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Saturday, July 21, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Families

Should kids be allowed to go to summer concerts without a chaperone?

The Orlando Sentinel

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When is a child old enough to attend a concert alone?

That question likely has been on the minds of hundreds of thousands of parents as the summer concert season approaches.

It's a question parents are being forced to ponder earlier than ever, given the raging popularity of the Britney brigade and boy bands such as the Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync. Their brand of pop appeals mostly to "tweenagers" (ages 9-12), a fan base whose idea of marvelous music a moment ago meant ditties warbled by a purple dinosaur.

Although youth is being served on the concert circuit, child-development experts say the old rules still apply when it comes to chaperoning children.

"You don't send an 8- to 13-year-old child by themselves — period," cautions Gregory Ramey, a child psychologist with Children's Medical Center of Dayton in Ohio. Though your child may feel she's of an age to fly solo, Ramey insists, "kids need supervision — even when they think they don't."

If your child is pressing the issue, a parent's job is "to be a parent — not a friend," he says, adding that for parents wavering on a decision, "it's better to err on the side of being cautious than to make the mistake of putting a young person in a situation they can't handle."

Even so, you don't want to spoil their fun. Parenting, then, hinges on compromise: Mom and Dad need to engineer ways to give tweenagers the freedom they crave from their unhip parents without compromising the monitoring regulation outlined in the parents' rulebook.

Some venues have done the work for parents. For the Backstreet Boys and Ricky Martin concerts two years ago at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City, arena officials offered parents nirvana in the guise of a "parents room." (The Tacoma Dome has such a room.) While Ricky lived la vida loca on stage, parents stayed backstage, enjoying TV, free massages, a tour of the building and light refreshments.

Unfortunately, similar accommodations aren't available at all concert venues, so parents must hatch their own alternatives that soften the sting that comes with having a parent as an escort.

One thing parents can do, Ramey suggests, is create the illusion of solitude through staggered seating.

That is, the parent can buy the child a ticket, say in Row A, while Mom and Dad tough out the concert in Row C. That way, the child is rid of the parental quotient, and Mom and Dad can still keep tabs on their child.

Building on that theme, enterprising parents can make it a group event, Ramey says. Poll neighborhood parents to see whether there is any interest in snapping up all the seats in a particular row, and if so, herd all the parents together in a row at the concert, while the children control their own aisle.

Truth be told, most parents aren't exactly pining to attend these kiddie concerts. Parents can gracefully bow out of their chaperoning chores by sending a stand-in, says Robert Butterworth, a clinical psychologist with International Trauma Associates in Los Angeles.

Beg, bribe or blackmail an older sibling or relative who is closer to your child's age to accompany your child. You can even hire someone you trust to squire your concertgoer, Butterworth says. "Why can't you have a baby-sitter for a concert?"

Not that tweenagers are the only ones who swoon for the Boys and the precocious girls of today's pop. The question of readiness for a solo flight becomes trickier with teenagers. They say they're older, and age, they believe, is the ticket to freedom.

But Butterworth says parents should rely less on age and more on the child's past behavior and maturity level.

Does he do what he says?

Does he do the things he's supposed to do the way people expect?

Does she conduct herself in appropriate ways?

If she says she'll call at 3:30, does she?

"You can say anything you want, it doesn't matter," Ramey says. "By what we do, we all are judged."

Should you come to loggerheads because your teenager doesn't measure up on the maturity meter, cushion the blow with diplomacy.

Ramey suggests you might say: "I know you're old enough to go to the concert by yourself, but I need to go to the concert for myself, because of the things I hear."

If you're in a magnanimous mood, you might even offer to swing tickets for one of your child's pals to join her at the show. What you're trying to do is communicate a message of caring.

If your compromises are met with a pushed-out lip, strap on your bad-cop hat, Ramey says, and hit the child with a dose of reality.

"'You have a choice: You can stay home, or go to the concert.'" Most times, he says, it shouldn't come to that. "If you approach kids in the right way," Ramey says, "most of the time, they will be OK with this."

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