Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Kid freedom

I really, really need to write about Beth's birthday party today. And I will. It's just that my friend Mendy passed along the recent Lenore Skenazy column from the New York Sun: Why I Let My 9-Year-Old Ride the Subway Alone. I just have to comment about this, and about all the resulting hysteria.

My next-door neighbor Kiersten and I have been talking about kid freedom quite a bit over the last few months. It started when Kiersten's mother asked if Kiersten's son Sam would be taking the bus to school. "Uh, no," she said. "He'll be walking the half-mile with Beth and Sarah." And then she called me saying, "I'm not wrong, am I? They're walking to school, right? Because it's just half a a mile." I assured her that, yes, they would be walking, and as soon as Beth was comfortable with the route she'd probably be walking by herself before Sam and Sarah were old enough to join her. Another neighbor whose kid isn't quite three months old echoes the sentiment, so there will be four little neighbor kids doing this. And we won't be shadowing them. (But then, we won't be paying for full-day kindergarten, either, and we have plans to put the kids in a neighborhood rock band, too, so maybe we really ARE bad parents.)

As a ten-year-old kid, I walked downtown every day after school (about a mile), got bus money from my dad, and took the bus out to the babysitter's house (another eight miles), where my mom picked me up after work. I knew the UTA bus schedules so well that it actually irks me now that they've changed bus routes and numbers — I don't ever take the bus in Salt Lake any more, but if I need to I'd like to know that the #5 bus is going to be at the corner of 13th South and 19th East at 5, 25, and 45 minutes past the hour (except on weekends). Taking the bus was the cornerstone of my independence. I knew how to get around by myself, how to trust a map and a bus schedule. Because I took the bus as a (pretty little) kid, I wasn't afraid to take the subway in Washington, D.C. or the tram in Moscow, Russia as a sixteen-year-old. I wasn't afraid to go back to Argentina after my mission, toting two friends who'd never been there (one who had never been outside the U.S.), for a three-week, four-city trip. I wasn't panicked about finding my way around L.A., or Pittsburgh, or now Boston. My younger sisters, who for various reasons never took the bus, have very different views of the world and their ability to navigate it.

Beth is three. We already talk about which numbers we see on the buses in our area, and where those buses go. ("Look, Beth, that's a #73 bus! Is that OUR bus?") I just HOPE that by the time she's nine she begs me to let her take the T by herself. If she hasn't asked by the time she's twelve, I'm sending her and a friend to the zoo with Charlie Cards and $50 for lunch and admission.

If I don't let my kids walk to school alone, take the bus and subway alone, and learn to do things like read a map and remember landmarks, how can I expect them to be responsible drivers (and navigators!) when they're 16? How can I expect them to survive away from home when they're 18? How can I expect them to be adults who can function outside of an air-conditioned SUV?

Your thoughts, please. I'm interested in what people have to say about this. (And I'm especially interested if you don't agree with me, by the way.)

(Oh — and I love the title of Lenore Skenazy's blog: Free Range Kids. Someone actually suggested that as the name for the group that ended up being Half Day Play...hilarious!)


Jen Stanford said...

Like you said, Libby, we had that kind of independence growing up and look how well we turned out.

Thinking of it does make me hyperventilate a little, though.

Erin said...

Libby, LOVED the article. If you can believe it - ALL my neighbors WALK their children (regardless of age) to the school...RIGHT ACROSS THE STREET and pick them up every day. Every day. One kid is TEN. I kept thinking to myself - "it's a stones throw away...I could hit the roof with a rock in my girly softball fashion!" Kills me.