Ta2ati2d's Weblog

The right age to be independent in NYC

I caught the tail end of a story this morning on the Today show about a woman who made her 9 year old son find his own way home in NYC, by way of subway.  If I have it right, she dropped him off at Macy’s or Bloomingdales or some such, with map in hand, and told him to come home on his own.  People want her to be brought up on all kinds of charges, most specifically, of course, child abuse and reckless endangerment.  A lot of people feel what she did was grossly inappropriate and dangerous for the child’s well-being, broaching the possibilities of abduction and kidnapping, and the myriad of other bad things that could happen to a kid.

Was it though?  I mean, really, at nine years old, living in the New York-New Jersey area, shouldn’t a nine year old be able to make his/her way through the area they live in?  At five and six years old, a lot of children look to be able to help their parents with little things like carrying a grocery bag ( a small one) back home, or holding a puppy for a parent.  Around that age and beyond, when parents take their kids to the local playground, they’re teaching them not to take candy or speak to strangers, and rightly so. 

So between 5 to 9 years old, with the gradual maturing that most well-functioning children do, is it really all that unrealistic to expect a nine year old boy to find his way home from whatever starting point he’s at?  A lot of children walk several blocks home from school, either alone or with a group of kids.  Now I understand there’s another argument in this that there’s a difference between suburbia kids walking home from school and a single kid, at any age, riding the subway back home from wherever.

When I came to New Jersey to live with my mother, she couldn’t afford a baby-sitter, so I was either left home alone, younger than 9 by the way, and reminded not to open the door for anyone.  If the phone rings, I was not to tell anyone on the line that I was home alone.  If I was hungry, I could have a ready made snack as opposed to cooking anything either over the stove or in the oven (as a grown adult, I still avoid cooking).  If I wanted to go out to play, it was either to be in my own backyard or over to my one friend’s house who lived, literally, behind me!  I’m not kidding, there was a wire fence in the yard dividing our property lines, and we would just hang out back there! 

When my mother took me to work with her on the weekends, she worked here in the city, and I fell in love with it.  Whenever she or her husband would utter the famous words “the real world” to me, my first vision was of NYC.  I’d beg her, at 8 years old, to let me pick up the lunches for us.  This entailed my leaving her building, going a couple blocks down by FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) and picking up our lunch to bring it back to the office.  I was not to speak to any strangers, be careful at the crosswalks, and don’t look up at the height of the buildings or make eye contact with any strangers, short of the cashier at the deli when paying for said food.  Yes, it was a lot of rules.  But they were good guidelines and look!  Still alive!

Going back to my original point; at 9 years old, this kid did, in fact, make it home safely without a hair out of place.  When Ann Curry asked him how he felt about going home on his own, he said, “Finally!”  This is it, folks!  Kids are begging for discipline at young ages!  They’re begging for the kind of independence they see older kids and adults experience all the time.  While it doesn’t necessarily mean they should get it right away, just because they want it, it does mean that there should be a certain slackening of the leash, bit by bit.

When I get on the subway to go to Mid-town, I always see teenagers and younger ones on the subway on their own.  They know exactly where they’re headed, they have a slight attitude to them to keep strangers at bay, and they mind their own business by either listening to their MP3 players or reading something.  They’re street-savvy.  You have to wonder, how old were they when they got to have that first trip alone?

How old were you when you got your first taste of true independence, and how did you handle it?

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