Parenting

Making Skepticism Family-Friendly

Recently, on the Sexism and Skepticism on SGU Recap, commenter DNAMom brought up an interesting point:

Since we are talking about groups that are underrepresented in the skeptic community, I’d like to bring mention a group that I don’t think has gotten a mention yet . […] That group is people with kids. Let’s face it TAM is not family friendly. I understand that this may be because the majority of skeptics choose not to have children. But there are many of us that would like to be able to raise our kids as skeptics and have the support more support from skeptic community. After all, we will need to replenish the skeptic population at some point.

Since I have a kid of my own, I understand what she’s saying here. In my own local skeptic group, I and other parents sometimes struggle with organizing events around the little ones, and I’ve tried to create more opportunities for us to participate in skeptic outings as families – science museums, zoos, etc. But it’s not always easy, and when it comes to conferences such as TAM, it sometimes becomes impossible.

But, in addition to that, I have to say that while I enjoy taking a break from the daughter for a night at Drinking Skeptically or a similar event, I also have a ton of fun watching and helping kids discover their natural curiosity and learn the skills of experimentation that I think is the heart of skepticism. Not only does it seem a good idea to think more about how to accommodate parents’ needs in the skeptic community, I also think that it’s worth considering how children can be an important part of the community as well. With the success of organizations like Camp Quest and Camp Inquiry, it appears freethought and skeptic parents are interested in raising their children to be critically-thinking adults – in short, the next generation of skeptics like you and me.

So here’s the question – what can we do to make skepticism more family-friendly? What suggestions would we have for conference organizers, such as the JREF, when it comes to reaching out to parents and their children? Or, do you think things are fine as they are?

Jen

Jen is a writer and web designer/developer in Columbus, Ohio. She spends too much time on Twitter at @antiheroine.

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102 Comments

  1. Perhaps conferences could include segments, or presentations (interactive would be great) like the Junior Skeptic section of Skeptic magazine.

    It is a fun, entertaining, and informative section of the magazine, even for adults.

  2. First, I disagree with DNAMom’s remark “I understand that this may be because the majority of skeptics choose not to have children.” That’s probably a result of confirmation bias – she knows a lot of skeptics without children. Most of the ones *I* know over the age of 30, and straight, have children, just not hoards of children. Long conversations with my skeptical friends in the younger (under 30 groups) reveals a lot of them would like to have a family someday, if they meet someone suitable.

    My own two children are grown and did not get exposed to any ‘skeptical events’ because there weren’t any. But they are suitably skeptical and involved in critical thinking. They got that at home, and from being in as many science classes as they could take in school. You can teach them these skills without making a big deal about it, just by how they see you react to the world around you, how you talk to them, how you ‘indocrinate’ them as they grow up. (I didn’t want my boys to be caught in the football culture permeating my home state, so I told them football players couldn’t read and write…hey, it’s better than telling them certain religious myths and my lie had the benefit of being at least occasionally true :p )

    I personally enjoy the adult interactions at TAM and other events I currently attend, and enjoy the older teens I meet there. I don’t want to see a lot of children. However, I think the suggestions to help develop skeptical camps and conferences for young adults and children is a good idea. That’s how other organizations get to their children early. :D

  3. I think it would be a wonderful addition to conferences to include programming for children and families. Workshops could include sessions just for kids, workshops for parents and kids together, and workshops just for adults on how to be a skeptical parent.

    As a Rational Mom, who is also a counselor at Camp Inquiry, I’d be interested in helping create some programs for kids on critical thinking skills or gee-whiz science. I’m sure others, including the skeptical dads over at Science-Based Parenting would be happy to help as well! My family is planning to attend TAM8 (our first!) and it would be super to be able to bring the kids and know they’d have some programming geared toward them!

    That being said I am also looking forward to attending Dragon*Con sans kids, and taking time to enjoy a weekend away with my husband, to meet other skeptics and do grown-up stuff! Having time away from the kids occasionally can make you a better parent. But while there, I do plan to attend the Skeptic Parents’ Night Out, where maybe we might talk about parenting. Or we might just have a good time! ;)

  4. Participation: One thing I would suggest is to get TAM out of Vegas. I understand the reason for it being there, but it’s not exactly a kid-friendly place. TAM is *the* skeptical conference (so far) but I wouldn’t want to go to Vegas and stay at a casino with kids in tow. Also these events are expensive – maybe too expensive for people with dependents.

    Getting kids involved: A lot of blogs (mine included) contain “adult themes and language” and parents may have issues with kids participating in or reading that. A good start is Teen Skepchick, but I’m not aware of any other blogs I can point out to the youth I happen to know.

    That’s all I can think of right now.

  5. I think it’s a great idea to get children started early in critical thinking.

    I wonder if someone like Bill Nye or Penn & Teller would help get something like that going by giving kid-friendly science presentations at events? It might have to start small, perhaps annually in one major city. If it worked, more could be added in other cities.

    @geekgoddess: When we lived in Green Bay during the 1980’s, we got to know some of the Packers players personally. Several of them were attending UW-GB for BS degrees, some were working on advanced degrees in the off season from their “other” home. Some of those guys were scary smart. Some were dumb as a box of hammers, too.

    I understand that Bart and Cheri Starr were very supportive of their efforts. All too many pro athletes end up off the field, broke, without a degree by their 40’s.

  6. I’m not sure I would be as attracted to TAM if it were made more kid-friendly. Resources would be diverted, so there would be less to offer adults. There would also be the concern that some parents would bring their children to lectures or discussions that would bore the child. (Most wouldn’t but it only takes one)

    I’ve found that parents are distracted when they are with their children. This is a good thing, children need to be watched and need attention. But it can make a conversation that is not interesting to the child difficult to continue.

    But, I do have a 13 year old niece who would love the mental challenges of a skeptic workshop. It would terrific to have a separate youth-oriented skeptic meeting.

  7. @Bookitty: I guess it depends on the JREF’s goals on what it wants TAM to be. If they want to keep it an adult-only con, that’s entirely up to them. But if that’s not their aim, I think they could find ways to incorporate children, youth, and families in such a way that other people aren’t alienated. Such as a more family-oriented location, a “family day” (much like the SBM conference had its own day), etc.

  8. I agree with those recommending we keep TAM kid-free and ADD an event for families (maybe even one for teens and Tweens, sleep-away-camp style – I’d even want to help with that). Some of us need some adults-only time, and singles (such as myself) tend to get lost in the shuffle at family-style events.

    What about Family TAM at Epcot Center, or Teen TAM at the Smithsonian or the JPL or on a college campus?

  9. @Kimbo Jones: It’s all hypothetical now but if the JREF decided to open their doors to skeptics of all ages, it could be done.

    Lectures, workshops and hands-on science are fun, even to adults. Some of the more obvious skeptical topics (Ghosts, monsters, psychics, etc) are understood in the adult community but would find an eager audience in the kiddie-set.

    There’s a lot of playing in science and skepticism. Look at Richard Wiseman, some of his puzzles might be tough for a 10 year old but the rest of his blog is a intellectual amusement park.

    Perhaps the biggest problem would be keeping enough adults out so that there was room for the kids?

  10. Different audience, different conference, different city. Makes sense to me. Heck, I’d probably be more likely to go: I had a blast talking with the high-school kids who came to ScienceOnline’09, and any conference where I don’t have to choose between Michael Shermer’s PowerPoint and the stale smoke in the bar downstairs is fine by me.

  11. I could imagine something like a day-carequest going on in the margin of TAM, something sceptically oriented to keep the kids busy and entertain while their parents are attending conferences.

    Hopefully, the volunteers for that would not feel to gipped and have to miss to many adult events.

  12. The question, as I recall, wasn’t “how do we attract kids to skepticism” but along the lines of getting more gender diversity at TAM and other such events. Making TAM a place that could adapt to children was one suggestion, and I think it’s one worth discussing.

    No one is saying that we have to stay out of the bars or dumb down the programming. But making it easier for parents if little ones to attend TAM might not be a horrible thing.

  13. Well, I know that from my own perspective, I’ve stopped going to my local SITP, and I just can’t get my wife, who is intensely skeptical, interested in the idea… basically because of two issues.

    Her response, right or wrong, is “woohoo! Another group of singles and Dinks! How fun.” The other is babysitting.

    I think this is an issue that local skeptic groups are going to have to sort out before the national group can.

  14. No one is talking about making TAM watered-down and Sesame Street….(as far as I can tell).

    It’s not that TAM isn’t just non-family-friendly, it’s that Vegas is family-hostile.

    Skepticism is supposed to be a cultural project, and we’re trying to get the non-skeptics out there to realize we’re not a bunch cynical pricks. Why then is the biggest conference in the community at Las Vegas: the biggest monument to consumption, hedonism, capitalism and excess that there is?

    Vegas scares people.

    Good post, Jen. I’m glad this was brought up.

  15. @Jen: I don’t have children so am not clear on the particulars. What would childcare at an event like TAM cost? Would parents be happy with a single room and a few volunteers? Would it be fair to ask the parents to carry any additional costs?

  16. @sethmanapio:

    So that’s what happened to you.

    I can sympathize. I would love to unhook skeptical get-together from alcohol consumption. Our current place allows kids, but I wouldn’t call it “kid friendly.”

    but I figured I was alone in this, since we non-drinkers tend to be few:)

  17. I think having kid-friendly activities is one of the ways to get adults more involved. If parents are going to bring their kids to TAM (or wherever) anyway to be cared for, it might be nice to have some skeptical kid activities so it’s a fun weekend for them too. Two birds with one stone.

    Part of that may be having a family-friendly venue so there are things to do in the area outside of adult-related conference activities. This would place less of a burden on TAM (or wherever) itself to come up with these activities. Rather they could provide information on activities in the area. Disneyland is a good idea, but there are also science and nature places like Marine Land, the Smithsonian, the Air and Space Museum, etc. Those places have lots of appeal for adults too.

  18. @phlebas: but I figured I was alone in this, since we non-drinkers tend to be few:)

    ——–

    I think it has more to do with the sense of who is a member of the community. We have a fairly young group in the ATL, and an old married guy with kids can just feel out of place.

    We need a new kind of meeting, I think… something not just kid friendly, but parent embracing. Something I can drag Grrl to.

  19. Family Friendly is a two-way street.

    For the organizers, it boils down to Venue, Cost and Activity. If the vast majority of skeptic events are held in Vegas or the local bar, families are going to feel excluded. If the cost for travel, child-care, hotel accommodations, etc., is prohibitive that rules out many families who might otherwise want to attend. And, if there is nothing for the kids to do, parents will not want to suffer through their kid’s complaints just to meet and greet fellow skeptics.

    For parents there is an obligation as well. Those who do not have children, or have raised them to adulthood may not share your joy in their ever-presence. I have been in bars with karaoke machines where someone’s seven-year-old is trying to sing. Bring the kids to a function, but know which parts of that function are kid-friendly and which parts are best left to the adults.

    Are we voting? I vote for more meetings that can accommodate families and/or parents who can leave their children home because the total cost of participation won’t break the bank BUT, no fewer functions that cater to those without family concerns.

  20. DNAMom ended with: “After all, we will need to replenish the skeptic population at some point.”

    Fortunately, skepticism doesn’t need to be inherited genetically. I’m pretty sure I didn’t get my skepticism through my parents’ DNA. Personally, I’m not interested in having children, but I think I’m still able to increase the skeptical population simply by spreading awareness of skepticism.

  21. @geek goddess: I agree.
    @Bookitty: I agree.

    Very few conferences cater to kids or parents and the cost and logistics seem a substantial cost/planning deterrence. I would not be interested in spending money and time to be at an event with kids running around. Sorry if this sounds grumpy old mannish but I don’t think my view is unique or in the minority.

  22. I have attended zero local Drinking Skeptically nights because they’ve been on custody nights for me. They’ve also been in bars where kids aren’t allowed after 6:00. But any restaurant solution is dicey for people with kids, for 2 reasons. First, even older kids can’t sit around a brunch table as long as the adults can. Second, it starts to get expensive after a while — for some reason, the kids never reciprocate and pick up the check the next time.

    As for TAM, it seems to me that there could be a childcare suite at the hotel, like what you see at a lot of SF conventions. It’s true that Vegas is not a good destination for families, but really no airport or convention hotel is going to be whiz-bang fun for families. Maybe there’s an intersection between TAM organizers and SF con people who would be able to share ideas and propose something.

  23. @Michele: As for TAM, it seems to me that there could be a childcare suite at the hotel, like what you see at a lot of SF conventions

    ———-

    Do they have any childcare options at Dragon*Con? Because Dragon*Con is “kid friendly”, for given definitions of both words.

  24. @davew: One by one the social activities I enjoy have been processed down into an epically boring, family-friendly paste.

    ———-

    Well, it’s probably better for the planet if you don’t go to them anyway.

    Although I’m not sure how the addition of daycare facilities in some other room would make the SGU-Live show epically boring.

  25. Seems to me that we’ve got two mutually-exclusive issues circulating here (feel free to correct me if I am wrong): 1. Age-appropriate skeptical activities for kiddos, and 2. Ways to make it easier for families with children to attend events such as TAM.

    I don’t think these two issues are the same, but I think we (myself included) are assuming that they would automatically HAVE to be the same. Offering child care at TAM (and expecting the parents to foot the bill) would not change TAM all that much (from what I know of it; TAM 8 will be my first), and I’m sure parents will be cognizant of the fact that, yes, it is Las Vegas, and no, some people (again, myself included) will probably not censor our language just because little ears may be eavesdropping (though I rarely cuss around people I don’t know well).

    Creating skeptical activities for said youngsters is a different kettle of fish entirely. As a teenager, I attended church camp several years running (I was trying to fit in, and this is Oklahoma). This was a kid-only event aside from required leaders and ect. I don’t see why skeptics couldn’t do something similar that would not necessarily be connected to TAM. Once again, parents would be responsible for footing the bill (my folks paid for me to go to Jeebus Camp), although local organizations might offer full or partial scholarships.

    In conclusion, I don’t think that adding activities for kids would take anything away from the adults, and might help skepticism spread (which is, at the core of it, something we all want, right?). I think the people with kids would naturally clump together, just like they do in other communities (and just as the single people and married people tend to segregate themselves from each other), and if you didn’t want to be around kids, you wouldn’t have to be.

  26. @CelticGoddess1326: “I think the people with kids would naturally clump together, just like they do in other communities (and just as the single people and married people tend to segregate themselves from each other)”

    That’s another problem. I don’t have kids. People with kids have a different view of the world. If making an event more kid-friendly means that I talk to less parents, then I would be missing out.

  27. @Bookitty: That is certainly true, although I meant my observation to be more a general “rule of thumb” than an absolute – I’ve just noticed over the past 5 or so years that no matter how much they promise it won’t happen to them, when people get married, they tend to drift away from their single friends. It gets worse when those couples start having children.

    Admittedly this is anecdotal evidence, and I’m emotionally biased because I’m the last single person of my friends, all of whom are married or in multi-year committed relationships and most of whom have children. I haven’t seen or even talked to any of them in over a year, and we don’t have the same priorities anymore (which is as it should be). I enjoy getting their perspective, but they seem bored with mine, since they left single life behind.

    Note: I don’t have a solution; just making observations that may or may not even be relevant.

  28. @CelticGoddess1326: I don’t see how those are mutually exclusive. Kid-friendly activities is just a suggestion for *one* of the things that could encourage parents to be involved – especially if they are bringing their kids to be looked after anyway. People just seem to be stuck on TAM because some of us brought it up. But parent-friendly ideas don’t only apply to TAM. Conferences aren’t the only thing skeptics do together, so there could be other ways in which we may not be doing enough to reach parents and families.

    Also, I’m with @Bookitty. I would love to know what would get parents (and/or their kids) interested and integrated. I don’t want parents segregating themselves from the rest of us. I want to know what their issues are, in small part because I’m going to be one someday.

  29. @Bookitty: I’m not certain, although the solution the Grace Hopper Conference for Women in Computing uses is this. I do know parents who would be willing to pay for childcare at conferences if that means the difference between them being able to go or not.

  30. @Kimbo Jones:

    But parent-friendly ideas don’t only apply to TAM. Conferences aren’t the only thing skeptics do together, so there could be other ways in which we may not be doing enough to reach parents and families.

    True that. :)

    Also, for what it’s worth, I don’t see much segregation of parents and childfree skeptics in both my local group and my conference experience. I am a parent, but my interests and experiences aren’t limited to parenting. And like Kimbo pointed out, some childfree people or other singles are interested in kids.

  31. I also have enjoyed reading everyone’s opinions and seeing the differences. I’m single, almost thirty, don’t want kids of my own, and my job floods me with them (I’m a public high school teacher), so I have a certain perspective. Parents of small children have a different perspective, and the children themselves have still another perspective. I’m not sure we could ever make everyone completely happy, which is why I’m supporting diversification of activities – as others have said, not everone drinks, so if a community is ONLY doing Skeptics in the Pub, people are getting left out. Likewise, if every activity is Mommy ‘n Me, those without kids will be left out. Churches solve this problem by doing lots of different stuff: services for everyone, Sunday School segregated by age group or interest or whatever, and small groups that meet during the week. Skeptics could do well by taking a page out of the religious book and try to find a variety of things that appeal to everyone. How about a Skeptical book club or sewing circle, or maybe a weight-loss group (I’m in if someone wants to start any or all of those)? It’s hard in smaller communities, but the Internet is FABULOUS for that sort of thing.

  32. I’m a parent of 2 grown skeptics and a teacher. I don’t want young children at TAM because it’s an adult event. Why rework TAM? Penn did have his children there and at one point he called his son a “heavy Motherfcker”. A few people actually turned and said “what did you just call your son?” Now hey, I’m cool with Penn and his use of langauge around his kids. But how many speakers would have to change their talk if you are allow ages, what, 4,7,9 (?) to attend.

    Why not start from scratch a family friendly TAM that allows people without children also. Plus the cost of TAM, plus the cost of travel with children… well when my children were teenagers it was VERY hard for our family to afford to take both girls. We had to rely on scholarships for them to attend. Now both girls got a LOT out of TAM! But they were 14 and above before they came. Vegas is very inexpensive, so I’m able to afford to come. How about a family/all ages meet up in Orlando?

  33. So I’m that person that started the Skeptics in the Park last week for families in the Chicago area. I would love the skeptic movement to be more family friendly. I can’t speak for others but here would be some things that would help me:

    – I can’t go to vegas, but I would go to something local so perhaps a conference that moves to different cities every year.
    – Something that focuses on science, funny pseudoscience, the scientific method, magic acts, spoon bending, etc…
    – And lastly, we’re a mixed family. So any family get togethers that we could all go to as a family would have to not bash religion, kinda like how the SGU handles it.

  34. I can only speak for my wife and I. We started a Skeptikids club (skeptikids.org) and recruited a bunch of kids through word of mouth, our kids friends, etc. We have several monthly events that kids can do if they want:

    I spent time with an experienced AAVSO member, and now Skeptikids gets to contribute to real science by observing variable stars and reporting our results. We coordinate with the local EAA to get our kids flying planes with retired and private pilots once a month. We go out in the estuaries and swamps of SW Florida and help monitor current environmental areas of concern, like the effects of our drought on the freshwater resources. We protect Sea Turtles. We threw a HUGE Yuri’s Night Star Party and got other partiers from around the world (and Phil Plait) to send us video greetings so the kids could see that they were a part of something bigger than themselves. We have a water bottle rocket club. We have investigated the “Swamp Ape” (bigfoot of FL), a couple of UFO sightings and a local mineral spring with alleged healing powers. We get kids dirty, doing real science, and actually contributing to “grown up” science.

    We also established the first elementary level science fair in our county, and it was so successful several of our 5th graders went on to regional competitions alongside older kids. The whole district is now doing this, with younger classes working on a single experiment together and 4-5th graders on their own.

    We looked around the area we live in, and found fun, hands on things for kids to do. Along the way, they learn a little critical thinking, and every now and then, they get to apply it to some weird claim. We have no badges, no membership dues, just the volunteered time of some teachers and parents. We’re getting T-shirts made though.

  35. I’m a child-free skeptic…I didn’t realize these two, erm, “personality traits” (?) were strongly correlated.

    I’m also in the “would prefer to keep TAM childfree” camp. Just my two cents.

  36. @kittynh: But how many speakers would have to change their talk if you are allow ages, what, 4,7,9 (?) to attend.

    ————-

    I don’t think anyone suggested opening all the talks up to four-year-olds. To quote Barack Obama, “That is not in any of the proposals that are on the table.”

    Don’t believe the FUD.

  37. I’m in the Bill Maher/George Carlin camps on this issue:
    “What happened to some things are for adults and some things are for children?” “Stop trying to deputize me into helping to raise your kids.” (that last one is paraphrased, can’t remember the exact quote)
    “What about the children? What about the children? Fuck the children!” “It doesn’t take a village it takes parents!”
    Keep things like Skepticamps and the like for young children/families and keep things like TAM for adults/almost adult children families.

  38. I’m a little confused as to why many here seem to think that merely having children at a conference, whether in childcare or in a separate program, would really affect at all the conference content itself. Chances are you wouldn’t even know kids were there, unless you see them around in the hotel, which you do regardless with other guests completely unrelated to the conference. None of this is about changing or altering what is already in existence, but about adding to it to help out more people.

    @Tressa: When I organized SkeptiCamp Ohio, I provided a concurrent Camp Quest for kids. It took place in its own room, and many adult attendees didn’t even realize the kids were there. But some parents were able to attend the SkeptiCamp because they were able to have their kids there, and some parents came for the kids and ended up learning things they hadn’t known about skepticism. What’s the problem with providing alternatives?

  39. @Jen: I’m a little confused as to why many here seem to think that merely having children at a conference, whether in childcare or in a separate program, would really affect at all the conference content itself.

    ————-

    Maybe they think the kids will round up all the adults and sacrifice them in a cornfield. If so, folks… relax. Where are my kids going to find a cornfield near Vegas?

  40. @Jen: I’ve stated my concern on how having children at the conference would affect the conference itself.

    Any conference has a limited budget. That budget is used for many things, including speakers, rooms, meet-n-greets, etc. If some of that funding was diverted to pay for child-related activities (childcare, age-appropriate lectures, etc) there would be less funding for adult-related activities.

    That is my concern. However, it is very possible that it is ungrounded. Childcare might not be very expensive. Having childcare might allow more parents to attend, selling more tickets and raising the budget. Since I don’t know enough of the mechanics of running either childcare or a conference, it is difficult to say.

    The other reasons are purely selfish. I enjoy conversations with adults. The more children there are in any gathering, the less chance of engaging an adult in an intense conversation. While this last is purely anecdotal, it has happened enough that I am biased against mixed-age gatherings when the intent is to promote an intellectual atmosphere.

  41. The more children there are in any gathering, the less chance of engaging an adult in an intense conversation. While this last is purely anecdotal, it has happened enough that I am biased against mixed-age gatherings when the intent is to promote an intellectual atmosphere.

    perhaps you haven’t met many skeptics’ children and engaged them in conversation…

    :)

    i say keep TAM for adults, move it to a more central location in the US (or have more than one event in different locations) and host some separate skeptical events that are family friendly.

    there is at least one children’s camp that i’m aware of, but, *just like TAM*, it’s too far from me to accommodate my family/finances.

    fwiw, i live in FL.

  42. @bellaboo: i say keep TAM for adults

    ————–

    That is, adults without children or with the ability to have their children taken care of somewhere not TAM? Because again: no one is suggesting that TAM include panels for children, just that the venue might be more accomodating to parents, who, generally speaking, are adults.

    At this point, I have to say that the vibe I’m getting–rightly or wrongly–is that a fairly healthy portion of the skeptical community is not merely childless, but actually child hostile. And while I respect your right to be that way, it does alienate this particular adult.

  43. @sethmanapio:

    For once I’m going to have to agree with Seth. It really seems like a fair-sized portion of the community here is downright opposed to the idea of children.

    I’m not really sure why that is, as the best way to spread any idea, as religion has shown, is to go for the kids. From my experience, most adults are too entrenched in their beliefs to ever change much, evidence or no evidence.

  44. Professional meetings often have day trips or programs for the family members that come along. I think this would be a good idea. I will probably have to bring my family to TAM next year if I want to go. They need some alternate entertainment. But, one event with kids and family together (like a magic demonstration or something of the sort) would be a real blast. (They really want to see Adam S. and P&T, etc.)

  45. @sethmanapio:

    i am also a parent, and am not in the least “child-hostile”, so i’m sorry you feel that way — but having not been a parent for 30+ years prior, i can certainly understand the POV of the non-parents as well. i think that the time and effort it would take to provide childcare at TAM could be better spent actually coming up with and hosting child-centric skeptical events.

  46. For people in and around washington, DC, CFI-DC hosts a monthly Perplexed Parents Circle (http://www.centerforinquiry.net/dc/events/perplexed_parents_circle10/). Often children attend with parents. Additionally, we’ve held Junior Investigators Club outings to museums, nature centers, etc (e.g. http://www.centerforinquiry.net/dc/events/junior_investigators_club_bat_fest_arlington/). Using either existing Centers for Inquiry or setting up your own Meetup.com groups, you might find events such as these to be wirthwhile–just don’t expect a large turnout at first. Start small and keep at it.

  47. @sethmanapio: At this point, I have to say that the vibe I’m getting–rightly or wrongly–is that a fairly healthy portion of the skeptical community is not merely childless, but actually child hostile.

    I’m child hostile. Loud, unpredictable, fragile, scary little buggers. They’ve always creeped me out. Plus they turn formerly intelligent and intelligible adults into fountains of inane babbling. This, at least, is my emotional reaction. My more considered reaction has to do with the earth’s carrying capacity, but we’ve been around this tree before.

    And while I respect your right to be that way, it does alienate this particular adult.

    I’ll attempt to live with my disappointment. :-)

  48. @Tressa-SkeptiCamp is not a children’s camp. It is a free local skeptic conference put on by adults. It is a great alternative to TAM when people can’t afford to travel.
    Please do not confuse this with Camp Inquiry.

    @Jen-what dis you do to organize the Camp Quest at Skepticamp? Did this run on volunteers like SkeptiCamp

  49. Adding something as seemingly simple as childcare to an event is a liability nightmare. I don’t think there needs to be a “kids-free” policy, but I don’t think family involvement needs to be further encouraged.
    I would love to see a discussion on Skepchick on the childfree correlation, if in fact there is one. I’m 30 and childfree, and I would tend to agree that skeptical thinking leads a lot of folks that way, but perhaps I’m wrong?

  50. @davew: My more considered reaction has to do with the earth’s carrying capacity, but we’ve been around this tree before.

    ———

    I also respect your right to remove yourself from the gene pool. I’ll try to live with my disappointment about that. 8)

  51. @cemeterygates: Adding something as seemingly simple as childcare to an event is a liability nightmare.
    ————

    I smell red herring. The fact is, you can get sued and held liable for almost anything, but that’s why we have insurance companies and liability riders and licensed, bonded providers of services.

    As to your other point, I don’t see any evidence or logical argument that there would be anything about being a skeptic that leads one to being childless. It is evident is that raising kids is hard, and the church will help me with that. They do have daycare every sunday for their “Unitariarians in the Pews” meeting. They have other families around. They do stuff as a group that matters to the community that my kids are going to grow up in, and when they do that stuff, they do it in a way that accommodates parents.

    I have also heard that when couples have children, their families increase the pressure for them to attend church and get back into the religious life. So people who might have tended towards organized skepticism may be pressured to go a different way.

    So, when you add the fact that churches and religious conferences are family friendly to the social pressure on parents to get involved with church to the fact that some people think that a 45 minute phone call with an insurance agent is too high a price to pay to make a conference more family possible, much less friendly…. well, I think skepticism might just be self selecting for childless people.

    Evolutionarily speaking, btw, that strategy sucks.

  52. @sethmanapio: “I don’t see any evidence or logical argument that there would be anything about being a skeptic that leads one to being childless.”

    Skeptic’s are more apt and able to challenge the status quo. We don’t necessarily follow cultural traditions or even biological imperatives without due consideration. A skeptic is exactly the sort of person to see that a sex drive is part of a hardwired imperative to reproduce and even though they enjoy sex they also chose to avoid the natural consequence. In this way I view skeptics as less likely to breed than the average person.

    I’m not saying that skeptics who choose to breed aren’t good skeptics, but I think they too were more likely to consider the question carefully before diving into the gene pool than the average person. These skeptics just made a different decision than I did.

  53. @davew: In this way I view skeptics as less likely to breed than the average person.

    —————-

    An interesting hypothesis. However, there are religious groups that mandate non-breeding for segments of their population or their population as a whole. In addition, religious people do choose to be childless in order to give more time to their deity/church/etc. Some believers also have the view that the world is going towards it’s end, rather than towards better days, and so are unmotivated to have children.

    So I think your assumption that skeptics are more likely to consider non-biological imperatives than non-skeptics is fundamentally flawed. Further, your conclusion: that “skeptics are less likely to breed than the average person” is unsupported.

    So I continue to see a complete lack of sound logical analysis or evidence that skeptics are less likely to have children than believers. However, we do have evidence in this thread that organized skepticism can be hostile to and resentful of parents and children.

  54. @sethmanapio: “However, there are religious groups that mandate non-breeding for segments of their population or their population as a whole. ”

    I can’t tell if you really believe this stuff, like arguing for the sake of arguing, or are one of the worlds most subtle trolls. There are suicide bicyclists, too. Is “impending explosion” the first thing you think of when you see a bicycle? There are roughly 2 billion Christians, 1.8 billion Muslims, and 1.4 billion Hindus in the world’s three largest religions all of which encourage breeding — some sects more than others. Sects that don’t encourage breeding such as the Shakers don’t compete well.

    However, there are religious groups that mandate non-breeding for segments of their population or their population as a whole.”

    Name the largest one you can think of. The biggest I can think of is the Catholic priesthood which contains about 400,000 members, but the Catholic church’s stance on breeding is distinctly positive.

  55. @davew: I can’t tell if you really believe this stuff, like arguing for the sake of arguing, or are one of the worlds most subtle trolls.

    ————

    Well, since everything I said is true, I would say I believe it. And since you’re focusing on only a facet of it, I would say that the trollish behavior is on your side, not mine. But I’m hard pressed to see what substantive value that discussion could possibly have.

    As I said, your hypothesis is not strongly supported. It is not strongly supported for a variety of reasons, including, but not limited to, the fact that being a believer is not incompatible with choosing not to have children. And that fact is supported by the existence of many phenomena, including, but not limited to, the existence of the shaker movement. Now, if you want to quibble about how many shakers exist, go ahead, but that particular point is a red herring, not a substantive argument.

    However, my hypothesis, that organized skepticism can be hostile to parents and organized religion is generally less so, is supported by the existence of this discussion and the attitude that you are bringing to it.

  56. @davew:the world’s three largest religions all of which encourage breeding— some sects more than others. Sects that don’t encourage breeding such as the Shakers don’t compete well.
    ——————
    Which is a new argument, and one that I largely agree with: skepticism, as an organized movement, discourages breeding, and successful religious groups, in general, do not.

    However, this supports my hypothesis, that it isn’t being a skeptic that leads to deciding not to have children, but organized skepticism that sometimes discourages participation by children and parents. Further, observing this phenomena in the religious world, there is a clear lesson to be learned: Success does not come from excluding parents. Which was my point here.

    We would all like to think that we are less prone to social pressure, more thoughtful, more whatever, than them. But really, if you are in a group of people where it is acceptable and normal to be hostile to the idea of having or caring for children, it seems odd to tout your decision to conform to that norm as a sign of your non-conformity. That just doesn’t work.

    And on the flip side, a cursory google search will reveal that christian couples do decide to remain childless. They face pressure to have children, but they may or may not do so.

    However, the existence of that outside pressure is exactly the point I’m making: it isn’t that skeptics are more prone to follow non-biological reasoning or whatever smugness we care to label ourselves with, it is that our social groups are not family-friendly. A skeptic who decides not to have children faces no pressure, and skeptics that do decide to have children face exclusionary pressure.

    The existence of pressure in the religious community for couples to have children does not support the hypothesis that being a skeptic leads to being childless. Rather, it is participation in organized skepticism that produces that pressure. Many people of a skeptical mind will therefore end up in churches, for the reasons that I have already outlined above.

  57. Put me down for keeping TAM as child free as possible. If parents want to bring kids to listen to adult skeptical content, fine. If parents want to bring kids to Vegas and then pay for their own day care, again, fine.

    Let’s not ruin TAM by either adding kid friendly content, diverting funds to pay for day care, or raising prices to pay for day care. Child-free people already tend to get the short end of the stick when it comes to things being too kid friendly already.

  58. Could it be that skepticism (particularly involvement in organized skepticism) and being childless are both correlated with some third thing, such as higher education?

    I ask this without actually knowing if there is any correlation at all.

    Anyway, those who are single and/or childless are asked to bear excess burden for the benefit of parents and children. I can understand the reaction that some of them will have against this tendency encroaching into yet another aspect of their lives.

    I am a Hedge

  59. @Im a Hedge: “Could it be that skepticism (particularly involvement in organized skepticism) and being childless are both correlated with some third thing, such as higher education?”

    Possibly. I was a skeptic long before I went to college, but my parents were college educated. I do know that religious belief correlates inversely with level of education so it’s not too much of a stretch to throw propensity to breed in the same bucket.

    I have to laugh every time I hear the phrase “organized skeptics”. Skeptics could beat Democrats hands down in a disorganization contest. The most organized thing that skeptics do in Boulder is Drinking Skeptically which is attended by a dozen people on a good night and has no structure to speak of. (Not that I mind. Please don’t change a thing, Reed.) I’ve been in juggling groups with more organization, more frequent meetings, and better turnout. (Again not that I mind. I love our skeptical coven.)

  60. Whoa, wait a second. So because I am a parent, it’s being suggested that I:

    – am possibly less educated and don’t think as well or as carefully as other people, especially childfree skeptics;
    – am incapable of having adult conversations;
    – ask other people to carry the burden of my child;
    – fully intend to drag my preschooler into events inappropriate for her, given any opportunity to.

    There’s a lot of emotional, unsupported, blanket claims either being stated or implied here, and some of them are rather offensive.

    The question that started this was what can we all do together to make our community as inclusive and supportive as possible, and not at the expense of any one group of people. It wasn’t about making childfree people suffer, or catering only to parents and kids, but what we could achieve by working together and coming up with new ideas. We can share opinions and personal experiences without putting other people down for choosing different lifestyles.

  61. @Jen

    You mentioned “providing childcare” which I took to me adding an additional cost, because parents can already pay for child care now. Then, you pointed to “free child care”, which isn’t really free. Someone has to pay for it.

    The reality is, any four day conference in any city is going to be difficult for people with children to attend. When you factor in the increase in plane fare, hotel costs, and additional child care costs, it’s just not attractive for parents to bring kids.

  62. @Jen:

    I don’t know what is gained by personalizing it like that. I’ve read the thread, and I don’t think anyone was accusing you of any of these things. If you disagree with someone’s point, you can argue the point without making it “you’re being mean to me”.

    Since I posted pretty recently, I hope you didn’t take anything I said as an attack on you. It certainly wasn’t intended to be.

    I am a Hedge

  63. @ShanePB: The free model is used by non-skeptic conference, and it was only an example of the third-party company that provided the care. No one claimed here that all conference attendees would be responsible for paying the way for others’ kids. As for whether or not it would be practical for parents to pay for it themselves, that’s probably a decision best left to individual families. But it would be nice, in my opinion, if they had the option of even making that decision.

    @Im a Hedge: There were actually references to all of those things in this thread. Others apart me from have already commented on the hostility here. I understand none of this is intended as a personal attack, but that’s my point. When you’re making generalizations, you’re going to draw some unfair conclusions about people, and that’s not worthwhile to the conversation.

  64. @Jen: “Whoa, wait a second. So because I am a parent, it’s being suggested that I:”

    None of this is personal. I don’t know you.

    am possibly less educated
    Statistically women who are less educated have more children. This says nothing about individuals.

    am incapable of having adult conversations
    I’ve lost many friends as an adult after they became unable to talk about anything other than children. I don’t blame them. I even agree that children should be a parent’s #1 focus. It doesn’t make them bad people. It just makes them crashing bores to anyone except for other parents.

    ask other people to carry the burden of my child
    The United States has decided that making babies and educating them is a national priority and has structured the tax code from the federal level to the local level accordingly. On an even smaller scale I’ve seen parents alter everything from our company picnic to the neighborhood watering schedule to accommodate children.

    fully intend to drag my preschooler into events inappropriate for her, given any opportunity to
    Again, I don’t know you, but children are dragged to inappropriate places all the time. The next time you are in a fancy restaurant or an ultraviolent movie look around.

  65. @ShanePB: The “option” parents have now is to find a babysitter with whom they have no prior acquaintance in a city they don’t live in. It’s hard enough to find a reliable person to care for your child in your own town, with your own network of acquaintances. Searching of this sort was actually done on behalf of a parent by an JREF employee for TAM and even they couldn’t turn up anything. That’s not at all the same thing as the option of conference-sponsored and guaranteed program at the conference location.

  66. @davew:

    None of this is personal. I don’t know you.

    That’s exactly my point! Please don’t hold me or other parents here responsible for things that personally have nothing to do with us and make the argument that based on these things, we shouldn’t be considered in the skeptic community as much as non-parents.

    Also, if we worked together to improve the environment for and communication with parents, some of these problems could be resolved. My other point is that there are more complaints than there are suggestions for solutions.

  67. @Jen: “My other point is that there are more complaints than there are suggestions for solutions.”

    Good point. As such I suppose that all complaints are technically off-topic since your original post was only asking for suggestions. When the conversation turns to making TAM more child-friendly, however, you catch my attention because in my experience usually child-friendly usually evolves quickly into child-centered. This may have been nothing like your intention, but I don’t think it’s too far out of bounds to bring up the possibility and lodge vote against it.

    A recent experience made me unusually sensitive to this. At our poetry jam a woman said some very nice things about the group and how much she enjoyed coming, but she’d also love to bring her kids so could we possibly agree to keep the writing PG-rated? Most people honestly thought she was joking and laughed,… but she wasn’t.

    And now I shut up.

  68. @davew: I do know that religious belief correlates inversely with level of education so it’s not too much of a stretch to throw propensity to breed in the same bucket.

    ———

    I agree. We should also throw in a propensity to staple puppies to your dashboard. I mean, as long as we’re just making random connections, why not?

  69. @davew: I have to laugh every time I hear the phrase “organized skeptics”.

    ——-

    Me too. Then I remember TAM. And the skeptic track at Dragon*Con. And the SITP meetings. And CSI. And the scary fast organizational speed that created our local Skepticon, and I think to myself: Why am I laughing? Then I realize that I was laughing because people think that skeptics can’t and don’t organize.

  70. Sethmanapio, are trying to draw attention or become some sort of skeptic celebrity by denying that? Unless you can deny the whole human evolution from primitive religion-ridden tribes to current science-based technology-driven societies, the fact that you even try to dispute that claim by davew is both hilarious and embarrassing.

    I honestly think you need a vacation.

  71. @Skepthink:the fact that you even try to dispute that claim by davew is both hilarious and embarrassing.

    ———-

    Really? So you have evidence that higher education negatively correlates to having any children? Please, by all means, post a link to it, that I may learn something new.

    Furthermore, I didn’t dispute the claim. I merely pointed out that the claim was made as self-evident, without any supporting evidence. We aren’t talking, as you seem to think we are, about societal birth rates. We’re talking about the propensity of specific individuals to have any children whatsoever. These are different things.

    Can I ask, seriously: why is it that people with no evidence to back up their claims, on this site of all sites, think that denigrating me personally makes their statements more substantive?

  72. @Jen: I think the parents who want to bring kids would need to form a side group that makes a connection with a reputable licensed day care center in Vegas and see if a contract for weekend care can be arranged. However I expect that given people will be coming from out of town and a provider would want money up front many problems could arise. However contracting with an established licensed provider would take care of many safety and background check issues with who would actually be watching the kids. If my kids were young I’d personally be more interested in an essentially anonymous provider who I knew was licensed and had all the necessary bonding, insurance and background check as opposed to a rotation of parents taking turns. My 19 year old son hopes to accompany me to TAM next year and if it had worked out I think he’d have been old enough a couple of years ago to enjoy TAM and all the speakers. I expect PZ however would have had the same somnolent effect on him as he did on me.

    And I hope no one thought my initial comments were in any way hostile toward a parent bringing their child to TAM. I’m just not interested in being at a conference with younger kids running around as an integrated part of the conference. Arrangements for child care sounds cool but sadly expensive though.

  73. @Skepthink: both hilarious and embarrassing.

    ————-

    Alternately, it could be based on a fast review of the literature. I found a 2004 study, which finds, in part, that “Further, higher income in men is positively associated with fertility among our sample with elite educations as well as within the general population among those with college educations. Such findings undermine simple statements on the relationship between status and fertility.” cite

    But hey, I could be wrong about this, and I’m totally willing to look at any evidence that supports your position.

  74. “A women’s educational level is the best predictor of how many children she will have, according to a new study from the National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The study, based on an analysis of 1994 birth certificates, found a direct relationship between years of education and birth rates, with the highest birth rates among women with the lowest educational attainment.” Source: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/pressroom/97facts/edu2birt.htm

    Yes, the study’s a decade old, but this is what I found when I Googled quickly. Lots of research shows similar results. If you look at development literature, if you want to reduce the fertility rate of a population, education women is a good way to do it. So, yes, I think it’s fair to say that, generally speaking higher-educated women tend to have fewer children. Note the weasel words of “Generally speaking” and “tend to”.

    As far as the specific topic…shit, what was it now? Oh, yeah, making things more inclusive. Personally I’d love to see TAM move out of Vegas since I refuse to set foot in the place. ‘Cause, you know, it is all about me. ;)

  75. @CatFurniture: Yes, but how much of that is possibly related to the fact that women with education and careers don’t have the support and resources for children? Support and resources such as childcare opportunities at their professional events?

  76. @CatFurniture: So, yes, I think it’s fair to say that, generally speaking higher-educated women tend to have fewer children.
    ——–
    But that isn’t the assertion. The assertion is that better educated people will tend not to have any children, not fewer children. And as I showed, even the weaker result you show here doesn’t apply to men as well.

  77. As long as I’m research bombing y’all, I might add this pdf from the journal Demographic Research. From the abstract “Our results cast doubt on the assumption that higher education per se must result in higher childlessness.”

    This is not what I should be researching right now. ARGH. Bad Seth. Bad!

  78. Wow.

    “We want to find a way to include more minorities in our group.”

    “I don’t think we should have minorities here at our conference because it will change the allotment of resources and we’ll have to change what we talk about.”

    “Uh, what?”

    Ok I’ll call false analogy on myself, but honestly I find most of these comments just odd. Jen is asking for suggestions to make the skeptical movement more inclusive to a particular group – parents. There’s been a lot of assumptions and knee-jerking about what that means, but so far little evidence to support any of it. There are very few actual suggestions.

    So fine, some of you don’t want kids at TAM. Whatever. Move on. This fixation is red herring-ing the entire discussion. What WOULD work to get more families and/or parents involved in skepticism then? Because honestly it’s absurd not to try to solve this problem, if it is indeed a problem, just because kids give some people the wiggins.

  79. @Kimbo Jones: What WOULD work to get more families and/or parents involved in skepticism then?
    —————–
    Local, daytime/early evening, weekend, kid-friendly events. Not kid-centered, just places where there are likely to be enough kids and parents that parents can relax a little.

    Some kind of church replacement might not suck. I never went to church in my life, so I don’t miss it. But having a community organization that is science/reason based would be nice. Meeting up weekly to have a barcamp or something sounds fun. And having somewhere for the kids to meet other kids with skeptical parents and spend time with them sounds ok. It might provide an organizing platform for board of education or local political issues. It would not be a bad thing for the reality based community to try to have a voice.

    But I don’t know how feasible any of that is.

  80. @Jen:
    Oh, absolutely! There is definite lack of support. While I realize that the plural of anecdote is not data, I work in academia, and my colleagues who are parents struggle with the “work-family balance”. Well, the women do most often. Most academic fathers I know have wives who do the majority of the childcare, freeing them up for more time for research and publication.

    Again, based on people I know, mothers with young children working towards tenure have more challenges that fathers in the same situation. YMMV.

  81. @sethmanapio:
    Oooh, thanks for the link! I love this kind of stuff! Data is good.

    And you’re right about the no children not being the same as fewer children. To me it seems logical that people who generally question assumptions won’t make significant choices without considering them carefully. In other words, it seems to me that skeptics would be more likely than nonskeptics to realize that having children is a choice, not something that you just do because everybody else does it. Therefore, I would not be surprised if a higher proportion of skeptics choose not to be parents compared to nonskeptics. Other than Seth’s article, I don’t have data on this. It just seems logical to me.

    I don’t think I’m expressing myself very well today.

    I do like the idea of offering childcare at conferences, similar to the nonskeptic conference that was mentioned earlier. Seems to me this would certainly increase participation for interested skeptic parents.

  82. [email protected]CatFurniture: Therefore, I would not be surprised if a higher proportion of skeptics choose not to be parents compared to nonskeptics.

    —————-

    As I’ve pointed out previously, this conclusion rests on several false assumptions. First, skeptics do not have a monopoly on questioning assumptions. Second, non-skeptics may have various reasons that seem weird to skeptics for not having children. Third, we have no data that suggests that skeptics are more prone to careful consideration of life choices than anyone else.

    And of course, there are no empirical studies that show this result that I’m aware of.

    So I question this assumption.

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