shadesong's post about the greying of fandom and what we can do to welcome the younger members came up on my friends page this afternoon and made me think a bit.
The number one thought was, "There's a problem?"
The number two thought was "Hmm, I wonder what the fish have to say about what sorts of thing it would get to make a con accessible and fun for them."
The number three thought was "Well, the new crop of YA fantasy authors like Cassandra Clare and Sarah Rees Brennan have gathered their young fans about like so many chicks, and have been brooding protectively over them (Cassie), or wandering off to peck at something fascinating and having the whole flock follow (Sarah), and we the fans have been doing a pretty good job of organizing stuff, see the mailmalade_fish postcard club, and the meetups around the signings and stuff, and I'm sure that someone will propose meetups independent of a signing pretty soon, and we may begin organizing with fan crowds from other authors and figure out what else we have in common for reading; there's hodges_study where we exchange reading lists after all..."
And there were further, disorganized thoughts, about how things could be made safe and comfortable for younger fish (the core audience, after all). I go on for a bit, because I've been thinking about this all day.
What do we mean, 'kids'?
I'm not talking about kids who are too young to be left out of sight of a parent. I'm talking about kids of an age where parents are fine letting them off the leash for a few hours to go to the bookstore or the park and hang out with friends. Kids who can call and check in and then get back to what they were doing. (In my day, we had schedules and payphones, and maybe if you were attached to the apron strings, a pager; pagers were objects of dual envy and scorn: envy that you could receive messages wherever you were; scorn that you jumped at the beep and daren't let it get out of earshot or fail to check in wherever you happened to be. No cellphones for us.) Kids who know how to behave themselves. Kids who would possibly take exception to me lumping them in with the kind of kids who do need an adult riding herd on them.
Grups & 'danes
You'd have to have the kind of con environment where a parent could walk in and feel safe about their kid being there. Not just a fannish parent, but the kind of generally mundane parent who has heard about this "fandom" thing through news stories about Harry Potter and Twilight and Star Trek and maybe a piece on the 501st. As fun as "freak the mundanes" can be when a mundane walks all unsuspecting into the thick of a con, that mundane may be the parent of some young would-be fan. (Am I saying "think of the childrens and tone it down in OUR space"? No. Just be aware; I'll leave it to Security and the con-com to figure out whether any particular instance of the bizarre and wonderful spectrum of fandom is within or without that particular con's rulebook.)
If you happen to know that there are nonfannish parents (and also friends, spice, kids, siblings) being dragged along to a con, particularly if it's that fan's first con, why not welcome them? Let's make that even more explicit: why not orient them. It's not enough to have a for-new-fans-by-fans ad hoc orientation. A "is this your first con" question as part of registration can identify people who may need assistance rather than leaving them to sink or swim. "Is this your first time at this con?" "Will you be bringing any non-fannish guests?" Orientation pages on the website. seanan_mcguire has some fantastic guides to surviving conventions (that's for the '09 Comic Con). But most of the material out there about convention life that I remember seeing assumes either that you're already fannish, or it's written by outsiders. (And when an outsider tackles fandom, fandom is lucky to get off described as "mostly harmless".)
Unless the kid in question is there with parents, they are probably not going to be staying the night. Even if they are there with parents, unless the parents are fannish too, they are probably not going to be staying at the con hotel, not unless their parents have business there or it happens to coincide with a family vacation. This means that any younger attendees without fannish parents are probably going to be local, and not coming in from other places. This also means that programming aimed at younger attendees should be daytime, possibly even wrapping up by 5 or 6 pm so they can get home. Even fully supervised kids aren't likely to be able to stay late, as their parents will likely want to get home in a generally timely manner. Take a look at the local transit schedules and work with them.
How much for just a con badge?
Then you've got the typical teen budget. I am sufficiently out of touch with the current teen scene that I have no idea what this actually is for the ages that a con will want to have attend. The con will also be competing for budget with books, movies, and music, and the like. If they're going to have to purchase membership out of their own pocket, the price had better be accessible to them, and it had also better be more fun than books of the equivalent price.
You may also have the issue of teens coming to participate fully in the convention activities and have their non-participating parent tagging along. The usual pricing model for parent/child at cons seems to assume that the parent is the con participant, and tag on a child membership at a discount with the parent membership. Whoever it is who sets up pricing for the con should probably sit down and think about how a kid/teen with a non-participant but present parent should be treated as far as memberships go. I'd personally consider it bad practice to discourage a parent from tagging along after a kid into a mixed-ages forum. (Keeping parents out of the mix in a teens-only event is far less icky-making.) On the one hand, if the parent is resolutely non-fannish, charging them full adult fan day membership price is kind of silly. On the other hand, they will be present in the building and taking up a seat, especially if space is at a premium.
Then your programming. Face facts: it is the rare child who will these days be raised without TV and solely on books (and also develop a taste for classic science fiction), or even mostly on books and get hooked on the good stuff whether they have a TV or not, who hasn't already got fannish parents who are serving as their advocates in the larger, greying fannish population.
Young fen, if they are old-school, may have their first fandom as Harry Potter. As Scott Westerfeld. As, ghod help us, Twilight. They are going to like these things and want to discuss them positively and fannishly. They are going to want space to do this, even if there isn't any programming for it. If they get the sense that they will be mocked, ostracized, or even benignly "re-educated" if they like the things they've been exposed to, then they will not come. Digimon. Pokémon. Transformers. Anime. If you want to include young fen but deny them their fannish experience with the things they know and love, I am sorry, my darlings, but you have missed the point of fandom. Please go to the back of the line.
They are going to want to see their favorite authors. They are going to want to see people their own age or maybe a little older do panels on the characters and burning questions that excite them. A panel on Jace and Clary from the Mortal Instruments trilogy and what might have happened if they hadn't found out the truth, and whether they should have chilled the hell out or eloped? Bring it on. Edward Cullen vs. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and who would win? Oh yes. (Buffy would, for the record. She totally would.)
The past through tomorrow
They may appreciate an introduction to the cream of the past century in science fiction. There's a lot of glorious stuff in there, and I loved reading Asimov, Bradley, Heinlein, Dick, Vinge, McCaffrey (among others). Some of it was a little old for me when I stumbled into it for the first time, but I soaked up anything with that glorious rocket on the spine. I was desperate for books. But there are so many good new Young Adult fantasy and science fiction books coming out that someone of a reading speed of a book every two weeks might be able to keep sated with new releases and an understanding bookstore clerk. Young fen don't have to depend on the old guard to be the gatekeepers of good taste. (Scary, isn't it.)
Young fen are interested in building their own traditions in their own forums, and will bring the cheerful banners of their fandom along with them. Lasagna. Baklava. Fever fruit goggles. The broccoli test. Growing Up Cullen. They may not get fannish traditions that sprang up forty years ago in a 'zine and have been carefully nurtured and cherished (though they may embrace them once they hear about them). They probably will not care about a feud thirty years in the making, nor should they. They're too busy building their new world and moving in.
This week is azkatraz (parent or chaperone required under 18), and also azkatrazathome (no age limit other than LJ's) for those who can't make it. vividcon (18+ only, primarily young and female membership) is coming up. Little marmalade_fish (no age limit) meetups happen on every stop on the signing tour. cassandraclare's publisher is throwing a massive party (no age limit). That's just the stuff I happen to know about, and I haven't been really paying attention. Parties break out at movie openings with no registration needed other than a movie ticket. There is no shortage of events that a young fan could conceivably be interested in attending.
Check the con environment of a con that's worried about greying. Does it treat the fannish areas of youth with hostility? Does it treat youth themselves with hostility? Is it accessible to the youth budget? Is it going to drive off non-fannish guardians of fannish youth? Is someone not already in the established fan network even going to hear of it? Food for thought.
There may be cross-chatter: LJ DW