a vitality and an energy that is painfully absent from the ones that don't. And a Worldcon should aspire toward being the best it can be for all fans, or it does not deserve the privilege of hosting such a gathering. And for the love of all that is skiffy, if you're not going to step up and do it right, don't tell people you're going to, or talk like it doesn't matter or is inconsequential or an annoyance. Lots of conventions get this right, and do so with joy and wonder and enthusiasm. It's not complicated. It needs to be a priority.

So, what do we do?
I would like to see a standards document produced in consultation w/ fan parents and also people who have experience with running convention kid programming. I would like to see it outline best practices, provide a framework for conventions about how to implement a good and sustainable kid program, and how to communicate about it to fan parents.

I have put up a webpage (Futurefen) with the intent of collecting information about current conventions' kid programs so that that info is centrally available. It seems like a good first step, and I'm happy for any and all info people want to send my way.Eventually it'd be nice to add more info for parents about doing cons w/ kids, and info as well from experienced kid-program runners on what makes a program workable and sustainable and good from their perspectives. It seems a better use of energy.

Date: 2015-07-25 12:42 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]

I ran Fast Track for Arisia for 3 years, Dragonslair for Boskone for 4 years, and the children's programs (while they had them) for Albacon, Readercon (it did try), the 2007 World Fantasy Con, and the 2009 Worldcon (Anticipation, Montreal). I have two children (17 & 15). I also wrote an article on children's programming for Argentus. I would be happy to share what I know.

Date: 2015-07-27 02:13 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Yes, please! Do you have my email?

Date: 2015-07-27 09:22 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Not offhand, though I bet I've seen you around. You can contact me at Lisa@cogitation dot org.

Another resource

Date: 2015-07-25 02:59 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I'd like to point out the ConRunner wiki at, a resource which is trying to collect the communal memory of convention runners. One the list of suggested best practices is compiled, putting a copy of it there would make it more findable to the con-running community.

(I don't dare provide an actual link because lately links seem to make LJ kill comments as spam.)

Date: 2015-07-27 07:15 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I can definitely appreciate that as a fan with children, you want to make sure that the con plans to have programming that will interest, engage, and inform your children before your family is willing to plan to attend a convention together. Most Worldcons offer such children's programming for all age ranges and have for some time. However, it is not possible to describe in detail what that programming will entail at the bid stage any more than the con would be able to do so for regular adult programming. The only possible information is whether the con does plan to include children's programming in its overall program, and possibly also the age ranges that it hopes to cover.

You have two messages here: one is the importance of engaging children at science fiction conventions so they remain connected to and interested in fandom, science fiction, and other genre-related areas by providing quality children's program items. That is a laudable goal and convention programming planners should indeed be encouraged to keep this aim in mind when developing the convention program.

However, your other message is your desire that children's programming "cover a reasonable number of hours of the day so parents can go to other convention program items, especially large events such as the masquerade, Hugo awards, etc" What you are describing in that case is a desire for programming to serve as a babysitter. Conventions do indeed try to provide on-site child care for a fee if there is enough interest expressed in advance to allow parents to have a safe space where their children are watched by trained staff while they attend other parts of the convention. However, it is not part of the con's responsibility to watch your kids for you, and that is not the purpose of providing program items for children.
Edited Date: 2015-07-27 07:17 am (UTC)

Date: 2015-07-27 02:19 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
You said:
However, it is not possible to describe in detail what that programming will entail at the bid stage any more than the con would be able to do so for regular adult programming. The only possible information is whether the con does plan to include children's programming in its overall program, and possibly also the age ranges that it hopes to cover.

That latter is what I'm looking for. It took me more than a year AFTER the current worldcon won its bid to find out if they would even *have* kid programming, much less any detail about it (like age ranges.) That is flatly unacceptable.

As for your other part: NO. That is not what I'm saying. What I'm saying is that a Worldcon should provide a reasonable amount of content/activity for all its members, including children. There seems to be a massive disconnect on the part of some people what the difference between babysitting and kid programming is. Many kids don't need any individual care, they only need to have an activity. Just like the rest of us.

Date: 2015-07-27 08:59 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Regarding the part about babysitting, actually, yes, that is *exactly* what you said. I agree that "there seems to be a massive disconnect on the part of some people what the difference between babysitting and kid programming is," but that disconnect appears to be on your end. You quite specifically said "so parents can go to other convention program items." That is a completely separate point from whether the Worldcon is providing "a reasonable amount of content/activity for all its members, including children."

You mentioned as your example the Masquerade and Hugo Awards Ceremony. Worldcons rarely if ever provide program items for children at night because bedtimes vary and so do attention spans after a day of activities. A desire for programming to be available at those times has nothing to do with engaging child members sufficiently and everything to do with your children being supervised by someone else so you can be free to attend large nighttime events.
Edited Date: 2015-07-27 09:15 pm (UTC)

Date: 2015-07-27 09:29 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
On the other hand, I deliberately had some evening programming for kids at Anticipation. It was only kid-safe movies, and we didn't get a lot of takers, but I figured it was better than nothing. Parents were welcome to bring kids in PJs and carry them away afterwards. At Arisia, I also scheduled evening activities--a movie once, a LARP once, and so on. It doesn't have to be complex, but parents should be able to see some evening programming. I know I was annoyed as a parent when one of us had to stay in the room at night. Having something in the 7-10pm slot was really nice. And many older kids won't go to anything labeled babysitting, even if they're too young to be in the room alone.

Date: 2015-07-27 11:43 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
You too have expressed the motivation that these evening activities are so that "parents should be able to see some evening programming." I'm not saying that cons *shouldn't* provide such activities. I'm sure parents appreciated having a safe supervised place to leave their children. However, I don't think it should be counted *against* a convention for not providing night-time supervised places to drop off your kids. Night-time activities like kid-safe movies where parents can drop off their kids in PJs are not part of programming content/activity for children that will keep them engaged with the genre in the future. They should be called what they are: babysitting.
Edited Date: 2015-07-28 06:14 am (UTC)

Date: 2015-07-29 03:00 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
So, are grown-up movie tracks also babysitting? How about if I show up in my pjs?

The death grip on terminology like "babysitting" as a means of dismissing a subject is, IMO, obstructive to actually discussing functional aspects of what conventions can and/or should strive for.

The issue, to my thinking, isn't whether it's "held against" a convention if they don't have evening hours, but whether conventions that are advertising kid programming and resolutely refusing to provide details are setting up expectations they aren't interested in or capable of meeting. There needs to be better communication from cons to parents, and a larger dialogue in the fan/parent/conrunner community about what the needs of the community, the capabilities of conventions, and support that each can provide the other. I don't know why that should be seen as threatening or unreasonable?

Date: 2015-07-29 09:46 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
As I already noted, you keep combining two separate points: The first point is whether conventions should indicate as early as possible whether they will be providing programming of interest to kids so parents know whether their kids will have a quality experience if they decide to attend the convention, and that they should provide such programming so that kids will remain engaged with the genre and its activities. I have agreed this point is reasonable and laudable and that convention committees should keep in mind.

The second point is whether conventions should be expected to provide activities for kids so that parents can drop them off unsupervised and be free to attend convention events without their children. That is *not* the convention providing programmed activities for children to keep them engaged but rather providing supervised babysitting. It is *not* reasonable to expect the convention to provide supervised babysitting for no charge, or expect people running or participating in a program item to serve as babysitters.

As I already noted, a night-time movie where parents can drop kids off in their PJs so they can sleep if they desire is not an activity that is going to specifically enhance the child's experience with the genre. It is purely a babysitting activity. If a parent on the committee like [ profile] cogitationitis chooses to provide such a passive night-time item as a benefit for parents, that's fine, but it shouldn't be an *expectation* that such babysitting activities be provided because they are not actually program items that enrich or engage children as part of a convention program. They are one parent volunteering to help babysit other parents' children as a group.
Edited Date: 2015-07-29 11:16 pm (UTC)

Date: 2015-07-30 01:46 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
We're just going to have to agree to disagree on your second point, I think. I absolutely do not see evening programming or movie tracks as irrelevant to the convention, and I cannot wrap my head around how you seem to be arbitrarily assigning some sorts of activities to "babysitting" and then declaring that invalid as a result.
Edited Date: 2015-07-30 01:49 pm (UTC)

Date: 2015-07-30 01:54 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I mean, do you consider all movie/anime programming for grown-up attendees equally unacceptable/irrelevant as part of convention programming? Because it's the exact same passive activity, it's only the audience that has changed.

And could you please stop being incredibly condescending?

Date: 2015-07-30 08:21 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
The distinction I am making is between your desire for conventions to provide programming that will engage kids and encourage them to remain involved in fandom and the genre and your desire that conventions provide a place where parents can leave their kids so parents can go to events without their kids, especially at night. Those are *not* the same request or motivation. One is a reasonable request that program staff consider child and teen members when creating their program. The other is a desire for unpaid babysitting.

[ profile] cogitationitis mentioned offering a night-time movie where parents could bring their children in their PJs as an example of a night-time program she volunteered to run so that parents could go to night-time programming. My point is that this activity was not included in the program as an item that would engage or entertain children. It was included by her as a help to parents to provide a supervised place to leave their kids. As for the distinction between that and movie/anime programming for grown-up attendees, those items are not provided as a place specifically intended for them to sleep at night!

As I noted earlier, conventions rarely if ever provide programming at night for kids because bedtimes vary and attention spans are likely to be nil after a day of convention activities. And the reason you would want programming at night for kids is not to continue to engage them in the convention but so you can go off to large program events without them.

I'm sorry if my continued attempts to explain this distinction sound condescending.
Edited Date: 2015-07-30 08:21 pm (UTC)

Date: 2015-07-27 09:25 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Yeah! And you con-goers in wheelchairs? Bring your own damp ramps!

Date: 2015-07-27 02:08 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
When you have your final list of suggestions, there is a resource you should take them to to make them findable by the con-running community in the future.

LJ will throw this comment away as spam if I try linking there, and an earlier attempt to describe where it is was also called spam, so let's see if this works: Search on "ConRunner Wiki" and see if you can find a resource with the first word in its title or domain name.

Date: 2015-07-27 02:20 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Yeah, sorry, I only have access to LJ during the work week because dialup internet at home, so I didn't catch your comment until this morning. But yes! Please do tell me more. :)

Date: 2015-07-27 05:29 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I can email you a link to it.

Date: 2015-07-29 12:08 pm (UTC)
kjn: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kjn
I've been thinking about this a lot since my daughter was born. I've been mostly concerned with Swedish cons, which mostly have been small affairs (100-400 attendees).

The first observation I've made is that number of kids matters. More kids at-con will always be more kid-friendly, since they have a much easier time to activate themselves. I've also found it easy to get in contact with the parents of the other kids, and we can often help each other out with keeping track of each other's kids. For this, all that is really required is some kind of more or less dedicated family-space (at Loncon 3 the green mat in the middle of the fan village was pretty much co-opted as this).

The second observation is that you don't need a dedicated kid's track to have kid-friendly programming. At Archipelacon (which was a great con, but failed at being kid-friendly), my daughter really enjoyed the collaborative creation of a fantasy map, and also joined in with the masquerade together with her mother.

So workshops, cosplay, tutorials, science demonstrations, and so on can easily be made kid-friendly.

BTW, I'm not so much concerned with getting time away from my daughter at the con, as that I need to make sure she has a good time too. Ie, I believe the primary goal should be to make sure the kids can have a good time, not that the parents can spend time away from the kids.

Date: 2015-07-29 03:11 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Smaller cons are very different from the big ones in a lot of ways. I also freely admit that other than Loncon (which I didn't take my younger children to for entirely non-con-related reasons) I don't know much at all about the non-US convention scene. (Hoping to test those waters again in Helsinki in 2017 :) )

I think if a con has a reputation as kid-friendly it draws more kids, and vice versa. And there's a lot to be said about active, engaged parents cooperating.

Just to clarify, it's not (IMO, and perhaps I've stated this poorly or unclearly) about getting away from one's kids so much as wanting, as a grownup, to participate in programming which will either bore the crap out of my children, or which children might be unfairly disruptive to. Cons, esp. the larger ones, cater to a vast number of interests inside fandom; I don't see that diversifying programming to meet the needs of fandom across the media-sf/written-sf/science-geekery spectrum is substantially different at least in principle from diversifying for age groups.

Date: 2015-07-29 04:32 pm (UTC)
kjn: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kjn
Now that I think of it, one way to do cons family-unfriendly is by not considering parents during the programming schedule. At my daughter's first con as a kid (as opposed to a baby/toddler) when she was seven, it mostly worked great because there were another eight-year-old girl there with her kid brother where I knew the parents. It worked great (they played around, we appropriated a table in the lobby as the kid's zone, and we took turns), except the for the one time when all of us parents were busy in programming in the same time.

When the kids couldn't find us, they became worried and thus unruly. Ie, when doing programming, never schedule both parents at the same time unless you are ready to offer some sort of childcare.

(Notes this and other things down for the future-of-sf-cons panel I'm moderating at Swecon next week.)

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