It’s wonderful to have all the resources of Chicago so close to the North Shore, and the CTA and Metra make it easy to enjoy all the city has to offer.
For parents, though, these assets can pose some questions. Is my child old enough to go downtown alone? Is it safe for children to ride the train? Will they get lost or exit at the wrong stop? While these are genuine questions and concerns, learning to use public transportation is a great way to encourage independence and responsibility.
My older children (ages 19 and 17) have been using the CTA on their own for quite some time. They have enjoyed the freedom of being able to get where they want to go and I have enjoyed not driving them. There were a few things we did in advance to be sure they were ready to take on this challenge.
- Determine maturity. Children mature at different rates and what is right for one is not necessarily right for another. Before allowing a child to take this next step, we first asked if he or she had been responsible in other ways, such as following directions, arriving at stated times and following through on what was promised.
- Practice. Before a solo trip, we ride the train with the child. It helps relieve my anxiety if I know the child understands how the system works.
- Troubleshoot. We often have discussions about what to do if something goes wrong so they have an idea of what to do if things don’t go according to plan. For instance, what do you do if you get off at the wrong stop? Or what do you do if a person is making you feel uncomfortable? Or you get lost?
I asked my older children and their friends if they had any advice for someone using public transportation for the first time.
- Be aware of your surroundings. Don’t use ear buds while on the train.
- Keep your phone and other electronics in your bag or pockets. Don’t display them.
- On the CTA, board a car at the front of the train, closer to the driver.
- If someone is making you uncomfortable, move to another car at the next stop.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help or directions from CTA or Metra employees.
Have your kids had any positive or negative experiences going downtown alone? Share them below with a comment!