onegeeklogo6Every social group has its own expectations when it comes to parenting, co-parenting and child care. Geekdom is no different. In fact, the ranges of views on these issues within the geek community can often lead to misunderstandings and uncomfortable situations when it comes to the issue of parenting styles.  While there’s no one “right” way to raise kids, when it comes to parenting etiquette, there are definitely some common faux pas made, and (perhaps because of the social flexibility that geekdom often exhibits), they are as common or more common in geek communities than in other environments.

Not All Events are Kid-Friendly

Some geek activities are clearly adult-focused. If the plans are to see an R rated movie (whether in someone’s house or at a theater), the assumption should be that it’s a kidless event. Likewise, activities held in bars or with adult (sex or violence) themes should be assumed to be grown-up only.

In some cases, the event announcement or invitation is not specifically family or adult oriented by default. If, for example, a couple without children invites a couple with children for a movie viewing, they may not be anticipating a family outing. It would be polite for them, in this case, to specify their expectations in the invitation, so as to allow the parents to accept or decline based on their own desires and resources. “I know it can be hard to get a sitter, but John and I would love to have the two of you over to watch the season premiere of Supernatural. If we gave you guys enough notice, do you think you could get away for an evening out with us?” Or, if the children are invited – “We’d love to have you all over for movies. Do the kids like popcorn?”

And some events can even include both. A friend of ours frequently has parties where the invitations let folks know that the gathering is “family friendly” until 9pm, and then turns “grownups only”. If the expectations are made clearly and politely in advance of the event, most of the hard feelings can be avoided.

Ideally, if there’s any ambiguity about the nature of the event, the host should specify in the invitation if they have a preference for family-friendly or adults-only. It’s their call, if they’re hosting the event, and as long as the invitation is handled politely, parents shouldn’t be insulted if they’re invited to an event which is specified as “grownups only, please.”  If the invitation doesn’t specify, and there’s any question in the parent’s mind that the event isn’t family-friendly, they should ask the host ahead of time.

Sometimes, due to misunderstanding or miscommunication, a parent will show up at an event that was intended to be for grown-ups. In this case, they have two polite choices, depending on the nature of the event. Either, excuse themselves (and their children) after letting the host know politely that they misunderstood the nature of the event, or (if the event is not something where the presence of children will disrupt the enjoyment of the rest of the group or be inappropriate for their children) attend the event while keeping a PRIMARY focus on the whereabouts and activities of their children to ensure their presence doesn’t adversely affect the rest of the attendees.

What Makes A Village

There is an adage that “it takes a village to raise a child.” And, while we do believe that children do well in an environment where they are surrounded by safe, sane, loving adults, not every geek community is a village. Unless the members of the community have ALL agreed to be part of a co-parenting arrangement (formally or informally), then it is not only impolite, but downright dangerous to hand over the parenting of a child to a social group. A village is not a village unless it has, to a member, agreed to be one.

This, actually, is a major pet peeve of this Geek. Even at family-friendly events, parents are responsible for their children’s activities, needs and behavior unless they’ve formally been handed off into someone else’s care. Do not show up to any event, no matter how kid-friendly, and abandon your children to the collective care of the gathered group unless you are certain that you have established a mutual social contract with that group to do so. You are responsible for their needs (food and drink, appropriate clothing, sunblock, medicine, sanitary needs, etc.) You are responsible for their safety (lifeguarding near water, supervision on dangerous terrain or during hazardous activities). You are responsible for their behavior (aggressive play, stealing, leaving the area, breaking things, politeness, etc.) Don’t just show up and leave them for the host or other parents to take care of.

It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about a small group of gamers, an SCA branch, a party full of Browncoats or a science fiction convention – no group of people who are not the parent of a child should be forced involuntarily with the parenting responsibilities for that child. The reasons for this are two-fold.

Firstly, parenting responsibilities are just that – the responsibilities of the parent. To assume that someone else will keep an eye out for your child’s safety and well-being without having asked them is presumptuous. To allow a child who is young enough to need supervision in a given situation to wander without that supervision is negligent. To foist your parental responsibilities off on someone else without asking, by not being present to fulfil them, is the height of rudeness.

Secondly, while social communities give the illusion of being of one mind about things, especially at a larger level, that impression is exactly that – an illusion. A convention, for example, is a collection of people who have only one thing in common – they’re all present in the same place at the same time. There is no assurance whatsoever that they all have any other factor – including morality, legality or sanity – in common. And yet, many parents allow their “too young to be responsible for themselves” children to wander unsupervised at conventions (or faires or festivals or events) as if the presence of a geekish community is the equivalent of parental supervision. To suppose that every other geek (or person at a geek-event) is 100% trustworthy with your child is a dangerous assumption to make. Entrusting your child’s care to friends (assuming they’re willing to take on that responsibility) is one thing. Assuming that any given person who happens to be near them at any given time is worthy of that trust is dangerous and irresponsible.

Have questions about how to handle a geeky situation? Need advice on social etiquette relating to games, movies, fan groups, conventions or other geek-ful settings? Write us at <!– document.write( ‘‘ ); // –> <!– document.write( ” ); // –> and your question may get answered in one of our future “One Geek to Another” columns!