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Ask GGW: What age is okay for kids to ride Metro alone?

Reader E.G. wrote in with this question: "As a thirteen year old in a suburb of DC, how do I convince my mom to let me ride the Metro alone?"

A kid (not E.G., not the same age) on Metro. Photo by JamesCalder on Flickr.

A few years ago, New York journalist Lenore Skenazy let her 9-year-old son ride alone on the New York subway. She felt he was mature enough to handle it and that he was actually pretty safe.

Many accused her of being a bad parent, while many more defended her, suggesting parents today are far too protective. Skenazy ended up writing a book, Free Range Kids, which advocates that parents let children be more independent, through things like riding the subway alone or playing in parks without constant supervision.

As for the 13-year-old boy who wrote the letter, he's 4 whole years older than Skenazy's son and would be taking trips on a system that's more suburban in its design and ridership than the New York subway.

I suggested E.G. first talk with his mom to find out what her concerns are, so that he can understand, acknowledge, and respond to them. I also encouraged E.G. to propose that he take his first solo trips entirely within the suburban county where they live, and that he call his mom as soon as he gets on and off the train. With these steps, E.G.'s mom can become more confident that he knows how to use the system and how to remain safe.

At what age would you let your kids ride Metro? What advice do you have for E.G.?

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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Well does she let you do other stuff alone (like walk to a friends house or to 7/11?) If she doesn't do that yet maybe show some independence in your own neighborhood.

Where are you riding the metro too? Be specific about what it is you want to do. Say I am going to the National Book Fair and will head back at 4. Stick with it.

Typically the best way to get your parents to trust you and let you do stuff is to not screw up the little things. By doing your chores and getting good grades most parents are able to trust their child easier.

And if she still says no set a time to bring it up again (like a few weeks to a few months, that will also show maturity instead seeming like whining) and demonstrate how you've built trust.

by drumz on Sep 13, 2012 1:35 pm • linkreport

I took the NYC subway when I was 13. My wife wouldnt let our daughter ride alone at that age. We compromised, and agreed she could ride but WITH FRIENDS. Problem was finding other kids who could and would ride. Finally she got to ride metro bus with a friend at 14. Didnt end up riding either bus or rail herself for a couple of years after that, but its not terribly convenient out here, and even at 16 she had more metro freedom than most kids we know, who generally go straight from being carpooled to driving.

She now loves transit, and is considering a career in transit planning.

by UrbanistSuburbanDad on Sep 13, 2012 1:35 pm • linkreport

My oldest just turned 8, and I think she'd probably be able to do it now. It'll take a couple of years before my wife is ready for it though...

by Tim Krepp on Sep 13, 2012 1:40 pm • linkreport

I was 9. I had been taking the Metro for years and knew the system by heart. Looking back, it may have been a little early, but my dad grew up in NYC and swears took the subway alone when he was 7 so he figured I could do fine, and I did.

By 13 friends and I were taking the Metro all the time by ourselves. If your child has taken the Metro plenty of times and knows how it works, they should do fine.

by Max on Sep 13, 2012 1:40 pm • linkreport

I grew up in the New York suburbs. When my friends and I were 14, we went to baseball games by ourselves, which required a half-hour bus ride to the end of the subway and then an hour on the subway with a change of trains.

by Ben Ross on Sep 13, 2012 1:43 pm • linkreport

First time I rode Metro by myself was when I was 8 years old, from Farragut North to Silver Spring. My mother wanted me to go home afer a doctors appointment, but had to pick my sister up somewhere. So she had a neighbor meet me at Silver Spring station.

A little independence is a good thing. I knew where I was going and what I was doing, and I used the Metro quite a bit from that point on.

by Dave Murphy on Sep 13, 2012 1:43 pm • linkreport

I think 13 is probably old enough - it's certainly old enough to walk to a friend's house, or to the store, so I don't see why the train should be different. I might not send them to/from unknown places we hadn't been to together before though. If you've ridden with your mom along the route and want to do it by yourself I'd say 13 is old enough.

Nine is too young though. I don't think that woman was a bad parent for letting her kid ride the subway and I do think we are often too protective, but I think nine is too young to be able to make a decision on what to do if something goes wrong, or you get on the wrong train, etc.

For me it's not really about "safety" at all - the stats show that things are just as safe for kids as they have always been. It's more about if something happens out of your control - the train breaks down, you accidentally get on the wrong train - can the kid handle themselves? I don't think a nine year old can.

by MLD on Sep 13, 2012 1:45 pm • linkreport

From the experiences of my D.C. friends and what you see everyday city kids ride the train on the solo as young as 1st grade. My friend used to ride the train by himself to school when he was 6. As young as my friend could remember he had been taking the train with an adult so when he was 6 he already knew the system from experience.

Suburban kids (I can speak from my experiences) usually start riding the train by themselves or with friends by 6th or 7th grade to head to places like Pentagon City, Union Station (used to be the thing to do), or Chinatown. My first experiences with the train were riding with my dad to 'Skins games and other events in the city. Coming in from the Silver Spring side of the Red Line I thought the train was pretty simple to understand ... just read the map until it has been committed to memory.

For E.G., as David alludes to, if you have a cell phone stay in touch by calling or texting when you arrive where you are supposed to. These kids nowadays are lucky with cell phones -- we had to use pay phones!

Coming in and out of downtown from the suburbs is not dangerous. When I was in middle school people were getting robbed on the Red Line and the Guardian Angels started their patrols. It is not like that nowadays.

E.G. should be fine riding the train by his lonesome no matter where he is coming from. I would encourage his mother to let the young man roam as long as he sticks to all other commitments set in the household -- chores, school, etc.

John Muller
Metro Rider since 1993 (9 years old)

by John Muller on Sep 13, 2012 1:48 pm • linkreport

I started riding buses by myself in limited measures around age 13. When I drove buses in Baltimore, kids as young as 12 were catching my buses to and from school daily. That early interest has led me to a successful career in Transit.

My suggestion echoes the earlier comment that you be specific in any itineraries you plan to take, provide expected times of return (adding in some extra time just in case) and keeping to that plan. Start basic, and in time, I'd think things can improve where you may be able to explore just a bit more each time. That said, if your parent has an issue or fear with you heading into a certain area, respect that and observe their wishes, whether you share that view or not. It will prove to them that you are both responsible and respectful.

And just remember, left of the escalator is for people walking, right is for standing! ;-)

by Adam on Sep 13, 2012 1:49 pm • linkreport

Writing as a parent, I'd say that around 40 is where kids become responsible enough to manage their own affairs. This gets trumped when I consider how much time I spend driving my kids around. Probably a good compromise is when you feel they can safely cross the street and navigate the neighborhood -- that is old enough -- probably around 9 or 10.

by goldfish on Sep 13, 2012 1:55 pm • linkreport

I agree that cell phones make a huge difference. Even if you don't get service in the metro itself, it makes it easier for an anxious kid to ask for help or, more likely, an anxious parent to make sure everything is OK.

I like seeing kids riding transit instead of getting carted around by their parents in cars. By presenting itself as a symbol of independence, transit can become cool for the younger generation.

by Tanya on Sep 13, 2012 2:04 pm • linkreport

As a Freshman in college, I've found it increasingly necessary to know all my options in terms of pubic transit, and I'm proud to say I've been riding alone Metro since I was about 11. I would commute across the entire system, from the North-eastern most corner of the system in Suburban Maryland, all the way to Northern Virginia every other weekend to see my father. Yes, I had a couple of reality checks while riding- one holiday weekend, when I was only 12, I had my backpack stolen right out of my hands and my mother feared for my safety while riding alone. Even though I was a bit scarred, my appreciation for the system never faltered and many of my friends' parents insisted I show their kids the ropes. In my eyes, transit is as big of a sign of independence as cleaning your room or learning to cook. It's something every child should be prepared for.

Now, the comparing the Subway to the Metro is like apples and oranges. While Metro is a regional/urban hybrid of a transit system, the NYC Subway can have multiple stops in a neighborhood, and in less autocentric communities is often a necessity. So seeing younger kids there is even more acceptable than it is here. For Metro, I think 10 is a perfect age, maybe much younger depending on how close they live to the core.

by Jason Ledesma on Sep 13, 2012 2:17 pm • linkreport

Get a job.

by Jim T on Sep 13, 2012 2:27 pm • linkreport

As long as a kid knows the system and is mature enough to be on her own in the city at all, I think there is no problem.

I don't see a particular threat against children in metro. As long as they can handle a delay or getting out on the wrong spot, they'll be fine.

by Jasper on Sep 13, 2012 2:28 pm • linkreport

I've been riding Metro at least since I was 9. Possibly earlier, though I don't remember specifically. This was A Time Before Widely Available Cell Phones, but my parents trusted my sister and me to use it. We started by coming downtown to visit them at work for lunch. That way we could call before we left, so they would have a vague idea when we would be there, and we were traveling a route we'd already traveled with them. My parents wanted us to feel the freedom of public transit, though, so I'm not sure what one might do with reluctant parents. I did grow up to be a productive member of society even though I rode Metro alone as a kid, though, so at least I'm another data point in favor.

by Lindemann on Sep 13, 2012 2:35 pm • linkreport

I'd say that finding GGW and writing in is also a good sign of maturity. If the kid's mom is reading this, let him ride! He's showing admirable initiative here.

by Dan Miller on Sep 13, 2012 2:59 pm • linkreport

At what age I would allow _my_ kids to ride alone will differ from what age I would suggest _someone else's_ kids are ready to ride alone. Certainly 13 seems old enough to ride alone if we assume that the parents have no reason to be unusually cautious - eg the child has a history of risky behavior, some disability that is not well accommodated by WMATA, or you've just moved to the area and your child has no prior experience using transit. There's no magic number, but there might be something like a formula.

I don't think I would be comfortable letting a kid younger than 6 ride alone. I'd say 8 or 9 is when I would expect most kids who grew up taking Metro to start riding alone. It depends on the child's capacity to make adjustments, his / her level of familiarity with the neighborhoods at either end of the journey, broadly with the geography he or she is traveling through, and with the mechanics of the system itself (eg how to use a smarttrip, where to stand on the escalator, how to find the correct exit).

by Lucre on Sep 13, 2012 3:04 pm • linkreport

As most folks seem to agree, this would depend a lot upon the kid we're talking about. I've known nine year olds who could handle it, and others who couldn't. Presumably the parent knows the difference.

I think it's important to note that at 13, this kid is just three years removed from being able to operate a motor vehicle, an act that for a teen is about the most dangerous imaginable. Personally, that weighs heavily in my analysis of how old is old enough to ride metro alone, and leads me to think 13 should be well beyond ready for such a responsibility.

by Jimmy on Sep 13, 2012 3:05 pm • linkreport

It depends on many factors

1) Maturity / street smarts of the child
2) Time of the day
3) Where on metro
4) Familiarity of child with metro

Generally, 10 - 14 years old for most youngsters.

by davidj on Sep 13, 2012 3:05 pm • linkreport

I lived in downtown Silver Spring when I was little, but by the time I was in high school we moved out to Calverton, far from Metro and where almost all trips required a car.

The first time I rode the Metro alone was at the end of my sophomore year (I was 15) and I still needed a ride to Glenmont. I think my friends and I went to Union Station and saw a movie. There really wasn't much to walk to in my neighborhood (the nearest shopping center was a 45 minute walk) and my mother was nervous about letting me out of the house alone, so I begrudgingly accepted rides from her and later my friends when they started driving.

Anyway, it's probably a good idea to start with a short trip (say, Glenmont to Silver Spring and back) just so your parents know you can get back in one piece. Then try making it an errand or an activity ("I'm going to take the Metro to Silver Spring, walk to see a movie, then come home.") This might defeat the purpose of going alone, but does the kid have a friend or older sibling or cousin they could ride the train with once or twice? That might help the parents feel a little better and "ease" them into letting their kid ride alone.

by dan reed! on Sep 13, 2012 3:22 pm • linkreport

You could say that being a passenger in you mom's car is statistically more dangerous than riding the Metro alone.

by czh on Sep 13, 2012 3:24 pm • linkreport

There are really two risks at issue here: risk that the child will get lost, and risk that the child will be subject to some sort of crime. The latter is extremely low; the former cannot be calculated because it depends on the child's familiarity with the system and ability to read a map.

I rode on the metro every day to and from private school, which included a transfer at Gallery Place, starting in 9th grade. Probably starting in 7th grade, my parents let me ride the red line by myself as long as no transfers were involved (i.e. from school [Woodley Park] to my mom's office [Farragut North]).

by Simon on Sep 13, 2012 3:50 pm • linkreport

I was 16 when I first rode Metro without parental supervision (I was with a friend, however). My situation was a little different because we were coming from Howard County, so we had to drive to the station ourselves.

For parents who let their kids ride the Metro, how much money do you put on their SmarTrip cards? $20? I can't imagine a kid carrying a card with $50 or more in value around in their backpack...

PS Haven't commented in a while... love the new captcha!

by XO on Sep 13, 2012 3:55 pm • linkreport

I grew up in Tenleytown and rode the bus alone to basketball practice at age 11 and Metro at 12. I think it really depends on the circumstances. I rode it a lot with my parents before and so they had no problems with me doing it alone. At first, I always traveled in groups which is probably smarter at a younger age.

by ARM on Sep 13, 2012 3:56 pm • linkreport

@ XO:I can't imagine a kid carrying a card with $50 or more in value around in their backpack...

Why not? Can they spend it on candy? No.
Are there many robberies in metro? No.
Can they loose it? Sure, but then you can get your money back if it was a registered card.
So, why not?

by Jasper on Sep 13, 2012 3:58 pm • linkreport

Because they could lose it, or other kids could steal it at school-- thefts of valuables were not uncommon where/when I was in school. Although I forgot about registration (even though my own card is registered), that would make it less risky.

by XO on Sep 13, 2012 4:04 pm • linkreport

To answer your question, XO, I normally put about $50 bucks on my kid's card. She's not riding by herself (yet), so someone's around to add more to it as she needs it. But that's also something we're teaching her to be responsible for: to track the money and let us know when she's getting low.

I'm not too worried about loss or theft, as it's registered. Frankly, if something's being stolen from her at school, that's an issue we'd be dealing with directly at the school.

As an aside, this would be another reason it would be incredibly helpful if SmartTrip was like EZ Pass and automatically added money as needed. You know, like they've had available for a decade now and Metro can't seem to figure out how to do it...

by Tim Krepp on Sep 13, 2012 4:09 pm • linkreport

One of my big questions is how familiar are the parents with the metro? Depending on the suburb that you live in, the chief obstacle may not be EG's safety, but his parents unfounded notions of what could happen to a child mixed in with 750,000 other new friends on the rails.

When I was 14, I had finished an academic competition at Banneker HS (we lived in northern VA, but 3-4 miles from the nearest metro), and my parents refused to let me walk a few blocks to get on the metro at Shaw/Howard U (this was in the early 90s), instead forcing me to wait outside for over an hour for them to drive in and pick me up, because their preconceived notion was that the green line was dangerous. I felt embarrassed around the Banneker folks who were nice enough to stick around, because I knew the truth, and they summed it up best - the biggest danger that clear saturday was being divebombed by seagulls.

Perhaps a trip to a place that EG will regularly travel, but perhaps is unfamiliar to his mother, *with EG leading the way* would help everyone out a bit.

by Joe in SS on Sep 13, 2012 4:39 pm • linkreport

Disclaimer: I don't have kids

My neighbor's son is 10. In the morning she drops him off at the metro station and he takes green line to school. In the evening he takes the bus home. I asked him how he was enjoying commuting alone. He says he feels more grown up and he enjoys it looking out the window. My neighbor said she was nervous at first, but he wanted to give him some independence. He's only allowed to go between school and home.

As for understanding the metro system, some of these young people know it better than adults. A former co-workers son, who was 8 at the time, was OBSESSED with WMATA. He could name the metro stations in order for every single line.

It all comes down to the maturity level of the kid. My advice to the young man is:
1) Are you showing your parents you are responsible in other aspects of your life? Growing up the more responsible I was around the house and at school, the more independence my parents gave me.

2)Perhaps on the weekend your parents can shadow you (i.e. ride in a different car) so they can feel more comfortable with your knowledge of the system.

by Veronica O. Davis (Ms V) on Sep 13, 2012 5:25 pm • linkreport

My parents were free-range parents long before the term existed. I can remember going on my own to friends' houses as early as second grade and getting to after-school sports programs by third grade. I was a pretty outdoorsy person and was always going to the park or the woods or just riding around to get out of the house. I was away more than I was home, and my parents were never really concerned.

But this freedom went hand-in-hand with responsibility. I was doing my own laundry as soon as I could reach the dials on the washing machine, made myself breakfast and got ready for school every day, and did my housecleaning chores and my homework without being prompted, all going back as far as I can remember. I've been wearing glasses since I was in first grade, and in contrast to all of my classmates who were always losing or 'forgetting' their glasses, I never lost mine and wore them every day religiously.

Because of my parents beliefs, they raised me to be responsible. And in turn, I showed them that I WAS responsible, and so they weren't worried that I would get into trouble with it.

My advice to the 13-year-old would be to show your parents that you are responsible, in every way that you aren't doing now. If you procrastinate doing homework, stop that. Do it all, the minute you get home. Don't forget your books or to study for a test. If you notice some weeds need pulling in the yard, go out and do it, without being asked. Clean out the garage, clean the house, help get dinner ready. When you are going somewhere with your parents, help navigate. If you are in the car, grab a map and show them you know how to get places by reading it and giving them directions. If you are on the Metro with them, ask them to let you lead the way (including buying tickets and where to go when you reach your stop). On the way home, ask your mom (and other adults) to get off a stop early and let you continue on the rest of the way home by yourself.

It's baby steps but you'll show your mom you know how to handle things.

by name withheld on Sep 13, 2012 5:40 pm • linkreport

I rode the Metro by myself when I was 8. I had no problems at all (and crime rates in DC were a lot higher back then than they are now). Not letting a kid ride by himself at age 13 is incredibly overprotective.

by Rob on Sep 13, 2012 6:03 pm • linkreport

I grew up on the red line in the burbs and was riding the metro at a fairly young age. My parents started letting me ride a little at a time. It wasnt so much distance, but steps of them letting me have more room to explore. Usually I was going to meet my dad downtown for an event or dinner or something so there was a parent on the other end. First, when I was young, maybe 10 or so, my mom would drop me off at the metro and my dad would be waiting for me at the gate and I would go in and ride with him downtown. Then when I was a little older, maybe 12 or 13, I would ride alone and he would meet me at the gate downtown. Maybe around 13 or 14 I started riding by myself. Either to meet him downtown (all the way to the station and out by myself to the street) or with friends starting around 14 or 15 by ourselves. That kind of step up of responsibility was something my parents did a lot and was pretty effective. All of this is sort of couched in the fact that I LOVED riding the metro and from a very young age had the system memorized and rarely if ever got lost.

by DAJ on Sep 13, 2012 6:15 pm • linkreport

When I was 10 and my brother was 8, my mom decided to let us walk home from school together, alone, after we begged and begged and begged to do so. We were suburban kids with a stay-at-home-mom, so it wasn't far but it felt like miles to us (after moving to a city and walking a lot, I'd estimate is was around .8-.9 miles..not far at all). Unfortunately for us, some high school kids decided to pick on us that day, and drove up along side of us and started yelling at us. A police officer saw what was going on and intervened, lecturing and dispatching the high school kids, but then, again unfortunately, driving us home. Given the random happenstance of that day, my mom never let us walk to or from elementary school again.

But then, when I was in junior high, my parents divorced, and my mom's job didn't allow her to drive us to or from school. So we had to walk. It was about a mile to the junior high for me, but she made that same walk at that same age, and so she decided I could handle it (my brother was still in elementary school, which was only 2 blocks away, and he walked, too, but a much shorter distance with lots of other kids making the same walk and crossing guards and teachers along the whole route because we were so close). One day, some creepy dude started following me, and I noticed. But, between good common sense and lots of "stranger danger" training, I knew what to do and decided that I needed to duck into a drug store along my route, and if he followed me, to tell the cashier that I was in trouble. Before I got into the drug store, another observant police officer saw him following me and cut him off, but I still went into the drug store to be safe while the officer dealt with the guy. The officer came in to talk to me after he dealt with the guy, and again drove me the last few blocks home. But this time, he told my grandmother, who was responsible for us when we got home, how smart I was to duck into that store, and that I had told him that if the guy followed me I would have told the cashier I needed help, and that I was clearly a responsible, aware kid by my response (of course my grandmother's initial response to finding me at the door with a police officer was horror that I had done something bad, but she was relieved and had lots of nice things to say when he explained what had happened...both to me for knowing what to do and him for seeing what was happening as he drove by). BECAUSE OF THAT INCIDENT, my mom learned to trust me, and I could go anywhere and do anything, within reason (be home by curfew, let her know where I was going and with who, stick to main streets where possible, etc.).

Given these experiences, I'd say that letting your parents know that you know how to navigate Metro and what to do under normal circumstances (no horseplay!) and in case there's danger (stay away from bad situations, ask for help from the right people if you need it, these days carry a cell phone) is most important. If your parents are reluctant, start small! Maybe convince them to let you ride in a different car than them to show that you CAN do this. Convince them to let you go somewhere only a few blocks away (store, friend's, library, park, etc.) alone and be responsible about it. Trust is earned, so go forth and earn it!

And of course I have to say kudos to the police in two different towns for watching out for kids. I can't imagine that it was pure coincidence that, in two different cities, years apart, police were around and being observant along routes that kids frequently took to and from school. I'm thankful they were there and ready to help when I needed them, more so the second time than the first (the high school kids were just being, ahems, and wouldn't have hurt us in the first incident...I don't know WHAT that guy in jr. high had in mind, well, I can guess, but it seems odd to try and execute it on a busy, commercial street, and I know it wasn't good).

by Ms. D on Sep 13, 2012 8:41 pm • linkreport

I started riding the metro alone at age 11 and I like to think I turned out alright.

by John Gallagher on Sep 13, 2012 9:38 pm • linkreport

I am currently 14 years old, and I was wondering how old you have to be to travel on the metro north alone without a guardian.

by get more information on Sep 14, 2012 1:45 am • linkreport

I don't live in the DC area, but come often and wanted to commend you for asking your question. My parents wished I'd do more walking/biking by myself here in urban NC (which is more like suburban DC). I think I was able to walk/bike at 11 around my neighborhood alone, but there were some rough characters(kids my age that were mean) in my neighborhood, so I didn't want to go outside much.

I would say that if you are showing responsibility and helping your parents see that, plus using a lot of the tips above, then you should be ok.

by Kristen on Sep 14, 2012 7:07 am • linkreport

I'm a former D.C. resident now living in New York City with a two-year-old daughter. My wife and I agree that our daughter should be able to find her way home on the subway by herself by the time she's eight. We consider it not only a matter of independence but also of safety, in case she ever needs to know how to do it. It will, of course, depend upon her maturity level then, and we're not planning on starting to let her ride the subway and wander the city by herself at that age -- but I think it's fair to say she should be regularly riding the subway by herself by late middle school and definitely by the time she's in high school. I think having the ability to go places by yourself before the age of 16 is a great advantage of living in a city with good transit. And I think we are well on our way to preparing her to take that first trip by herself as she rides buses and subways with us every day.

As an aside, good transit will be an benefit for our daughter even after 16 because, frankly, my wife and I feel that's too young for a driver's license and the responsibility of driving and owning a car. (Though my wife got a license at 16, I didn't get a license until age 25. And we don't own a car.) If the law hasn't changed by then, our daughter still isn't getting a license until at least age 18, regardless of where we're living.

by Dustin on Sep 14, 2012 7:23 am • linkreport

I'd have to agree with most people here, I think that assuming this young man is of average maturity he should be more than capable of riding Metro alone. I lived in Wilmington DE in high school, and for a few months in 6th grade I rode the public bus from the middle school to an after-school program at the synagogue. Never had a problem. My parents got me a pack of 10 tickets, and it was my responsibility to let them know when I was running low on tickets (which I screwed up a couple of times, but hey I was only 11).

by Marc on Sep 14, 2012 9:38 am • linkreport

I took the Metro alone from Capitol South to DuPont Circle every day from 13 to 16 for school, and I learned a lot about wandering around a great city during that time. There's no harm in it. It's kind of awesome, actually.

by Andrew on Sep 14, 2012 9:57 am • linkreport

@get more information: I regularly took Metro North's New Haven line alone from around age 12. There was no specific age minimum at the time. That was back in the 1980s, so there may be new rules now. If they have a policy, it should be available on the MTA website.

by Theo16 on Sep 14, 2012 10:05 am • linkreport

i would say around 5 or 6 so for the DC metro. Maybe 8 or 9 for New York. the only thing you need to know is your colors and the name of the station that you would like to get off at. I live in alexandria and I often send my 10 year old to run errands on the bus when i'm busy or tired. you need to learn to be responsible at a young age or youll grow up to be a nobody. If someone decides to give him trouble he needs to learn how to defend himself.

by Sam I Am on Sep 14, 2012 12:11 pm • linkreport

I grew up in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and I started going everywhere, on public transit, and walking, alone, at 13. I think my parents wanted me to feel independent and be able to navigate a large urban area smartly at a young age.

I can't say I would have made the same choice if I had been the parent. Thinking about it today, almost 30 years later, things have changed a lot in the world and I think it's a much less safe place for kids than it was 30 years ago.

I think way too many kids run the risk of getting abducted by child molesters or kidnappers or getting mugged, especially on DC Metro. Thefts are rising, especially of electronic devices, so if you think your kids safe just cause you sent him/her out there with a cellphone, think again.

I tend to think of the bus as safer. Here's why--on a bus, your child will most likely interact with about 10-200 people max, depending on how crowded the bus is, if it's rush hour and how populated that bus route is.

In the Metro system, even with the variables, your child is exposed to a much larger group of people at a time, especially if she/he is using Metro Center, Gallery Place or L'Enfant Plaza during rush hours. I mean now we are talking exposure to thousands of folks, versus a few hundred.

The chances of them coming into contact with a predator or thief go up 1,000 fold.

So, maybe I'm over the top, but if I was a parent of a teenager today, I would say that I would not allow my 13 year old to use the system ALONE. If she/he was with a group of 3 or more friends of the same age, then yes. Safety in numbers. But alone, no way.

I'm sure I'm in the minority on this one.

by LuvDusty on Sep 14, 2012 12:30 pm • linkreport

The rule in our house was always that if you are old enough to go to middle school, yoou are old enough to navigate the Metro bus system on your own. My three kids are all grown up now and are avid and sophisticated public transportation users. Only one has a car - for weekend use primarily.

by Nancy Floreen on Sep 14, 2012 3:23 pm • linkreport

LuvDusty wrote: "Thinking about it today, almost 30 years later, things have changed a lot in the world and I think it's a much less safe place for kids than it was 30 years ago."

Objective statistics say exactly the opposite. Crime rates are much lower than they were 30 years ago. The world is a much safer place than it used to be. Despite that, people still feel like it's more dangerous. But that's an irrational misperception: the reality is that it's much safer.

by Rob on Sep 14, 2012 7:30 pm • linkreport

Like a lot of folks, I started riding alone at about 8 or 9. My extra-curriculuars were all in the city and back then, parents didn't re-orient their lives around their kids' schedule. I was a latch-key kid who had walked to school all through elementary school from 1st grade (I went to PreK and K at the school where my father worked, so I did get to ride then). Both of my parents took the Metro daily, so sometimes riding alone meant meeting them at the other end. All of this was from 1980 to 1988 when I graduated from high school. These were some of the most dangerous times in the city.

I had all of my summer jobs in DC, so I had to catch the Metro to get there. Since my parents didn't drive to work, it wasn't like they were going to drive me. And as a typical teenager, I was not getting up earlier than I had to to ride with them.

I lived right on the edge of city, but went to school in the suburbs. I recognized even then that I had much more freedom than my friends in middle and high school by having access to the subway. And my parents had a ready answer when I was "bored" that usually started with "Take the subway" and ended with museum, zoo, other free stuff to do in DC. Most of my friends didn't get that freedom until they were 16 and had a driver's license.

by Karen on Sep 14, 2012 10:04 pm • linkreport

My kid started going solo @ 12 -- after years of taking the same (bus to subway to walk) route accompanied. I kept the smart card at about $20-30, pointed out problem intersections and the best places/ways to cross streets, explained what to do if things went wrong (someone hassling you, missed a stop, train delayed). And provided $5 in cash and $1 in coins (for pay phones in Metro) and instructions to call in if you're going to be late.

No cellphone (and if you're going to give the kid a cell, make sure it's an obvious piece of crap -- one of my kid's fellow bus riders got mugged for his iphone and that was the end of his solo commute). No ipod/earbuds/games either. Nothing worth stealing and nothing that's a distraction.

For a school commute, parent also needs to trust that the kid (a) won't fall asleep while riding and (b) won't leave stuff (sports bag, musical instrument, backpack) behind.

by BTDT on Sep 15, 2012 7:07 am • linkreport

I think BTDT's thoughts about crappy cellphones/no iPods is a good point. As a regular Red Line rider I know that there are roaving groups of teens who will grab stuff from unsuspecting passengers.

A subruban kid needs to stay away from the doors where those incidents happen and not get so involved in their electronics that they look like an easy mark.

It's not a reason to avoid the Metro, kids can run into the same kinds of kids at school, even in the nicest neighborhoods, it's a part of a life education.

by GingerR on Sep 15, 2012 7:25 am • linkreport

My son rode the Metro home from school last year as a 12-year-old 7th grader. He had a cell phone to relieve my anxiety and it gave him a sense of independence and accomplishment.

by motherofthree on Sep 15, 2012 7:35 pm • linkreport

12 or 13 on the DC metro is no problem. 9 on the New York subway - not so sure about that.

by Frank IBC on Sep 15, 2012 11:09 pm • linkreport

when I was in 3rd grade growing up around Chicago, I used to take the IC Railroad twice a week after school to downtown Chicago to go have dinner with my Parents who were both working downtown on very long hours.

Frankly, Given the incredible degree of security, on WMATA, I'd say any 5th or 6th grader could ride the subway without any issue.

Now what happens on the ends, is another matter. A station like Falls Church or Clarendon is just as safe as can be, but, a station in Anacostia or Benning Rd Blue Line, is a little sporty.

That said, there are children growing up all around this city, and frankly, they would be better off if they could get a little street smarts and a little toughness. DC schools have very few busses, the kids walk or ride Metro and the Bus, if Arlington, Alexandria, Inner Montgomery and Inner Fairfax could do that, it would increase the service utilization and teach the kids some independent living skills.

I know of 21 year old kids who can't emotionally ride the bus.

by pat b on Sep 16, 2012 12:37 pm • linkreport

I was 8or9 when i started riding the city bus to and from public school in the roland park / belvedere square area of baltimore city, in the late 80s. My parents took a lot of crap from other parents for letting me ride the bus and play outside all afternoon unsupervised. Never had a problem other than excessively critical neighbors. Of course i was eager to prove my independance.. After a few years my parents let me ride my bike to school, onthe condition that i pay for it myself with allowance in exchange for work around the house.

by Lee watkins on Sep 16, 2012 5:22 pm • linkreport

I grew up in suburbs that didn't have any sidewalks let alone metro, so walking or taking PT was not an option for me, but my fiance grew up in fairfax and started riding metro alone when he was 12 - 7th grade.

It really does depend on the person, but speaking to the kid directly: i echo other here in saying, show that you can handle the responsibility by creating a plan. how will you get to the metro? how will you get home? what time? what station will you be going to? where are you going from there? create a map showing the route you'll take fromt he station to your destination. create your own plan of what to do if something goes wrong - what will you do if the metro breaks or has delays? will you leave the station and call your parent? do you have emergency phone numbers memorized in case your phone breaks/dies/gets stolen? Having the plan in place will help you in general, but thinking it up yourself and presenting it shows that you have the maturity to acknowledge that things can go wrong and the foresight to plan for them. and it shows that if something unexpected happens that you have the ability to figure out what to do on your own.

by jen on Sep 17, 2012 3:31 pm • linkreport

LuvDusty wrote: "Thinking about it today, almost 30 years later, things have changed a lot in the world and I think it's a much less safe place for kids than it was 30 years ago."

@Rob wrote: Objective statistics say exactly the opposite. Crime rates are much lower than they were 30 years ago. The world is a much safer place than it used to be. Despite that, people still feel like it's more dangerous. But that's an irrational misperception: the reality is that it's much safer.

Which is why I used the words "I think" in my post. :) I was not saying I knew or could prove. Just that my perception, as a possible parent in this scenario, was that it was less safe.

Also, would love to see actual links to studies that back up what you write. URLs?

by LuvDusty on Sep 18, 2012 12:15 pm • linkreport


Crime rates are much lower than they were 30 years ago. The world is a much safer place than it used to be. Despite that, people still feel like it's more dangerous.

My theory is that this is a function of the nationalization (if not internationalization) of "local news". Thirty years ago, if some child was kidnapped in New Mexico, you'd never hear about it. Now such stories get airplay nationally on outlets like CNN and Fox. Well, as long as the child is white, that is.

by oboe on Sep 18, 2012 12:27 pm • linkreport

I started riding the New York buses and subway by myself when I was 9. But that was in a different world - or at least what was perceived as a different world.

by ceefer on Oct 2, 2012 10:08 am • linkreport


I realize it's an old topic, but we're considering moving and are wondering if our almost-11 y.o. would be able to take the metro by herself to school next year. Obviously, we would "train" her and we/she think she's fully capable of doing it.

Are there official, legal guidelines as to what parents can do with children depending on age?

For example:
6 y.o.: go to a neighbor's house without crossing street
8 y.o.: drive bicycle around the block without crossing, can be home alone for 30 minutes max
10 y.o.: take public transportation without change, walk to school if less than 5 blocks, can be left home alone for 2 hours max

Any advice would be appreciated,

Nico (Dupont Circle too :)

by Nicolas Durand on Apr 25, 2015 1:10 pm • linkreport

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