Streams

Revolution Number Nine

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Lenore Skenazy, columnist for the New York Sun, talks about the reaction to her article Why I Let My 9-Year-Old Ride the Subway Alone.

Guests:

Lenore Skenazy

Comments [64]

Tammy from Rockwall, TX

I agree with a previous poster..

Can someone please call Child Protective Services here??? She's just lucky the child made it home safe..next time he may not fare so well. What and idiot this woman is...she doesn't deserve to have children.

Apr. 04 2008 02:04 PM
Jason

Did no one else notice the article was published on April 1st?

Apr. 03 2008 09:49 AM
ileen from upper west side

Maturity is one thing, but size is another. I was a mature responsible 9 year old, but I wasn't tall enough to use a MetroCard properly.

Apr. 02 2008 04:40 PM
mike from brooklyn

Thanks, Lenore. I've been looking for a way to get out of accompanying my 9-year-old to each and every baseball practice and game this spring. My wife freaked on me when I suggested he walk to basketball practice alone a few months ago(through the mean streets of Prospect Heights and Park Slope).

To be fair to my wife, though, the debate was mainly about crossing busy intersections.

Apr. 02 2008 01:55 PM
eva from spiritually? Newark

I hate to say it, but there are tons of immigrant children (and children of immigrants) who take more "perilous" journeys on the subway ALONE every day.
There's one difference.
Their parents are too busy working to make time to read "Neurotic Parents Magazine."
As a result, I predict their kids will do better than the "coddled" kids. A friend of mine from Brooklyn described the new generation of kids this way: "Their feet never touch the ground!"
Reading these posts actually made me miss the 1970's, which is ironic, because I've always been a big critic of lax (read: absent) 1970's parenting.

Apr. 02 2008 12:18 PM
Glenn Cain from Brooklyn

We've begun to let our 10 and 8 year olds go out alone, to the store, to friends', to school. It's scary at first but the right thing to do.

I'm convinced parents today are overprotective for two main reasons:
(1) We didn't realize how dangerous the world was in the 60's and 70's. In the 80's reports on child abductions and child care abuse the number of which was exagerated by the media made us think every stranger was evil.
(2) 40- and 50-year-old parents have forgotten what it was like to be a child, and how important freedom and adventure were to growing up. Our own 20- and 30-year-old parents didn't try to manage our lives so much.

Fear and paranoia is prevalent among today's parents. I applaud Ms. Skenazy for bucking the trend.

Apr. 02 2008 12:13 PM
Grace

I grew up in Mid-town Manhattan and Kew Gardens, Queens (in the 50's and early 60's). When I was 12 or so I aimed to go to Jackson Heights (where I do live now) to visit friends, using the E(or F) train. I became confused when I saw Roosevelt Avenue on the stop, and not just 74th Street. I stayed on the train. Instead of turning around at Continental Avenue, the next stop, and going BACK by train, I exited the system. I emerged in what looked like country to me. I took a TAXI back to Jackson Heights! (No cell phones then.)
I would not let my grandsons, who live in the Seattle area, go on the subway alone....and much of this has to do with the language heard on the subways.

Apr. 02 2008 12:10 PM
Mira Felner from Greenwich Village

When my son was 10 (almost 11), I let hime take the subway home to Manhattan from Saint Ann's School in Brooklyn for the first time. As luck would have it, that day there was a problem on the subway and service terminated at Canal Street. When he got out of the subway at an unfamiliar stop he was disoriented and ended up walking downtown on Broadway away from home. He realized he was lost but kept walking until he found some familiar landmark. There it was--City Hall. He walked into City Hall and explained how he lost his way. The mayor's security team drove him home in grand style.

Lesson: A New York City kid is never really lost.

Apr. 02 2008 12:08 PM
Gene

Ah, the Upper West Side. I well remember the young woman I was seeing in 1970 telling me that her mother was frantic that she was coming over to the UWS to see me. "Oh my God! You'll get killed over there!"

Apr. 02 2008 12:08 PM
shc from Manhattan

#22 and #39: great points, and to your guest, kudos!

Independence is something kids have to learn, and that can't be done with mom and dad constantly looking over their shoulder. Obviously smarts have to play into it, and that, too, only gets sharpened when kids have to figure things out for themselves.

Apr. 02 2008 12:06 PM
Kate from NY

Lisa, turn your dial a little, you're looking for the other NPR - Neurotic Parent Radio.

Apr. 02 2008 12:05 PM
Patricia from New Jersey

I think that's great. She knows her kid and felt comfortable with him being able to find his way home. And please, he wasn't far from home at all. My 5 year old stepson knows exactly which trains we take from Queens (including NJ transit) to our home in New Jersey. He shared this information with his teachers and friends since we moved 1 1/2 ago. I think he's an incredible mature, independant and intelligent child and wouldn't put it past him to be ready at around the same age.

Apr. 02 2008 12:05 PM
Nancy from Brooklyn, NY

Growing up on LI in the early 70's I lived too close to the school to be bused - approx 1 mile. My Mother grew up in the East Village and never learned to drive and since my Dad worked I had to walk to school once I started the first grade. My Mom walked with me the first two weeks to make sure I knew the route and then I was on my own. They never thought twice about it.

Parents today need to relax.

Apr. 02 2008 12:02 PM
Lisa Jennings from Greenwich

I usually have great respect for WNYC and Brian Leher, however I can't believe how all your calls were conveniently on the side of the pathetic parent. Where were the calls telling her how she should be put away - or at least not allowed to have any more children.

Biased radio - how depressing.

I'm glad I didn't have a Mother like her. She should be ashamed of herself.

Apr. 02 2008 12:02 PM
courtney from lower manhatten

I traveled as an "unaccompanied minor" on airplanes starting at age 7. The airlines were responsible for me until someone with a valid ID met me at the airport. At 11, the airlines no longer did this. I was responsible for getting my seat, finding connecting gates (I flew cross-country 5-10 times a year-(divorced parents))and contacting gate workers if there were delays. It taught me to trust myself and my judgment and made me fiercely independent.

Apr. 02 2008 12:02 PM
Jaime from Queens

The issue is not what parents permit but what children do. I was not permitted off the block when I was 7 years old, growing up in Greenpoint, but regularly snuck onto the train into Manhattan. To often we forget what we did as children or act as if our children are not as smart as we were. Surprise, they are smarter then we could have imagined at their age!

Apr. 02 2008 12:01 PM
MAry Fran from NYC

I put my not-quite-6 year old on the city bus to school every morning. People are crazy today. Kids are oversupervised and overprotected. I did this in the late 60's and he was fine. Is this overprotected stance a function of older parents being more fearful, having one precious little prince or princess? Now it's cell phones so the kids can never have a minute's peace.

Apr. 02 2008 12:00 PM
Barbara from Greenlawn, NY

In 1960, when I was 13, I routinely took a bus on Hillside Ave from Mineola in Nassau County to 179th St Subway stop in Jamaica, and then took the subway to Manhattan (to visit friends I'd met at summer camp. Our neighbors accused my parents of being neglectful. Both my parents had grown up in NYC and had taken the subways as children. They gave me safety instructions (not entering the last car or an empty car, stand near a stairway, etc). My parents taught me independence, and I am grateful for it.

Apr. 02 2008 11:59 AM
BORED

pipe down @#32

Apr. 02 2008 11:59 AM
Stacy from new jersey

Wow. I think this is amazing. I am the mother of a nearly two year old and I constantly worry about her safety to the point where I sometimes feel worn out by my worry. I'm looking forward to a time when she is older and I can relax enough to trust her and trust that she will be alright, instead of looking for danger around every corner. Your story gives me hope that that day will come.

Apr. 02 2008 11:59 AM
eva from spiritually? Newark

This "experiment" was so controlled. From Bloomingdale's? New York City is so safe now.
I can't understand why this freaked people out so much.
My SISTER (we weren't even boys) and I both had to take, individually, more perilous routes in the 1970's. Our immigrant mother used to leave me on the lawn of UC Berkeley in the 1970's when she went to science classes for hours on end, I was ten. The crazy '70's! THAT was extreme, I'll admit. (But to her dismay, I wasn't kidnapped.) So, listen, a subway route in today's NYC isn't that dangerous, esp. not the subway route this thoughtul mommy picked out.
This mom is too rational for this generation of parents. Years ago, a friend of mine wanted to start a parenting magazine, to be called: "Neurotic Parent Magazine", he coulda made a mint!

Apr. 02 2008 11:59 AM
hip_hop_says from brooklyn

i grew up in Philly and as a kid busted into a new school system found myself at 8 traveling to school by myself. my mom had returned to school and she had to drop my sister off at daycare in the morning which was in the opposite direction of my new school. after a few trips with my mom at the start of the school year, she waited for me to get on the trolley and i was responsible to get off at the right stop. after school i was responsible for returning home and letting myself in with the key on the chain around my neck (which my mother was adamant should remain under my shirt at all times).

when my newphew (age 7) visits i let him figure out the route and guide the trip in an effort to give him the experience of reading maps and problem solving (the train was suppose to stop at west 4th but it kept going now what) without my sister killing me for letting her son travel nyc alone.

Apr. 02 2008 11:58 AM
Voter from Brooklyn

I've been shocked when I see smallish children alone on the subway, but it's even more shocking to see some children with their parents. I've seen toddlers wander into an intersection (with their inattentive parents) and walk off after getting off a train or in crowded stores. That's really scary.

Apr. 02 2008 11:58 AM
dk from nyc

I starting taking an airplane by myself at 9 and rode a train alone from DC to NY at 12. Why not!

Apr. 02 2008 11:58 AM
Kendra from Manhattan

As a former UWS nanny I know that it is not your child's age that determines when you should be able to certain things by themselves, it's their maturity level and that of their parents. All kids should know their address, phone number and how to get home, and teaching your child how to use the subway is such a valuable tool for any city kid. I think it is completely commendable, and all parents should be so proactive in shaping their kids into independent little New Yorkers.

Apr. 02 2008 11:57 AM
Aviva from Brooklyn

Each parent knows the maturity level of their child. Hopefully, the child will have been taught (with one-on-one tutoring) to be vigilant. Have them make a trip with a small group (four or less) of friends, so they will learn to balance vigilance and fun.

I rode the bus alone (sometimes) to and from school from age ten. By twelve I was going to ballet lessons (Ailey) in the 1980's in Times Square wearing a school-girl uniform. I never had a negative experience.

Transplant parents, relax; more importantly, "teach your children well". Generations of chidren, many now adults, even more gone on to their eternal reward, navagated their city and survived.

Apr. 02 2008 11:57 AM
helene from brooklyn

My Japanese friends tell me that in Japan 5 year old children take the subway to school alone and it is considered very safe.

Apr. 02 2008 11:57 AM
Bob from New York, New York

Your treating a serious issue rather frivously. This is an issue that parents struggle with every year. It all depends on the maturity of the child. Many issues exist with this issue. The big deal in the subway has to do with children afterschool in groups picking on other children riding alone. It also has to do with the many mentally ill on the subway which unfortunately are not harmless. Your giving parents who do not want to take the time to travel with children the right to say everyone does it.

Apr. 02 2008 11:57 AM
Robert from NYC

There was a story a few years ago about a parent putting an 11 year-old daughter on a plane by herself.

Apr. 02 2008 11:56 AM
Jim from Brooklyn

I'd say it's a somewhat naive generalization to say "We live in a safe city." There is still crime, and there are still people on the lookout to take advantage of those who are clearly in a vulnerable position (people on crutches, the elderly, and yes, kids who are by themselves).

The one thing I think should be a vital part of letting your 9-year-old ride the subway alone or walk the streets alone is to make sure that you've detailed in advance what he should do in case something goes wrong. What kind of adults to trust with questions (a person working in a store might be a better choice than a random pedestrian), and how to get in touch with you if he needs to talk to you. If you've worked out responses to various unwelcome scenarios and you're sure he understands them, go for it. But don't assume giddily that the city is so safe that every and any 9-year-old can roam the streets with no worry about anything happening to them.

Apr. 02 2008 11:56 AM
Nathan from Astoria

I grew up in the countryside in mid-Michigan and my brother and I were always off exploring alone or together the fields and forests around our home when we were only 5,6,7,8,9 yrs old. I often traipsed around with a BB gun (learned how to shoot a rifle when I was 5 or so) and we also had a 3-wheeler and snowmobile we drove by ourselves. Plenty of opportunities to be seriously hurt but it developed in us self-reliance and responsibility, as well as a sense of adventure. I think our parents served us well by doing so and I hope that when I have kids I allow them to take chances and risks and grow up to be adventurous, fearless adults.

Apr. 02 2008 11:56 AM
Lisa Jennings from Greenwich

Who would want a Mom like you? You are basically WILLING to RISK your sons well being. When you son becomes a parent I promise he'll realize just how pathetically irresponsible you are!

Parents like you SHOULD be called in to social services!!!

Have you checked the amount of pediphiles living in the city?

And, I'm upset with WNYC taking too many biased calls and Brian is CLEARLY on the wackos side.

I'm disgusted in every way!

Apr. 02 2008 11:56 AM
RCTB from Westchester

ME: At age 13 I began taking the subway alone from my home in Carroll Gardens to Bay Ridge High School, both in Brooklyn. A few months before my 14th birthday, however, I took the subway alone -- without permission -- to the Plaza hotel in Manhattan to see the Beatles. I was docked one month's allowance, but had a great time!

MY SON: Age 14, to midtown from the Upper West Side, with permission. Prior to that, he was permitted to travel alone to school -- by buss -- beginning at age 12.

Apr. 02 2008 11:55 AM
Robert from NYC

I see lots of kids that look 9, 10, 11 on the subways and buses going and coming home from school. Usually they are with other kids their own age but often some are alone and seem to be quite unbothered by the whole thing even maybe as calloused and/or irritated as the rest of us about the situation.

Apr. 02 2008 11:55 AM
Roberta from Bedford-Stuyvesant

My daughter takes the subway alone between Bed-Stuy and Chinatown to go to and from school and to chorus, Hebrew school, etc. She started when she was 11, at the end of 5th grade. But I wouldn't do it without cell phones for both of us, and we do each route ourselves.

Apr. 02 2008 11:54 AM
Kendall from Manhattan

My mom waited until I was ten years old to let me cross the street by myself. She stayed on the phone with my aunt until I returned. She was way over protective. She did not let me get on the subway by myself until I was in the 12th grade and then I could only go to my aunts house and to the hair dresser by my aunt's house.

I felt greatly deprived by this. All of my friends from school lived in the other burrows and I couldn't visit them. I went to PS116 as well at the time most of the 4th 5th and 6th graders went to school on the bus & subway by them selves.

It is good that she is teaching her child to be independent and responsible.

Apr. 02 2008 11:54 AM
Phil

I didn't let my son ride the subway by himself until he was 11. He's going to be 19 now. Recently he admitted that he and his friends used to ride the subway without telling me from the time he was 9.

Apr. 02 2008 11:54 AM
Nicole from brooklyn

I secretly rode the subway to school starting in the 5th grade (1992). I doctored my bus pass to get on the subway (using old passes and colored pencils - before the metrocard). Never an incident.
The irony is that the one time an older girl was in charge of taking me home from school on the subway was the day a guy ripped a necklace off my neck.

Apr. 02 2008 11:54 AM
DP from Brooklyn

As a child I walked appx 12 blocks to school and started taking the buses and subways within Queens and then between Queens and Manhattan from junior high through high school. The way to make the subways safer is for responsible people to get involved when they see someone in need.

Apr. 02 2008 11:53 AM
Kate from NY

The Republican Party, hand-in-hand with Mass Media has had a smashing success in ensuring that we've move from a society where we believe that people are inherently good, to a society where we believe people are inherently bad and out to get us and kill our children (George Bush and his cronies perfected this post 9/11 - vote for me or THEY will come kill you children).

I love this woman. Stop the madness! Go outside!

Apr. 02 2008 11:53 AM
Ken from Upper West Side

Let's get real here. Hundreds of people are killed while driving the streets of New York each year. Compared to driving a child around in a car, the risks of a solo ride on the subway are minuscule.

Apr. 02 2008 11:53 AM
Sarah from TX

By 9 I was traveling alone not just on the subway but on trains and planes. However (don't ask when, please!) those were the days when kids with enlightened parents could let their kids be independent with little worry. I might think twice now before allowing a 9-year-old do the same thing. Still, I agree completely with Alie and Zak (above). Learning how to take care of yourself and not be scared is really important. I've spent a lot of my life traveling, often in areas where others might say, "Weren't you terrified?!" Limiting kids' explorations and experiences surely limits their psychological and intellectual development, doesn't it?

Apr. 02 2008 11:53 AM
BORED

Gene you do have a point.

Apr. 02 2008 11:52 AM
judy from NYC

My mother let me ride the subway alone once I was in college.

Apr. 02 2008 11:52 AM
antonio from park slope

Bravo! I grew up in hells kitchen, circa late 70's/early 80's (I was about 10/11 then) and my friends and I were going down to canal street to buy japanese toys and going every else..
To the original fao, donnel library etc...
Don't listen to these frauds who are not from nyc, and have had kids here and will never get it! And that "it" is what they will never get!

Apr. 02 2008 11:52 AM
Ron Lester from Flatiron

I was about 6 or 7 when my mother let me cross the street alone, and it was a very dangerous and frightening intersection in Philadelphia. I was 6 years old when my mother allowed me to travel alone on the Philadelphia subway system to go to the movies on Saturdays.

Apr. 02 2008 11:52 AM
Zach from Upper West Side

I went to elementary school three blocks away from where I lived growing up. My mom let me walk alone in 2nd grade, so I guess I was 8, but my mom later revealed that she followed behind me a few times.

I think my first time on the train alone was when I was 12, but that's just because I never took the train anywhere at that age

Apr. 02 2008 11:51 AM
Gene

There's an undisclosed amount of kid-on-kid crime. I live in the Village, and last saw an incident about 6 years ago, a kid hiding out in a hardware store till 2 kids (strangers) who were harassing him had left.

Another time I intervened in 2 12 year olds attacking another to get his gold chain (yes, I know).

These were on the streets of Greenwich Village. The subways, depending on route of course, may even be safer.

Apr. 02 2008 11:51 AM
M Nofier from NYC

I applaud her trying to give her son some independence.

In the article she notes that she did not give him a cell phone because she was afraid he'd lose it.

I find it amusing that she'd trust her son to ride the subway alone, but not to hang on to a cell phone.

Apr. 02 2008 11:50 AM
LK from New York

Wonderful! I started doing this at 11, on my bicycle, in the early 70's. I rode from my parents house in the suburbs through Detroit and to a sailboat club. I loved it and did it every summer until I left for college.

As nutty as it sounds, it means so much to me.

Apr. 02 2008 11:50 AM
John

Shame on you! Don't you know the most adventurous thing you're allowed to do with a child is feed them sushi?! Now go back to hovering over your child every second of the day and calling him "buddy" and "pal." You'll be sorry when he grows up to be an independant adult with critical thinking skills.

Apr. 02 2008 11:50 AM
BORED

wow my parents were really bad because I took the train home every day by myself in the 4th Grade and my brother was in the third grade. You people need to stop watching Nancy Grace.

Apr. 02 2008 11:49 AM
Paulo from Paterson, New Jersey

What was her Plan B if it wasn't the smashing success she'd anticipated?

Apr. 02 2008 11:48 AM
simon Levenson from Manhattan

I was surprised on my recent trip to Tokyo to see first graders traveling the city alone in the morning rush hour to get to get school. At first I was surprised at their trust and then I was saddened by our lack of trust.

Apr. 02 2008 11:47 AM
Paulo from Paterson, New Jersey

I would advise though that one should only let small children ride the subway alone if one is a young parent. Because that way if you lose that one, you can always have another.

Apr. 02 2008 11:08 AM
Paulo from Paterson, New Jersey

Well, it's a good idea! Unless the kid doesn't come home. But if they survive, they'll be that much more independent and self-reliant in life.

Apr. 02 2008 11:07 AM
David from Brooklyn

It's every parent's right to determine how their family operates. (To those who need to ask if this excludes abuse or neglect, please have your heads checked for termites...)
That being said - is it 'obsessive' to be concerned about children's safety? I don't think so.
It's not particularly strange that we worry about life. Once it's gone, it's gone - and it is a natural result for a parent to feel they should have anticipated and shielded a child from harm.
I used to travel throughout the city by subway from the time I was 11, but the world was a different place. I don't think Ms. Skenazy was 'brave' or 'progressive'. I think it is more akin to dodging a bullet.

Apr. 02 2008 10:55 AM
Zak from Brooklyn, NY

We've reached a point where we're extending the helpless dependence of our children more and more with each passing generation. Things that I was allowed to do in my youth, (I'm in my mid 20s, so we're talking the 90s...not that long ago) many modern parents would find HORRIFYING. After my older brother turned ten, we were deemed too old to need a baby-sitter. Minus some squabbling, we survived just fine. Were we city kids, as opposed to country kids, I have all faith the subway would have been our oyster by the time we hit 10 years of age or so. You can't keep your children tethered forever, and the longer you coddle them the longer it will take for them to ever learn the valuable lessons of independence.

Apr. 02 2008 10:39 AM
Living in DC from DC

My parents regularly sent me to the store to get things like milk or bread when I was young. They gave me some change, I walked down to the corner store, and back. Very simple and no one thought anything about it. I tried to do the same with my daughter (this is literally the corner store) and I got a mouthful from her mother, my mother, and everyone else, including the cashier of the corner store. I'm afraid to send her to the corner store again, not because I'm afraid of strangers, but because of the way other parents, etc. will react.

Apr. 02 2008 10:32 AM
michael winslow from INWOOD

I don't have kids but I'd never let my 9 year old ride the subway alone.

I don't even want to ride the subway alone.

Apr. 02 2008 10:15 AM
David from NYC

Parents have to judge the maturity of their children. The author's 9-year-old sounds more capable than some teens I know.

I agree with #2--good for you and better for your son!

Apr. 02 2008 10:13 AM
Alie from Manhattan

This article challenges the very nature of how we deal with life, not just parents, but as people. If we continue to obsess and be anxious about our children, or about our futures, or death, or love, or "figuring it all out" - then we will continue down that path of anxiety-ridden emotion, and the consequential self-torture that results thereof. The worry just leads to more worry "I should have done this or I shouldn't have done that." We give ourselves way to much credit to believe that we really have that much control over the events of our lives. Even if you do send your child to school in a helmet and knee-pads, he can still get hurt or abducted or (most likely) picked on. But, if instead, we can trust that the universe acts in mysterious ways of which we cannot control, then there is no blame to be placed. I think we must be smart of course, but there is a line, and I think parents more often than not continue to cross this line.

Apr. 02 2008 10:07 AM
Francyne from NYC

Good for you and even better for your son.

Apr. 02 2008 09:58 AM
James The Giant Peach from Park Slope

In 1977 and '78, my 9-year-old brother and 7-year-old me used to ride the subway every weekend from my dad's apartment in Park Slope to the Woodlawn station where my mom would pick us up. Yes we ran in to some crazy folks (I was very, very sorry the day I wore a sweatshirt with my name on it) but no one ever tried to hurt us, or even paid much attention to us. When we got a little older (10 and 8), we took the subway to Grand Central and transfered to Metro North. Walking passed Bryant Park pre-makeover, I remember trying to figure out why those guys were saying "Sense? Sense?" to us. My brother explained they were selling drugs. "Drugs are bad. See how bad those guys are?" Lesson learned!

Apr. 02 2008 09:57 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.