Tips & Tricks #20 “Kids at Burning Man”

 

“Should I bring my kids to Burning Man?”

I would like to propose that if you are asking the question, then the answer is “No.”

You should have an intimate understanding of the Burning Man experience before you decide. And that understanding is impossible without participation.

Here’s the thing: Burning Man is a rare opportunity to stretch your definition of who you are. You can allow yourself to be truly present and tune in to creative aspects of yourself long dormant. Surrounded by so much freedom, you have the ability to truly be yourself.

For this personal growth and transformation to occur, you need to let go of who you are in the default world. You’re a suburban, project manager, soccer coach, mud runner? Great. Give yourself the gift of being none of that at Burning Man. Be a dancing, singing, construction worker masseuse. Let it out!

The opportunities for this degree of personal exploration and expression are so rare…I would strongly suggest not experiencing your first Burn with the 24 hour responsibility and label of “Parent.”
There is simply no way to let go fully, while still being responsible for another person.

It would be like going to a donut, candy and sweets festival, but not giving yourself a break from your diet. You’re gonna miss out on a ton of treats.

If, after you have experienced Black Rock City, you want to gift that experience to your children, that is a valid choice. It is a huge sacrifice, but certainly a valid choice. Many parents do it and have amazing experiences. I know a number of wonderful young adults who grew up as dusty little Burners. In fact, Kidsville is a huge village of family campers who make it work beautifully.

But make no mistake that your experience will be different.
It is like the difference between going to Disneyland by yourself, vs. taking your kids.
If you take your kids, “you” are no longer having a Disneyland experience. You are giving the gift of Disneyland to them. Your choice of rides, food, break times, etc. is dictated by your children. The joy on their sticky little faces is worth it, but it is a huge difference from running around the park with your friends.

And keep in mind that Disneyland has a massive infrastructure geared towards the needs of children and is rarely hit by dust storms. Plus, there is minimal nudity at Disneyland…unless you count the shirtcocking of Winnie The Pooh and Donald Duck.

Regarding sex and nakedness:
I was once in a camp that had a few sexually-themed activities planned. So when a couple in the camp announced they were bringing their kids, I was pissed. I was bothered enough to call a camp meeting. “I don’t want to have to keep my pants on just because you want to bring your kids!” I stormed.
But the couple explained their perspective beautifully:
“We don’t think anything ‘wrong’ happens at Burning Man. Yes, there is sex and drugs and art and weirdness…and it is wonderful. Are there parts of Black Rock City we need to protect our children from? Absolutely! But that is the case in the default world as well. If our kids happen upon something they don’t understand, we’ll explain it to them – just like we would anywhere…because we are their parents. There is far more in the default world that we are worried about than there is at Burning Man.”

I eventually got on board and welcomed the kids. It worked out fine. But I would make sure that the people you are camping with are also cool with having kids around the camp. Even if *you* are okay with your kids seeing adult activities, other people may not want to be seen – and forcing a minor into their experience deserves a conversation. Many wonderful parents leave their kids at home so they can forget their responsibilities for a week. Make sure your decision does not inhibit a fellow camper (or else make alternate, kid-friendly camping plans).

Look, only you know your kids and only you know what they can handle. But I strongly suggest going yourself, initially, so that you can make sure you know yourself, first.

NOTE: I am not a parent, so take all of the above with a grain of dust. Here is the official page on bringing kids. And make sure to check this great Quora thread for advice from Burner Parents. Have you brought your kids? What do YOU think?

About the author: John "Halcyon" Styn

John

Halcyon is a 19-year Burning Man participant and co-founder of Pink Heart camp. He is author of "Love more. Fear less." and producer of the Burning Man short film, "The Pink Path." He's won Webby awards for his over-the-top personal site & his "Love On Demand" video podcast HugNation.com. He hosted the defunct NBC.com web series "Fears. Regrets. Desires." and frequently speaks about Gratitude & Gifting. In 2010, Halcyon co-founded the San Diego based "1st Saturdays" homeless outreach program based on Burning Man Principles and the idea of "Service Without Sacrifice." You can find his digital home at www.JohnStyn.com.

10 Comments on “Tips & Tricks #20 “Kids at Burning Man”

  • roissy says:

    I have always had issues about kids attending Burning Man for various reasons… When my wife was alive, we always found 1 to 4 lost kids every year for about six years…
    I think your well thought out posting explains what happened to the parents of the lost kids we found and is a very good reason why kids should not attend…

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  • Yikes! That’s a lot of lost kids. :/ My camp had some youngins with a 2 parents + 2 grandparents team to watch them. But once they get even a little independent, it would be hard to keep track of them.

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    • roissy says:

      Could be a fair amount of lost kids, granted for three of those years we were camped across from Kidsville and they would wander into our camp looking lost. We would usually find a couple on Burn night, in the chaos of the crowd after the Man falls…
      I believe the last issue of Piss Clear had a Brilliant Article on not bringing kids to BM. I have a few other issues regarding this, but I am not going to turn this into a tirade… And I would add, not all parents of kids fall into this category, but enough do. It seems from my point of view it is about the same percentage of bad dog owners and the event ended up banning dogs…

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  • Nina Woodson says:

    Could not disagree more. Our child is part of the family and part of what we experience, and because we include her and don’t coddle to her, she has become a caring, vibrant being. We enjoy doing things together as a family, just as you might enjoy doing things with groups of friends. She came as a 9-year-old and was totally fine with it: we all had fun. The way you are pigeonholing types in your post seems to me to be antithetic to what BM is about. Surely there are plenty of lost adults who need help every year, just like there are lost kids; we are community, man, and that includes young and old.

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  • Nina – You disagree with my post? or Roissy’s comment? Did you attend your 1st Burn with your kids? How old were they? Thanks for the feedback.

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  • Naqi says:

    Well said Halcyon. I have yet to experience Burning Man – however from stories that fellow burners have shared; it’s definitely an adventure one would need to allow themselves to submerge in to fully grasp the experience, and making it their own. Babysitting will def be an absolute distraction. (Especially as first timers.)

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  • Chowski says:

    Having Babies Ruins Everything. Every. Thing.

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  • Steelhead says:

    Wow Chowski! Did your parents having a child ruin you?

    Thanks for the article, Halcyon. As a seven-time burner – the first being in 2002 – I have been astonished at how the event has changed over the years. That includes things for children to do. I see Nina’s point and have been debating taking my now 5-year old child for at least a couple of years. The event would be completely different for me, but it would also provide an opportunity to talk about some things that we don’t see in the default world in a very frank manner with my son. It would be a way to expand his view of the world without having to travel to another country.

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  • spaceluk says:

    The children are the future.
    If you want the CHANGE to be effective you have to educate the little ones in a different way.
    Education is a parent role and can not be delegated to school, nannies or granparents.
    So, bringhing the kids to BM is a challenge…..
    I will come to the playa with another Italian family and a total of two 5 years old girls…..
    I will be able to give you my personal opinion after these girls will be grown ups and will have a family too.
    I am sowing the seeds for change, and I hope more and more people will do the same…….
    Yes Halcion ir right, you need to experience it yourself first, but 2016 being my sixth time at BRC I feel ready for the challenge :)

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