As hard as it is to imagine, at some point all of our kids will ride public transit alone. This might be as they graduate to commuting to school alone, or it may become a need as they grow in their independent friendships and become too independent to have a chaperone at all times.
There are two ways we can address this developmental leap as parents: ignore it as long as possible and hope they hold our hands on the metro forever (tempting, I know!), or teach them to become independent, responsible, and safe when using public transportation on their own.
There is no rush to giving your child the freedom to ride public transit alone, but taking small steps to make smart practices a habit can keep your kid safe while giving you peace of mind that they are capable.
Here is our list of suggestions for how to ensure your child is safe while riding public transportation solo:
Phone is a must (NOT smartphone when younger as can be distracting). A phone call or text when leaving is imperative. Some schools will not allow phones or smart watches even turned off, so make sure you ask the school what the rules are.
Familiarity with the route and also with alternative routes is essential. Even if it’s an easy route, the kid has to know how to decide if they should walk, wait, or call for help if the bus or metro suddenly stops or they need to get off for any reason.
Consider the time of day. It is best (especially for younger kids) to only let them out solo when it is still light outside. Keep time of year in mind too - maybe you wouldn’t let a 10 year old out alone after dark, but by starting in spring/summer there is plenty of time to practice before winter when the same route will be dark as of 16:45.
Decide when your individual kid is ready. Some kids are more capable at younger ages, whereas others are not. Your child needs to be able to not be distracted and remain calm if something unexpected comes up. If they will be crossing streets, keep in mind that until 12 years old kids cannot judge oncoming traffic speeds accurately. Make sure they are the type of kid who will stop and wait at the red light even if there are no cars, or find the safest route for them.
Role play and discuss scenarios. My biggest hurdle with my oldest has been explaining that you NEVER RUN FOR A BUS OR METRO. Just take the next one, even if you’re late. Running often means high stress and likelihood of accident. Other scenarios to discuss or role play: What do you do if someone is staring at you? Who are adults you should speak with first (maybe parent with child or a bus driver)? Where should you sit on the bus/metro (encourage them not to be isolated)? How can you contact the police or SAMU if you need to? There are so many possible scenarios but you can start to talk through those early on by narrating what we do as adults, even to young kids. This makes them more aware as they get older. Why did mommy change trains? Why did we decide not to get on the metro that was too packed with people? Etc
Take small steps. We’re currently on one trip home per week as we get ready for 6eme. We’re a 30 minute walk from school and a 20 min bus ride. Adjust depending on your own circumstances and distance/trajectory, but remember that it is a new situation for kids so take it at their own pace (and yours!).
Ensure all important information is memorized before the first solo trial (i.e. address, door codes, phone numbers). Remember, phones die, keys get lost, routes need to change based on the transit, etc..
Create your safety net. We’ve had our neighbors kids come by ours twice in the past month because they got locked out - where would your kids go if you aren’t home and they need to speak to a trusted adult? Get to know a trusted neighbor if possible, or someone who could go get your child if they need help on the way and you aren’t right next door.
Breathe. Remember that we rode bikes (sometimes without helmets!) and didn’t necessarily have cell phones at 10 years old and had to learn these skills. Living in a city may make things more complicated in some ways but it also means we tend to helicopter around kids longer. Small steps and lots of communication. And a glass of wine the first few times :)
Feel free to comment with your own suggestions for teaching your kids to stay safe as they venture out on their own!
About the author: Courtney Bachelard is a long-time member and the Primary School Kids co-leader. Mom of Celia Rose (11) and Luna-Mae (5), she is originally from New Jersey/New York and has been a Paris resident since 2009.
*A version of this article originally appeared in the Message magazine, which is mailed to all members who live in France.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or beliefs of Message.