I was working the MAKE table but also talking to people about our hackerspace, the Hack Factory. We had a couple families come up and want to know whether kids could join. These were super smart teenagers for whom schools had little to offer, desperate for some nerdy types to hang out with. We discussed it in our next meeting and agreed that our bylaws didn’t allow it.
Some hackerspaces do not allow anyone under 18 to enter without supervision. Reasons for this normally vary a lot, but the most common reason seems to be avoiding accidents. If an accident would happen in a hackerspace, legal consequences could occur in some countries.
“It’s all about liability or the perception thereof. If you have an insurer that is okay with it, sweet. If not, prepare to pay to allow those kids in.”
“Children are NEVER allowed [...] for safety reasons.”
The above attitude or viewpoint is easy to understand. A lot of hackerspace activities include welding, wood work, machines, acids and even flammable materials. Besides it’s not just the materials that can make a hackerspace more prone to accidents, reason can also be the facilities (stairs, stuff lying around on the floors, etc..). Therefore a risk of accident is always present. Some kid could without anyone to know about it, hurt oneself seriously. The risk is present even for the adults, but they are supposed to take care of themselves and act in responsible manner. But it is common that kids do hurt themselves often. So what’s the news? That’s part of how they learn to live in this world. Although not allowing kids to enter a hackerspace without supervision can be well justified, it isn’t the only viewpoint. Some hackerspaces (especially US hackerspaces) use waivers that the adults sign. If the kids of those parents who signed the waiver come to a hackerspace, they are to be supervised by the parent of the child. Another option is that parents of under-aged children sign the waiver for them. This seems to be a valid practice. Although it raises a question concerning those kids whose parents are not interested about hackerspaces related activities. Some hackerspaces, depending on their location, need to take more strict attitude towards kids in hackerspaces. To get an insurance for a hackerspace can be hard, since they might not fit into existing categories of insurance profiles. Another hackerspace allows minors to enter hackerspace as long as they are guests of a member. The ‘host’ in that case will be responsible for the safety of the kids.
What do you think, readers? Should we do more to encourage kids to visit hackerspaces? Are we cheating a lot of teenagers — who may theoretically be as smart and capable as any adult — out of a cool learning experience? Leave your thoughts in comments.