There have been a spate of stories this summer about parents arrested or in trouble for letting their kids go to the park alone or otherwise do things independently. If you’re a parent who reads blogs, I’m sure you saw these stories or the many, many responses to them.
One of the things I’ve seen, which I’ve also written about a little bit here in the past, is that when we know crime has dropped, and we know that children are generally safe from strangers, one of the reasons that many parents don’t send their kids outside alone anymore isn’t fear of kidnappers or violence, but rather fear of judgement from neighbors and busybodies and the subsequent involvement of the government and the potential loss of their children.
I do worry about all these things – the bad guys, the busybodies, and the government – but I keep making the decision to not let it interfere with what I see as best for my kids. And I think being confident, independent kids is what’s best. They get so much out of being able to go to the park alone, to ride their bikes on the closed park roads alone on a Sunday, to walk to the store by themselves, and most recently to ride the subway solo.
For the last two weeks, Mushroom has gotten himself to and from his summer camp on the Metro by himself. We had to get special permission from the camp. who were initially aghast that we wanted to send him to camp on the Metro. We live walking distance from the subway, and he routinely goes to the shops near there alone or with his brother. The camp was right outside a station on the same Metro line. It seemed like a no brainer, especially since I had to take BalletBoy to a completely different camp farther away in our only car. Even so, we had to go back and forth with the camp several times and then write up our own liability waiver in order to get them to agree. One of the camp employees said, “You can’t really mean a nine year old on the Metro, can you?” But then, by the end of the conversation, when the judgement of parenting was past, he casually added, “Well, I took the Metro at that age alone and nothing happened.”
We actually based the liability waiver on the one from BalletBoy’s camp, which was in a walkable neighborhood suburb that just doesn’t happen to be near ours. Hilariously, after all that back and forth with Mushroom’s camp, BalletBoy’s simply handed us the waiver the first day. “Sign here if you want to allow him to sign himself out,” the camp director told me, with no further greeting or explanation.
We spent the first few days of camp getting Mushroom ready to ride alone. We made sure there there was plenty of money on his card and made him a nifty necklace cardholder like the kind government professionals often wear to hold their clearance badges. We practiced which trains were the right line and which way to walk and what to do if you accidentally missed your stop. One morning I rode the subway with him then said goodbye at his station and turned around to take the next train back myself. The next day, I walked him to the Metro and said goodbye at the turnstiles. And then, finally, he walked up and went entirely on his own. He texted me from his cheapie cell phone to say simply, “there.”
As you can probably predict, absolutely nothing bad happened. He arrived there and home without any issue and without losing anything along the way. He had a lot to say about the Metro ads, but not much about the people. No one hassled him or talked to him at all. The biggest excitement was that he once got on a train that didn’t come to the end of the line. He had to get off when it shut down and catch the next one. He adjusted accordingly. In other words, it wasn’t much excitement at all.
In fact, I kept saying to him things like, “Wow, you’re so grown up! Taking the Metro alone!” and, “I’m so proud of you! You’re so responsible!” And he practically rolled his eyes. “It’s no big deal,” he told me.
Well, it shouldn’t be. He’s absolutely right.