Amtrak to 12-year-olds: You Are Babies

Hi Readers! Were you planning to have your tween take the train to your ex’s this Thanksgiving? Too bad. Amtrak has just raised its unaccompanied minor age from 8 to 13.

That’s right. Five years of a child’s development are gone — poof! — in the blink of a bureaucratic eye.  It’s like lopping teens off at the knees and saying now they’re too small to go on the ride. As of Nov. 1, any traveler younger than 13 must be accompanied by someone who is 18 or older. Why? Jeff Snowden, Amtrak’s senior director of service (so-called!) delivery, said, “This is not in response to any incidents,” but “out of an abundance of concern for the comfort and safety of all our travelers.”

Got that? Amtrak is admitting there is zero REAL reason to make this new rule, just “an abundance of concern” — an abundance that somehow manages to feel not at all concerned about the legions of parents who believe their kids are ready to travel solo. And why shouldn’t they? A kid on a train is not like a hitchhiker flagging down ice road truckers. The kids know where they’re going. (It even is written on the ticket!) There are conductors to answer questions. There’s a snack car to sell overpriced, undercooked hot dogs. There’s nothing to prevent kids 8 and up from getting where they’re going — except the brick wall of baseless worry.

How baseless? You can SEE the train brains casting around for a rationale. Here’s one they tried: In the past, guardians had to bring their minors to the station, get them a wristband and then wait with them till their train departed. But sometimes, an Amtrak spokesman explained to MSNBC, “if a specific train station ran out of wristbands, we’d have to deny travel to that child because of no fault of their own.”

So to REMEDY that, the corporation is denying travel to ALL children? That’s like saying, “Because once in a while we are total boneheads and forget to order milk for the cafeteria, from now on no child gets any milk.” Must be that ol’ “abundance of concern” welling up again. And here’s another dollop: The spokesman added that these new rules are “more customer-friendly.”

Yeah, the same way not allowing fliers to bring their water bottles through security is more customer-friendly.

What this new edict does — besides dismay me, a train lover who has taken Amtrak from New York to Chicago many times and even on to Arizona once — is to make official the trend I call “10 is the new 2.” That’s the trend of treating our kids as cute little nincompoops who need parental help every baby step of the way … to college.

Remember that we are living in an era that already is selling us things such as computerized play date organizers because our kids can’t possibly make their own arrangements. And then there’s my favorite whipping boy, the child carrier backpack that’s designed to let parents schlep their offspring up to (according to the company’s website) “60 pounds or seven years of age.” So this is a culture that sees nothing wrong with treating 7-year-olds like infants.

And Amtrak is right on board. Until last week, a third-grader could travel solo. Now even a seventh-grader can’t. Yet another big institution has no faith in our kids. That should be of abundant concern to us all. — L.S.

How could Harry Potter ever have started at Hogwarts if everyone under 13 needed a chaperone on the train?

“Anti-Aging Makeup” — for 8-year-olds?

Hi Readers! Remember when kids wanted to look grown UP?  Not anymore, I guess. According to this piece in The Independent, Wal-Mart is introducing GeoGirl “natural” makeup for girls age 8 and up. As revolting as I find that idea, the fact that it is touted as “anti-aging” has me holding my head together with duct tape. (An attractive look.)

So, girls: You’re too young to walk to school at the same age mommy did, but you’re old enough to worry about wrinkles. You’re too young to play in the park with your friends, but old enough to stare into a mirror and think what you see needs fixing. In short, you are babies — and babes. Got a problem with that?  — Lenore

How sad to live before GeoGirl came along!


Dearest Readers — I have been thinking of what to say about this new product but frankly, my jaw just keeps going slack. Ditto my sarcasm skills. So here goes, from the website Baby Sounds 4 Pets ( ):

I have 2 passions in my life,my pets and becoming a mother. Three years ago while my sister was expecting her first child, I was looking for a CD of baby sounds to prepare her two dogs and cat for the arrival of my nephew. I couldn’t find one ANYWHERE!


BABY SOUNDS helped my sister,and many couples,prepare their anxious pets for the sounds of a new baby in their home. It is preparing my chihuahua ‘FRED’ for our first baby this year

It’s a CD of gurgling, cooing and, of course, WAILING.

I’m sure that once Chihuahua Fred has heard pre-recorded wailing for a few weeks, he will be very eager to meet a live creature who does the same, often in the middle of the night.

Meantime, I’m trying to think just how smart a pet would have to be to be “anxious” about its humans’ impending parenthood. Has he been staring at the sonogram on the fridge with furrowed brow? That’s some pooch!

Anyway, this is not totally a Free-Range issue, but it does have a certain resonance because once again – this time with pets instead of children – we are imagining that there’s no way they could possibly just adjust to life as it comes at ’em.  No, they need pampering, preparation, and of course products.

So much for rolling with the punches.

Even the very species known for rolling.   – Lenore


Babyproofing Hysteria

Each week I get an email blast called “Connect with Kids” that veers between helpful and crazy-making. Today it’s the latter. (

In a little article about babyproofing, it quotes an “expert” who casts her eyes around a new parent’s home and, “immediately spots something she doesn’t like in the kitchen. Plastic trash bags.”

Continues the blog: “‘You think these are great for your trash cans, well, they are, but it’s terrible for your baby,’ she explains. ‘Children love plastic. For some reason, they are drawn to it. They will eat it, and they will suffocate.'”

Excuse me, but children are not drawn to eating plastic bags. This expert has confused children with turtles (who may or may not confuse plastic bags with jelly fish).

The threat to children from plastic bags happens when a bag falls onto them and they are too young to be able to pull it off, or even to lift their heads to catch a breath. Very young. The other threat is when children fall asleep against a plastic bag and, again, their neck muscles are too young and weak for them to turn their heads to breathe. Here’s a report on just that from the Consumer Product Safety Commission: Also note that 90% of the kids who die are under age 1. They are not eating bags. They are accidentally smothered.

Of course, any parents reading this babyproofer’s advice may well think that now they must banish that staple, the plastic garbage bag, from their kitchens. I know, I know — plastic garbage bags are bad for the environment. What I’m talking about, though, is how blithely parents are expected to upturn their lives in the interests of preventing an exceedingly, excessively, outrageously unlikely danger.

If we acted that way with grown-up dangers we’d be wearing helmets at work (a plant could fall off the file cabinet!) and drinking that awful office coffee from our hands (because plastic cups contain hardeners, paper has been chemically treated, mugs may leach glaze and bottles could shatter). (The coffee is awful just because it always is.)

At some point we have to say to ourselves there is only so much we can worry about. And I say this as a bona fide worrier — ask my kids.

So yes, by all means, do try to keep your child safe. Ask a babyproofer’s advice, if you’d like. Nothing wrong with that. But also try to keep danger in perspective: The average American home is not a death trap.

(The mortgage – that’s another story.) — Lenore