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?

Our Sex Offender Laws are CRAZY

Hi Readers — This story was just sent to me and I am stunned and going out of my mind. A 34-year-old Nevada woman who was convicted of making a 13-year-old boy touch her breasts — I agree, gross and totally wrong — was sentenced to MANDATORY LIFE IN PRISON.

She will be eligible for parole in 10 years.  As her public defender said:  “She is getting a greater penalty for having a boy touch her breast than if she killed him.”

No one — Free-Range or not — is in favor of adults molesting minors. But the idea that “public lewdness”  can carry a mandatory life sentence just highlights  the hysteria of the times we are living in — times when we are so sex offender-obsessed we fail to consider whether we are really making children any safer with our over-the-top laws and our “zero tolerance” for common sense. As one commenter named “justthefacts” wrote beneath the original news story:

Humor me please…a man leaves a bar intoxicated, gets behind the wheel of his vehicle, chooses to drive off and ultimately gets in an accident and kills a 13 year old boy, unintentionally, but still is blatently guilty of vehicular manslaughter. He is charged with the following in Nevada: $2000-$5000 fine, 25 years – Life prison sentence with a possibility of parole after 10 years. This is the actual sentence for a crime of this caliber. With that being said, should this woman really, seriously, get the same exact sentence?

Wouldn’t community service and some rehab or therapy have made a lot more sense? Or maybe a week in jail? We’ve got to change these laws. If anyone is more versed than me in how we go about this, tell all.  — Lenore

Way to go, Nevada.