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Recent column. NYSun.

Why I Let My 9-Year-Old Ride the Subway Alone

By LENORE SKENAZY | April 1, 2008

I left my 9-year-old at Bloomingdale's (the original one) a couple weeks ago. Last seen, he was in first floor handbags as I sashayed out the door.

Bye-bye! Have fun!

And he did. He came home on the subway and bus by himself.

Was I worried? Yes, a tinge. But it didn't strike me as that daring, either. Isn't New York as safe now as it was in 1963? It's not like we're living in downtown Baghdad.

Anyway, for weeks my boy had been begging for me to please leave him somewhere, anywhere, and let him try to figure out how to get home on his own. So on that sunny Sunday I gave him a subway map, a MetroCard, a $20 bill, and several quarters, just in case he had to make a call.

No, I did not give him a cell phone. Didn't want to lose it. And no, I didn't trail him, like a mommy private eye. I trusted him to figure out that he should take the Lexington Avenue subway down, and the 34th Street crosstown bus home. If he couldn't do that, I trusted him to ask a stranger. And then I even trusted that stranger not to think, "Gee, I was about to catch my train home, but now I think I'll abduct this adorable child instead."

Long story short: My son got home, ecstatic with independence.

Long story longer, and analyzed, to boot: Half the people I've told this episode to now want to turn me in for child abuse. As if keeping kids under lock and key and helmet and cell phone and nanny and surveillance is the right way to rear kids. It's not. It's debilitating — for us and for them.

And yet —

"How would you have felt if he didn't come home?" a New Jersey mom of four, Vicki Garfinkle, asked.

Guess what, Ms. Garfinkle: I'd have been devastated. But would that just prove that no mom should ever let her child ride the subway alone?

No. It would just be one more awful but extremely rare example of random violence, the kind that hyper parents cite as proof that every day in every way our children are more and more vulnerable.

"Carlie Brucia — I don't know if you're familiar with that case or not, but she was in Florida and she did a cut-through about a mile from her house … and midday, at 11 in the morning, she was abducted by a guy who violated her several times, killed her, and left her behind a church."

That's the story that the head of safetynet4kids.com, Katharine Francis, immediately told me when I asked her what she thought of my son getting around on his own. She runs a company that makes wallet-sized copies of a child's photo and fingerprints, just in case.

Well of course I know the story of Carlie Brucia. That's the problem. We all know that story — and the one about the Mormon girl in Utah and the one about the little girl in Spain — and because we do, we all run those tapes in our heads when we think of leaving our kids on their own. We even run a tape of how we'd look on Larry King.

"I do not want to be the one on TV explaining my daughter's disappearance," a father, Garth Chouteau, said when we were talking about the subway issue.

These days, when a kid dies, the world — i.e., cable TV — blames the parents. It's simple as that. And yet, Trevor Butterworth, a spokesman for the research center STATS.org, said, "The statistics show that this is an incredibly rare event, and you can't protect people from very rare events. It would be like trying to create a shield against being struck by lightning."

Justice Department data actually show the number of children abducted by strangers has been going down over the years. So why not let your kids get home from school by themselves?

"Parents are in the grip of anxiety and when you're anxious, you're totally warped," the author of "A Nation of Wimps," Hara Estroff Marano, said. We become so bent out of shape over something as simple as letting your children out of sight on the playground that it starts seeming on par with letting them play on the railroad tracks at night. In the rain. In dark non-reflective coats.

The problem with this everything-is-dangerous outlook is that over-protectiveness is a danger in and of itself. A child who thinks he can't do anything on his own eventually can't.

Meantime, my son wants his next trip to be from Queens. In my day, I doubt that would have struck anyone as particularly brave. Now it seems like hitchhiking through Yemen.

Here's your MetroCard, kid. Go.
 

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At 9? She's an *******. No way. Besides the obvious, 9 is prime age for molesters.

12, 13 maybe....
 

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Nope wouldn't have happened! I understand the chances of something happening are very small- but if your child is the one abducted or lost or hurt- then statistics really don't matter. I did not keep my kids in a bubble, but there is something to be said for common sense, and that mother has none IMO
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
While I agree with this:

"The statistics show that this is an incredibly rare event, and you can't protect people from very rare events. It would be like trying to create a shield against being struck by lightning."
I also don't think there's any value in dancing out in a downpour waving a nine-iron over your head.
 

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I watched this story on Showtime's Bullshit with Penn & Teller about "Stranger Danger" and how in today's world the bad stories are so inflated and publicized that a lot of parents have a very false sense of what danger is real and what is not. They interviewed the kid and his mom and actually went with the kid on the route he took.

I'm not a parent, so I don't know if I would do this. I think it depends on the maturity of the child, how familiar they are with the route, and where the route actually goes.

I understand the wanting to take care of your child and keep them safe... but I think sometimes that creates more problems than it avoids.

My brother and I were raised very differently. One of those ways was I was expected to be very self reliant. I went home after school to an empty house. I baby sat when I was 10. I was expected to travel alone on buses/airplanes after the divorce. I had to entertain myself a lot as well. I had a newspaper route when I was 14, and real work began when I was 16. I was thrust into true independence (living with a roommate, managing all my finances, balancing school and full time job) at age 17.

Tom has had a 12 yrs older bigger sister looking out for him, plus a mom who has spent more time "at home" (first on a longer maternity leave than she ever took for me, and then for health reasons) than working. He has no level of independence whatsoever. He has not yet had a job and he's turning 17 this month. He is in no way able to cook for himself, do his own laundry, much less manage money. And he won't have to worry about these things anytime soon (especially the managing money part as it seems my parents are going to send him to a private art school right out of college).

There are lots of times when I wish fervently that I had been "taken care of" more by my parents... I right now can identify with that feeling of wanting someone to take care of me ... just a little. But I also know that I pride myself on my independence. I'm proud of all the things I have had to overcome and I know I'm a very strong person because of it. I have a great outlook on life, I tend to find a lot of joy in the very small things, and the negative things might anger me or make me sad for a bit, but I can usually take them in stride.

Blah... I got on a rambling roll there... sorry ;)
 

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That reminded me of this article:

http://www.salon.com/mwt/feature/2009/05/04/free_range_kids/print.html

The crime rate today is equal to what it was back in 1970. In the '70s and '80s, crime was climbing. It peaked around 1993, and since then it's been going down.

If you were a child in the '70s or the '80s and were allowed to go visit your friend down the block, or ride your bike to the library, or play in the park without your parents accompanying you, your children are no less safe than you were.

But it feels so completely different, and we're told that it's completely different, and frankly, when I tell people that it's the same, nobody believes me. We're living in really safe times, and it's hard to believe.
My SU grew up in West Philly in the 1970s and 1980s--the city's lowest point--and she remembers taking SEPTA by herself everywhere at 10 or 11.*

*Of course, she thinks her parents were neglectful, but that's another story. :)
 

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I do get what she is trying to say. But 9 is too young. I let my kids walk home from school everyday. The parents next door think I am crazy.
 

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Jason rode his bike or walked to kindergarten by himself. And that was Indianapolis, not small town or suburbs.

That said, Riley doesn't have the kind of independence we had when we were kids. Maybe our parents didn't know better, or maybe we as parents are too paranoid. I don't know.
 

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I walked to and from school (about a mile) when I was 7-8 years old. I see kindergarteners ride the school bus (bus picks them up in front of their house) in our neighborhood.

I think I would be more afraid of the kid getting lost or making a stupid decision than actually being hurt by someone.
 

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My SU grew up in West Philly in the 1970s and 1980s--the city's lowest point--and she remembers taking SEPTA by herself everywhere at 10 or 11.*
:eek: Wow! That *is* brave! I still only do Septa buses by myself at night.

Not a parent, but I would have to say if there was anywhere in the world I would let a kid do this - it would be Manhattan.

Tons of tourists, many police officers, on the weekend there won't be a deserted stop anywhere, so the kid will always have help, provided he even needs it. It's not like she dropped him at the tip of Manhattan and told him to meet her on Roosevelt Island.

I also trust this Mom that she knows her kid. If he's been taking the subway his whole life, he might be ready for some things that non-city kids aren't. I'm sure he wouldn't be ready to help drive the truck to throw hay to the horses, but my cousins all did that at at least 9 or 10. ::shrugs::
 

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GRRRR!! When I saw the age I freaked...nine year olds just don't have the maturity to be left to themselves. What if, could have happened.:mad:
 
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