How old do your kids need to be before you’ll let them travel on public transportation?
My daughter just flew from JFK to Houston with a friend the same age as her: fourteen. A direct flight, with adults dropping them off at the gate and picking them up at the other end. All things considered they were extremely safe through this trip over the holidays.
When we ran into friends and relatives around the holidays who noticed she was absent, we told them she was in Texas.
“She’s in Texas? Who did she go with?”.
“With one of her classmates. They went to visit a mutual friend.”
“Oh, her friend’s family was going down too?”, with a sense of relief on their faces.
“No. Just the two of them,” I said, as I watched their eyes open wide with disbelief.
Most didn’t react that way. I often heard people say that this would be good step for her and that she would build some confidence out of the trip. The strongest disagreement with my choice seemed to come from mothers, while fathers seemed generally more supportive.
My father, at age 12, took a train to NYC from Connecticut with his cousin. He survived to tell the tale just fine. How did they get to the train station in New Haven or Bridgeport? They hitchhiked. They made this trip more than once.
Lenore Skenazy, was letting her son, at nine years, ride the subway in NYC, by himself. The day after Christmas this year — he is now ten years old — he got on the train, and a conductor finding him traveling alone raised an issue believing that this was not right. The police were called, but eventually, it turns out that everything was OK. The policy of the MTA, which nobody was apparently aware of, states that kids can ride along as long as they are eight and up.
The hair on my neck bristles sometimes when I hear people say, “Well, we live in different times. It’s not like it used to be,” with the assumption that the world is a more dangerous place.
But the only stats that I’ve seen have indicated that the world is getting to be a safer place for children, with rates of crime against children actually dropping.
Parents that live in fear and impose overly restrictive limits on their kids are making a terribly misinformed decision. Reality does not support the reasons that they are choosing to limit their kids experiences. Worse, they are passing their irrational fears onto their children, who will grow up wrongly believing that the world is to be feared and danger lurks everywhere.
Would you let your ten-year-old ride the MTA around NYC alone? When your neighborhood is NYC, then I don’t see why you wouldn’t. Some parents would probably side with people who think that Lenore is an irresponsible parent. Lenore sees that she’s giving her kids freedom, responsibility, and experiences that will serve them well in becoming adults. I side with her. I believe that the job of raising a child is one where you gradually give a kid more freedom and responsibility so that by the time their are an adult, they are well-prepared.
Nowadays, consider that kids who are likely to be traveling on airlines or subways are also outfitted with a cell phone, giving them easy access to emergency services. Such luxuries didn’t exist when my Dad traveled. They certainly didn’t exist in the days of Ben Franklin and Davy Crockett either, who began adulthood in their early teens.
I have Lenore’s book, Free Range Kids: Giving Our Kids the Freedom We Enjoyed Without Going Nuts with Worry, on order, and I’ll be following her new blog, Free Range Kids.
Indeed, times have changed. Unfortunately it is the parents have changed. Thank you John Walsh and the rest of the media for inciting record levels of fear amongst parents.