Spring, Teens, and the Trouble with Music Festivals

music festival

Spring is here…and parents beware. There’s trouble lurking when kids get too old for the Easter Bunny.

When you have older teenagers, warmer weather means the annual spring music festivals are coming. And there’s not much that’s innocent about these merry music events.

Music festivals have not changed much since Woodstock, the famous “3 Days of Peace & Music” wingding from 1969. Although it’s not the 1960s any more, the basic dynamic at many music festivals is the same:

Endless music. Lots of teenagers. Very few adults.

A combination designed to terrify most parents of teens today.

Here are some popular upcoming spring music events around the country, in case they aren’t on your radar:

Coachella in Indio, California from April 10th to 19th. Over 600,000 people are expected to attend Coachella outdoor music events this year.

Joshua Tree Spring Music Festival May 14th to 17th. In the shadow of the famous California national park, this bash is billed as “non-corporate” and “family friendly.”

SweetLife at Merriweather Post Pavilion outside of Baltimore, Maryland, from May 30th to 31st. A two-day festival featuring over 22 hours of music and more than 25 artists, which draws nearly 20,000 high schoolers.

Holi Festival of Colors in Brooklyn, this outdoor night of revelry and throwing of colored powder attracts roughly 18,000 people every May.

More famous national events like Lollapalooza later in the summer.

Like most parents, I know nothing more about music festivals than what is listed on their wholesome-looking websites. So in preparation this spring, I went to the experts for the download. Specifically, my kids, ages 16 and 18, who together have been to several of the festivals. In fact, I just bought my daughter her SweetLife ticket for the second year in a row.

My son gave me a valuable, unvarnished view.

“No one is going to these festivals for the music, Mom. They are going to get drunk, have fun, and hook up with other teens. It’s not all bad. It’s fun and crazy. Most kids drink beforehand. It’s part of the culture of the events and who goes to them. There is a very distinct culture and experience at these festivals. Kids know exactly what to expect and why they want to go.”

Not exactly the reassurance we parents want to hear about an event attended by thousands of teenagers and only a handful of adults.

How do parents handle this?

First, big picture, this parenting issue is all about finding your personal balance between control and freedom. Older kids do need a bit more rope. But not a blind parental eye.

So, before giving the okay to attend, talk to your high school kids candidly. Ask them if they think there will be alcohol and drugs at these festivals. Lay out a few hypothetical scenarios: What if you got sick? Lost your phone? Ran out of money? This should get them thinking about how to handle possible problems, with a call to you as one of the solutions.

Resist being naive. Kids will say the focus is on great music in one central location. The websites make it clear no alcohol or drugs are allowed. Joshua Tree describes itself as a “family friendly global music experience” as if to counter historic images of drug-addled hippies in the desert. In practical terms, what this largely means is that teens drink and use drugs before the events, or sneak them in surreptitiously. EMT stations are planted prominently at almost every one of these festivals, and not for a kid who comes down with an allergic reaction to cotton candy, but for pumping their stomachs after they’ve binged on too much alcohol.

If you’re still nervous, insist on specific commitments from your child in exchange for permission to attend. These events usually cost over $100, so use your bargaining power. Insist on driving and picking them up. Stay in the parking lot during the event or go to the festival with them. Your kid may hate you, but you’ll feel better (and they will know you care).

However, don’t go overboard with restrictions. This will unintentionally communicate to your child that you don’t trust them, and don’t believe they can handle life’s freedoms. Attending these festivals can be an opportunity for candid discussions with your kids about difficult topics, and demonstrate that you trust their judgment in ways that are age-appropriate.

I asked my kids, after their candid assessments of the chemicals and chaos prevalent at many of these spring music revels, whether parents who know the risks should still allow kids to go. Both my son and daughter were appalled at the thought of parents forbidding the potential excess.

“Of course kids should go!” My 16 and 18 year old said in unison. They argued that there comes a time when parents need to give teenagers freedom. You know, let them make their own mistakes and learn from them.

“Obviously if you leave teenagers unsupervised,” my son explained. “We are going to do stupid things. But even if you supervise us, we will still find ways to do stupid things. You have to trust your kids some day. If you can’t let us go to a weekend music festival, how are you ever going to let us go to college?”



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