Burning Man Through The Eyes of Kids

Fusion media/AM Tonight takes a look at Kidsville, the village-within-a-city. It seems you’re never too young to enter the Mad Max-style Thunderdome. “Two kids enter, one kid leaves“…get ’em into the Fight Club young, so they can grow up to join the dark army of dirtbags.

Kids at Burning Man, 2004. Image: Waltarrrr/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Kids at Burning Man, 2004. Image: Waltarrrr/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Parents who wish to save money on babysitters and take their kids out of school so they can party with all the freaks, should be aware that there are a number of registered sex offenders attending every year. In 2013 a child kidnapper in Colorado was arrested after breaking into a house and taking an 8-year old girl from her bedroom; police discovered that he had announced his plans to go to Burning Man to kidnap a kid on Facebook. A couple of years back, an Amber Alert was issued when a 15-year old girl ran away and was missing for 24 hours. The entire gate and airport were locked down, no-one could leave until the kid was located. A fun night without the parents for the girl; a hostage situation for everybody else.

Many adult Burners wonder if it really brings that many benefits to the rest of us, to radically include kids and expose them to all the dust, drugs, and debauchery.

13 comments on “Burning Man Through The Eyes of Kids

  1. Yes, Burning Man does sometimes resemble a drunken strip club, but it’s not like an open air brothel or opium den. If you’re looking for public sex or public drug use to cross of your Burner Bingo card, you probably won’t find it. That is, unless you go wandering into the private areas of a Theme Camp. If part of a Theme Camp is dark, quiet, or doesn’t have LOTS of people, it’s probably private, and you should probably turn back. Or, they’ll probably put up warnings; at least in the workshops guide. As for language, there’s no escaping a good “Fuck yer day” over a megaphone. My first Burn was in 2002, and I sometimes wonder if most of the myths of public sex and drugs were spun just to increase douchebags’ desire for tickets- all in the name of “Radical Inclusion”, of course.

    Understanding the BRC map and reading the What/Where/When Guide is important for avoiding awkward Theme Camps and workshops. The Open Playa is heavily policed, as is the Esplanade and occasionally what’s visible from any road. The Nautilus bus, moored at Disorient, occasionally gives kid-friendly playa tours.

    I agree that a lot has to do with the specific parents and kids. One of my biggest problems with how mainstream TV shows like Malcolm in the Middle and The Simpsons depict family trips to Burning Man are that the parents in those shows were Burgins. I didn’t even mind so much that those shows depicted Burners as sometimes being obnoxious- anyone who has been to the desert with too little sleep, too much stimulation, sometimes too little food/water and blahblahblah knows that keeping it together all the time is nearly impossible. I’d also say that people whose child threatened to “run away and join the circus” should probably not be brought to TTITD.

  2. Burning Man is a different experience for kids. The Kids Thunder Done isn’t supported by all parents. I don’t agree with it but if other parents want to partake then fine. I find having to be responsible for my child on the playa makes me more responsible. Therefore I experience a positive Burn and leaving behind the mindless party aspect. I have met some great parental role models in Kidsville. I have learned to be a better parent because of Burning Man. I have also met some wonderful children that have been coming to BRC for years. Yes there are some bad parents and children but that comes with society anywhere. I choose to surround our family with good people and the result is positive.

  3. How do you figure it’s cheaper to take your kids to playa then it is I have a grandparent or family member watch them? Even if you had to pay someone part time it would still cost way less to leave the kids at home.

  4. Kids have been at Burning Man since the beginning at Baker Beach in SF and will always be welcome! For every “R” or “NC-17” thing to see and do at BM, there are 5 “PG” things to see and do. Of all the arguments about kids a BM, it all comes down to this:


    YOU come to BM to party all night, partake in the free booze and drugs, to visit the Orgy Dome and get laid by strangers! I DON’T! I come for the Art and Creativity, the community, and to share with my daughter another way of looking at and being in the world. AND, I couldn’t imagine going to BM without my kid. Just because you burn a certain way doesn’t mean EVERYONE else burns the way you do!

    Oh and to address the OP, A LOT of things can shut down the gate aside from a run away kid… how about a rain storm! Rain storms and dust storms happen far more often then run away kids.

    As for sex offenders… they are everywhere… take a look at your neighborhood:

    I am a five year resident of Kidsville and a 5 year volunteer on the ESD – mental health team. We are the Yellow shirts who respond to Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence and Drug Induced Psychosis situations. I know first had how “terrible” BM can be – but I also know that compared to default world cities, my child is more safe in BRC than in our hometown!

  5. Just checked out the link to your post about this topic from last year. This comment from UVee pretty much sums it up for me, particularly this part:

    With regards to “appropriate,” what exactly are you worried about? Don’t bring your 7 year old to jalepeno fisting or the orgy dome. If you turn down the wrong street at the wrong time, act normal, distract them with something else, and be prepared with a clever, age appropriate response. After about the first 15 minutes, they’re willing to accept “oh honey, it’s just someone’s art” as an excuse for pretty much anything. Is it the open drug use? Public sex? BDSM? People without kids don’t necessarily realize it, but we have to do this ALL THE TIME just driving down the street in the default world. “mommy, what is a spearamint rhino, and why does that billboard say they dance on laps?” “mommy, what does save a horse ride a cowboy mean?” “mommy, why is that ugly lady with the big hands rubbing her face on that man’s pants?” I’ve had to explain away homeless people smoking crack on the sidewalk, hookers turning tricks behind the dumpster at CVS, and numerous BDSM references from top 40 radio played in stores. At least at Burning Man, it’s less scary looking and there are reasonably believable (if not entirely true) things you can say to mitigate the potential for damage. When he was 9 or 10 we had to have a very serious discussion about hardcore gangbang pornography because some asshole parent gave one of the kids at my son’s school a smart phone and actually activated the data plan (IF YOU HAVE KIDS, DO NOT FUCKING DO THIS. PLEASE. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD.) Irresponsible drunks? Dude, have you ever been to a backyard quincenera? One time a bunch of borrachos from next door stole roosters from the brujah two doors down and the guy down the street who sells eggs door to door and had a cockfight LITERALLY 3 feet away from my son’s bedroom window. Initially the crowing and hollering of expletives woke him up, but he eventually went back to sleep. My husband and I slept through the whole thing and in the morning we had to deal with a dead chicken and a very, very angry blood covered chicken that made it really, really difficult to leave the house. (He was pretty sure he could take us, having already slaughtered his enemy a few hours before.) It’s fourth of July season in our neighborhood now, and the roman candle fights in the street have already begun. Shit that happens on the playa happens in the real world too. We can’t control everything terrible that our kids see in the real world OR on the playa, but we’ve got some pretty decent strategies for dealing with it.

  6. I haven’t brought my kids only because my wife and I have used Burning Man as our week away from the kids. But I have not qualms with kids there, nor would I hesitate to bring my own if we decided to. When we moved into our house a few years back, we did a search for registered sex offenders in the area. Surprise! Even in our tony upper middle-class neighborhood, we found multiple within a mile radius of our house. I highly doubt BRC has a higher percentage than in the default world.

    As for kids ruining the burn for adults, I take offense at that. Kids are people, BRC is a city, not just a party, and kids have been coming since the very first burn. It’s been my experience that the parents who do bring their kids keep them out of the areas where adult shenanigans are happening. I don’t think simple nudity is offensive to kids. We brought ours to the SF Decompression for a few years, plenty of naked folks there, we told our kids ahead of time that there would be some naked people there, and they didn’t bat an eye.

    Anyway, I love the idea that BRC accommodates all ages.

    • A common argument I see on this topic is “I’m a good parent, therefore all other parents also must be”. A non-sequitur.

      Burning Man is far more of an “adult event” than a nightclub or Coachella. In fact, if you made a list of all the major festivals in the world, I’d venture to say it’s the most appropriate to be “adults only”.

      Aside from the safety of horny teenagers looking to rebel, and younger children sipping from others’ cups and eating laced cookies and other MOOP, if the event was adults-only, there would be no underage stings by the LEOs, and no need for everyone to check IDs when gifting booze. Why inconvenience 69,000 people, for the questionable needs of a few hundred?

      • That’s what it get down to, inconvenience. Talk about whether Burning Man is appropriate and/or safe for kids is just a cover. And, as a parent, that’s where I fundamentally disagree with you. Kids are not an inconvenience. They’re people. For me, BRC is a city (not just a party), with all the complexity that entails. Convenience doesn’t come into play on the playa. I mean, how freakin’ inconvenient is it that the event happens in the middle of a desert with no infrastructure? And that includes having to deal with young people. I honestly don’t see how kids at BM would curtail any shenanigans you’d want to get up to. You can’t have sex in common areas, and not because of kids. If you’re in the middle of a racy performance, it’s unlikely a parent/guardian with kids in tow will hang around. You can be naked all you want, the people who bring their kids don’t have a problem with that. Is safety was truly a concern, those opposed to kids on the playa should volunteer at CPS in their hometowns, where FAR more harm comes to kids per capita then on the playa.

        As for booze, we’d have to make it 21 and over to get rid of having to ID at bars.

          • I’m sure a lot of people would agree with you there, but not enough to change the policy. Thankfully, in my opinion. Anyhoo, good topic.

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