Amtrak Bans 12-Year-Old Unaccompanied Child Riders

by Hans Bader on November 22, 2011 · 8 comments

in Mobility, Nanny State, Personal Liberty, Regulation

In Japan, 6-year-old children are not only allowed to ride the train by themselves, but are eligible for a special fare. Not so in America, where Amtrak has now raised the age that children can ride the train by themselves from age 8 to age 13, effectively barring many working-class children from seeing their father (or non-custodial parent) after a divorce or parental break-up (or visiting their grandma). In America, unlike Japan, children are expected to be chained to their parents to prevent the one-in-a-million chance that something bad will happen to them if they are allowed a little freedom. Could the greater Japanese belief in children’s individual responsibility have something to do with how much better Japanese kids do on tests?

Amtrak admits that it had no experiences with anything bad happening to unaccompanied 8- to 12-year-olds who rode it, it just banned them out of an “abundance of concern” — that is, a baseless fear about safety. But taking away children’s mobility and independence is not “safe,” but deadly. Kids are getting obese as they are kept inside playing video games by busy parents, rather than being allowed to roam the neighborhood unaccompanied, which society used to permit. When I was in second grade, I and my twin brother would play outside for hours unsupervised, walking miles from our home in the woods and on our street, and getting lots of good exercise. Today, this would be considered child neglect by our parents, even though my father was depicted in a front-page obituary in the local paper as a model citizen. The home-habitat of the average child — the area in which they are allowed to travel on their own — has shrunken to one-ninth of its former size as parents are expected to be helicopter parents (and even rewarded for it with sole custody when fighting over custody of a child in the aftermath of a divorce).

In the politically-correct county where I live, parents are expected to watch their elementary school children even when the children are playing in their parents’ own front yard. Given the increasing legal burdens of being a law-abiding parent, it may come as no surprise that the middle-class birth rate is falling, resulting in increasing projected shortfalls in Social Security in the future, as there will be fewer and fewer productive young workers to pay the pensions of older people. (By contrast, jail and prison inmates continue to have large numbers of offspring.)

As Lenore Skenazy notes:

Ten is the new two. We live in a society that insists on infantilizing our children, treating them as helpless babies who can’t do a thing safely or successfully without an adult hovering nearby. Consider the schools around the country that no longer allow kids to be dropped off at the bus stop unless there’s a guardian waiting to walk them home—even if home is two doors down. Or how about all the libraries I’m hearing about that forbid children under age eight or 10 or 12 to be there without an adult—including in the children’s room? God forbid a kid wants to spend the afternoon reading books by herself. Over in Europe (where I guess they’ve got nothing else to worry about), the European Union just ruled that children under age eight should always be supervised when . . . wait for it . . . blowing up a balloon. It’s just too darn dangerous. A child could choke! And those little whistle things that uncurl when you blow into them? Those have been classified “unsuitable” for children under age 14.

Children are now viewed as such fragile little china dolls that schools define even “eye rolling” and “staring” as “bullying” to shield their fragile self-esteem. Big Brother must watch over them at all times, lest they exhibit a little independence and self-reliance.

Willie Green November 22, 2011 at 5:01 pm

Japan is reknown for its law-abiding citizenry and relatively crime-free society.
The United States, however, is embarassingly not as civilized.
Children younger than 13 unaccompanied by an adult are much more vulnerable to predators.
Lenore Skenazy should have her head examined.

Hans Bader November 22, 2011 at 5:27 pm

Amtrak’s policy does not do anything to protect children.

12-year-old children are infinitely more likely to experience negative health effects from obesity and being confined in their homes by overprotective parents at the behest of an overprotective society than they are to experience any harm from mythical “predators” on Amtrak. (Amtrak admits there have no record of negative incidents involving predators, nor is it clear why a predator would use Amtrak to victimize when it would be easier to get away with that on a public street where a predator could more swiftly flee to avoid detection).

I am a parent, and I and my family really appreciate Lenore Skenazy’s writings.

dotSlash November 23, 2011 at 6:39 pm

^^^ says the contributing writer…. Obviously you live in some sterilized environment in HateVille USA…. and obviously have never ridden the train.

Where do they (in)breed you people?

Hans Bader November 24, 2011 at 10:09 am

I ride the train to and from work most days. I have ridden the train with my daughter numerous times. In college, I regularly took Amtrak to get from college to my home and back. So it is silly for commenter dotSlash to claim that I have “never ridden the train.”

I live in Northern Virginia, which no reasonable observer would characterize as “HateVille USA” (my wife, an immigrant, is quite happy there). It’s peculiar that commenter dotSlash apparently views safe communities as “HateVille USA.” Why do some left-wing extremists like dotSlash think that low-crime communities are full of hate? The opposite is true: Hate crimes more frequently occur in communities that have high crime rates and more crime in general. The safer the community, the lower the crime rate, the less hateful the people are, on average.

Jim Forrer November 24, 2011 at 12:50 pm

The problem isn’t with the kids! It’s with the parents and guardians who sneak the kids on to the trains without telling anyone, don’t pick up their children for hours and expect Amtrak to babysit said children, and who drag Amtrak and their children into domestic disputes. The children are wonderful!!!

Dennis Saffran November 26, 2011 at 10:14 pm

I was scrolling through the 11-23-11 Manhattan Institute Update, keeping my equanimity until I came to the last two items. The next-to-last was about how Harvard University – Harvard!! – is co-sponsoring an “anti-bullying” initiative with the 25-year-old soft-core porn nitwit Lady Gaga. Then I came to the last item, which linked to this article, and really despaired of all hope. This one particularly depresses and outrages me because one of the neatest memories my now 17-year-old son and I have is of him accompanying me eight years ago from New York City to Albany, where I was arguing a case in the NY State Court of Appeals, and then, because I had another case there the next day, taking Amtrak back by himself. The process was completely safe, if anything overly so. I dropped him off at the station in Albany, where they tagged unaccompanied children like him like special luggage, escorted him to the train, and handed him over to the conductor to keep an eye on him. My wife picked him up by the track at Penn Station in New York. It wasn’t like putting him on the subway! But it was a great and important adventure in independence for a 9-year-old. What a shame that Amtrak is now making this impossible. Maybe they should hire Lady Gaga to protect unaccompanied children from “bullying.” On second thought, nah. But it’s so appalling that the Lady Gaga’s of the world and the useful “intellectual” idiots who honor them make it difficult to keep sexual predators and other criminals off the streets, and then the politically correct upper middle class both accepts this as a “progressive” given and overreacts to it by denying their children their childhoods.

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