Teenagers, and the Music Concert Rite of Passage

The only thing tougher than being a parent is being a teenager. You have the full faculties of a functioning adult physically and you feel ready to take on the world. But you’re still too innocent to know you’re not ready yet.

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For generations, and all around the world, a teenager’s first music concert, on their own, without parental supervision, has been a rite of passage. Maybe the kids (or the parents, really) are slowly acclimated to the concert-going experience by first attending the concerts of family-friendly performers with their parents. And then as they get a little older, mom or dad sits a row or two back, or perhaps the cool uncle stands guard from a distance. But eventually, the teenager has to be allowed to go to the concert on their own without any supervision or safety net. That’s what music concerts are there for, after all.

Parents know music concerts are the perfect environment for temptations. They know there will be alcohol and drugs there, and the smell of reefer waffing through the air. There will be older teenagers doing older teenager things in cramped spaces perfect for inappropriate interactions, especially for young girls. That’s why parents worry, and that’s why teenagers want to go, and without mom and dad. And ultimately, mom and dad acquiesce, because they wanted to go to music concerts on their own when they were teenagers too and do things their parents wouldn’t allow, and their parents wouldn’t let them. And they hated them for it.

So parents eventually get broken down by the pleading, or decide on their own that it’s time, and it’s off into the big scary world of music concerts their boys and girls go. It’s a big decision—deciding when a kid is ready to go it alone at a concert—like deciding a child is old enough to stay home alone, or ready to drive a car, or sip a beer for the first time.

Parents allow their teenagers to go to concerts alone, hoping that all the lessons they’ve taught them over the years pay off in smart decisions and a safe experience. Much of the time this positive outcome is the result. Some of the time it isn’t, but the parents never hear about it because it happened at a music concert and the parents weren’t there. Sometimes the parents do hear about a bad decision, and that’s when there is a problem.

Going to a concert for a teenager is all about breaking limits and testing new ones. It’s about the liberation and revolution live music makes you feel. It’s about the swell of energy you get swept up in when hundreds or thousands of like-minded people cheer out at once. It’s about experiencing things you weren’t supposed to a few short years before, if you even should be now. It’s about way more than just music. Music is just the catalyst; the lubricant.

Deciding it’s the appropriate time for your teenager to go to a music concert alone tends to coincide with the time when parents succumb to the idea that they probably don’t want to know exactly what their teenager is up to, not because they don’t care, but because it will break their heart, even though they know it has to happen. Parents still worry though. They worry a lot. They watch the clock, and wait for the text that the teenager is on their way home. Because that’s what parents do. They worry. And that never subsides at any point in the life of a parent, even after the teenager has been to a concert on their own and returned safe. Even when they move away from home. Especially when they move away from home. Because moving away like a teenager going to a concert on their own and only coming back for holidays.

Ultimately, it’s about trust. You trust yourself as a parent to have done the best job you can to allow your kid to make good decisions. You trust your teenager to have their head on straight, at least somewhat, so they don’t do something too incredibly stupid. And you trust the venue and the community to deliver your teenager back safe to you, maybe with boundaries tested and lessons learned, but no worse for the wear. Because someday that teenager will grow older and eventually lose the rebellion that wanted them to go to a concert alone, and they might even realize how cool it is to go to a concert with their parents and share in that musical experience, together.

And when you send your child out to a music concert on their own, you hope the unthinkable doesn’t happen. But the unthinkable can happen anywhere. It just seems especially heinous for it to happen at a music concert. Because that’s not what music concerts are there for. They’re there for getting away from your parents. But they’re also there for coming back to them afterwards.

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