Saturday, May 10, 2008

Why I let my 13-Year-Old Ride the Colectivo (Bus) Alone

Picture by Villamota on Flickr"
A lot has been made of the mom who let her 9-year-old son ride the NY city subway by himself. Her editorial in a NY newspaper (Why I let my 9-Year-Old ride the Subway Alone) has generated a lot of talk among parents all over the globe.

Some praise her while others vilify her has the worst parent on the planet. Shocked by the article at first, I found myself agreeing with the author's main point—We as a society have gotten too protective of our kids due to an irrational fear of crime. You can read more about her thoughts on her blog: Free Range Kids.

The crime per capita against children has gone down over the decades since the 60's. Only the perception of crime has gone up because of the 24-hour wall-to-wall news coverage of isolated crimes against children.

I often get asked by other parents if BA is a "safe" city for children. I think it is. But like any large city you have to take precautions. My biggest fear is that my kids will be run over by a car or bus while crossing a street.

However, for the most part we feel much safer than if we were living in Downtown Dallas or Houston with our children. There is no question to me that it is safer here than living in NY or San Francisco. This could be because crime is way under reported here.

I spend a great deal of time each day escorting my kids to school events. My son goes to a "jardin" or kindergarden for 3 hours each day. My daughter spends time between homeschooling at a friends house and various other classes around town. That is a lot of time on the bus going back and forth.

My oldest had been bugging me to let her ride the bus home from our Spanish class. As a parent, I was worried that she did not have the street smarts to figure out where she was and know where to get off.

Finally, a good friend just said you got to let them make mistakes. They will never be 100% ready to venture out on their own in a parents eyes. Only by making mistakes will they figure things out on their own and grow.

So the other day she had to get back early for a doctors appointment which would mean that I would have to miss my hour of Spanish class. I gave in and let her go back on her own. I was worried the whole time and made her text me when she got on, passed the midway point and got off.

It was a success. She walked straight to the bus stop, go on, and rode across town and got off right where she was suppose to. She was surprised at how easy it was. She now has much more confidence and a sense of independence.

Would you let your thirteen-year-old ride the bus on her own? In the US I wouldn't even think of letting her. Here everyone takes the bus. Our route from Spanish class is often filed with kids as young as 9 leaving school on their own.

When we ask friends that live in the city of Buenos Aires, everyone agrees about how safe it is and that she needs to be independent by taking the bus to where she wants to go.

However, if you ask wealthier Porteños and expats in the northern suburbs, they react in shock at such a thought. Hell, my daughter's friends in the northern suburbs aren't even allowed in the city for fear they will be kidnapped. We always have to send her in a hired car out to the suburbs to see them.

What are your thoughts? How safe is BA for a thirteen-year-old?


Anonymous said...

I have a 14-mo. old-and have been thinking lots on the topic of how afraid we have become here in the US to say hello to a stranger, look someone we don't know in the eye, etc. I was noticing this when out with my son the other day in Barnes and Noble-how other parents don't encourage their kids to share, ignore the other kids...what are we creating? Are we raising healthy, normal adults here?! I think you made the best choice-you are letting your child become *independent*-and when she grows up she will know how to do things on her own safely without needing help-that's good! I think teaching kids common sense street smarts is important. (And I think the whole crime scene is different in BsAs-this is probably a lot safer than a lot of other things here at home!!)

farfromgruntled said...

I enjoyed reading this entry as well as the article to which you linked. I think developing independence in children is incredibly important, just as important perhaps as parents developing independence from the actions of their children. Perhaps it is a stretch to say this is the first step down a long road of letting your kid go to college without calling every day, but hey, independence has to start somewhere, for both the child and the parent.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your decision for two reasons. First, I believe that porteños worship children. You'll have twenty surrogate "parents" watching over your child on the colectivo. I know that if I saw a solo child, I'd be keeping an eye out instinctively.

Secondly, I think it's great that you are instilling in your child the ability to do things on her own. My parents did not cultivate independence of street smarts and free thinking in me, and kids flourish in this way. Your children will be so much more prepared to deal with life in general and their self esteem will skyrocket. Good on you!

Longhorn Dave said...

Thanks for all the support. Today,I let my daughter walk to her salon appointment by herself and handle the whole transaction because mom was tied up at the Doctor's office.

Of course she made some mistakes, but that is how we learn.

Anonymous said...

"Are we raising healthy, normal adults here?!"

This is exactly what I ask myself when i see 30-year-old argentines who still live with their parents... Most of them don't want to become independent because they are comfortable that way. Who would want to live on their own when mom and dad wash your clothes, cook for you, and you don't have to take any responsibility for yourself... But as you said, how healthy is this?
I think that in this sense, the way american kids are raised is more normal than the argentine one. At least in the US you don't see many 30-somethings living with their parents.

Anonymous said...

As a porteño living in San Diego, I have to say you are definitely doing the right thing. Kids in the US (at least in San Diego)are driven everywhere by their moms till they are old enough to drive. Then they drive their own car. The result is zero street smarts ("tener calle" as we say in Argentina), which then translates into fear. This is so evident when we visit Buenos Aires with our kids and compare to little porteños. As in any big city, just use common sense, avoid looking too "yankee", and you'll be safe.
By the way, I enjoy so much how you are handling and absorbing your experience there. You totally get what Buenos Aires is about.

Anonymous said...

"As in any big city, just use common sense, avoid looking too "yankee", and you'll be safe."

To avoid looking too "yankee", as you say, may help but it's not enough. Just think how many argentines are victims of crime on a daily basis and looking 100% argentine doesn't prevent them from being robbed, murdered, etc... Let's be realistic.

Anonymous said...

I am realistic. I didn't mean they will be 100% safe. Of course you can never prevent 100% being robbed. The point here is that you have to slowly let your kids acquire the street smarts they need in order to live in a city. This will likely diminish their probability of getting conned, robbed, kidnapped, etc.

Anonymous said...

i can still remember well how much fun i had 20 years ago riding my bike into washington dc as a 12 and 13 year old by myself or with friends from the Virginia suburbs (15 miles to the south of the city). At the time, I don't think it even crossed my parents mind that this was a bad thing to let me do. Keep in mind this was around the time that DC was the murder capital of the US. I think the reason we have a nation of wimps who can't do anything for themselves is because we coddle our kids way too much

Anonymous said...

I've been reading this out of curiosity and it baffles me this is such a big issue to begin with. I started taking public transport alone and being independent in the city when I was about 12 (in the late 70s) if not earlier and it wasn't a big deal for me or anyone in my family or peer group. Most of my classmates took the regular buses to go to school (in BA) at that age with no accompanying adults, and I did also go to places in the evening (after dark in winter) without feeling it was anything adventurous, just plain normal. Have times changed so much?

Longhorn Dave said...


It was the same for me. We lived in a smaller suburb of Fort Worth, so it wasn't quite the city. But we would leave in the mornings on our bikes and often not returning until dinner time around 6:00 or 7:00 in the evening. We would go all over town on our bikes and no one would bat an eye.

Do we let our kids do that. No. We were scared of letting my daughter walk to a friend's house two blocks away from us. That was just wrong.

NOA: Parents in the US have gotten way out of wack and hover over every little detail of their kids live.

A large part of Mom and dad's time is carting them from school, to soccer/football/bractice/ to chior, to church youth group/ to violen lesson etc...

Our kids are way over scheduled and are driven everywhere. They have no free time to be kids anymore.

miss tango said...

I see little kids here take the bus on their own all the time, even as young as six or seven. A little smile was brought to my face the other day watching two little girls play with a skip rope on the corner (like you I was more concerned with them getting hit by a crazy driver than being abducted).

As for the comment about the porteño kids being lazy and spoiled about not leaving home, some yes. But the cost is of moving out on your own is INSANE here. You need 3 months rent to put down the first month, plus to pay a full months rent to the real estate agent as the commission, and God forbid anything happens to break down in the apartment you have to pay out of your own pocket for that.

As to buying a house, when you only make 1500- 3000 pesos a month, how can you support a 50,000 USD mortgage at 25% interest? To take out a 200,000 USD mortage you need to show an exsisting income of 40,000 per month.

So most kids end up living at home until the are 102 and have enough to buy their own place out right or hopefully inherit.

Longhorn Dave said...

Miss Tengo:

Is that why there are so many Telos?

Anonymous said...

Yes Dave...
That's the reason for the 'telos'.

ReemsterCARP said...

I'd say it depends on the barrio. I wouldnt let my kids (mind you, I don't have any - yet) wander alone through the streets of Constitución, Almagro or Once when it's dark outside.

Anonymous said...

I think that depends on where you live or go to school here in Buenos Aires. At 11 my parents let me walk back home from school (5 blocks away in Colegiales). Later, at 13 they let me go to my High School in Barrio Norte by subway or bus.

Anonymous said...

Hi my name is Bailey. My dad and I are planning on moveing to Argentina.I am 11 years old and live in New Orleans.I just wanted ask you if it is fun living there.

Longhorn Dave said...


My daughter and son (age 4) both love living here. The hardest thing is missing your friends back home. However, the city if very fun and my kids love learning a new language and culture.

Good luck.

Mètaphysique said...

I'm Fernando, i have 20 years old and i moved alone on January this year. I must say that what Miss Tango says is totally true. Moving out all by yourself isn't a picnic. I had to move because my university was way to far from my other home. Fortunately, my dad helps me pay the rent and everything, but if i didn't have his support i wouldn't be able to do it. Average teens work as telemarketers or jobs where you need no working experience, and those jobs pay little money, like $800 pesos, and only to pay the rent i need $1200, so, you can see what i mean.
I couldn't say if wondering around in the US would be insecure for a kid, but judging what you said i would think it is, or at least it seems it is. Here in Argentina insecurity exists, but i think its kind of different and not aimed to kids, but instead to carjacking or things like that. I remember walking to school when i was 10 years old all by myself and nothing happening or my mom not even worrying about it. I guess that, like Merodeador said, it depends in which Barrio you live in. I mean, Recoleta, Palermo, Barrio Norte, Belgrano and lots more are barrios where kids go on and off buses and subways without problem.

I hope you like Argentina and when you go back yo TX speak well of us and our lovely, yet humble, country haha!

Anonymous said...

(I'm coming to this post way too late, but anyway...)
To me it seems your comfort level with letting your kids go around alone is a matter of whether you have lived before in a city or not. You came from the suburbs, where there is more fear because there is less interaction with strangers than when you live in a city. STrangers become threatening, because you drive around in your car and have minimal interaction.

People who move to BA from urban places don't have the same fears, I believe. In NYC, where I grew up, I started taking the city buses alone at age 9/10 (and that was in the early 80s, when crime was higher than it is now). That is the norm here, as it is in most urban places. Most crimes against children happen in the home, at the hands of their own parents. For every Etan Patz (a young boy who went missing in NYC 1979 or so), there are hundreds of Lisa Steinbergs and Nixmary Browns (who died as a result of their parents).