Is it Responsible for a Parent to let a 12 Year old Child Ride the Nyc Subway alone – Yes

The funny thing is… I was going to vote “no” and was prepared to argue the side of parental irresponsibility for allowing a mere 12 year old to ride the big, bad New York subway system. But then I starting reading the arguments for “yes” and “no.” And began thinking more about my own knee-jerk reaction to anything that might threaten my two girls, the youngest of whom will turn 12 next year. Upon reflection, I found more reasonable the argument for gradually prepared and independent children, versus over-protected, unprepared, parent-dependent adolescents and ultimately adults. Most on the “no” side argue the dangers of child abduction and crime in New York City. But statistics agree with those on the “yes” side -stranger abductions of children are about as rare as being struck by lightning – though the media attention given to these tragic events results in irrational parental fears. On the other hand, as a number of writers aptly noted, car accidents are much more dangerous for children – and accidents in general are the cause of the majority of teen adolescent and teen deaths in the United States. And how many of us worry about the other issues that are more likely to eventually kill our children? Skin cancer, a potentially deadly disease, will impact 1 in 4 U.S. residents in the next 10-20 years, toxins in our indoor and outdoor environments will lead to more immune disorders and other illnesses, and obesity will ultimately kill many of us, if our cars don’t do it first.

I will never forget when my eldest daughter was in kindergarten and carpooling to Chucky Cheese for a classmate’s birthday. A mom was frightened that her son might encounter a pedophile there during the party, but had no qualms about this same son riding in a classmate’s car without a booster seat. To me it seemed the shoulder-belt at his neck was a much more serious safety hazard than the imagined pedophile. Where is our sense of proportion, much less reality?

My own children are growing up in a fairly protected environment – a university town which is very bicycle friendly. They have biked to school and walked to friends houses from a rather young age, primarily on greenbelts and through parks to avoid car traffic. I send them to spend weekends and weeks during the summer with friends in a nearby major urban area, and yes, I do worry. I don’t worry about them being kidnapped, however, I worry about their lack of street smarts and crime they could encounter. “Street smarts” are something their urban cohorts have grown up developing, but my girls are sorely lacking. Though I have had arguments with my urban parent friends about their lack of “adequate supervision” of my children at times, really I am grateful for the opportunity to gradually, and naturally expose my kids to life’s risks – rather than keep them in a bubble until they reach adulthood.

Every child is different, and every child matures and is ready for different levels of independence at different times. A 9 year old may be mature enough and aware enough of her surroundings for short subway rides, and a dreamy 13 year old may not, depending on their maturity, personality and abilities at that point. Hopefully, responsible parents will know their children’s limits. So my vote has changed from “no” to “yes” – let them become independent teens and then, hopefully, secure and able adults.