Deciding to let a child travel alone

No one is ever old enough to ride on the New York City alone for the first time. Visitors often feel this way. I was 25 when I came to the city for the first time and remember that first ride, who knew where the train would end up and let me off?

For kids growing up in New York, it is often different. They are ready to go off on the train. How do you decide whether they are ready. It has to happen sooner or later. This example is from the subways, but the decision process is similar for other situations where a child is on their own.

Decision time for the subways is often triggered by a change in schools. Since a child can select public middle schools (6th grade) anywhere in his district, it may be more than a walking distance from home. Sure, there may an equivalent school just around the corner, but preferences are valid. So the decision is to let the child go to the school of their choice and take the subway or restrict the options.

The first reaction to a child on the subways is the physical danger. There is always the possibility of encountering an out of control person. It can happen. Actually it can happen anywhere—on the sidewalk, at the mall, another driver. The cold statistics show that it is relatively rare. Most children have been instructed about these possibilities. Both children and adults are on the lookout for it and can take evasive action. Actually, there is not much difference for the child alone in this case since there are so many other adults present. On a subway for a daytime school commute, this scenario may not be the most significant.

Far more common is that it the subway line goes out of service due to a mechanical break down, power failure, or some other random act of nature. Alternatively, a train or bus may be rerouted from a local to express and make different stops. In these scenarios, which are likely to happen sooner or later over the course of a year, the child may be relatively far from home, disrupted from the normal travel pattern and by himself. The question then is: Does our child have the presence of mind, information, and maturity to work through the situation?

 It is not enough to ask for an opinion or general question, but to formulate more specific examples and have the child demonstrate competence.

In the case of the subway or bus, a series of probing questions can be formulated based on adult experience: What happens if: the subway breaks down; you lose your metro card and have not money; the train is rerouted; which buses can match the route; who can you contact for information; your cellphone batteries are dead; you get lost. These questions define for the parent the level at which the child must be able to function.

 Next test the child’s maturity and knowledge against the specific questions. Look for answers that have enough specific detail to actually solve the problem. For example, it is not enough to say “Take another train” They must be able to specify the alternate routes, including transfers and destination stops. Of course, not every scenario can be tested. The real evaluation by the parent is to determine if the child has information, realistic assessment and ability to actually work through the problem. Then, its time for a field assessment. The next step is to let them set the routes for actual trips the family may take prior to the school year. No hints. If the wrong directions is selected, everyone goes along for the ride. These trips gives the sense of responsibility needed for their own confident travel.

 Then, they are off. Not quite finished though. The first few trips are likely uneventful. Some close questioning about the initial experiences to verify the information and maturity are really there both parent and child are confident when the inevitable new situation arises.

 The process can be applied to giving other responsibility in general. Not just children, but delegating responsibility to employees as well.

A follow-up post is:  Intuitive Decisions–Allowing a child more responsibility or can be located in the parenting category.

Summary of steps:

Understand the Skill Requirements

Explicitly review the project from a skill perspective.

Evaluate Competence within the Project

Formulate specific probes so that the responses demonstrate skills rather than describe them.

Determine the Overlap of Requirements and Competence

Use Experience and intuitive judgment tested against specific questions

 Delegate Responsibility

Focused oversight in areas in which project requirements exceed demonstrated competence.


Verify that the person is functioning effectively after there has been an opportunity to progress the project.

The steps in this process are described in more detail in the “Delegating Responsibility” paper in the Papers section.


One Response to Deciding to let a child travel alone

  1. […] In an earlier example, “Deciding to let a child travel alone”, the emphasis was on a general method to gauge whether the required skills, experience, and maturity were present to give this responsibility. If the baseline requirements are not met, there is no question that responsibility cannot be delegated. However, even if the skills are present, allowing that responsibility may not be the appropriate direction. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: