I've been following the discussion regarding kids at Burning Man, and I have a few thoughts. Let me begin by quoting the first three paragraphs of an article that will appear in the upcoming issue of the Burning Man Journal:
"Kids have always been a part of Burning Man. When Jerry James and Larry Harvey first burned a Man in 1986, they included their sons, Trey and Robin. Trey was six. Robin was seven years old. On that afternoon the boys worked alongside their fathers. With a little help and the aid of a glue gun, they produced the Burning Dog: the Man's best friend. Since then, children have always participated in our community. Burning Man has become a gigantic playground for children as well as adults. Seen through a child's eyes, Burning Man can be a wondrous experience. Playing alongside grownups and freely expressing one's self in a world that's so receptive is not only healthy -- it is healing. Viewed in contrast with a world where children are routinely segregated from adults and parked in front of television sets, Burning Man can be revelation.
However, it is equally true that children have needs that are different from those of adults. They require special care and attention. In order to meet these needs, the first and most important requirement is that parents communicate with their children. Burning Man is like a kid's cartoon. While its content is not nearly as violent as most children's entertainment, it certainly is jam-packed with novel images and new experience. This is why we ask all parents to consciously take the time to talk with their children about each day's experience. Such daily debriefings can be very rewarding - far easier, in fact, than trying to discuss the more hermetic worlds of school or television. This is because Burning Man is an experience that both parent and child can actively share and create.
Our most important advice to parents is this: The single factor that most affects children at Burning Man is your willingness to communicate with your children in a way that allows them to express their own interpretations of experience. In the spirit of radical self-reliance, it is your duty at our event to assume complete responsibility for your child at all times. At Burning Man, however, this duty can become a real delight. This is your chance to see your child's world as he or she perceives it. In other words, what children witness is very often far less important than how they actually experience what they encounter. If something that is unexpected has disturbed your child - a "monster", anything that's incompletely understood -- you should always take time to discuss this with them. Pay close attention to how your child feels and imagines the world. Considering the way we lead our normal lives, you might never have a better opportunity".
The article goes on to explain our policy regarding sex acts and children at the event. It includes the quite sensible request that adult oriented theme camps take the trouble to monitor who enters spaces in which sex acts are occurring. Does anyone really want to see little Johnny or Jill present at the Beaver Eating Contest? Apparently, the organizers of this beaver eating fest don't, for they've already scrupled to do this quite on their own. We think other camps that feature overt sexual activity should follow their example. As has already been pointed out in another post, we have informally offered this advice to sex camps for quite some while. In the past, we've also intentionally placed camps so that Children's Finger Painting Camp, as an example, is not located next door to Raunch Ranch, and this, too, seems to me like common sense. Let me also point out that having intercourse in the street is already illegal in Nevada, as it is everywhere.
I do not believe that the policies cited above have seriously eroded our freedoms. Fears that such restrictions will lead a cascading collapse of civil liberties are unwarranted (and, I'm forced to say, a little hysterical). Does anybody really think that the inability to have sex in front of children (or in the road, for that matter) will lead to a reign of puritan suppression at Burning Man? The answer is: no, of course not. Women will not be arrested for participating in Critical Tits, nor is anyone inclined to view simple nudity as a sex act. The authorities, of course, are apt to view sex acts in unrestricted public settings as illegal, and I am not inclined to dispute this.
To speak about this hot button issue a little more personally, I have never regarded Burning Man as the equivalent to a members-only swingers condo. For years, I took my young son the Jewish Community center in San Francisco. I liked it especially because of one particular policy. It featured a children's center with an open court that served as playground. A sandbox for toddlers stood at its center. Balconies lined the walls of this court, each belonging to an apartment that the community had provided for the elderly. Do you realize how aberrant this was by American standards? We warehouse the elderly and plant our kids in front of TV's. Generations scarcely speak to one another in this country. Surely, if Burning Man is to be regarded as any kind of true community, we can do better than this. If Burning Man is really radical -- and not merely shocking, naughty or uncouth -- it is because we have the courage to leap across barriers and recognize the deep humanity in everyone - including parents and children.
What I've just described is called radical inclusion. The Burning Man Project is pledged to fight for this, even though it may sometimes pit us against the authorities and (a little ironically, I think) those people who want to turn our event into an all-adult playpen.