Why My Kids Take Public Transit

This is a crazy week for our family. We were on vacation last week, but my kids returned to California with my husband while I traveled to a conference, where I was presenting. My older son started his first job Monday (at my husband’s office) and my younger son started a new camp. I got home last night and my husband leaves for his conference this afternoon. Suffice to say, there are not enough drivers in this family to ensure that everyone gets where they need to go every day this week.

Luckily, my kids know how to take public transit. Starting two years ago, when the boys were in 5th and 7th grade, I got them Clipper cards and helped them figure out how to take the bus home from school. It’s one bus, and a straight shot up Broadway. The summer before, my older son had gone to a flight camp in Hayward, which is a pain in the ass to drive to, but no big deal on BART. The camp director picked him up at the station and dropped him off. It was stressful at first, but by Day 2, he was a veteran.

Last week, we took the subway everywhere we went in NYC, even if a cab would have been faster. To my husband and me, the subway is part of the adventure.

I know very few other families who let their kids take Bay Area public transportation. A few of my older son’s friends do, but only a couple of other 11-12 year olds that we know do, and none of them are girls. When I mention to people that my kids are taking bus and BART all over the place this week, they are surprised, and a few people don’t bridle their disdain for my permissive parenting.

It’s important to me that my children be independent. When they get older, I want them to be the kind of people at ease in new cities, able to navigate the world without a car or their hand being held. I want them to move out someday. And the only way to put them on this path is to set the expectation now that they are capable of doing. Public transportation is very safe, particularly during the day, and all the trains and buses are loaded with surveillance cameras. On the bus, you can always sit near the driver. We talk through different scenarios and they tell me what they see and learn. At the end of each day, they sound a little more confident and grown-up. It’s quite lovely. It’s helpful to remember that six-year-olds in Japan routinely take the subway, and kids in NYC take mass transit everywhere.

There are lots of other ways to help our kids get ready for life. I recommend reading articles like this one and this one for ideas.

My job is to prepare my kids for the world, and in particular, for the world I want them to live in. I am very proud of my transit-confident kids. Now if I could just get them to load the dishwasher. . .

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