I Can’t Free-Range My Kids. Should I Try?

by Marinka on November 6, 2011

I’m in a mood.

Generally, when it comes to parenting, I feel like I know what I’m doing. Not perfectly, not cockily, but I have a sense. I know what the experts are saying, I talk to my friends, to my parents, but mostly I let my gut guide me.

I set boundaries, I say no plenty, I’ve never felt a need to be my children’s friend.

I think I’m doing okay.

But it feels like I’ve been cheating.

Because until now, my gut has been nicely aligned with modern wisdom. And I think that my kids have done well.

But now I am stumped.

And hence the mood.

Because although I want to agree so much with the Free Range Kid principles, I just can’t.

Not for my kids.

My thirteen year old daughter is in the midst of high school applications and some of the schools are a subway ride away from home. Subway rides that she would have to take by herself. Not entirely by herself, of course, but with strangers. In New York City. On the subway. Without me.

To me, that means she shouldn’t be applying to those schools. To my husband, and most other people that I’ve spoken to, it means that I need to get with the program and, well, unclench.

When Amy last week wondered if we were asking too little of our children, I agreed with her.

But when I followed to a link to an article that suggests that a first grader should be able to walk around his neighborhood alone, I reacted strongly.

And badly.

FUCK, no.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m certain that there are first graders who can handle an unattended walk around their neighborhood. But I don’t know that I’ve ever met one. And I certainly didn’t give birth to any.

I get it.

We shouldn’t let fear rule our lives.

Free Range Kids Lenore Skenazy founder writes that the Free Range Kid is a kid who gets treated as a smart, young, capable individual, not an invalid who needs constant attention and help.

And how can anyone not subscribe to that?

And I want that for my kids.

Except although I think that they are smart, young and capable, they live in a world that often doesn’t value children and doesn’t protect them. I think that children are vulnerable. I think that there are adults who set out to hurt children.

I also know that we live during scary times. I don’t want to say terrorism, but yes, terrorism. I don’t want my children to be on the subway without me when this happens again.

I know what you’re thinking. What could you have done, Marinka, if you’d been trapped on that train with them? I don’t know. Probably panicked. And not been helpful. But I know that if there’s a problem, I want to be right next to them.

And that makes me think that this is more about me.

I know that my kind of thinking is dangerous. I know that I cannot envelop my children in a blanket of fear and yet expect them to grow up to be independent adults. I know that I can’t hold their hand forever.

But if everything in my soul says “she’s too young!” shouldn’t I listen?

Or is that just a mother’s voice that doesn’t want to let go?

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know me. You know my kids. I want to hear your thoughts about it. All of them.

One year ago ...

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{ 65 comments… read them below or add one }

Danielle November 6, 2011 at 11:48 am

I live in a small city about an hour and a half away from Toronto. So maybe it’s my upbringing and having not been exposed to using the subway regularly, myself, but if it were my kids…I feel the exact same way that you do. No. Fucking. Way. It’s not so much that I wouldn’t trust my children as it is that I don’t trust the rest of the world. Like you said, there are adults out there who set out to hurt children. I mean, there does come a point where you have to “unclench” but if she’s just starting high school that’s already a huge adjustment. If it were me regardless of what other people (my husband included) thought I needed to do, I would go for the schools that left me feeling most comfortable about my child’s safety. If everything in your soul is saying, “she’s too young!” I’d call that your mommy instincts kicking in. You should listen.


Marinka November 6, 2011 at 8:37 pm

Thank you. I do think it’s my mommy instinct, but I also know that I am so overprotective. Like when she was 5 years old, in summer camp, it was really hard for me to let her go on field trips without me. Because I had a million scenarios running though my head.

I don’t want my fears to curtail what my children do, my anxieties to overwhelm them, but there has to be some sort of a balance.


Teddi Bryant November 6, 2011 at 12:10 pm

I read your blog often and I love it. I, too, have a 13 year old and I live in Denver. So, my consideration is a lot more selfish in that I am looking for schools that my son can take public transport to or, that he can easily walk or ride his bike.

My son did start his life in NYC and we moved when he was 5 and I was pregnant — not wanting to deal with the school situation in NYC. I completely understand your conundrum. But, you are living in NYC — this is your reality. You have “city-kids” and I honestly bet, that your daughter is sophisticated enough to ride the subway or take a bus to school. I think maybe you are being a little overprotective. She’s old enough. It’s hard to let your kids out into the big bad world, but, I bet you have given all the tools and common sense she needs to make it back and forth to high school!

Can you spend the time for a few weeks and ride with her until it feels more comfortable? It’s not like she’s riding late at night. She’ll be on the subway the same time as everyone who is commuting to work and to school. And, hey, here’s another idea — have her ride with other kids! That’s what we do here in Denver (not as scary here – but parents have the same concerns).

Hope that helps. My son is currently pulling his hair out from all the high school stress. Seriously. Any ideas?

Teddi B


Marinka November 6, 2011 at 8:39 pm

I don’t understand why when you were moving away from NYC to Denver, you didn’t take me with you. Seriously, why? And is it too late for you to send for me?

The going with other kids is a great idea. But what if the other kids refuse to move in with us so that they can commute together?! WHY IS EVERYONE OUT TO GET ME?

I’m so sorry that your son is going through the high school stress. My daughter finds it relaxing to play SIMS Pets. Perhaps he should consider it?


K-Line November 6, 2011 at 12:13 pm

Intriguingly (re: Danielle’s comment), I live in downtown Toronto, and I think that 13 is old enough to take the subway during business hours. Especially since she’ll likely end up traveling with friends she meets at the school. I was freaked to let my kid walk home from school (15 minutes) alone starting the beginning of this year – she’s 11. But she always ends up walking with others or riding her bike and she’s got a head on her shoulders. We need to let them explore the world without us. No matter how frightening it is for us.


Marinka November 6, 2011 at 8:43 pm

I agree that we need to let them explore the world without us. But I’m struggling, I really am. Last year, I was a few blocks away from my home and my kids’ school and I saw a high speed car chase. It was terrifying. The cars were flying through the lights and it’s a miracle that no one was hurt.

I remember being really shaken up then and thinking how could I ever let my kids outside without me? (Of course they do go outside without me. But I never fully exhale until they check in with me.)

I feel uncomfortable enough about my feelings about this to have posted about it. I think if I felt that I was 100% in the right, I’d be struggling less.

Thank you, as always.


November 6, 2011 at 12:15 pm

We were VERY free-range kids, as were most of the other kids I knew. Would I like my own daughter to experience the freedom I did, to have the same experiences that I had? Absolutely. Is the world the same place it was 20 years ago? Absolutely not. I like to think I’m raising my daughter to be independent and responsible, and that she will be prepared to do all the “free-range” stuff she wants. But as much as I want to PREPARE her for the world beyond my arms, I want to PROTECT her even more.

You are her mother. You know more than anyone if she’s ready or not. If your gut is telling you no, listen to it. Some kids might be ready to walk around the block alone at 8, or ride the subway by themselves at 13. Maybe she’s not there, yet. There is nothing wrong with that, or you.


K-Line November 6, 2011 at 12:18 pm

I should also mention that I think our children are the best arbiters of their own readiness. My child told me it was time to let go – I didn’t want to listen but she was right (I realized very soon after). Since then we’ve started to give her privileges in other areas and I see her thriving with the new freedom. One other thing: My child is not a young 11. She’s very practical, a problem solver. Perhaps a “young” 13 might be unready for this step, but I sense that your kid doesn’t fall into that category.


Twsited Domestic Goddess November 6, 2011 at 12:26 pm

I think it’s a delicate balance between free range kids and protecting your kids. I think it also depends on where you live as well. I think we’re blessed this day and age with having cell phones where we can at least check in with our kids. I think though taking a subway to highschool would freak me out too. Especially in New York. Then again I was taking the bus downtown to shop from age 9 on but we didn’t live in a HUGE town.


califmom November 6, 2011 at 12:27 pm

It really isn’t a matter of the child’s chronological age, as K-Line said. It’s a matter of the child’s maturity. Is your daughter ready for the responsibility? Is SHE comfortable with the idea? How would she respond if she were stuck on the train? It’s much more about her than it is about you, in my opinion.

I have a 13yo daughter and a nearly 15yo son. I think they each have readiness to do certain things on their own and certain strengths that make them ready for those independent tasks. I also make sure they have the tools they need to be successful—a smartphone is a great tool for a teen navigating the city. I don’t view my daughter’s iPhone as a privilege as much as a necessity. She uses the map to get around, the texting to contact me, the bus schedule, etc. It’s worth it for the peace of mind it gives each of us.


November 6, 2011 at 12:32 pm

I started walking to school, with a small group of friends, in 3rd grade – in Park Slope in the early 80’s. I started taking the subway to school in 8th grade. It was the mid-80’s, a time in NYC when the subways and everything else were as bad as they could be. My parents didn’t allow me to go to Stuyvesant because they didn’t want me to get off at Union Square (Stuy was on 2nd Ave in an old dilapidated building then). At that time Union Square was a tent city of homeless people and crack. They didn’t really have an issue with the subway itself – more the coming and going from the subway station, especially when it got dark by 4:30 in the winter. But, there was no real option. I ended up going to a different specialized high school in Brooklyn at an equally bad subway station, perhaps even worse. But, there is no doubt I grew up savvier and smarter than my girls currently are.
With cell phones, security and all of the other things in place in NYC it’s probably never been better for a kid to be on the subway going to school. Will disgusting things still happen? Of course. Am I terrified for my girls to even take the public bus to middle school in a year? Yes. But, even worse would be to end up with one of those kids who has no idea what to do once on their own, has no instincts or street smarts, and who walks right into trouble because they’ve never learned to recognize it. It’s a scary trade off – but it’s so necessary.


Leigh November 6, 2011 at 12:40 pm

My first grader just came in to go through the garage to get his bike. He’s riding around the block a few times. My biggest fear is someone backing out of their driveway and hitting him. But I still let him go. We live in a suburb so it isn’t a city block.
I took the subway to school at 13. I’m actually sort of concerned that my kids won’t be able to do this. Highschool kids in our neighborhood take the school bus to school or drive when they are old enough. Seems sort of lame. I think it is hard since she is your first child. And it is easy to say this since it isn’t my kid being sent on the subway. I think if your daughter is comfortable with it then she will be fine.


November 6, 2011 at 12:42 pm

Some of my fondess memories growing up are those when my siblings and I roamed around town unattended. Riding our bikes to the pool, 2 miles away, at 10 years old. Crossing through heavy traffic to get donuts on Sundays at 8 years old. Navigating the L-trains in Chicago to purchase combat boots at age 13. Riding buses late at night to see Nirvana play at age 15.

I knew my boundaries. My parents always tried to instill a sense of independence from an early age – and prepared us well. I’m not sure (yet) if I would allow my children to ride the L-train at 13 but I do and try to give them more independence then my friends give their children. Why? Because that’s the way I parent. (I didn’t send my 1st grader to overnight camp because I hated her like someone mentioned to me on twitter – I sent her to camp because I love her and want all the best for her.) Each of us has their own methods of madness and comfort levels.

I don’t live in the city but I grew up in the city. My mother did what she thought was best, I’m doing what I think is best and you’ll end up doing what you think is best.

Curious. How was your childhood in NYC? Were you able to roam freely?


Jess November 6, 2011 at 12:48 pm

I was a free-range kid but not because my mom wanted that, it is because she was always working. Sometimes I wish she was there more stopping me from making mistakes but other times I am glad I was left to be. I am independent, street smart and yet cautious. I think you should hold on to your daughter but also give her choices. You have raised her the best you can and she knows it and think of you when she makes her decisions.


Halala Mama
November 6, 2011 at 12:56 pm

I completely understand your position. I’m stressed about where my kid will go to school…three years from now…and we’re talking kindergarten.

Keep in mind though, that she won’t be 13 for the entire time she is in high school, the subway is a public place, she’d be traveling at reasonable hours, and you can use the GPS on her phone to track her every movement. Haha! So that’s not an endorsement, but just some facts to consider. Ultimately, it is your decision, and likely she will excel wherever she is. New York is a big city with a lot of advantages, I’d take all of them I could.


Stacie @ hometownperch November 6, 2011 at 12:56 pm

I’m right there with you. I live in a smaller town. If I lived in NYC there is no way I would allow my 1st grader to walk around the block or my older child to ride the subway alone.

Even with living in a smaller town it’s still a struggle to balance free-range and appropriately-cautious parenting. I try to let my little birdies fly (around our neighborhood) but I’m home, with the windows open listening for one little scream that doesn’t sound right. And when the local newspaper published that a registered sex offender moved in 10 blocks away, I pulled on that leash and brought my birdies closer to me. I’m not a helicopter parent but my anxiety level has me somewhere close.


Tonya November 6, 2011 at 1:10 pm

As a latchkey kid from a very young age who was forced to navigate public transport and not so safe neighborhoods I think it’s important to strike a balance. Yes, we want our kids to grow up to be confident, healthy, independent adults but I’m not so sure giving them free reign is the answer. Public transportation can be an overwhelming and scary experience at times. We live in complicated times.
Marinka, I think you need to follow your instincts they have brought you and your children this far. Books and others’ opinions can certainly help to shine a light on what choices we make for our children and motivate us to question the paths we have chosen but at the end of the day we have to make the decision that feels most comfortable to us. We don’t want to live a life wondering “what if I had just followed my gut?”


Jessie M November 6, 2011 at 1:18 pm

I am going to preface this with the fact that I’ve never ridden the subway, I live in a small town in Eastern Washington, and my oldest is in 6th grade. With that said, I am definitely on your side on this one. Although M is super responsible (so I’m imagining he will be when he’s your daughter’s age – I could be totally wrong!), I feel that there’s a limit to how much a child can handle. Part of our jobs as parents is to give them tools to be successful, not send them out into situations where they very well could be harmed. I know that sounds paranoid, but there are definitely limits to the free range parenting idea, and I think that you may have reached one.


November 6, 2011 at 1:30 pm

I am the exact same way. I want to teach responsibility but not at the cost of my children’s safety. I’m all about letting my kids suffer through the natural consequences of their bad choices. Letting them fail. Letting them go a little outside of their comfort zones and see what happens. But the people in this world are CRAZY. We live in a small, very safe town in Vermont and I am just now letting my 10 year old ride his bike around the neighborhood alone. I trust him. He’s a very responsible level headed kid. It’s the crazy people I don’t trust. I don’t care if you live in NYC or somewhere small and quaint like I do, there are unstable people out there. And I have a very hard time trusting that my kids are ok among them. I would not let my 13 year old ride the subway alone. Never in a hundred million years. And my husband and kids would hate me for it. And I wouldn’t care. 🙂 Good luck figuring out what is best for your family. That has got to be such a hard thing as a Mom! If you are losing sleep over it, I’d go with my gut. The Momma Gut doesn’t let you down.


Sophie@Fabrications November 6, 2011 at 1:37 pm

The way I see it, it all boils down to this: Who is going to sleep with your decision at night? The free range person or you? Who is going to feel bad if you go against your motherly instincts? Is it going to be you? And you say you’re the actual mother here? Then motherly instinct wins and you get to sleep well again. Relatively speaking. At least until the kids’ shrink tells them it’s all your fault. But till then? You’re the mama. It’s your call, clenched as it is.


anymommy November 6, 2011 at 2:03 pm

I had pretty free rein as a kid unless I violated my parent’s trust. If I screwed up and gave them reason to doubt my judgment or their trust, my life IMMEDIATELY changed in the NOT SO FREE direction. Something awful can always happen, so I totally understand your fear, but thirteen is an “older” child.

I let my small children play in our boulevard despite the busy street on one end of our block. I have given them very set, very strict rules and if they violate them their freedom is over.

(Keeping in my mind I’m not there yet and so there’s no reason to listen to me on parenting … I’m speaking based on my experience as a young teen.)

Has she given you reason not to trust her to follow your instructions? Has she given you reason not to trust her judgment in specific, controlled situations? If so, then I think your fears are well grounded and you should wait for that trust to develop (and maybe explain to her how she might gain it).

If not, then ask yourself … If I told my daughter (with reasons) that I trusted her to ride the subway to and from her destination, not to wander off course, not to speak to any stranger, to seek out another mother or a policeperson if she needs help for any reason and to text immediately when she arrives at her destination, would I trust her to do it? If the answer is yes, it seems (to me) that with those set boundaries in her mind … it might be time to try it. If she fails to understand how important the boundaries are and follow them on the trials runs, you’ll know she’s not ready and you can explain to her exactly why you don’t trust her.

I know you’re going to say that your issue is not with your daughter but with not trusting other people But is it, really? Or is it more that you’re not sure you trust your daughter to stay out of the situations that make her vulnerable to the kind of adults you fear?


Cara November 6, 2011 at 2:08 pm

I have very fond memories of walking home from school by myself at age ten. The independence that gave me was very important to me. I live in znYC now and would definitely let a 13 year old take the subway on a known route during school time. Actually, I feel like NYC is especially safe for subway rides since there is always someone around.

Remember, the world is actually safer now than it was twenty or thirty years ago. Talk to your kid and ask her what she thinks. Does she feel ready? If so, then perhaps youll need to be brave. Remember, in a few short years she will be going to college, perhaps many states away, and she will need to know how to look for herself then And definitely remember that high school is four years. Maybe you can work out a subway-pool system for the first little bit if you’re really that uncomfortable, but this decision will be with her when she’s 18 too.


Thea November 6, 2011 at 2:42 pm

I was the other way as a kid. When I was in middle school, I was scared to take the bus, and my parents told me to get over it. It helped that I had a friend to take it with.
I think your daughter should apply to all the schools possible/that she wants. And then when you get the acceptances, find out if her friends are going. Figure out what times she would have to take the subway, and how far it is. If she has friends taking the same route, then I think let her go. I agree, New York is kind of scary, and I would worry a lot if I had a kid. But she’ll have safety in numbers, and the sooner she starts learning to navigate the subway on her own, the safer she’ll be in general because she’ll know her route options when service changes and all that.
To make the transition a little easier, take the subway with her at about that time, see who else is riding. Especially see what the afternoon commute is like. Morning will always be really tired business people going to work. See what the 3-4pm crowd looks like.
And, who knows, she might end up at a school one stop away anyway.


mindy November 6, 2011 at 3:01 pm

She’s too young. Listen to your heart.


Steph B November 6, 2011 at 3:23 pm

Who cares what other people think – follow your instincts and judgment as a mom who knows what best for her kids. Not that many months ago, that little 8 year old Jewish boy got lost walking home a few blocks from Jewish camp, meeting his mom at a park halfway home. One wrong turn, and now that beautiful sweet boy is dead.

There are times to provide our children with freedom, but times when we need to protect them, too.


meekasmommy November 6, 2011 at 3:24 pm

Luckily, I have some time before considering this question for myself as my daughter isn’t going anywhere without me any time soon, since she’s not mobile yet and all… But if she was? I’d love to let her have her independence and go places on her own – that’s what I did as a kid. Of course, I grew up in the boonies and the places I went were the woods behind my house, since that was the only place I could get to without a car (OK, OK, I could walk to a FEW neighbors houses, too… like, two) But we’re in NEW YORK, which is a totally different situation. And f*ck no is she ever walking around alone, no matter how safe the neighborhood is. As for your daughter – I see plenty of kids he age riding the subway on my way to and from work in giant, shrill, shrieking kid-packs. They seem to be having a grand ole time. But I also remember myself at that age, and… No, I don’t think I’d let my daughter do it. But that’s all a hypothetical at this point for me; for you, it needs to come down to your daughter, and how ready she is for it (both how ready she says she is, and how ready she really is…)


Olya November 6, 2011 at 3:38 pm

Marinka, I was 15 when my parents brought me to NYC, and on first proposal for me to ride the subway alone, my Mom balked. On my Dad’s insistence, she gave in. I rode the subway everywhere – with my friends, alone, to Manhattan, to Brooklyn, to wherever I needed to go. And that was before cellphones!!

I can tell you that it was a fine experience and my mother’s anxiety never made sense to me back then. I can read a map. I can figure out where to go. What is going to happen to me?! In instances where I was lost, no one, ever, not once had tried to take advantage of my youth, alone-ness or obvious confused teenage state in any way. Everyone had always been helpful. People have handed me back almost-left-behind jackets and bags, pointed out that my bag is open with my wallet hanging out, generally treated me like a kid. A kid who might need someone to help and look out for her. May be I had just been lucky, but lots of my friends offered similar stories.

I cannot remember a single bad experience. And I do remember a very important feeling from being able to take the subway – I can go ANYWHERE, I can get out of here, right now, and all i need is a token. (You can tell that I’m not 18 anymore huh.)

When you are a teenager, you often feel trapped. No one understands you. Least of all, obviously, your mother. And when your school day sucks, which it sometimes does, you start to feel like the whole world is not for you. Your world, as a kid, is so small – just your school, your family – but to you, it’s the entire universe. When something is wrong in that universe, you start to think that the whole life is ruined. Sometimes kids hurt themselves because in their small world, it looks like the game is over. Sometimes, the ability to go to a different place, see different people, do different things – by yourself- can make all the difference.

When first I came here, living in Brooklyn, going to a high school I didn’t like, taking classes below my ability, I relished being able to take the train to Manhattan. For the price of one token, I walked around Lincoln Center and 30 rock. I looked in the windows of expensive restaurants and hotels. I strolled near beaufitul brownstones on upper west. I went to Central Park, to the Met, to the library. I saw places where I felt I belonged, and I realized that I just need to get there. It’s not that there is no place for me. Its’ that I’m at the wrong place right now, and I need to get out, and I will. (and I did).

I’m not sure if that makes sense. I guess what I’m saying is that the kid is growing up, like it or not. As she is growing up, she will start to figure out what kind of a person she is. She may discover that her friends are no longer the kind of people she wants to be with. She will start looking for her crowd, so give her the ability to see more stuff, on her own. To discover neighborhoods and people and places and experiences. The world is not (usually) cruel, nor is she (usually) acting irresponsibly.

Plus, in this case, this is a ride to school. She should go to whatever school she feels is the best fit for her. I wouldn’t stop her. You never know what opportunities you will have denied her by not letting her go because of this fear.

I would let her ride the train. When my 2 kids are your daughter’s age, I plan to move to NYC again so that they can also always board a train and just. go. somewhere.


Mackenzie November 6, 2011 at 3:41 pm

I was a latch key kid, too, and roamed by myself. Now, this wasn’t to go to school–school wise, I lived in a very rural town. My school was in the middle of a cornfield, so I rode the bus (until I was 16 — but that’s another story). However, after my parents divorced, my dad lived in Arlington, and when I went to visit him for a few months during the Summer–starting when I was 11–he weighed the decision and decided that if he was at work, so long as I stayed in the area right around his apartments (which included a mall) or told him before hand where I was going (if I wanted to go to the museum) I could go where I want.

But here’s the thing–he didn’t decide this on his own. He sat me down. He talked to me, told me his concerns, let me answer them. We talked about strangers, and how sometimes people might approach me and claim they know him and be very convincing that they do and that he needs me ASAP–and that I shouldn’t trust them because HE’D go out of his way to make sure that if he didn’t contact me, either one of two people I knew among his coworkers did. We talked about how even if it was annoying, I needed to walk to the cross walk. We took a few common routes together so he could point out where I should go if I needed help. He admitted — rather like you — that he was worried something would happen on the subway if I was on it, or what if someone was at the mall and started shooting it up (this was rather close to when a bunch of those types of shootings had happened), etc — but we talked about them, and he noted that, honestly, if he could protect me from everything and be with me at all times, he would–but he wouldn’t always be able to. He asked if I felt I could handle this, that I understood that other people out there were dangerous and didn’t care about me like I did, and that I would have to be assertive. Since he didn’t need his cellphone at work, he gave it to me.

And I thought I could be.

And I was. I had fun. I got to know some of the waitresses at one of the little coffee shops in the mall. I’d go there every afternoon he was at work, and she’d give me a free hot chocolate. When it was about time for him to get home, I’d go and wait for him at the subway station. One time, when Dad was stuck at work he called his cellphone so that he could tell me. I learned how to navigate the subway by myself so I could go to the museums, I got souvenirs for my mom and friends at home, I went to the library–and I became very independent and learned how to take care of myself in public and how to watch out for strangers all because my dad, while exceptionally nervous, allowed me to do it.

Now, I’m not saying you should necessarily straight up allow your daughter to do that. From reading your posts, she sounds like a smart girl, mature for her age — and like another reader said, she will not be 13/14 forever — so I think she’s capable of doing it. But what I think you should do — 100% — is sit down with her. Explain your concerns. Let her talk. Go on subway rides with her that would get her to and from school–and take them at the time that she’d be taking them so you can see what it’s like. Tell her about the dangers and what you’d like her to do. And above all, stay conversing.

The world is a lot safer than it used to be. The media doesn’t portray it that way, but statistics point out that currently we’re having a decrease in crime. That isn’t to say it is one hundred percent safe — it isn’t, the world never is — but you can talk to your daughter, address your concerns, and the TWO OF YOU (not all of us here on the internet, who may have read your entire archive — even then we still don’t know you or her as well as the two of you know each other) can decide what’s best. Maybe your heart is right — you’ll discover that through talking to her. Or maybe your heart is still holding on a little too tightly to a girl who is mature enough to handle this little bit of responsibility herself. You two decide 🙂


Kelly November 6, 2011 at 3:59 pm

Based on my readership of your blog, it seems like your kids are smart, grounded, and assertive. And it seems like you are wise and practical. If a by-subway school will offer your daughter a great place to learn and grow, then I say “go for it!” Another thought: she may have classmates from her neighborhood or someone else you know who commute the same path…safety in numbers? Also, she’ll be older than 13 when she starts the school and older every year after that, so while the first months may be nerve wracking, the long term will get easier. Good luck!


November 6, 2011 at 7:12 pm

the only free-range in my house is the carton of eggs in the fridge. i understand your concerns, Marinka. i would be struggling with the same fears if i was in your position. trust your intuition. i always go with mine and, so far, it has never lead me astray. take care.


Beth November 6, 2011 at 7:46 pm

Maybe you should share your concerns with her? See how she feels about it and get her side of the story. Have a heart to heart so she understands your fears and can maybe help out? Heck, she might want to go to a school that the subway won’t even be an issue about. Or, maybe she will make a compromise with you. Your daughter is loving and thoughtful, she won’t just ignore your emotions and fears.


November 6, 2011 at 8:31 pm

I think one of the worst things a parent can do is ignore their instincts. No one knows your kids like you do. And I do not think your kind of thinking is dangerous. Parents let go too soon and the ones who know they do are the ones who regret it later.

I say stay with your gut. You and I think a lot alike on parenting.


the mama bird diaries
November 6, 2011 at 9:01 pm

I feel like you already know the answer. If it doesn’t feel right, it just doesn’t. You don’t have explain why.


Susan November 6, 2011 at 9:52 pm

Boy, do I agree with you. It’s a great theory. And in a perfect world there would be no dangers and bad judgment would be the only thing we had to protect our kids against. But it’s just not so. Our job is to protect them until they can protect themselves. And no kid of mine would be allowed on a NYC subway without me. And, quite honestly, they won’t be going around the block without me when in first grade either. PROTECT, Mama – trust your instincts.


sherilinr November 6, 2011 at 10:05 pm

when i have these kinds of dilemmas for myself and my own daughter, i always have to ask myself the questions, “will i be able to live with myself if my guts tell me to say no, but i go against that & then something bad happens?”
there’s lots of time left in life for her (and all our kids) to grow up and do independent things. there’s nothing wrong with taking the time we/they need to be more cautious if our guts tell us to do so.


tracey November 6, 2011 at 10:27 pm

Girl, you live in New York City. I cannot fathom raising kids in a city. I live in the quiet suburbs and my kids have moderate freedom. At 6, my daughter and her 9 year old brother are free to ride their bikes up and down our street. It’s not too long and it’s not too far from my view, but still. They get more freedom than a lot of kids around here. My son is 12 and a half and takes care of himself and his brother for a few hours while I do errands with my daughter. He is allowed to wander the neighborhood with a friend as long as I know where they are (in general).

In a city… I will say that it’s different. But there does come a time that they HAVE to be ready, don’t they? What age is she old enough? 14? 16? College? I don’t know your daughter, but at 13, I’d say she’s old enough for some new privileges. Let her navigate the buses alone (while you follow behind without her knowing). And then the subway. And then, once you are sure she is really, really capable, then you can let her go alone. Cell phones are wonderful and you could even talk to her the entire time she rides the first time alone… Just some ideas.


Lynn MacDonald (All Fooked Up)
November 6, 2011 at 10:53 pm

She’s 13. If you dont believe in her capabilities, who will? She won’t.

Let her ride the subway. Go with her until she’s good with it (before school)

Coddling her only helps you…just saying


Deborah J November 7, 2011 at 12:39 am

I will preface by saying I have never taken a NY subway. I think we all realise that might have a dimension of concern and difficulty all of it’s own.

I have a 30 year old, and a 17 year old, both girls .
They both were driven to school during grade/primary school and then during that first important year of high school we gradually moved to public transport, which in our small city is trains/buses. They found friends they could travel with too, which helps a lot.
How will they learn independence, and try out all those great lessons you taught them, unless you let them try?
Yes, I timed them coming home…the bus will be pulling up now, she has 1/2 a block to walk and she will be coming around the corner now…now…now.
I guess I was willing to weigh the risk and accept the anxiousness…because the trade off was resilient, resourceful girls.

As aside note the 30 year old now lives in London, thousands of miles from home, and catches the tube to work. She drops coins in the buskers hats, sidesteps the effluence, guards her personal space and spares a thought for the homeless people. Last year she put her elbow into a man in a trench coat who got a little “close.”
She can do that, not because she’s an adult…but because she was once a 14 year old who was allowed to catch a train to the city to go shopping with her friends.


Nina November 7, 2011 at 5:38 am

The problem with following your intuition when you are in turmoil is that it’s very difficult to separate intuition from anxiety. In my experience only when you’re calm can you start to consider whether you have a bad feeling because you’re doing something bad for your daughter or because you’re doing something that is fine for her but very difficult for you.

By the time I was 13 I was taking the Underground from my house to my school (in London) every weekday, and then back again. It wasn’t the world’s most pleasant experience (I hated the rush-hour squash of it, and the stale air and the being underground) but nothing truly bad ever happened to me. (One time someone rubbed themselves up against me, which was unpleasant but not dangerous and then I went out and canvassed opinions with how to deal with this the next time).

What are your biggest fears regarding what could happen to your daughter? (E.g. From my perspective at 13 she is unlikely to be of interest to random paedophiles and also the vast, vast, vast majority of sexual assault is committed by someone known; the danger is in the home and neigberhood rather than the subway. If she’s got basic street safety and doesn’t go around flashing phones etc. she’s unlikely to be prey for a mugger).

What skills and knowledge do you think she needs to demonstrate that she is ready? What skills, knowledge etc. do you think you need to give her to prepare her for situations that might come her way?

It’s a difficult decision, that I do understand.I also don’t live in New York but base what I’m thinking on remembering my own ability to navigate London (which was sometimes overestimated, btw; I remember telling my mother of my idea to just get on a random bus and go somwhere to ‘see where it would take me’ and her explanations of how I should modify that idea and why) which is likely to be comparable for street crime. I’m totally a free ranger by inclination and I would honestly expect most 13 year olds to have the smarts and the skills to get around cities where they live through the use of transportation and common sense.


November 7, 2011 at 8:19 am

Hey, why not quit your job and home school you kids?! Or start a charter school in your laundry room? Or arm the children with concealed .22 calibre pistols, like I’m sure Wendi and everyone in Texas does?

Okay, as a gay man with no children, maybe I don’t have the best parenting advice. But I do have memories of growing up in the suburbs outside of NYC and sneaking into the city, starting when I was 14. And there were a couple of times when I came close to being robbed/mugged outside of Penn Station and in the subway. And it was scary. So I think your concerns are real. But I also think a lot of the comments above are really great and offer real solutions. So, Hooray for the internet!


November 7, 2011 at 8:43 am

Its not a matter of trusting your kids its trusting society. I tend to be a very laissez faire parent but I wouldn’t let my 13 year old take the subway everyday by herself in NYC. I live in Minnesota, a place so terrible Kim Kardashian will get divorced before living here and I wouldn’t let my teen subway all about. That’s all because our light rail is only in the “bad” areas of town. Would I let my first grader walk to school? Yes, but that’s only because of the suburb we live in. But only if it was closer its probably a 30 minute walk. What I’m babbling about and hurting my fingers on this iPhone for is to say free range parenting should be dependent upon what range their set free on. Trust your gut Marinka, if you’re not comfortable don’t do it.


Tinne from Tantrums and Tomatoes November 7, 2011 at 8:49 am

If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it.


November 7, 2011 at 8:51 am

If we were sitting together, this is what I’d say:

Two things:

The world is different. The rapid evolution of technology has made it possible for all sorts of new concerns to open up. The availability of pornography has opened and ignited appetites that may have not been fed before. Children can be contacted and lured in ways that were never possible when we were growing up.

This is the most important thing I’ve learned: I’m an older mother, with two teens and a son who is 9. Every time, every dang time that I’ve ignored MY gut instinct about my child and went along with peer pressure from other parents: it’s bitten me in the ass. And not in a “You’re so cute and adorable way.”

But bad enough and often enough that I now listen to what my body tells me about my kids. I read, I find out, I let them venture on their own: IF I FEEL COMFORTABLE ABOUT IT.

Everything depends on location, environment, child age, child’s level of awareness, child’s tendencies, activity and people involved.

It’s never just one Yes or No answer.

And if people want to experiement with their own kids: have at it. They can do what they want, with their own kids.

I’ll raise mine in the way that I think is safe and comfortable for us, and for where we live.

Forever and ever, Amen.



P.S. Kids growing up sucks.

P.P.S. and we thought the toddler years were rough.


Anna Lefler
November 7, 2011 at 9:11 am

OMG, Marinka – you HAVE to listen to your own heart on this one. If it doesn’t feel right to you, then screw everyone else.


And, for the record, I love NYC, but I would NEVER let my kids ride the subway without me. Not a chance.

Your strong reaction is telling you something. My advice is to honor it.




November 7, 2011 at 9:52 am

My mother doesn’t like hearing about when I ride the subway and I’m 36.


Megan November 7, 2011 at 10:32 am

I was a latch-key kid from about the age of 6 or 7 because my mother had to work and there was no one else to take care of me and my older brother. Oh yeah, she got us a dog (a 10 lb poodle). And yet I still am not 100% on leaving my almost 13-year-old son on his own for an extended period of time.

Here’s the thing: We know too much now. Back in the day, you didn’t hear about kids being kidnapped and other horrors so much. News travels fast now, so we know everything.


The fact is, most of these kinds of things we worry about for our kids – their rate of occurance is exactly the same as it was when we were kids. It’s a fact. Kids can’t learn to be independent unless we allow them to be independent.

You aren’t in school with them all day – do you worry about something happening while they’re there when you aren’t with them? While they’re at a friend’s house? The movies? I completely understand your feeling, but you can’t go everywhere with them and you can’t protect them from everything.

Could you try baby steps while she’s applying? A short solo subway trip to a friend’s or a museum or shopping? It’s tough, but you can get used to it. I put my son on a bus, alone, at 3.5 because it was what was best for him (there were aides on the bus, but it felt like he was alone) at the time.

You can do this.


November 7, 2011 at 12:06 pm

If it doesn’t feel right for you – it doesn’t feel right for you…end of story.

My feelings are similar to yours.

When my neighbor was 13 she was walking the five blocks to school by herself in our quiet, seemingly safe neighborhood in sunny St. Paul, MN and a van pulled up next to her and fought with her to pull her in. THANKFULLY there were two workers outside just a house away who saw what was going on and stopped this from happening. Her 100 lb 5’2″ frame was no match for those men no matter how responsible she is/was.


November 7, 2011 at 12:16 pm

There is no right or wrong, just what you feel in your heart to be true.

That feeling in your gut? Probably some bad take out.


Cindy Thomas November 7, 2011 at 12:24 pm

Ah, Marinka, I’m so glad to see this post. Well, not glad that it involves suffering on your part. If I had my 3 girls while living in San Francisco, I am certain that I’d absolutely be a nutjob if I let them get on BART (their subway) at 13. I rode it to work everyday and it’s relatively safe, but the cars seem so isolated from help if my daughter needed it. Anyhoos, we had our girls back in “somewhat safe” Indiana. I live in your typical suburban ‘hood, everyone knows everyone’s kids and your business. When they were around 8, I allowed them to go the to ‘hood park with friends. I was scared but they got my lecture and I told them what house to run to if necessary.
My oldest is 11 going on 21. Very responsible; more mature then me. I just this year have let her babysit for some good friends in my ‘hood. When I am home. If she’s home before 11p. I balked at this but Marin said, “I can do this, mom. I WANT to do this.” And the 3x she has? She’s been awesome with the kids.
I ramble but like you, I am overprotective but I can’t change that. Hubs and I disagree on this usually. He just let her open a FB page when I was against it, so I spent 300 hours setting it up with all kinds of homeland security bells and whistles. She had to agree to giving me her password as I told her I will be checking it out. She understood. I think.
This is one of those tough parenting topics but I don’t want them hurt so I will slowly unclench as I feel comfortable. Shit! What about when they want to go on a DATE. ALONE?


adil November 7, 2011 at 12:39 pm

Hi Marinka. I think that at the end of the day, it’s going to come down to what’s going to allow to sleep at night. But if you haven’t yet read it, I really suggest the book, “Protecting the Gift” by Gavin de Becker. I found it to be a fabulous resource in navigating issues exactly like these. Good luck.


November 7, 2011 at 12:51 pm

I struggle with this one. I’m terrified, but I’m going to allow my oldest to go to sleep away camp next summer. However? I don’t let her ride her bike off her street. I don’t let her play in the front yard unless their are other kids around. I have a pack mentality thing going on. They seem safer too me, while outside if they are in a group. Misguided…maybe. Yet, it works for me.

I’d never let my kids walk anywhere alone. Not until HS at least. I even live in a very safe neighborhood, in a safe state. Yet, I just don’t believe in chancing it. I’m pretty sure my kids will still grow up and be independent. I give them all chances with independence now. Just safer independence.

So yeah…I’m not a free range mom.


Jane November 7, 2011 at 1:01 pm

Marinka, that’s a tough struggle. My kids are too little and hopefully I can defer this issue for a few years, but I can relate to you what I went through growing up. I grew up in the city when it was gritty, in the 80’s and commuted on the then un-hip and super scary L subway line to a high school in Manhattan. I came out of it mostly unscathed. Back then (the scary stations, the grafitti, the crime) I think we (children, parents, general public) were super aware of the crime and potential to be victimized. Most of my friends were mugged – some violently, at some point. I was also groped, flashed and harassed on the way back and forth to school and home.
Even still, I came out okay. Those experiences made me very independent, I took the subway every where and took advantage of the great city at a young age. Question is, how do you educate your children to be aware of the dangers without making them totally paralyzed and incapable of enjoying the great city that you live in? Not sure. There is a lot you can do to help give you peace of mind, activate tracking function on your childrens cellphones (Verizon has this for sure), make sure the kids are on a very firm schedule and checking in periodically, not be oblivious by keeping your valuables (like iPhones) exposed and with your headphones on, etc. Let us know what you decide.


Hope November 7, 2011 at 2:57 pm

I think you have to start a little smaller. The idea of the 13 yo on the subway is too overwhelming. But how about a smaller unit of independence. I think you know in your heart you’re at that transition point where NYC kids get a little more freedom; but you can’t expect yourself to be comfortable with letting your daughter ride the subway alone until you let her do some other things alone.

I let my 12 yo daughter travel cross town on the bus this summer for the first time, and I had my heart in my throat for the first few times. Guess what? The very first ride she met a friend going exactly where she was going, so she was never alone after that. Your daughter would likely find friends to ride with, too.

And in case you’re wondering, the world of kidnapping has not gotten worse since the 1970s. I don’t have statistics at my fingertips, but I’ve read about it. I agree that terrorism is a big fear, but overall it’s on par with nuclear fear. Chances are so so small it would happen to you and yours that you can’t restrict yourself because of it.

That’s my two cents. I haven’t commented enough on your blog for you to know me, but that’s what I think. I wrote a blog post about this issue called Independence. If you check out my blog, you might see my take.


Steph November 7, 2011 at 4:32 pm

I so relate to your feelings about free range kids. I loved being one in smalltown USA but I am not raising mine free range so far. We have started giving our 8th grader more freedom of movement. for example in disney world last summer she could go with her friends to other parts of the park w/ frequent texts to us. I don’t ride subways but can’t imagine my eighth grader riding solo. What helps me give my daughter new freedoms is talk talk and more talk about it with her. You, as the Mom, have to be comfortable with it. Wishing you peace and/or vino.


November 7, 2011 at 5:27 pm

Oy. First grade? That’s ridiculous. That makes me nauseous to even think about. No way. We ARE in NYC. It’s easy to forget that sometimes, in our cozy little neighborhoods. The other day I was driving to Ikea in Red Hook and in one of the sketchy desolate side streets I saw the frame of a car that had been stripped of all tires and set on fire. It was still burning and nobody was around and I thought, “Oh, yeeaaah. I really do live in Brooklyn, don’t I?”. My point? I don’t know.

I think I’m trying to say that I wouldn’t let my daughter wander around in elementary school by herself. This is the city. High school, though? How many trains? She’s been raised in the city. She’s more “street smart” than a suburban kid. It’ll be at a busy time of day. There will be lots of other hs kids commuting, and before long she’ll KNOW some of them and ride WITH them. She can do it.

You can do it. Go on a few practice rides once you know where she gets in. Ride with her the first few days or so. If she’s embarrassed you can ride in the same car and pretend you don’t know her. Just make sure she’s ok in the beginning and you’ll probably become more comfortable with it.

Applying to NYC hs! So exciting! Such an amazing education and incredible people to meet!


Marinka November 7, 2011 at 8:39 pm

Thank you so much, everyone, for a really interesting discussion.

Two things are clear to me– I love my kids and want to do anything that I can to protect them (that’s just one thing, btw) and that I recognize that I tend to be over-protective, so I need to check myself sometimes.

Traveling in groups is a great idea (hey, maybe she can join a gang!) and so is doing trial runs. And of course, she will be older soon. Every moment, in fact.

I think it comes down to the unbearable terror of parenthood, and sometimes I feel it more keenly.

I want my daughter to be able to attend the best school possible. I don’t want my fears to stand in her way. But I also don’t want to ignore my instincts.

I’ll be thinking about this a lot in the coming months and I hope that I’m blessed with some wisdom. I’m certainly due.


amy turn sharp November 7, 2011 at 8:49 pm

It scares me. But – you can sneak on and watch her for a bit? no? You are brave. It is wild- the city, but it will all work out. I am so thinking like you though. The world scares me.


Jessica B November 7, 2011 at 9:58 pm

As a mom, I totally get your feelings to clench. It is our job to protect our kids, keep them safe. I honestly think that you, as your children’s mom, know your children. You know what they can handle. I say follow your instincts. Don’t worry one bit about what anyone else thinks, does or says. You’ve been a mom long enough to know what you’re doing. Also, I believe that traveling in groups is huge. I live upstate in the country, and I never let my kids walk or ride bikes around town alone.


Carol November 7, 2011 at 10:47 pm


I totally understand how you feel. It is not just about riding the subway (although that would terrify me) it is when my 14 year old went to his first night time football game. Is he safe? Is he staying with his friends? Will his ride be on time? Chewing my fingernails until he walked through the door. Or letting 12 year old go trick or treating in the neighborhood (quite safe neighborhood) with his friends without me, or my 16 year old getting his license and getting behind the wheel without me or my partner in the vehicle with him.
Parenthood is filled with terrifying moments. I think you need to trust your gut and loosen the apron strings one inch at a time……


dusty earth mother November 7, 2011 at 10:55 pm

Just read all this. I’m praying for your wisdom to come, dear friend. That’s the best I can do for you. xxoo


deb November 8, 2011 at 1:14 am

This is such a tough thing. I have several thoughts/questions: what does your daughter say about it? Her comfort level would play a big factor for me. What is the route like? (If she had to get off the train in an emergency, where would she be?) Traveling with a friend or a “gang” 🙂 makes it much more appealing. I would do a few trial runs before you make your decision. Generally speaking though, I think it could be a great thing: independence, responsibility, trust. Lots of good stuff. We live in the suburbs so my kids don’t have this kind of opportunity (and so I don’t have the dilemma). I try to have my 14 year old walk or ride a bike where ever he can and I always worry he’ll get hit by a car in our high traffic d.c. suburb. I feel your pain – it’s hard to let them go. good luck!


joeinvegas November 8, 2011 at 12:00 pm

I saw the ‘free-range’ and thought it meant you were taking them to the grocery store and letting them loose to eat whatever they could before being thrown out.

Yes, let them go.


Stephanie November 8, 2011 at 2:43 pm

First of all, I LOVE LOVE LOVE your blog and have for over a year now. You write so well and are so funny, it brightens my day to read your blog.

Okay, the problem at hand. I was born and raised in NYC. I am 43 years old and my son will be 3 years old next month. I have two stepsons, ages 11 & 15. While I don’t have to face the “subway alone” issue you are facing for some years yet with my own son, it was definitely an issue when my oldest stepson started High School two years ago. My husband was not comfortable with the idea of my stepson traveling on the subway alone and he rode with him to school in the mornings when the kids were with us. It’s a different NY than it was when I was walking and riding mass transit alone in the 70s & 80s. And kids are different too – they are exposed to so much more which makes them seem older than their years but I think sometimes it actually makes them younger and less street smart, perhaps; their expectations and skills are different. Maybe ride with your daughter, if that’s possible, and give her subway and travel tips. At any rate, I think you know your daughter best and if you really feel she needs more time before she’s ready to go it alone on the subway, then you should go with your gut.


November 10, 2011 at 11:01 pm

i totally agree with you. my nine-year-old talks about riding her bike too and from the bus stop (about 4 blocks) by herself but i just can’t let her do it. i know that when i was growing up, i went all around the neighborhood all by myself and i don’t think i’m a better person for it. sometimes, bad things happened. i would rather be overprotective and have my kids grow up with as much safety as i can offer, than make a mistake by going too far the other way.


April November 17, 2011 at 12:03 pm

Lenor Skenazy, says that she let her 9 year old ride the subway by himself and “even believed a person would not think, “Gee, I was about to go home with my nice, new Bloomingdale’s shirt. But now I think I’ll abduct this adorable child instead.”” but wasn’t it an 8 year old who disappeared while walking home from day camp in Brooklyn just recently? Many of the comments here said it better than I, but I can’t feel comfortable leaving a child alone in a situation in which if something were to go wrong they may not have the skills yet to cope and as parents, it’s our responsibility to be there in those situations to use them as teaching moments so that later in life they *do* know what to do.


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