What To Know About Taking Your Kids to Their First “Real” Concert
Everyone remembers their first concert. Their first real concert, that is. Not one put on by the Wiggles or Yo Gabba Gabba or anyone else that sang about going potty. No, I mean the first concert that took place in an arena filled with thousands of people screaming their heads off while a sweaty top 40 artist ran around a lit-up stage, belting out hit after hit until taking his final triumphant bow.
No matter who it is you happen to see that first time, like my husband going to Huey Lewis and The News, it can be a watershed moment for a young person. And for that reason, I decided to celebrate my son Sam starting middle school by surprising him with a show. Before this summer, he’d never seen a famous singer perform live—unlike most of his sixth-grade girl classmates who’ve already gone to see the likes of Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber and One Direction. Those particular acts all put on safe, PG-13 shows tailor-made for the preteen set and while a lot of boys also enjoy them, mine definitely doesn’t. In fact, Sam would rather eat an entire bowl of raw broccoli than listen to Justin Bieber sing a love song.
That’s why, when I saw that Bruno Mars would be in town, I immediately bought tickets. Not only is Sam a big fan, but I didn’t think it’d be too adult in nature. (Well, compared to a lot of other singers.) The show was last week, and while it was definitely a lot of fun, there were still a few things I wish I’d known ahead of time.
So here’s my guide to taking your kid to his first concert:
What Is the Right Age For a “Real” Concert?
There are obviously a lot of variables that go into this, but in my opinion, 11 or 12 years-old is ideal. Not only are the children probably fans of the artist and know his or her songs by this age, but they’re able to sit still during the boring wait times and they won’t get too exhausted when the hour gets late. Also, keep in mind that concerts are in very crowded venues, which means a lot of walking and a lot of being responsible for staying by your side.
Dumb Question, But Is a Concert Expensive?
Anyone who’s gone to a concert in the past 20 years knows that the answer to this is a definitive “Hell, yes.” The tickets I bought were $47 for just okay seats, but after fees they were $60 each. Add in parking costs and food and drinks, and it’s not a cheap night. But all in all, a concert is still probably less than you’d pay for a few hours at Build-A-Bear. (And Build-A-Bear doesn’t have cute back-up dancers and smoke machines.)
What About The Noise? Does My Child Need Ear Protection?
Concerts are really, really loud. I forgot exactly how loud until I found myself yelling at the top of my lungs to Sam and he still couldn’t hear me. It was at that point I wished I’d brought either noise canceling headphones or squishy earplugs to block the noise for him a little because kids’ ears are a lot more sensitive than adult ears. Of course, yours may refuse to wear anything on or in his ears, but I highly suggest having something with you just in case.
Everyone at a Concert Is Crazy and Drunk. Do I Really Want My Kid Around That?
I don’t know what you’re talking about because I’ve certainly never been drunk at a concert. (Well, okay, so there are large parts of a 1990 ZZ Top show that I don’t quite remember.) But yes, that’s certainly a risk you take. However, it somewhat depends on the type of concert. For example, we were lucky at Bruno Mars because everyone around us was too busy eating nachos and popcorn to drink any alcohol (plus there were a lot of kids), but when my friend Linda took her son to AC/DC, she had to move into higher, less populated seats to get away from the raucous, beer drinking crowd. My advice? Expect some bad behavior and have a Plan B in mind like moving or finding a security person if someone’s really bothering you.
What About All of the (ahem) Funny-Smelling Smoke? Is it Harmful?
We didn’t experience this at our concert, but friends of mine have told me about their kids saying they “smelled skunk” in the air. The good news is that it’s actually not very easy to get a contact high from second hand pot smoke, so your child is probably safe. The bad news is you’ll have to make the call to either tell your kid the truth about the source of the smell right then and there, leading to a much longer discussion later, or just wait until another time. However, tweens might figure it out and wonder why people are doing something so obviously illegal in public without anyone stopping them. Tough question, so be prepared with an answer that feels right to you. Maybe something like, “Sometimes adults do dumb, risky things and they could be arrested.”
That All Sounds Doable, But What Else Should I Be Concerned About?
That’s easy—the bane of every mother of boys’ existence: the bathrooms. It’s never relaxing to send your son into a huge men’s room alone, much less at a concert full of possibly wild, inebriated adults. And it can be a pain in the butt to leave the dark arena during the show if the restroom is far away. My advice? Make sure your kid goes to the restroom before the show starts and keep drinks to a minimum.
A few other things:
The Opening Act: Unless it’s an act you like or might like, you may want to skip this part of the show because it adds at least 90 minutes onto your night. Ellie Goulding was the opener for Bruno Mars and she was good, but by the time she was done and the stage was reset for Bruno, Sam was getting a little tired of sitting in the same spot.
The Merch Table: Kids will inevitably be drawn to the table of $30 t-shirts and CDs, but I managed to avoid shelling out even more cash by teaching Sam the “never wear the band t-shirt to the band’s concert” rule that I first heard in the 80’s. Luckily, he fell for it.
The Unauthorized Ticket Sellers (aka Scalpers): We were barraged with the “freelance box office salesmen” on our way into the arena and Sam was immediately intrigued about why they were doing something illegal and why the cop directing traffic wasn’t stopping them. Again, tough question that can maybe be answered with something like, “Sometimes adults do dumb, risky things and they could be arrested.”
The Bad Language: Not only did Bruno let a couple of f-bombs fly, but there was plenty of that heard from the crowd around us. All to be expected at a concert for grown-ups, so be prepared.
The Standing Up: I’d prepared Sam for the fact that most people stand-up and dance at concerts, so he shouldn’t complain if he wasn’t able to see the stage at some points. Surprisingly, nobody in our section did because—they were too busy using their smart phones.
The Encore and Why You Should Miss It: Those of us who’ve been to shows know there’s the end of the show, then there’s the real end of the show when the artist comes back for an encore and sings one or two more songs. However, I wanted to beat the crushing crowd, so we left before the encore when Sam had heard the songs he wanted to hear. It made it a lot easier to get my tired kid out of the building and into the parking lot.
All in all, it was a really fun night and I know Sam will remember it for the rest of his life. Just like I remember my first concert—.38 Special and Eddie Money. Aw, yeah.
If you’ve been to a concert with your kid, what are your tips?