Lenore Skenazy joins us tonight, March 3rd. While she had been a journalist, and a columnist for the Daily News–I was a fan at the time–she went national, because she let her 9-year-old take the MTA home by himself.
Anyway, for weeks my boy had been begging for me to please leave him somewhere, anywhere, and let him try to figure out how to get home on his own. So on that sunny Sunday 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.
Good story. Told funny. If you don’t remember this–it went national–do read the whole thing. The reason it went national, of course, is many, many people thought Lenore had demonstrated irresponsible, even criminally irresponsible, parenting by allowing her kid onto the MTA.
Lenore is making the same point here that Bruce Schneier makes in the video excerpt above (entire interview with Bruce and James Fallows.) My way of making that point is asking why kids don’t wear helmets all the time, instead of just when they are on their bikes.
The answer is the same as Bruce’s remark about so few people wearing bullet-proof vests–the improvement in security is not worth the trouble. But there are kids who do wear helmets all the time. I knew one–she had severe epilepsy, and was at serious risk of hurting herself in a fall.
What’s interesting is how this has changed, in relation to how kids are raised in this country. I recall quite clearly being summoned by my mother to bike the couple of miles to a convenience store (Moran’s, no 7-11s in the area) to pick her up a desperately needed pack of Benson-Hedges. Helmetless. Along two heavily traveled roads.
So what has changed? It’s probably true this was unwise on my mother’s part, but her asking me to do this was unexceptional, as, I expect, it was unexceptional for a kid in New York to ride public transportation by herself in Lenore’s youth. And it was more dangerous then!
That’s where we start tonight. What’s changed? Why?