Letter: Amtrak is Right! Kids are Unsafe on Trains

Hi Readers: What generally brings us together here at Free-Range Kids is the belief that today’s children are safer and more competent than our culture gives them credit for. So I thought I’d present a letter I just got from someone who read my Amtrak column in a newspaper, not here at this site:

My question to you, have you ever ridden Amtrak?  My wife and I have once, and cannot believe Al-Qaeda has not struck this target.

There is really no security.  People jump on and off at different train stops.  No one checks luggage.  An adult could easily snatch a youngster.

Unless your sole purpose is to make people angry to talk about you, you need to do your research as to why children should not be allowed to ride unsupervised.  The common sense that is lacking is yours. 

Not a radical – retired high school principal.

Incredible — people get on and off at different stops? What kind of crazy train is that? And how dare anyone be allowed on any conveyance ANYWHERE anymore without undergoing a full body scan, or at least a thorough check of every bag and Baggie?  The American way is to shake in its collective shoes (or, actually, take them off), until some security official wands them up and down and then allows them to mince a few steps forward. That’s the spirit that made this country great!

And then there’s the issue of kids being snatched right and left. Well, potentially, anyway, and that’s good enough for this letter writer: The fact that a child could, in theory, “easily” get grabbed by an adult (with none of the other passengers noticing, I guess), is reason enough not to let even seventh graders ride the train solo. Heck, using that reasoning, why let them do anything where they could be “easily” grabbed? Why let them walk to school, or get an ice cream? Think about the worst thing that could happen and plan accordingly! This is not “radical,” according to the writer,  and as proof he points out that he is a retired principal. (The writer is a male.)

The sad thing is that he IS radical. But he doesn’t feel it, because our whole CULTURE is radical. It has taken the radical new view that children are too vulnerable to do almost anything without adult supervision.

It also has started to believe that nothing is safe without an official safetymeister checking it first. And then, if there is even the smallest possibility that sometime, under some circumstances, it could somehow be UNSAFE, that’s reason enough to declare it verboten.

So now we — the folks who believe in the world — are seen as radicals, while the crazy paranoid nutjobs are becoming our overlords. If that’s the case, well then, okay, redefine me. I’m a raging radical, ready to take them on. — L.S.

119 Responses

  1. Ah, that’s nothing compared to the sex trafficking comment on the last post (really hoping it was sarcasm, but it’s the internet so even if it was there is a population that actually believes it).

  2. By this reasoning, kids should not walk down the block. People are everywhere, kids could be snatched, no one is frisking pedestrians.

  3. I have written to Amtrak to request that they revisit this policy.

    “As always, parental judgment should be the final arbiter of any child’s degree of independence.”

    I also pointed out that it both undermines our young adults and may present a family unfriendly challenge to families where children must travel between parents.

    If we all do the same, maybe a voice of reason will prevail.

  4. That guy writes too poorly to be a retired educator, unless he worked in a foreign country. He barely knows English.

  5. I swear, this site is like the last bastion of sanity in the universe. Safetymeiser, heh heh.

  6. The saddest fact is that his opinion as a retired principal has infected the working principals. We have Tuesday off for election day because some of our elementary schools are polling locations. We can’t have strangers walking around our schools, you know. Even though most of these “strangers” are probably somehow related to the kids at that school, or are neighbors. And it’s an off election year, only local stuff here in NJ so the actual number of voters will be extremely low.

  7. I’m laughing at the thought of terrorists going after a train. Planes were used on 9/11 as weapons to hit much more significant targets. You can’t exactly hijack a train and run it into any old building!

    A train station in a major city at rush hour? Maybe.

    I’m also amused by the idea that someone could get away with “snatching” a child in a confined space such as a train car. I don’t see any child or fellow passengers going along with that!

  8. I stand with you, Lenore. This crazy, radical idea of freeranging and teaching our kids independence and self sufficience is the difference between my (now) 19 and 15 year-olds being able to plan out how to get somewhere in another city entirely and their peers being terrified to ride the damned bus in our hometown.

  9. Those Who Sacrifice Liberty For Security Deserve Neither. -Benjamin Franklin

  10. AMTRAK has the right to set a minimum age, and probably some solid reasons, but the presence of parents won’t prevent children from harm if there is a terrorist attack. This sort of “magical thinking” about the all-powerful parent with super powers is narcissistic, and pervasive in our society.

    School principals are notoriously disconnected from reality, btw … and overly confident in “control” measures, too.

    I think what would be helpful would be an FAQ entitled “is your child ready to ride solo”. This would be helpful for even parents of teens to judge if their kid is ready. Having a set minimum isn’t crazy – developmentally, that should be around 10 if we are being arbitrary because even “direct” Amtrak lines have train switches and confusing equipment games go on. It would be far more useful if they put out a some guiding questions about what tasks your child can/can’t do and what their experience is using transit. That would help parents understand what would be expected of their child in transit, and would also assist people whose kids or wards lag in certain functional areas of learning, developmental, and behavioral abilities judge if they have the skills needed to solo.

  11. […] Read more here: Letter: Amtrak is Right! Kids are Unsafe o&#110… […]

  12. BTW – “no one checks luggage” is bullcrap! He rode amtrak 20 years ago. You have to arrive 1/2-1 hour ahead and hand your luggage over for inspection. I used to be able to just hand my bike into the luggage car – now they don’t let you NEAR the luggage car (which is not under the train …) I have to take my folding bike and either put it in a suitcase or fold it into its bag as an XL carry on!

  13. Thanks agin for your clear thought and great response to the fear that anything could happen at any time so best to do nothing.

  14. Very well said Lenore! It just feels so hopeless!! Really gets me down sometimes….

  15. Ruth, the people of Spain and England who were murdered in acts of terrorism against the rail system would disagree.

  16. I like how his entire view of Amtrak security is based on one train ride he took with his wife. Generally, I like to base my assumptions on a little more than one occurrence, otherwise, I wouldn’t have very many friends.

  17. once again, I lived in Japan and 5 year olds ride the train by themselves. But here 14 year olds cant…I dont understand, I really dont.

  18. I noticed nobody has commented on the point the retired principal makes that he rode Amtrak ONCE. He’s basing his entire argument on just ONE experience. Trying to claim that he’s a valid authority on the lack of safety on Amtrak trains based on his ONE experience would be like claiming to be an expert car mechanic because you OBSERVED someone changing a tire ONCE.

  19. Great issue. I think it is a great demonstration of how we use fears to justify policies even though the “real” reason is different. This is about noise and behavior.

    Its actually an incredibly diverse system to implement this rule. Many passengers are traveling a few hours between cities. Some people even commute between Philly and NYC on Amtrak. But of course there other people traveling thousands of miles over the course of days.

    As has been stated above, its really about letting parents make logical judgments for what is best for THEIR kids. Of course that also requires parents to accept reasonable risk and reasonable actions by train staff to maintain discipline on the trains.

  20. My oldest traveled via Eurail at the age of 9 unaccompanied from Germany to France, multiple times, when her dad & I had were posted a different duty stations. So, not only was she on a train with people jumping on and off, they were doing so in multiple countries!

    As for his Al Qaeda comment: no Mr. Principal, you don’t sound radical, you sound like Chicken Little! You parade our highly accomplished, forward thinking, and creative children in front of school boards and admistrators as proof of your educational excellence without ever considering that they became that way because they had parents that worked diligently to rear well adjusted, independant, fearless children, that make you look good!

    I know my daughter learned more about life, cultural diversity, and the world in general, by hopping on and off the Terror Train than she ever would have sequestered in your sterile, secure, “one size fits all” school!

    Not a radical-soldier & mother who has seen Al-Qaeda up close & personal

  21. He rode a train once in his life, and he’s never gone back.

    I don’t ride Amtrak much, but I figure a train’s a train. If I feel safe on the NYC subway, how much scarier and less security conscious can Amtrak be anyway?

  22. I watched “Running the Sahara” the other night on Netflix http://www.runningthesahara.com/ (warning, it auto starts a video preview, so turn down your speakers at work) There’s a point where the three runners and the crew are literally in the middle of the Sahara, nothing but some little scrubs of plants, no trees or shelter as far as the eye can see, and they come across a seven year old boy with a few belongings, the clothes on his back and I recall a small dog. He’s waiting for his parents who are on a two day trek for water.

  23. The retired principal would have a field day with the German train system. There are no security checks or baggage inspections. Nobody has ever looked at my bags or backpacks before I’ve boarded a train. German trains also stop at different places, where people get off and on. Kids regularly travel by themselves, or with their friends, without adult supervision. The train is often the main mode of transportation to and from school for many German kids. The hundreds of kids who take the train to my son’s school, which is for 5th to 12th graders, make it there and back home every school day without incident. They even have to walk between the train station and the school and back home again.

    If I was planning to kidnap a child, I certainly wouldn’t do it on a train or other public transportation. There would be too many witnesses. Getting away with a crime is best accomplished without witnesses. Some trains, like the Sunday late afternoon/early evening trains from Garmisch-Partenkirchen to Munich, are very crowded. There’s no room to move, let alone try to grab a child and force him off the train.

    I like Forsythia’s idea of an FAQ section with guidelines and leading questions about assessing a child’s readiness to take a solo train trip. Some kids may be ready to ride solo at 8, while others aren’t mature enough for it until they’re closer to 12. It should be up to the parents to decide if a child is ready or not for a solo train trip.

  24. Brian, how would a parent’s presence with their children stop that? That was also on commuter rail, not national long range rail = different! Like I said, this guy rode Amtrak ONCE – and it was probably a LONG time ago.

  25. I have found that many to most education personnel in administration think that because they are in administration that they know better than any one else about kids. I have run into this often, that they feel they know so much more because they are “educated” and I am “just” a parent (because they all know that all parents are sheep with no education or brains,) without knowing my background, experience or education or even my kids own needs, abilities and desires.

    Usually I find that my knowledge and common sense trumps theirs every time. So despite what this retired principal wants, I really tend to discount and not listen to people like him unless they have proved to me that they can listen and understand where I am coming from. A few can. But many cannot.

  26. Having sent my child by train on more than one occasion, I was more than satisfied with their overall safety procedures. The luggage is no more of a worry than the semi next to me on the freeway, and I still drive. Can’t stop living just because I might get hurt – that’s what I’ve taught my daughter, too. As far as worry about her being snatched, at the time I sent her, policy was that unaccompanied kids had to ride in the upstairs part of the snack car. They were not allowed the run of the train as kids who rode with their parents were.

    For her safety, whenever we were navigating transport hubs of any sort (airports, train terminals, subway terminals, etc.), I trained her how to find her way around. Then I required her to lead me around once she’d learned these skills. She navigates BART in our local area. She’s traveled across the country, changing planes in an unfamiliar airport (at 13!). Because of all her early experiences, she’s mastered the skills.

    To the principal, and other educators like him, some food for thought: You don’t wait for a kid to be “old enough” to master language skills, and then expect them to just do it. You spend years talking to them, cooing at them, telling them things they’re years from understanding. Eventually, through practice and exposure, the child’s brain develops new function around this exposure, and is able to speak with ever-better vocabulary, sentence structure, and complexity. If you’ve ever studied developmental linguistics (and I barely have), you’ve heard of cases where kids are raised deprived of this language-learning environment, and actively discouraged from speaking. If they don’t learn to do it by the time they are adolescents, they are unlikely to learn fully. You’re an educator – you know the difference between a kid whose been raised in an enriched environment versus one deprived of early opportunities to learn. Who fares better, on average?

    It really is the same thing with teaching independent-living skills. You have to expose them to risk, make them practice decision making, navigating, the art of falling down and picking themselves back up. If the brain doesn’t practice the skills, it doesn’t learn them. I’m not sure if there’s an age past which they can’t learn world-navigation, but I’ve met more than a few who are still struggling with this because they never had to practice until they were on their own. I know my daughter (who is now 16) is safer for the training she’s gotten – she knows her way around, and has had to rely on her own judgment a few times already. Those few times, she’s made good decisions – once choosing with a friend to leave one BART car and get onto another, because she didn’t trust a couple of men in the car with them. Probably nothing would have happened, but she left a situation that felt volatile, and put her own safety and that of her friend first.

    Life skills are actually more important than book learning – and I say that as a parent who’s passionate about education – and a tutor (both paid and volunteer).

  27. Good point about having a parent with you is not going to do much good if there is a terrorist attack. Unless your parent is some kind of secret agent or policeman or superhero or Jackie Chan, it probably won’t do you much good unfortunately.

    I rode a train when I was a kid with my parents from Atlanta to New Orleans. We did it for fun. It took much longer than driving though and we did not think we would do it again. I was maybe 10. I gotta say the whole moving between cars thing was scary. I don’t know if small kids would be good to do that by themselves. The walkway between cars was shaky and not very much protection if you did fall. It scared the crap out of me.

    Someone pointed out principals should use English better. LOL! I went to college with a lot of students going into teaching. They made the lowest grades in the gen Ed classes and other classes. They were not the brightest which is kinda sad that they are teaching our kids. Sure some were smart, but on the whole, no.

  28. Yeah, I didn’t get a chance to comment on the previous train post, but isn’t it more that some adults view tweens as a “danger,” rather than the other way around? I mean, a “danger” to their relaxation. Let’s face it, for every tween who is mature and respectful, there is another who thinks it’s funny to aggravate boring grown-ups. Of course, up to a point, that’s just part of living in the world, but some people think they should be able to remove all potential annoyances from sacred, soulful places such as . . . Amtrak . . . ?

  29. Cheryl: You are right. I have experienced that attitude a lot with teachers, specialists, etc in the education industry. I have a special needs son and also a background in childhood development myself. Some of those people have talked to me like I am an idiot that has no idea about child development or anything to do with children. Annoys the crap out of me. I know my kids better than they do for one thing and secondly, I am educated and read a lot of the same books, took the same classes, etc that they took so I know the same thing they know.

    They seem shocked when they find out I DO know so much. You have to excuse a lot of them because on the whole they do deal with A LOT of crappy parents who have no clue. I have dealt with some of them in my work experience as well. So I think they just assume everyone is stupid till they learn differently. Not the best way to go about it, but that is what they do.

  30. Forsythia: You have to arrive 1/2-1 hour ahead and hand your luggage over for inspection.

    Handing your luggage over for inspection would seem to vary by station and whether or not you check your bags.

    I regularly ride the Lakeshore Limited between Toledo and Chicago, and my bags have never been touched by Amtrak employees, except to help me hoist the bag into the car. (I never check my bag.)

    I was pretty surprised two weeks ago, however, to find Homeland Security agents with their yellow labs all over Chicago’s Union Station. I’ve never seen that before.

  31. I’m currently watching a very interesting documentary called, “Into the Arms of Strangers.” It’s about the Kindertransport just before the start of World War II. After Kristallnacht (9 November 1938), life was practically unbearable for Jews in Germany, Austria, Poland and Czechoslovakia. The English government agreed to take Jewish children from those countries in order to save them from the Nazis. The stipulation is that the kids had to be 17 or under so that they wouldn’t take jobs from English workers. Therefore, their parents had to stay behind. About 10,000 children, ranging in age from babies to 17, were put on trains to England between November 1938 and August 1939. There were just a few adult “minders” for a train full of children. After the train trip through Germany and the Netherlands, the kids were put onto a ferry to cross the English Channel. Then it was back on another train to London. The journey took 3 to 4 days. The children were met in London by their English foster families.

    I could not imagine anything like the Kindertransport happening in the States today. Let’s see what we have…young kids (most of them under 13) who travelled by themselves for 3 to 4 days and crossed international borders. They went to a country where they didn’t speak the language. Then they were met by the strangers who were going to take care of them. Jewish parents in 1938-39 knew that they had to let their kids go off by themselves in order to save them. They had to trust strangers to take care of their precious children. If the Jewish parents practiced helicopter parenting and preached stranger danger, they would have sentenced their kids to death.

    Here is the link to the Wikipedia page about the Kindertransport:

  32. The only reason I’m okay with this move by Amtrak is because it makes the tickets cheaper. I use Amtrak often so myself and my kids can visit family (I live in NYC, they live in the Boston Area), and anything that saves me money is fine by me, lol.

  33. Craze, how does forcing you to buy an additional adult ticket make them CHEAPER?

  34. This kind of thinking drives me crazy. The other day someone was saying how she would never let her 13 year old, very mature, daughter ride the subway in NYC alone. I ride the NYC subway every day and I see tons of kids riding to school (I happen to live down the street from an excellent public high school, so they stream past my door every morning). You know what they look like? Happy, confident, well-adjusted kids. I can’t imagine few things safer than a kid riding the crowded NYC subway or any crowded train – who would snatch a kid with 100 witnesses in your car alone?

    I keep wondering how these folks think that people ever learn to navigate the world by themselves. It’s not as though you wake up at 18 and suddenly have the knowledge of how to ride a train in your head. All this kind of thinking does is delay getting vital information and independence until the kid is forced out of the house, goes to college/into the workforce and suddenly realizes that he or she has absolutely no clue how to get around in daily life.

  35. Boy, if this writer/retired principal thinks Amtrak is unsafe he should travel to Italy, as I did not long ago, and navigate the terminal and trains at Termini Station in Rome.

    Hold tight on to everything, ’cause if you don’t, it can, and likely will, be snatched away by the pickpockets there. And are they fast, and clever!

    What’s this got to do with American kids and Amtrak? It popped into my head because of the writer’s comments about security on Amtrak…

    The trains pulling in and out of Termini Station are numerous, noisy, packed with passengers and luggage, virtually no conductors or train personnel in sight, visitors, confused and disoriented, from every corner of the globe milling about, some, yes, unaccompanied kids, and swarms of older teens and very young, and often very naive, adults backpacking their way across the continent…

    A security-phobe’s worst nightmare!

    And yet everyone seems to be having a good time, in good spirits, and eagerly moving on to somewhere else–on amazingly well-designed and comfortable train cars, no less!

    I didn’t notice the Italians wanding, checking, inspecting, and restricting minors access to the trains.

    America does seem to be changing dramatically in how it views risk…

  36. LOL!!!!!!

  37. Took Amtrak last Christmas from Cleveland to NYC (hi Lenore!) and then Chicago, then Denver — all cheaper than flying and a great experience.

    I *highly* recommend Amtrak with kids. Ours, 8 & 6 then, met and played with so many other kids on the train. When you fly you have no room and are treated like a prisoner — nothing like that in train travel.

    Kids are the *perfect* train trip customers.

  38. @K
    It is helpful to write Amtrak as you did, but writing your Senators and US Representative might be even better. Amtrak is heavily dependent on subsidies from Congress.
    –Hugo S. Cunningham

  39. ok, so we just did san jose to seattle (and back) with our toddler. it’s 24 hours (almost to the minute) in each direction. We had a sleeping car and this was basically our experience: arrive early so they could check and load our luggage, walk onto our car and into our bunk. It was cramped, and the train was full of grandparent-types who swooned over our son. The staff was always on hand and almost always within ear shot. Even meal times – where sleeping car passengers were given priority – were full of happy, friendly guests. I am quite sure that any 12 year old riding alone would instantly have an adopted “train family” on their lookout. If any snatching were to occur, it would be at a station, not on the train. And if a child were to disappear on a train, it would take a matter of minutes for them to be found.

    on the other hand, i can see not having a 12 year old travel alone overnight. The staff is there, but they might not have someone who can be dedicated to that child should he become scared, struck with motion sickness, etc. A train from here to San Francisco? Sure. But as an overnight policy, it’s one I understand. If only they’d put it in those terms rather than fearmongering.

  40. John Deever, interesting that you say that about kids and trains. The only time I took Amtrak (decades ago), there was a woman nearby with her four young children. She said “we usually fly, but I thought this would be better for the children.” In the course of an hour or so, she took each child individually to the restroom to be spanked. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that the restrooms were far from soundproof, LOL. (They did sleep better after their spankings.) But on a plane (especially in the days before crazy security), they probably would have arrived at their destination (~1 hour flight) before they had much chance to get crazy.

    But I do think that if you have kids who are experienced travelers and come prepared, a train ride can be a positive experience.

  41. Emily, I agree that some 12-year-olds would not be OK overnight, but I still think that the parents usually know whether that is true for their individual child. Then again, if Amtrak has had to deal with a lot of nonsense from this age group while relying on parents’ “wisdom,” then I have no problem with them making a business decision to prioritize efficiency / tranquility over accommodating this particular demographic.

  42. “Nobody checks my luggage” on Amtrak in the sense that I carry it onto the train myself and put it in an overhead rack or at the end of the car. This is on things like the Northeast Corridor and the Adirondack (New York City to Montreal). Before that, I take said luggage on the New York or Boston subway to get _to_ the train station, and nobody checks it there either. (There are very intermittent spot checks; I think my backpack has been looked at once in the past ten years.)

    And there are police dogs at both New York’s Penn Station and South Station in Boston. (I don’t remember whether there were at the main station in Montreal.) Yes, in Schenectady we just took an elevator up to the platform and waited in the open air until a train came: I guess they don’t think terrorists will go upstate in the first place. (Rant about security theatre deleted.)

    I’ve been taking the subway alone intermittently since I was ten, and started taking it to school before my twelfth birthday. Thinking back at this point, the odd thing about being sent alone by subway to the dentist is that my parents assumed (correctly) that I would actually go to the dentist on my own. And I keep being startled by people who find this weird.

  43. The first time I rode Amtrak, was after a visit to DC, where I did a security check every time I turned around. I was surprised there was no security screening, especially in DC, but was impressed with the crew and how clean the train was.

  44. If you think about it, riding a train / subway is safer than a city bus, because the bus can just drop a kid off at a wrong stop where there’s no station and often no simple way to get back on track toward finding the correct destination. I don’t live in a city with a subway, but from the limited experience I have, if you find yourself going the wrong way, you can always get off at the next stop and go back in the other direction, and there is usually a human being somewhere who could provide information.

    My mom gave me bus fare to go to the optometrist from the time I was around 10. I generally managed to over-think the instructions and get off at the wrong place (which serendipitously happened to be a shopping mall, ha ha). But I’d figure it out and find my way to the optometrist and then figure out how to get home one way or another. Sometimes it involved a lot more walking than my parents intended.

  45. I had a 24 hour layover in London in 2005 and took the opportunity to see as much of the city as I could in that time. I was amazed that kids – I believe the youngest one I saw was age 10 – rode the tube(s) to school without parents. And there were adults everywhere getting on and off at, you know, random places without complete body and bag searches. The tube I was on when I observed this was the same one that was headed to the airport.

  46. I wasn’t trying to discount the serious terrorist incidents that have involved trains, but I was only considering this letter in terms of train travel in our own country (since it mentioned Amtrak). Our passenger rail usage is abysmal when compared to other countries (km per capita: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rail_usage_statistics_by_country#Passenger_km_per_head_of_population
    ). Our rail system is just not a good target, and as many others have said, letting children ride unaccompanied is not going to prevent any such threat.

  47. Just for a little comparison – in Norway, a country with an arguably successful welfare state and high quality of living, at least by UN standards, here is the bulletin on children traveling alone.


    I’m not trying to make any real comment on whether changing age limits is necessary, but rather to point out the overall tone of the message, which is about a child being comfortable and enjoying his/her trip. NOT about the potential terrors that await a lone child on a trip across town or across country.

    I’m sorry the click-through brochure is not in English, but it shows the thought and care that has been given this topic by the rail service (and government, which runs it) is great. Norway is a place where children are placed at the center of everything, as the purpose for everything.

  48. “That guy writes too poorly to be a retired educator, unless he worked in a foreign country. He barely knows English.”

    sounds like perfect teacher material to me in modern day America…

  49. Thank you for that brochure! I use Google Translate to look at some of it. Found one sentence that seems to sum up the FRK ideals quite nicely: “We adults also feel a certain anxiety in such situations, it is not
    right that children should be ten times more afraid because we fail to speak with them in a soothing manner.”

  50. “My question to you, have you ever ridden Amtrak? My wife and I have once, and cannot believe Al-Qaeda has not struck this target.”

    You rode it ONCE. And you CANNOT believe Al Qaeda has not struck it. LOL! That’s paranoia thinking if I ever heard one. Gee, I wonder why it hasn’t been hit by terrorism. Why hasn’t your house been bombed? Why have your children not been abducted. Why hasn’t the earth’s core exploded and blew us all up to oblivion?

    “There is really no security. People jump on and off at different train stops. No one checks luggage. An adult could easily snatch a youngster.”

    The “no security”, and “people jumping and off” has been going for…well…years. Decades. Yet, I haven’t heard of one incident of abduction from a train. Again, worse case thinking first.

    “Unless your sole purpose is to make people angry to talk about you, you need to do your research as to why children should not be allowed to ride unsupervised. The common sense that is lacking is yours.”

    Unless your sole purpose is making yourself sound like a paranoid, illogical and lack of common sense thinker, who would crawl under a rock if he could, YOU should do more research in the things you make comments on. As a former educator, you should know better.

    “Not a radical – retired high school principal.”

    Not radical. Just paranoid.

    This is just Amtraks way of covering their own asses. They’ve had some “concerns”, to a large company like Amtrak, this is a possible sign to lawsuits. Of course they are going to protect themselves. It’s no different when schools implement zero tolerance when some kid trips and scrapes his knee (which has been going on for thousands of years…you know, kids tripping and scraping their knee). It’s to cover their asses from lawsuits from opportunistic parents. It has very little to do with the children. If it was about the children, they would have made this policy from day one of setting off on the tracks.

  51. Dolly, it seems we are in the same club with special needs kids. We free rangers as a group, I think, tend to research and make our own decisions. The parents who helicopter tend to believe the “authorities” and not question them at all. But those parents are also the ones who get taken advantage of, whose kids don’t get an optimal education, among other things.

    This thing with Amtrack is like the special needs kids who had to take their coats and boots off themselves, while the “normal” kids had parents to do it for them. It is a matter of parental choice, and kids can learn to do stuff – like navigate on a train, not annoy people and know how to keep themselves safe from people who do not have their best interests at heart.

  52. Wait. What?
    Because if terrorists hit a train, the kid is somehow safer if the parents are there? Or they are unsafe and no one should ride them, because terrorists might hit?

    Unless he retired more than 20 years ago, he should also be aware of the fact that kids these days are taught, from a young age, to kick up a fuss on the off-chance someone does try to take them somewhere. So… is he saying that concerned citizens like himself and his wife who were “observant” enough to see possible safety breaches wouldn’t be bothered to do anything if such a thing occurred?

    Uhg. For a little while, it looked (to me) like more people were starting to realize that the paranoia was getting out of control, because I was coming across more people who were questioning it and opening up to letting go of the Fear. There was a glimmer of hope. In the last month, however, I have found myself becoming a broken record of “Actually, statistics show…” and “You know, that has *never* actually happened…” and ONE of the people I have talked to were starting to see the sense in it. EVERYONE ELSE was clinging to the “better safe than sorry” train. I think I am just getting weary of banging my head up against the same wall, and the same fallacies, and only having a headache to show for it.

  53. Kids riding trains for transportation is probably one of the safest modes of travel. I said it before on the previous post, Amtrak should institute a competency exam if it feels it’s younger passengers are somehow “unsafe” just by their age.
    Better yet, institute it for ALL passengers if safety is the true motive behind this.

  54. Lollipoplover, I think the competency exam is a great solution to the perceived problem. Take the exam once and be issued an unaccompanied minor travel card. IF you become a problem your card is revoked. Now Amtrak, or other transportation company (hint hint airlines) can say that they are making sure kids are safe when traveling while still respecting the needs and wishes of parents. It’s a win-win.

  55. All this talk about how unsafe Amtrak is and not one mention of trains derailing? Pfft.

  56. Robin H – that is so sad. Every year I arrange with the polling judges to take my students on a tour of the polling location. There have been 2 problems with having the polls in our school in over 10 years

    1. A special snowflake polling judge assumed we would have wireless. At that point (several years ago) we didn’t have wireless. He couldn’t “legally” put his computer on the network. We worked it out with IT – but he left a bad taste in my mouth for yelling at me. I’m just a teacher, who was explaining to the the admin several options we had but they had to be cleared by someone higher than me.

    2. 2 or so years ago the election people scheduled a run off for the same day as the TAKS test. The Texas Education Agency has rules for testing day. To sum it up only students, district employees, and TEA officials are allowed on campus on those days. You would have thought we were having the kids jump on the flag in a mud puddle from the response to being told they couldn’t use campuses for polling places. (In our case and the case of many schools the polling area in our school is adjacent to several rooms use to test special needs kids.

  57. This has probably already been brought up, but this decision by Amtrak will probably lead to more deaths by cars. Cars are way more dangerous for children (and everyone) than trains, and since parents are no longer allowed to put their kids on a train (unsupervised) they’ll have to use alternatives to get them to their destination, such as cars. This will just lead to more traffic fatalities. Good job Amtrak!

  58. Say an adult does decide to snatch a child, where are they going? They’re on a moving train. I suppose in some TV show or movie a child molestor could ride the rails waiting for a unaccompanied minor to enter that particular train car, snatch that child just as the train doors open, drag the child through the station without anyone stopping him and make off with the child but it seems as though there are certainly much easier ways to kidnap a child if one were so inclined to do so. As someone who works with criminals every day, I’m always amazed at how industrious the general population believes criminals to be.

    Say Al-Qaeda does attack Amtrack, what the hell am I suppose to do about it if I’m present? I am not a bomb expert. I don’t carry around gas masks just in case. I am not a superhero capable of changing into a force field surrounding my child when there is danger.

  59. Pfft. Then, Donna, I guess you just aren’t packing properly for traveling with a child?

    That’s okay… wait for it. Someone will market a Safe Travel Pack with all of that soon enough.



    (My superhero powers are on backorder.)

  60. “As someone who works with criminals every day, I’m always amazed at how industrious the general population believes criminals to be. ”


  61. “The “no security”, and “people jumping and off” has been going for…well…years. Decades. ”

    Centuries, in fact. A train journey to the Wild West was far more fraught with dangers than any Amtrak journey now could be — except the ones you’d have to be Spider-man to prevent anyway (e.g. al Qaeda.)

    But NOW we have to have rules against kids because it’s too dangerous.

  62. “Incredible — people get on and off at different stops? What kind of crazy train is that? And how dare anyone be allowed on any conveyance ANYWHERE anymore without undergoing a full body scan, or at least a thorough check of every bag and Baggie? The American way is to shake in its collective shoes (or, actually, take them off), until some security official wands them up and down and then allows them to mince a few steps forward. That’s the spirit that made this country great!”

    I loved this little bit of sarcasm. thanks for the laugh.

  63. Full disclosure: I rode a train from St. Louis to Ft. Worth, TX and back to visit my grandmother the summer I was (barely) 10. That was an overnight trip, sleeping (or trying to) in a coach seat. Great trip, and in pre-Amtrak days involved two railroads. And the adventure of finding the diner where the food was immeasurable better than what Amtrak puts out.

    So I guess I don’t see what the big deal is. That was in a time with a higher real crime rate, but far less publicity about it.

    But those days didn’t have the herds of ‘experts’ so sure that parents are totally clueless. Sure, some are. But we didn’t used to think that we all had to march in lockstep to the opinions of our ‘betters.’

  64. I sent Amtrak a “suggestion” the other day telling them how I feel about their new policy. Anyone can go to Amtrak’s website and follow the links to leave a message. I imagine that they must know that for every email they recieve, there are many more people who feel the same way. Let them know how you feel!

  65. JaneW: Those of us who are educators don’t typically regard administrators as being in the same category. They’re more of a type of manager, and more often than not an impediment to teaching. Back in the days when ‘principal’ meant “Principal Teacher”, like a “Head Master”, it was different. And we certainly don’t expect them to be literate.

  66. As a a dad of a soon to be eight year-old son, your blog is enlightening.

  67. I worked a maximum security prison, and my inmates were quite
    Industrious, even in segregation.

  68. I wonder if the new age requirement is based on security or they ran into problems with young passengers whose parents hadn’t bothered to teach them proper train etiquette and were teaing up and down the aisles and being disruptive.

  69. This past century has ingrained fear in us all. This trend has made us al “reactionaries” rather than thinkers, submissives rather than ponderers. And our children, ever on the lookout for some kind of freedom to explore and discover, simply wonder at who or what gave us, the frightened adult cohort, authority to be responsible for them.

  70. Wondering why hasn’t anyone said it yet? OK, I guess I’ll be the one to put it out there. In my experience, school principals are usually some of the dumbest people around. Why are we wasting our mental energy writing a thought-out response to a dullard?

  71. My father, and my kids’ grandfather is a (newly) retired principal. He taught for 18 years. He has coached high school football for 40 years, mentored many high school boys, he is educated and a true educator.

    The person who wrote the paranoid letter should not have felt that adding “retired principal” added clout to his position…it does not. However, sweeping generalizations and insults directed at school principals in general are unnecessary. There are good ones and bad ones – as with any profession.

  72. It is so sad. I have such wonderful memories of traveling by train on the east coast from Philadelphia to New Jersey and Delaware starting when I was eight. My mother would introduce me to the conductor and he would seat me with a nice elderly woman. My family or friends always met me at the other end. I laugh sometimes now however, wondering if the nice elderly woman actually had a good book in her bag she was hoping to read rather than talking to me.

  73. I grew up in a 3rd world country and all I ever wanted to do was make it to America. Land of the free, home of the brave.

    I visited America on vacation a few times and loved everything about and spent years working to qualify to emigrate there.

    Then you started fingerprinting tourists like common criminals. And you started arresting us for taking photographs. And the land of the free and the home of the brave slowly but surely became the land of the freeish, home of the scared.

    Today, I have no further desire to live in America. I don’t even vacation there anymore because there are hundreds of amazing countries in the world that I can visit who will NOT treat me like a criminal on arrival. There are places where I can take a photograph of a tourist monument without being harassed by a police officer or worse, security guard. There are places where children still play by the lake and in their street and their parents visit with the neighbors while the children amuse themselves.

    Slowly but surely, America is losing everything that made it a great nation. I’m scared of America now because more and more, it acts like a frightened child with a nuclear armament.

  74. His letter is gassier and hole-ier than Swiss cheese.
    The key word in his first paragraph is “once”. They rode Amtrak ONCE. They didn’t take other routes, different trains, or view other stations. He can’t say all of Amtrak is like his ONE experience with it. If I can’t graph a trend with one point of data, neither can he.
    He forgets to mention how recent their ride was. Was it last week? Last year? 37 years ago? Amtrak is obviously changing, as he agrees with the new Age Policy. Security must have gotten better by 10/2011.
    What route did they take? NYC to D.C. or Cincinnati to Las Vegas? L.A. to Phoenix with a transfer in Flagstaff?

    Paragraph 2: With the old Age Policy a business person going to D.C. on the same train as a lone 12 year old traveling to Philly definitely wants to abduct them and take them to the office! How hard could it be? A 12 yo isn’t that smart this November, according to him and Amtrak. They’ll believe the person is sent by their guardian to take them wherever! The co-workers won’t mind a screaming, yelling, self-knowledgeable 12 yo toddler in the briefcase, either.
    “Are you sure it isn’t Bring Your Child to Work day? Little Sammy here sure was excited about it.”
    “My name isn’t Sammy! You aren’t my parent! I’ve been abducted! I have to get to Philadelphia or my grandparents will worry I’ve caught influenza and can’t visit!”
    “Awww. Little Sammy’s so excited! We even practiced what to do in case of getting abducted. But this isn’t the time or place, little Sammy! It’s time to use your inside voice or you’ll have to go to Time Out.”
    “I’m 12, not three, and I’m supposed to be with my grandparents in Philadelphia right now!”

    “…do your research…” he hasn’t. Again, there are no other train rides for him to reference, just the previous SINGLE one. As Mrs. Skenazy has said, there haven’t been any incidents, just grownups interfering with child development. Crime has gone down since 1980 (http://1.usa.gov/sptyP4, http://1.usa.gov/usq2MV, and more stats here: http://1.usa.gov/9KWVxH). Lots of research you have there, sir.

  75. Wayne, you are absolutely correct. Unfortunately my fellow citizens actually vote for this nonsense without thinking about the full effect of the policies espoused by the politicians they support. We could end this crap tomorrow if we wanted, but we won’t. Until people understand that the reason that their children are less free is because we are all less free this sort of thing will continue. I don’t hold out much hope for any change, though.

  76. A perfectly safe world is not a free one and I want my children to live in a free one -risks and all.

    “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

  77. When I was a kid, I would often fly to Switzerland (where I now live) from Boston (where I grew up) to visit my grandparents. My grandmother would meet me in Zurich and we would fly to Geneva together. When I was about 8 or 9, I would take the train to visit cousins in Neuchatel, a bit over an hour away. My grandparents would take me to the platform, see me on the train, and my cousins would meet me on the platform, too.

    This was never a big deal, I never got lost. When I got to be a teen, I’d just walk to their place from the train station. Someone would have had a hard time kidnapping me, with all the people around. People tend to keep an eye out for youngsters traveling alone.

    I often struck up conversations with my neighbors on the plane and train, as long rides can be boring. In the train I usually read a book.

    When I was 8, I took the bus to New Hampshire to visit my godparents at their camp. Same situation, my nanny put me on the bus in Boston, and my godparents picked me up on the platform in… Conway I think it was. It was pretty idiot proof, the nanny told the bus driver where I was getting off and I sat towards the front. I also took the bus with my friend when we were 10 or 12 to visit her older sister in western MA.

    This really isn’t a big deal.

  78. HEY!! You know what I just realized? We have been thinking about how to manage snatching danger all wrong…we don’t need AGE guidelines, we need SIZE guidelines!! So, anyone who is 5’4″ or shorter and 150 lbs or less (which is how tall and how heavy my 12 yr old daughter is), should not ride the train without a big, strong, paternalistic, hovering, tsk-tsking large person to make sure they don’t get snatched! What do you think?

  79. @ Elisabeth, I guess that even though I’m in my early 50s, I’d need to have a bodyguard whenever I travel alone because I’m only 5’1″ and 110 lbs. (about 154 cm/50 kg for those readers on the metric system). 🙂 While I wouldn’t object to having a man with me to ensure that I wouldn’t be kidnapped, especially if he was good-looking, my husband might not like it.

  80. Elisabeth, your size comment reminds me of a little pet peeve from this past weekend. We went to a waterpark resort which was very nice. However, this year when we got there, they measured the height of each of my kids. My 5yo is pretty short and so she fell into the category with restrictions such as: must wear a life jacket at all times, must be within arm’s length of an adult at all times, bla bla bla. (How do you stay within arm’s length of a kid on a waterslide?) My 4yo is taller, so she didn’t have any of those restrictions. Luckily, they did not really reinforce these rules (despite the color-coded wristbands the girls had to wear). My 5yo can swim better than some adults, so it seems stupid to treat her like a helpless baby. Also, I don’t use life jackets for water play as a matter of principle. I think that if they would have enforced those rules, we would not have had a very good time.

    I do recall hearing of a tragedy within the past year where a 3yo drowned at the bottom of a waterslide. However, the above-described reaction does not seem logical. What if my kid were a 12yo midget – would I still have to hold her hand the whole day? Meanwhile my 4yo was allowed in water over her head without a flotation device or an adult close at hand. Just doesn’t make sense. What they should do is advise parents that the water goes over kids’ heads in some of the pools and that parental discretion is needed. But I’m sure it’s more cya than anything else.

  81. Why stop at Amtrak? Why not regional rail? Trolleys? Buses? Seriously, let’s get a grip. Of all these, Amtrak is probably the least likely to have issues; you need an expensive ticket to ride, there are conductors checking every car after every stop, and the seating is more conducive to noticing what’s going on around.

    I had a friend who commuted to school part-time (divorced parents) via a one-hop Amtrak stop from the age of 11, and she’s alive to tell the tale.

    The fact is, we can’t live in a “seems right to me”, intuitive-decision world in the 21st century when we have so many problems. One of the real truths behind Free Range Kids is it is about looking at facts surrounding our kids. Zero incidents on Amtrak, ever. None. That’s the fact. So let’s do our risk-analysis on that basis.

  82. I think someone should market a “look older than 12 kit” to young Amtrak passengers.
    One of the items Included- some press-on facial hair for the boys.

  83. I was an adult when I rode Amtrak for the first (and only) time. I would ride again and I would send my child unaccompanied but I have no reason to. I think questions like…can they pee and poop in a tiny smelly bathroom being rather strongly rocked back and forth…I also had to change messy diapers of a small child with no where for him to lay down…nightmare. But an unaccompanied minor wouldn’t have to do that…:)

    I am thinking that is the biggest challenge…the attendant for our car told us where we had to sit. I don’t see why the attendant couldn’t pick the best seat for an unaccompanied minor. No more attention than they give to the other passengers.

    Oh, the other thing is that the trains are FREEZING at night. I mean really uncomfortably, I thought I was having hypothermia cold. No matter how old you are you need to pack a warm blanket and wear sweats at night.

  84. There should be a quiz to take to tell if your child is adult enough to do anything! I remember putting a 12 yr. old on a bus with non-stop from NJ to Providence, RI where my friend was meeting the bus at the other end. I was a wreck for hours. But he really wanted to do this and realizing that he had a pretty level head and I’d given him all the scenarios to watch out for – really just what not to do – off he went (in this day & age I may have other thoughts, believe me!). Anyway, he had a growing experience and so did I! It is very tough to watch a bird leave it’s nest & see if it can fly. I have a pretty strong safety net, if not.

  85. Sometimes I am so happy not to live in a country where everything is regulated the way it is in the US. And I live in Germany and lots of people find that statement laughable over here. I just checked, there is no age you are not allowed to ride a train solo in Germany. But the main train company gives a huge discount for accompanied traveling children. If you travel with your kids or grandkids up to the age of 15 they don’t pay a traveling fee. I think that is brilliant!
    And by the way, one of my fondest summerholiday memory would not be possible with that agelimit. I was 11 1/2 years old, my brother was a month shy of ten and we traveled from Munich to Frankfurt by train. That was one of the first connections with the highspeed-train ICE and in the first summer that they used the train it had lots of problems with overheating and not working.
    The traveltime was around 3,5 hours but after 2 hours the train stopped working. We were at a staition we didn’t know, in a city we have never been to and we had to find another way to Frankfurt by our selfs. And we did it! We only arrived an hour later then planned and my mom had know possibility to know whether we could help ourselfs (it was way before mobiles were arround). So my mom had a not so good experience but my brother and I remember that travel with fond feelings. And we traveled alot after that. I even took my much smaller brother (he was 5, I was 15) on a 8 hour trip with multiple trainchanges!

  86. Interesting contrast to Southwest Airlines, which also will not allow 12-year-olds to travel as unaccompanied minors.

    But it’s not quite the same. On Southwest, they ARE allowed to travel, they just can’t get unaccompanied minor services. Unless their parents make a special request, they have to go through security alone. Basically they are treated like adults, except they can’t buy alcohol.

    Also, 12-year-olds can accompany younger children, so a five year old and a 12-year old travelling together are not considered unaccompanied.

  87. @Sue Balding, what exactly are you referring to when you say “in this day and age?” Have you read this web site at all?

  88. This is off-topic, but still related to age restrictions. A friend of mine just posted this New York Times article from 2009 on her Facebook page. Her comment was, “OMG, I bet that training a kid to run a marathon would be considered child abuse now.”

  89. OMG. You could drive yourself crazy with the “what if’s”. What if I’m at the supermarket reaching for some milk & someone snatches my kid out of the cart & runs away with them? Not likely, but possible. Should I chain my kid to the cart? Keep one hand on them at all times? not go to the store? Leave them home with a babysitter that might molest them? I could go on & on. You have to draw the line somewhere & decide what is a reasonable concern & what is not likely.

  90. I am a parent in Germany and i must say that using the train here for sending your kids around the country is so easy. I had to send my 5 year old to his grandparents. So i went to the train staion to buy the ticket for him. The lady at the counter asked if he would travel alone. When i told her yes, she gave me a flyer (sorry can not find it online) that gives you some information for kids travelling alone. Basically you they tell you you should reserve a seat for your child on each train your kid will take. On the day of the travel you should take your child to the Bahnhofsmission (can not find a translation for that). There your kid can wait for the train. A person from the Bahnhofsmission will then accompany your kid to his seat and inform the conductor. If your kid has to switch the train the conductor will take your kid to his next train or if the kid has to wait the condiuctor takes it to the Bahnhofsmission. I found this brilliant for a small kid.

  91. I live in Austria and cannot understand those problems. I do not even know if there is a minimum age for children riding trains alone in my country. Usually schoolchildren in rural areas use the train when going to school if there is a train line. Trains are more popular than buses among children, because they have a smoother ride there and can do their homework which they should have done the afternoon before. On some branch lines more than half of the passengers are minors going to or from school. So most children learn how to use trains at an early age. Therefore, it is no problem for them to use long-distance trains which are comparable to Amtrak services.

    I am also wondering about the rules for teenagers between 13 and 15 years. They must not do any transfers, must not travel to Canada, must wear a wristband and so on.
    When I was 15 years old, I travelled to Poland alone. I used a place in the couchette comparment in the night train which I shared with 5 other passengers. For the railroad it was (and is) no problem and also the border police of three countries (Austria, Czech republic, Poland) thought nothing of that. There were no wristbands involved…

  92. Uly in your response to Cruze: Some parents travel with their kids. It is not that out there to find a parent who wants to travel wtih their kids. I know I enjoy being with my kids on trips and outings. Even if mine were perfectly capable of going alone I still might want to go with them to actually spend time with them and have fun with them. That is not a super foreign concept. I am assuming she wants to travel with her kids.

  93. gap.runner: “This is off-topic, but still related to age restrictions. A friend of mine just posted this New York Times article from 2009 on her Facebook page. Her comment was, “OMG, I bet that training a kid to run a marathon would be considered child abuse now.”

    Actually sports seems to be the one area in which the whole safety thing is largely ignored. The panic to make little kids into professional-strength athletes supersedes the panic to keep them safe at all costs.

    During after school hours our park is jam packed with kids from early elementary on up doing long distance running in some after school program.

    As for the size thing, it is one factor to include when judging a kid’s readiness. My 11-year-old is the size of a 7-yr-old and as such I’ve delayed allowing her to travel to and from school alone (my kids take the NYC subway to school.) I’ve been waiting for her to get a bit bigger so she won’t get run over by other people. So instead she is allowed to travel with her 12-yr-old, much taller friend or with her siblings.

    By middle school age using public transportation, including trains alone or with friends is fairly common here as kids start going to schools that are a long way away from their homes or parents’ work places.

  94. So when is the time going to come when no one is allowed to ride solo? Regardless of age. Perhaps no women under the age of 40, because they are perceived as the “weaker sex” and they might get snatched. I know I get spam emails about that all the time (to which I send them the hoax response back).

    In reality we are creating a crippled nation that has no street smarts or resourcefulness. I really hope they invent the fountain of youth pill fast because these kids will need their parents to think for them once they are elected to office. However, with the rates of cancer and terminal illness increasing that’s not likely to happen.

    If kids don’t learn common sense when they are kids, how are they going to learn it later? And with all these perceived threats out there, its still illegal in many places to carry pepper spray with you…thank goodness for aerosol hairspray 😉

  95. […] Lenore Skenazy, “raging radical” risk-taker in a scary, unprotected world […]

  96. Oh good Dolly, I was waiting and waiting for you to bring up how the rest of of hate our kids and don’t want to spend any time with them.

  97. As a daily train commuter, I have to say trains are a dangerous place indeed! Namely, standing in front of them, in the middle of the gauge.

    Otherwise, they are far safer than traveling by car. Clearly, by Mr. “Not a Radical”‘s logic, we should have screening checkpoints at every parking lot, as people are known to hop in and out of cars all the time and the cargo is never screened. Cars even have fuel tanks which are filled with an explosive substance by non-screened persons. Quick, we must have checkpoints at every gas pump!

    Mr. “Not a Radical” seems to think that the TSA style screening is somehow keeping us extra safe. The TSA frankly has an impossible job, and even after spending billions on air security, it is still quite possible that we could have a plane hit by a terrorist attack. Attack attempts have been thwarted by one major post-9/11 change: cabin crews and passengers are no longer going to passively let someone attempt an attack on board a plane. Checkpoints and whatnot didn’t stop shoe or underwear bombs.

    There have been terrorist attacks on rail systems, notably Spain and Japan. But rail is a major passenger system in those countries. Here in the US, only a few places can lay claim to that in our car loving society. Terrorists go after big symbolic targets, which is why they target our airlines. Their goal is not blowing things up and killing people for violence’s sake. Their goal is to sow fear among a population. For more on this, you should read Bruce Schneier’s excellent “What the Terrorists Want” essay: http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2006/08/what_the_terror.html

    As far as “snatching kids” on a train, the same response from other passengers as to an attack would apply. Also, on Amtrak trains, the conductors are pretty numerous and would put a stop to that if they are nearby. I recall how quickly they caught a guy who pulled the emergency brake on a train. He was handcuffed and sat on the platform while the conductor reminded us that doing stupid things on Amtrak is a federal crime. Also on the commuter trains I ride, there are usually a number of law enforcement personnel aboard, since that’s how they commute, and they clearly have their service weapon on them. Suffice it to say, touch a child on a train and your life will be the “Folsom Prison Blues”.

    For anyone who’s gone through school, it’s really not surprising to see a school principal respond with his inane line of “reasoning”. School principals, by and large, are anti-free range kids at every turn. Principals want obedient kids in regimented environments, from even before the era of Every Child Must Pass a Test. The idea of free range is completely anathema to them. “That’s chaos,” Mr “Not a Radical” would shout, “Children must be cooped up! They must follow all the rules!”

    Pink Floyd put it best. Too bad it would be a song banned at school for being “too radical”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t4SKL7f9n58

  98. When I was 12 I first road the NYC transit system solo – train on Staten Island, then ferry, then bus to my new school in midtown Manhattan. I had done the trip the week before with my Mother.

    Guess what happened? I got lost. I got off one bus stop to early, or maybe too late, I’m still not sure. And all of the buildings looked the same. I wandered about for almost 45 minutes, with a growing sense of panic until – wonder of wonders, I recognized a street sign, figured out where I was, and made it to school. I was late. That was it. I was late.

    Today, of course, I would have had a smart phone, and access to Google Maps. But even in 1976 I had back-up. Help was only a pay phone away. I didn’t call b/c I didn’t want to admit defeat – not right away, anyway. And I worked it out on my own.

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  100. Sometime in the 1890s, my great-grandfather died fairly young–in his thirties. His widow was unable to take care of the kids for a time, so she sent them to various relatives.l

    Family lore says that my grandfather, a little boy, was put on a train with a note or label saying, in effect, “Deliver to Mrs. So-and-so, Such-a-town, Missouri.”

    It was an in-state trip, and presumably the conductor kept an eye on him. And he was not abducted or anything.

  101. I have received a response to my complaint, and they have not directly answered exactly WHY this was put in place. Typical!!!

  102. @Jody

    they have not directly answered

    That’s typical. I’ve learned to no actually ask questions when I’m writing about stuff like this. Instead I’ll put out a ridiculous assumption, and let them ignore it. Like:

    I understand you don’t allow children under thirteen to travel unaccompanied on trains due to risk that they might be vampires, and get loose and infect everyone else on the train. I applaud this decision, but would also like to suggest that you arm all conductors with garlic infused stakes.

  103. My daughter was almost kidnapped right out of our front yard, right from under my wife’s nose, as she was looking out our front window. If I hadn’t happened to come home right at that moment, because I had forgot something, my daughter would be gone. I agree with you that we, as a society, might be a little paranoid. I agree with your thought that we need to have more self-reliant kids, but over all, I think you are an idiot, Lenore. There is a lot more to creating self reliant kids than just letting them be “free-range”. (Oh, and by the way, I have let my kids ride Amtrak without adult supervision. Just not solo.)

    Not sincerely,
    Lu Purcell

  104. Not to poison the well too much, but I am totally unsurprised to see the comment coming from someone whose career was based on dollars per student head kept in his corral.

  105. I ride NJ Transit through Hoboken train station every day, a major hub for commuter traffic between NYC and NJ.

    I know, after the Madrid bombings, that there’s a chance of a terrorist bomb some day. I lived with the fear of IRA/UDA bombs when I grew up in Ireland. You get on with your life. All of life is a cost-benefit analysis. If you figure the risks are too high for you, you find a job that doesn’t require you to go through high-profile target areas.

    But to be forced through TSA “security theater” every day for the rest of my life, just to avoid the bed-wetting by hopeless schmucks like this, who are probably afraid to visit NYC after 9/11…. Life is already too short for this crap.

    Let the cowards go find a cave to hide in. Leave the rest of us to live our lives in peace.

  106. Yeah, a Safetymeister, like… a guy who has asst coached a world class football team for 30 years and does a lot of outreach to troubled children? They’re the ones you can trust! amirite?

  107. @CherryLaneDiairies, tell us more. Was the kidnapper arrested? Had he kidnapped other kids right in front of their parent’s noses? What was his intent? Did he have any other type of criminal history?

  108. Why do people so often assume that “Free-Range” somehow means “tossing them out there and letting the chips fall where they may”?

    It *is* about creating self-reliant kids… which also means teaching them what they need to know to help keep them safe. It means teaching them how to recognise and react to dangers. It means giving them the confidence and the tools to navigate the world.

    I have never seen or heard Lenore claim there are no dangers out there, or that there is zero risk; just that those dangers and risks are blown out of proportion and we underestimate what our kids are capable of when given a chance. It is about keeping things in perspective and reacting accordingly. Otherwise, it would be like saying “I once heard of someone whose child was almost kidnapped!” and then declaring that no child should ever be let to just play in their own front yard.

    Oh. Wait. That’s kinda what happened in society.

    I have taught my daughter how to react to situations, what flags to look out for, and how to take care of herself… *while Free-Ranging.* If you agree with all of the points about there being too much fear and paranoia, and about kids needing to be more self-reliant, but think free-ranging is somehow idiotic… Then I would suggest that perhaps there is one or more words in there for which you are not actually grasping the definition.

    (Oh, and “Not Sincerely” does not mean “with low regards” or “no love”; it means “I don’t really mean it” and makes the post ambiguous. I had a second of “Wait? Does that mean he was kidding?”)

  109. And your child is still more likely to be killed in a car accident. But that doesn’t stop folks from driving their little precious everywhere.

  110. @uptown, your problem is what exactly? Yes, my children are precious to me; shouldn’t they be? Why is that a negative?

  111. What amuses (bemuses?) me most about this article and response is that my 8-going-on-28 year old daughter goes to Grandma’s house in the Chicago area every July for a couple of weeks (gasp- without me!) but I don’t let her fly alone. I know she will be perfectly safe on the plane and she’s flown enough times that she’s pretty comfortable in an airport. I don’t let her fly alone precisely BECAUSE of all the security nonsense. IAll that security is overwhelming to me- I want to be there when some TSA agent decides to full-body pat down my child. Maybe it’s helicopterish of me, but I find it ironic that systems that are supposed to make us safe, make me feel like I need to be there, hovering around her. The funny thing about it, once we’re in there, I let her go to the bathroom by herself, go to the magazine store by herself, or go order herself a hot chocolate by herself. Isn’t it sad that the “security” is what makes me feel it’s not safe for her to be alone?

  112. I wonder if any actual events or incidents have occurred … I’ll bet not.

    Although there is some brouhaha that a 13 year old runaway apparently lied about her age to get on a Boston to NYC bus (other bus lines turned her away unless and adult bought the ticket for her) and people are, like, “how could a minor buy a ticket”. Um … good question. I have sent my kids cross country on planes by themselves at that age, but I bought the tickets and appeared at check-in with them.

  113. I understand you don’t allow children under thirteen to travel unaccompanied on trains due to risk that they might be vampires, and get loose and infect everyone else on the train. I applaud this decision, but would also like to suggest that you arm all conductors with garlic infused stakes.

    LOL, that’s awesome.

  114. This seriously annoys me. I’m a college student who travels alone by Amtrak train several times a year across the state. It’s my primary way to get home during holidays and I’m getting ready for my first trip for this year on Friday.

    Not only has Amtrak never been attacked, it’s a safe, fast way to travel and see some sights along the way. Yet suddenly they feel the need to crack down on “security” when there’s no real reason for it. They’ve said they’re going to start checking people’s bags soon in addition to this. Why? What triggered this? There’s never been an attack, a problem aside from the occasionally delayed train. The worst I’ve experienced was a long delay because my train’s engine broke. I feel safe enough on Amtrak to leave my laptop on my seat when I go to the bathroom because people are friendly and watch out for each other.

    This is just silly.

  115. Beginning when I was 14, my three younger siblings and I rode Amtrack from Chicago to Albuquerque and back every summer to visit our father. Our parents knew we could handle the adventure and trusted my judgement at the oldest. The worst thing that happened is having to spend 28 hours on the same train with an entire car of unwashed boy scouts on their way to camp. Statistically, children are more at risk for harm from people they know, not strangers on a train!

  116. After living for 2 years in Germany and riding those dangerous, hop-on hop-off, no checking luggage trains, boy do I feel lucky now! Thanks, Not A Radical Retired Principal, you’ve made me realize just how unsafe all that traveling was! Way to encourage our society to continue polluting the environment by using gas-guzzling cars 🙂

  117. Excellent articles !

  118. Gasp! I never realized how dangerous it is when a train stops at different train stops! Thank you SO much, not a radical retired high school principal, for revealing the dangers of riding trains! I’ll make sure to drive my kids everywhere from now on!

  119. I have been riding amtraks alone since I was 11(NO QUESTIONS ASKED) and am now almost 15
    That is absolute madness
    That was never a threat which was posed nor which had taken place along my “somehow dangerous” journeys.
    What the pumpkin seeds is this? “American spirit, full body scan, every baggie” HOLY SHOTSHOW2012, who was the imbecile who said that?. The Amtrak train system is not like an airport and is not for defenseless children, it is for people who need to get places and not kittyfoot around.
    American spirit? AMERICAN SPIRIT!? What Baka came up with that for the end of “full body scan, X-ray, EVERY LITTLE BAGGIE”
    That is why I no longer wish to stay in the US

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