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How Young is too Young for Public Transportation?

Remember that chicken at the amusement park with his hand out and the speech bubble that read, “You must be this tall to ride this ride”? Well, as a born and bred child of Manhattan, I can tell you that for New York City’s subway and bus system, this chicken and his decisive hand do not exist.

The first time I rode the subway alone I was twelve-years-old. My father’s back had gone out that morning and I had to brave the streets alone or miss school. So, I put on my grandfather’s old motorcycle jacket and armed myself with the most powerful don’t-mess-with-me-mug I could muster. I avoided eye contact, spoke to no one, and made it to school alive. While all of this may sound like hyperbole, for a twelve-year-old, this was a very high stakes situation. Why? Because my parents warned me of the dangers of kidnapping, exploitation, and potential violence that can arise as a consequence of living in a crowded, happening place. And what was more, I got the message, and my father knew this.

There is no specific age at which your child will be able or comfortable with taking the train or bus alone, but there will come a time when they are educated, aware, and careful enough to do so. (Even if they feel they have to put on protective “tough guy” clothes and look really angry.) This time will come at different ages for different kids, but having open and honest conversations with your children about the dangers out there and how they feel about them will help you become your own amusement park chicken granting access to your new public transit rider.

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