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Home Alone

Last week I heard about this story of a woman who allowed her 9 yr old son to ride the subway alone and make his way home to their apartment. Ironically enough, I was in New York City at the time.

At first I was aghast. My goodness, who in their right mind would ever let a 9 yr old out of their sight in the dangerous city? Much less allow him to navigate the subway system. But then I read the article the mother wrote for The Sun in which she explains herself:

"Parents are in the grip of anxiety and when you're anxious, you're totally warped," the author of "A Nation of Wimps," Hara Estroff Marano, said. We become so bent out of shape over something as simple as letting your children out of sight on the playground that it starts seeming on par with letting them play on the railroad tracks at night. In the rain. In dark non-reflective coats.

The problem with this everything-is-dangerous outlook is that over-protectiveness is a danger in and of itself. A child who thinks he can't do anything on his own eventually can't.

I agree with the last statement and that caused me to step back and reevaluate. As someone who lives in suburbia and only occasionally visits that Big Scary City, I could not imagine allowing any one of my children to wander about unsupervised. Heck, I am not sure I am qualified to wander about unsupervised. But that is exactly it. If I did live in the city and my children were familiar with subway riding and navigating the subway system and getting on and off of trains, it might not seem so crazy.

Back when I was nine years old I had already been walking home from school all alone and staying inside until my mother came home from work several hours later. This was the same with most of my friends. It was accepted as normal. Now, thirty years later, I do not know a single person who does this. Is it more dangerous for a child to be home alone after school or has our perception just changed?

When I had just small children I remember one person telling me that little kids had little problems, and bigger kids had bigger problems; that it would never get easier, only different. At the time, overtired from many sleepless nights in a row, wearing my spit-up stained shirt, I scoffed. It had to get easier.

Now that I am here I understand what she meant. Sure, physically things are easier. But the issues are bigger and more challenging to navigate. The answers are not as simple as letting them cry it out or going to them. Suddenly they have friends who have parents much more lenient than you will ever be. And you will at least once find yourself saying, "But so-and-so is not my child, you are." Teenagers will cause your own parents' words to come flying out of your mouth.

I believe that most states have laws now about children being left home alone. Regardless, among people I know personally, twelve seems to be the generally accepted age for being left home alone.

So what does everyone else think? Would you allow your nine year old the level of freedom to ride the subway alone? What age do you think is old enough to be left alone?


Visit Chris Jordan's personal blog, Notes from the Trenches