How old should a child be before he or she should be allowed to ride public transit by themselves?
I don’t have a good answer to that question, and I don’t know that one exists. If you go by the discussion I heard on my drive to work this morning on MPR News, it certainly seems like the two sides (free range parents vs. helicopter parents) will never find common ground. I fall somewhere in the middle, probably closer to helicopter than I might like to admit.
The truth is that I know more than a few adults who are afraid or extremely hesitant to ride public transit by themselves. I feel like I am forever assuring people that the city bus seems scarier than it really is while they counter with stories that begin with “I heard…” and end with something terrible happening. The idea of convincing parents that their children should ride a bus solo seems rather ludicrous in that context.
Just a few hours after listening to experts and callers weigh in on the topic, I happened upon a picture book that provided another perspective. In The Bus Ride by Marianne Dubuc, a little girl rides a bus by herself for the first time. Her bus ride looks a little bit different from my usual bus rides. Her world is populated by what appear to be scary animals. Wolves and bears board the bus with her. They seem intimidating, but in the end, they are friendly, or at least benign. The girl’s solo trip is not without adventure, but it is a quiet sort of adventure. It seems like a just-right adventure in this book.
It doesn’t answer any questions or set any guidelines for solo bus travel, but it does portray public transit as a gentle place full of community, much like Last Stop on Market Street did. That is a message that I can firmly get behind. I still have no idea when I will allow my daughter to ride public transit on her own, but I sincerely hope that she will feel comfortable doing so as an adult. Until then, we’ll be off in search of just-right adventures of our own, in books and in life. Some solo, some together.
- Lenore Skenazy’s writes about letting her nine-year-old ride the NYC subway alone (and the response she got after she wrote about it) in this essay.
- The recent NPR story about free-range parenting.
- A review of The Bus Ride from one of my favorite kidlit review blogs.
- Peek inside a bit of The Bus Ride on the publisher’s web site.