When my niece requested to dress up as “Rock Poppy” one Halloween and I witnessed her shredding on her pink and black toy guitar, I knew that one day that she’d be my new concert buddy. But why wait? Why not encourage her interest in music now and establish some core memories or even spark a passion in her that could shape her future? OK, that’s ambitious, but that’s when I began considering best practices for taking a kid out to their first, “real” live concert. This guide is by no means comprehensive but a starting point for facilitating an enjoyable and safe concert experience for your family.
Is This Concert Appropriate for My Kid?
Every concert is different, so determining suitability comes down to your child’s age, temperament, the artist, venue and other factors. Always double check the venue’s age policy and, if available, a recommended age range for the show itself. Many venues are 18+ or 21+ but allow minors with parental supervision.
Live concerts don’t have a parental guidance rating system, as films do. (The Parental Advisory Label applies only to recordings and isn’t mandatory.) Use your best judgment to determine whether the content is likely to be appropriate for your child. On-stage antics are often off the cuff, but do some research beforehand as to whether an artist is known for obscenities or scenes that could frighten or confuse your child.
Consider time of day, too. Any regular concertgoer will tell you that the later into the evening, the more adult behavior (drinking, smoking, rowdiness) you may witness.
Also ask yourself whether your child is likely to stay engaged for the length of the show. Will they squirm or bore quickly? Does the timing conflict with naptime or bedtime? You can always skip the opening act or bow out early before the calls for an encore.
Choose Your Seats Wisely
Crowd density is a concern at any large event, as recent tragedies have reminded us, so when you’re selecting tickets, avoid “standing room only” or “festival seating” in large open areas, especially those near the stage at high-energy concerts. Crowd surge, though, or a mosh pit, could happen anywhere.
Even if all goes well, unless you hoist them onto your shoulders, your kid may have trouble seeing the stage. That’s why, if available, I usually prefer the lawn grass seats in the far back where your kids can move and dance around and have better airflow. (Another plus: Lawn tickets are often less expensive.)
Most venues no longer require masks or proof of vaccination, but if you’re concerned about the risk of COVID-19 exposure, consider seats in sections that you can see are sparsely populated with already-reserved seats. Look for seats on the aisles for easy exits to the restroom, or a quick getaway should the need arise.
Hearing Protection is a Must
Live music gets loud—really loud—so my top concern was how to protect my niece’s hearing. For more expertise on this topic, I reached out to Dr. Colleen Le Prell, department chair of Speech, Language and Hearing at UT Dallas and the Emilie and Phil Schepps Professor of Hearing Science.
“Noise damage is permanent,” Le Prell warns. “I would advocate that [children and] adults absolutely consider wearing earmuffs or earplugs in loud environments.” She explains that children’s ears canals are physiologically smaller than adults’, reaching full size around 7. “Before age 7, concerns are perhaps the greatest based on the still-growing ear canal [because of] the greater amplification of sound in the pediatric ear canal but older children, teens, and adults are all at risk for noise injury.”
Traditional foam earplugs, or occupational earplugs, can be effective at protecting your hearing, but those are designed to block as much noise as possible. Le Prell recommends a musician’s earplug, or a uniform attenuation earplug. “They’re really designed to provide a much flatter attenuation profile using these custom filters that provide a better listening experience.”
For babies, she advises not to attempt foam earplugs, as they are a choking hazard; she recommends earmuffs that go over the ears. “An earmuff with a higher NRR [noise reduction rating] can give you greater sound reduction, but it comes down to what is going to be acceptable for the wearer,” Le Prell says. They’ll only work if they stay on, so be sure to check the fit of the earmuffs and test them out at home first.
Earmuffs are bulkier, but they’re worth it for babies or toddlers who cannot (or will not) wear earplugs. Le Prell says that most concerts ring in between 95 and 110 decibels, depending on your location within in the venue and proximity to the speakers, and whether the concert in held indoors or outdoors where the sound can escape.
Guard Against the Sun at Outdoor Concerts
When concerts take place outdoors and during daytime hours, do not hesitate to go full force with the water-sunscreen-hat defense, especially while we’re sweating through the last few months of summer.
Pediatrician Dr. Anjuli Gans (you can find her on Instagram @resilientrascals) reminds her followers that kids don’t sweat as much as adults and are more sensitive to changes in heat. And it doesn’t take long to overheat if you’re seated out on the lawn with no pavilion or umbrella (an oft-restricted item) to bear the brunt of the sun’s rays. Gans says that a sunburn can occur within 15 minutes of sun exposure, but symptoms may not develop for another 6–24 hours. So pack, apply and reapply sunscreen. It’s not just for pool days.
If you notice a mild burn, Gans recommends moving out of the sun ASAP and using aloe gel, like Thinkbaby’s Aloe Vera After Sun, to treat pain and aid in healing. (I also love the Thinkbaby sunscreen stick for easy application. Tip: Look for their non-toxic, cruelty-free products in the baby section, not the sunscreen section).
Seek medical help immediately if your child exhibits severe symptoms, such as blistering, facial swelling, nausea, fever, dizziness or signs of dehydration. Gans says that infants and toddlers need almost 25–50% more hydration when out in the heat, so don’t wait to fill up those water bottles as soon as you enter the venue.