Taking Kids of Different Ages to Conventions

Heavy props are great for older cosplayers willing to carry them, like this contest-winning Cthulhu, but don’t be surprised if you find a younger kid’s wand or mask thrust in your face as early as the parking lot. Images: Rick Tate (left) and Lisa Tate

My family spent a quality Saturday at Sun City SciFi’s Comic Con and Film Fest 2015, held June 13-14 in El Paso, Texas.

This was a pivotal year for us, as we juggled the interests of a brand-new teenager (our oldest just turned 13) and an eager five-year-old. They are both still very excited about attending comic book and science fiction events, but each of them has different ways of enjoying it.

Since parenting is a never-ending learning process, we are always trying new methods of keeping two kids separated by seven years entertained, while still maintaining enough sanity to safely drive home. After embarking on this last convention outing, I stored up a few personal “Dos and Don’ts” in my head for getting the most out of these outings for different age groups.

20s dalek
This year’s Sun City SciFi was held in a historic downtown hotel, which was a perfect place for photos ops. Image: Rick Tate

Do Look for Fun Photo-Ops. Cons are often set up with one or more expo-style floors, but when you’ve worked really hard on a cosplay, or even if you just want a cute picture of your kid, it is easy for them to get lost in the crazy backdrop of color, people, and booths. Sun City SciFi, like many conventions, offered a free photo backdrop for cosplayers, but there were also some large props set up by different groups and individual vendors.

We’ve taken advantage of a full-size TARDIS, X-Wing models, set mock-ups, and even outdoor fountains as ways to remember our experiences that don’t just resemble a big convention show room floor. Our younger daughter wore her favorite 20s-era Dalek dress, so she wanted a picture in front of the Tiffany dome at the Camino Real Hotel, this year’s convention site. It was a perfect fit, and it made her feel like she was on the red carpet.

Those Attack on Titan plush dolls and TARDIS toys look tempting. Make sure to be responsible and avoid overspending at vendors. Image: Rick Tate

Don’t Promise Anything. Some conventions lure people in with some pretty big temptations… Autograph and photo sessions, panels, workshops, simulators, giant inflatable space ships… You name it. Unfortunately, these lures mean long lines, extra costs, and other factors that time or money may not allow. Let your kids, of both ages, know you are going to try to do and see as many fun things as possible, but sometimes you can’t do everything.

Get to the event early, walk the floor (if you can), look over the event schedule, and let everyone choose one thing within reason that they might want to see or experience. You might not be able to hit everything, but at least decide on priorities.

Do Be Flexible. Yes, it is important to not get hopes too high, but it is also essential to never say “never.” Don’t take your kids to an event filled with wall-to-wall eye candy with the “we’re just going to look around” attitude. You never know when there might be an opening for that drawing workshop one kid is really wants to see, or if the line is surprisingly low at any given moment for signings from another one’s favorite artist or writer. There have been some photo experiences we weren’t planning on, until we found out they were either free or offered for a small donation. Go with an open mind ready for adventure.

Don’t Go Solo. Cons, for us, are family time, but not everyone has a significant other, or at least one willing to spend a day at a comic book convention or fan expo. It’s not easy watching over more than one kid with different intentions, so meet up with another family planning on attending, or drag along that friend or family member who has never been to this type of event. Sometimes it just feels better to have that extra presence for security.

Do Take Some Time Off. Smaller hometown conventions are just the right size for an afternoon outing, but some bigger conventions go from sun up to late night with non-stop events. While older kids may be all over this opportunity, younger ones may not be able to keep up with the pace. Just like any all day vacation destination or day trip, down time is needed.

If cons offer stamps or bracelets allowing same-day return, get out of the craziness for awhile and grab a bite at a quieter sandwich shop. If your cosplay is a little too distracting for restaurants, pick up a simple a la carte item and enjoy a picnic at a nearby park or open space area. If you’re unable to get away, find a quiet corner away from the main expo and allow your kids to stretch out with a book or few moments of shut-eye. My girls can nap anywhere, if given the right conditions. You will be tired at the end of the day regardless, but make sure it’s that “good tired” filled with fun memories and minimal meltdowns.

x-wing nap
A tired con-goer takes a siesta beneath an X-Wing in a quiet lobby area. Kids and teens both need some down-time during all-day conventions. Image: Rick Tate

Don’t Over-Accessorize With Kids. This is something all ages tend to do (I know I have), but it is extra essential with kids. Younger kids always really, really, really need to carry that weapon, wand, or other vital prop for their character… until they hit the expo floor. Suddenly, these little plastic phasers become 400-pound weights that they just can’t carry anymore. This also goes for any masks, hats, wings, or coats. And, guess who gets to carry these items?

Remind your kids if they really want that item, they have to carry it, or come up with something easier to manage. GeekMom Patricia’s sons’ terrific Big Hero 6 cosplay at this year’s Denver Comic Con was a perfect choice for active boys. Very little hassle… big results. I’ve even put together some “Fred-cessories” for my family blog.

These Gravity Falls cosplays are great ideas for kids who want to dress up, but not deal with too many accessories or hassle. Image: Rick Tate

Do Let Go a Little. Our daughter has reached the point in her life where, although she isn’t embarrassed by us–yet–she wants time away from being linked to Mom, Dad, and Little Sister. I admit this makes me a little sad, but I understand it. Teenagers want to pound the pavement with their friends and peers. Let them attend a workshop on their own, or meet up with some other friends for a couple of hours, particularly if you are in a secure area.

Sun City SciFi bills itself as a family-friendly convention, which means there isn’t anything too risqué or over-the-top gory, and no iffy activities I have to worry about my daughter taking part in. This tip is particularly hard for me, as I want both my kids to be safe and within my line of vision, but teens need their space. Set a time to re-connect, give them boundaries of where they can go and with whom, and make sure they have a way to get a hold of you if they need. Then, let them go their own way for a bit.

This tip comes with a big HOWEVER…..

Screen Shot 2015-06-16 at 5.51.41 PM
A few cosplay ideas high school and college-age cosplayers can enjoy without trying to be too suggestive or revealing. Images: Rick Tate

Don’t Let Teens Dress Like They’re 25. I’m writing this one from the perspective of mother with two daughters, but the theory still holds up with boys, I think. Yes, I’ve heard this is the age where it’s okay for women to be “secure in their sexuality” but young teenage girls aren’t women yet… no matter how much they look like them. When it comes to my young teen daughter, I’m a prude! There, I said it. I can’t stand seeing adults ogle teenagers of either gender with that same leer they would give someone their same age.

Fortunately, my daughter tends to go the “hooded ninja rider” route, for now, but there might be a time when I’m going to have to say “no” to extreme midriffs, low-rise tops, or too-short-and-tight skirts. There are plenty of cosplay ideas teens can take on that are definitely not kids’ outfits, but not overly-revealing pin-up attire. Some of the favorites I’ve seen this year include Spider-Gwen, the New 52 Batgirl redesign, and a gender-swap Deadpool. It’s okay to be fun and flirty, but not sexy and seductive when you haven’t even graduated from high school.

Do Be Financially Responsible. Oi! The vendors! They’re everywhere. When you have one Disney-crazed Baymax lover, one Manga-head, and two little Whovians, there are just too many reasons to want to throw money at souvenirs, comics, posters, and other sparkly little items. This is where both my five-year-old and 13-year-old are the same… they find things they would love to purchase. More specifically, they find things they would love me to purchase for them. This is similar to a theme park spree. Once they get inside, everything just looks so inviting.

Often, parents have already spent a good amount on entrance fees, so there needs be a limit on what kids will be allowed to spend on the floor. Give them a dollar amount limit, or limit them to one not-too-expensive item each. We also encourage our kids, especially our teen, to save and bring their own money if they know they’re looking for something special. These shows can get over-the-top expensive fast, but they don’t have to be. Set that limit and stick to it.

Don’t Forget to Be a Kid, Too. I can’t stress this enough, although I suspect I’m preaching to the chorus here, don’t just go to a convention this summer to make your kids happy. These can be really fun events, and perfect opportunities to dress up and be part of it without getting sideways glances from other “grown-ups.”

Everyone is in on the joke here. They’ll get that little “Easter egg” detail on your cosplay, if you want to wear one. Also, some of the used collectible dealers are great ways to start an “I remember when” story about your own childhood with your kids. That’s the whole purpose of these events, after all. They bring out the kid in everyone, no matter what your age.

Lisa Kay Tate is a veteran feature writer with 20 years experience in newspaper, magazine and freelance writing. In addition to serving as Associate Editor for her local arts and entertainment guide, El Paso Scene, she has been a regular contributor to the site ihogeek.com and maintains her own blogsite at lisathegeekmom.wordpress.com. She and her husband, writer/photographer Rick, live on the edge of "New Texico" where they keep busy raising their two geeklings and sharing space with their dog, Sirius Black, and cat, Loki.