Unaccompanied Minors in Transit
We have long taken transit throughout the city as a means to get to school, work, activities, and recreation. Our TriMet Trekker group at school has further instilled confidence and familiarity of our transit system. We have coordinated to have another school parent, who lives further out on our bus line, collect our kids as we deposit them onto the bus, unaccompanied, and that chaperoning parent has walked them the four blocks to their school.
Now, we have started to experiment with the kids taking the bus without an accompanying adult. A few weeks ago, at the start of summer break, we sent three kids – ages 14 (a visiting relative, a non-Portlander), 10, and 7 – on the bus from our house to go to Powell’s Books. This is a familiar bus line, as we work and go to school blocks from Powell’s. They know where to get off (NW Davis) and where to walk so there would be crosswalks at lighted intersections. They made it to Powell’s, bought a couple of books each with their saved allowance, then also had lunch at a restaurant, funded also by their allowance.
Yesterday, our eldest (the 10 year-old) and her friend (an 8 year-old) took the bus home from their summer camp. It was one bus line (no transfers) and I met them at the stop where they de-boarded, as that stop is almost a mile from our house. Once I was sure they were off the bus and across a busy intersection, I went ahead home on my bike and had them walk the rest of the way home alone.
I have some guidelines:
- Go in groups; stay together. Go to the bathroom together. (In fact, try not to use the bathroom when you’re out!)
- Sit in the front of the bus near the driver.
- Don’t jaywalk (even if mama might do so every now and then)
I repeat and repeat and repeat and repeat to them to be vigilant and cautious. I have once mentioned to them the possibility that they could just be snatched up in a second and taken to a bad place. There is a fine line between scaring the kids and letting them know that independence is very serious. I catch myself when I start to rattle off scary stories. The last thing are grown children who are so afraid to leave the house if I scare them so.
These are very, very big steps for us. I recall the day when I first let the toddler out of my sight. It was so scary; it was in the supermarket. And, now, not only is she out of my sight, she is way out of my sight, possibly miles away. I don’t deny that I have pangs of anxiety when I think about the what-ifs (there could be so, so many). At times, I wonder if it is too early for this sort of independence. Other times, I feel that it is the right time to learn this level of self-sufficiency. We know families whose kids have started bussing on their own at this age (perhaps even slightly younger than 10) due to necessity - working parents unable to drop off/pick up at school made it a requirement for kids to get themselves to and fro on their own. It's a bit of a luxury for us to be able to control when the kids start to transit solo, how far, and how frequently.
Are you there yet with your kids? Have they gone out to take a walk to the store or park on their own? Have they taken the bus or MAX or biked solo across miles to get to their desintation? What are your guidelines for them as they venture out?