Concerts with kids?

Your fave singer is in town but you can't get a babysitter. What to do?

Given that we’re about to dive into winter concert season, Kelly Ann Crane went to the pros and collected some tips on the etiquette of taking kids to concerts.

One thing we’re pretty sure those feisty members of the Spice Girls never did, was take their kids to a live arena concert. Right? Wrong.

Victoria ‘posh spice’ Beckham admits to taking her brood, Mel C and Mel B have both been snapped at stadium events in the US and while the jury is still out on Baby Spice Bunton, Geri – or the now politically-incorrect Ginger Spice – attends “mate’s shows” with her nipper if the papers are to be believed.

A concert, festival or arena spectacular can seem like a terribly stressful-slash-inappropriate place to take a kid, with the big crowds, smoking, beverage-influenced (child-friendly way of saying smashed) idiots and tendency for a number of the more popular musical artists to include profanity, nudity and severed appendages in between song patter.

Admittedly a night at the opera might be asking a little too much – mum’s across the UAE now imagining the fidgeting, tears [read floods] and tantrums [read mother-of-all-meltdowns]. But at an AC/DC concert or grass-based 12-hour music festival and the tykes could be running in circles, blowing raspberries on the necks of the family on the blanket next door and pouring water on the ground — and still be the least annoying people in the crowd.

Take the plunge and decide to take youngsters to their first entertainment event and you’ll experience a mixture of optimism and mild-to-massive anxiety.

Will they be traumatised by the chest-rattling volumes and screaming masses? What if we spend more time changing nappies than teaching them to appreciate live music? At what age can I let my children go it alone?

That said, the UAE is a child-friendly nation and given the amount of musical offerings, it makes sense the next generation of concertgoers are made to feel welcome.

If you’ve got the guts to brave the judgemental stares, the occasional toddler zipping across the audiences’ field of vision isn’t going to land you a jail term.

Amy Wilkinson-Lough, Managing Director at LOUDER Entertainment, the guys who last month brought us Take That’s Gary Barlow, believes live music must be accessible to anyone who feels a connection to it – no matter what age.

“I have been surrounded by music for as long as I can remember and I can’t imagine life without it,” says Wilkinson-Lough. “I’m a firm believer that music and the live events that come with it are a way of life, from your first concert to your first festival, it’s like a right of passage and it’s absolutely something that should be accessible to everyone; children, teenagers and adults alike. Music does not and will never discriminate. It brings people from all kinds of backgrounds, cultures and indeed age categories together.”

British-born Wilkinson-Lough created LOUDER from nothing more than a love of music and as for which shows are appropriate for children, that’s a call for the parents she says. “Much like the movies, some of them are great for the whole family and some just simply aren’t appropriate.”

UAE-based Done Events, the guys behind Justin Bieber in Dubai, is gearing up to host nipper-favourite RedFestDXB this month, and One Direction early next year, an event guaranteed to pull the small people.

COO Thomas Ovesen, 44, says including youngsters is very important for many reasons. “They are our future concert customers so we need to groom their interest for live entertainment but they are also the indirect decision makers in the households and their wellbeing and having a good time rate very high on parents’ agenda.”

From a purely business perspective, targeting a younger audience can also help sales. “At Eric Clapton an adult might buy two tickets where a household with a couple of kids will need three or four.”

Ovesen says kids use, live and consume music as part of their every day life today. “Nothing beats the live entertainment experience. We develop music festivals acknowledging the needs of young fans.

So what are the dangers parents should be aware of? “I would like to think once inside the gates at our events parents needn’t worry about the wellbeing of their children. In our experience it’s what happens on the way home that can be a cause for concern. We have meeting points and at events like the recent Justin Bieber shows or the upcoming One Directions concert special announcements and bulletin boards will advise guests of how to avoid getting lost and what to do in the case of needing to find friends, children or parents again.”

Ovesen estimates two thirds of the audience at Harlem Globetrotters, Imagination Movers, RedFestDXB and Justin Bieber were young guests.

Alchemy Project Entertainment organises popular child-friendly events including the 12-hour Atelier festivals, Nicki Minaj, Chris Brown, as well as Shadowland, Laverita, Cinderella Ballet, The Illusionists and Cirque Du Soleil.

CEO Mac S Far is a firm believer the youth of today must be considered when it comes to entertainment.

“They are the most important audience and create a backbone of interest for the next generation in the entertainment industry,” says 28-year-old Far. “They are passionate and energetic and we must put an emphasis on providing convenient facilities and the right environment for them.”

Far says when it comes to age you have to be realistic. Family entertainment shows sometimes have quiet parts so kids under four should steer clear. For concerts, depending on the artist, I think anything above five is OK with restricted access in family areas.”


Twelve tips

1 When in doubt, call and ask.
If you don’t know the venue then call organisers, friends, colleagues, check forums – people you know will have the answers. Does the presence of kids conflict with a 21-and-up alcohol policy? Will you have quick access to bathrooms or private areas for nappy-changing, feeding and tantrum mitigation?

2 Get crafty
The price they charge for official t-shirts is basically daylight-robbery. It might not work for older kids who care more about getting the real thing, but try getting the kids to make their own fan t-shirts at home to wear to the event. Go for bright colours and you’ll also make it easy to keep track of them at the venue. The compliments will please the youngsters.

3 Bottle service
When you buy water at a concert venue they take the caps for “safety” according to UAE event organisers. That leaves you standing with bottles of water that you have to hang onto or try to sit on the floor without knocking over. In the weeks running up to the concert collect water bottle tops from all brands and store them in a plastic sandwich bag. Now you can close up water bottles and make them last the whole night. The kids will enjoy playing detective to find out which brand of water is being served!

4 Time it right
Little kids need naps and early bedtimes, which often conflict with start times of shows and concerts. Be aware – even for older children – and allow for extra naps if possible. If you know you’re heading for a lively late night then keep the daytime as calm as possible to conserve energy.

5 Adult world education
Don’t view the kids being exposed to a drunken argument (from a distance), adult language or tobacco as a bad thing. Turn things on their head and use the melee as the perfect excuse for a timely, illustrative discussion about why those things are meant for adults. It’s good for children of all ages to understand the importance of being aware of surroundings at public gatherings.

6 Do it yourself
Want your kids to be polite and clean up after themselves at concerts? Or have them willingly wear earmuffs or earplugs? Set a good example and do it first.

7 Stash snacks
You’ll run out of cash thanks to over-priced F&B or get fed up of waiting to buy vouchers in one queue before heading to line number two for the actual good stuff. Find the hidden depths of baby bags and pockets – on the kids if you have to! Have snacks in the car post-concert, if traffic is bad you and your tired, hungry, and probably impatient kids will thank us.

8 Miss the show
As a parent, be prepared to possibly not watch most of the show. Most events are free-standing and you can find yourself spending a good chunk of time manouvering kids around so they can see.

9 Give in!
Forget rules, regulations and restraint for a night, break down and get your kid a glowing, lighty-up, flashing, thinging-ma-jiggy. Just trust us, it’s not worth the fight.

10 Heels no more
Gone are the days of dressing up for events – but you know that already because you have sprogs. Flat shoes, shorts, singlet – the least bother the better. You know you’ll end up carrying at least one of them.

11 Protect delicate ears
There’s no way to really prepare kids for an arena of screaming fans and while it’s exhilarating it can be overwhelming.

“Children have sensitive eardrums and they must be looked after,” said Jinty Lardo, audiology specialist at UAE Health Clinic. “The cumulative effect of over-exposure to loud noises can mean you’ll experience problems earlier in adult life with hearing.”

Noise-cancelling earmuffs (Ace Hardware Dh139) are usually rated for use at shooting ranges. Earplugs are great for older kids who will put them in and not yank them out seconds later.

12 Be realistic
Make sure your kids are the type of kids who will enjoy the madness, stay awake and embrace an event with enthusiasm. We hear it all the time, and it couldn’t be truer for this - they are all different. So what one mum says works may not work for another. Only you know your little ones.


What the expert says

Parent educator at Dubai’s KidsFIRST Medical Center, Therese Sequeira, believes there is no “right age” to take a child to a concert and says it’s a decision only a parent can make. She does however advise children do not attend events alone until their teenage years.

“Parents need to consider the maturity of their teen rather than a specific age,” she says. Before making a decision consider whether your child shown they can be responsible when they have been given independence in other recreational activities – like going to the movies or malls with friends. Ask yourself how they handle the influence of their peer group.”

While caution and planning are important, Sequeira thinks allowing children to attend events can help build trust. However, she also believes a large event is not the best first “test” . “Although teenagers and parents need to trust one another prior to being allowed to attend a large public event it’s worthwhile allowing teens to show they can be independent and safe at shorter, less-risky events at smaller venues prior to going to a big event.”

And if you have to compromise?

“Perhaps parents could accompany the child,” she says. “Stay within eye-shot of the child, without being with them and their group of friends. It can satisfy the parent’s need to ensure safety and give the child the opportunity to show their parents that they can behave responsibly.”

Tips to minimise the risk (from Therese)

• Brainstorm some risk reduction strategies before booking the tickets, and again closer to the date of the event.

• Carrying a mobile phone and checking in with parents can help

• Decide beforehand where they will be picked up or dropped off if going alone

• Agree to visit bathrooms, buy food and drinks in groups

• Discuss strategies for how they will handle unpredictable audience behaviour

• Discuss how they will handle inappropriate behaviour of their friends.

After the event
“A follow-up discussion when both youngster and parent are calm to discuss what worked and what did not work is a good idea. Plan to make changes for next time (if there is to be one). Appropriate consequences (reduction in independence privileges) if the teen has deliberately chosen not to cooperate with the previously agreed strategies. The teenager needs to be given the opportunity to show in the future that they can be responsible, so the consequences need to allow for that.

Organiser tips

• Always make sure you buy tickets from official platforms and never trust ticket re-sales. Most are fake or duplicated and do not allow access.

• Make kids attend concerts in groups for added safety.

• Use technology to track the movement of kids. GPS tracking devices are readily available now.

• Don’t even attempt to use fake ID, we will catch you!

First aid fears

Almost all shows have a mobile first aid centre to deal with injuries so make your kids aware of this. A mobile hospital attended to more than 700 incidents over two nights – everything from blisters to dehydration – at Justin Bieber which was attended by more than 40,000 people.

Who’s coming?

Emirates Airline Dubai Jazz Festival; Christina Perri, James Blunt (more to come). February 25-27, 2015; Dubai Media City Amphitheatre; www.dubaijazzfest.com

RedFestDXB; Iggy Azalea, The Script, Kiesza. February 12 & 13, 2015; Dubai Media City Amphitheatre; www.redfestdxb.com
With a focus on upcoming and chart-friendly artists, this year’s RedFest attracted a younger crowd to hear Jessie J, Rita Ora, John Newman, Naughty Boy and The Lumineers.

One Direction. April 4, 2015; 7he Sevens Stadium, Dubai; www.doneevents.com.
The Pop phenomena that is One Direction is coming to Dubai for their inaugural show. Enough said.

Blended; acts TBA. April 30-May 1, 2015; Dubai Media City Amphitheatre; www.doneevents.com.
This two-day fest attracted music aficionados of all ages to hear the likes of Elvis Costello, Diana Krall, Joss Stone and Aloe Blacc.

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