Lenore Skenazy is my heroine
Lenore made waves by letting her almost-ten-year-old son ride home by himself on the subway from a planned outing together. Her son, Izzy, had been begging for an independent experience and Lenore thought the time was right to let him have one.
She described the experiment in her New York Sun column, "Here's Your MetroCard, Kid."
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.
Skenazy's parenting decision was controversial enough to land her on The Today Show yesterday for an interview with a skeptical Ann Curry. I am not sure whether I would make the same choice as Skenazy for my child, but I loved that she was willing to go on national TV and stick up for her decision, without regret or apology.
And, I would not make the same choice for my child because she's not a New York City kid. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. I travel to New York a couple of times a year, and I finally feel that I can navigate the city on my own. This week I rode the subway and the bus which felt unfamiliar, but perfectly safe. I can believe that a kid who was totally familiar with the city would be safe there as well. Even better than that, while New Yorkers can be gruff, I have found them to be consistently helpful when necessary.
The paradox of modern parenting is that we've gotten to the point where we think we need to lock our kids in a tower until they are old enough to be on their own. But how will they get enough experience to navigate the world independently if we don't let them explore? A wise teacher once said, "Good decisions come from experience… Experience comes from bad decisions." The key is to give kids enough latitude to explore, even make mistakes, but not seriously harmful ones. Striking this balance is not always easy, but we have to try.
We know that there is a danger in giving our kids too much freedom, but I also believe that there is harm in stunting their independence. No one wants to end up a helicopter parent whose kid can't function on their own in college without calling Mom and Dad on the cell phone ten times a day. For an independent ten-year-old who is confident enough to ask for help if he needs it, a subway ride on his own might be a reasonable option.
I'm going to be writing more on these issues in the near future. In the meantime I encourage you to watch the Today Show video and let me know what you think.