The Independence of Youth
When I was growing up in the distant past of the 1980’s, we treated children differently. To put it simply, they (I) had a lot more freedom. The debate over this cultural change is beyond the scope of this blog, but it is one that is noticeable and one that I have found is taken to ridiculous levels at times.
Has anyone heard of the term “free range parenting”? It sprung up because a select group of parents decided they would allow their children to go out add play by themselves. One couple even got themselves in trouble multiple times and had to deal with Child Protective Services because their children were found at the park alone.
That story was distressing for me. For 3rd & 4th grades, we lived about a mile from my son’s elementary school. The first week or so he walked to school by himself while I tailed him in my car. (He didn’t know.) Once we knew he was capable of it, he walked to and from school everyday along with about 100 other kids. It was normal. I just don’t get the whole sheltering thing beyond the normal scope of common sense.
Travel & Independence
Which bring me to the topic of travel. I believe that travel is one of the most empowering things you can do for your children. Thus, if I travel and show my kids the world, why would I then not let them use that empowerment to better prepare themselves for when I am not there? One argument of course is safety. Thankfully in this day and age, the safety issue has all but been eliminated when it comes to flying. Airports are about the safest places in the world to leave a child.
A few months ago I held a poll asking whether or not people would allow their child to fly in coach while they were in Business Class. About 40% of all respondents said they wouldn’t. This was a shock to me. About half of you wouldn’t even let your kids sit in a different section of the same plane let alone fly on a different plane altogether. This was surprising to me. I am not judging, since I recognize everyone’s situation is different, however that doesn’t change my overall surprise.
After seeing your responses, I thought deeply about the subject and concluded that I simply disagree. The truth is that thousands of children fly by themselves every year because they have to. Sure most of them are unaccompanied minors and there is some sort of a safety net, but they still fly alone for the most part.
Have you ever been in a foreign country and seen a traveler (Unfortunately it is usually an American) just completely overwhelmed? They don’t know how to find their gate or how to get money. They don’t where to look to get their train platform and they simply are about to have a melt down in the middle of a public space. You have probably been in that situation. (I know I have.) I want my children to avoid that.
So now to the point I have been avoiding thus far. My son successfully made his way from Germany home to Las Vegas by himself yesterday. Not only that, but I put him on the train to the airport in Hamburg and he did the rest. Since I was leaving for Berlin, I waited to confirm he was through security before boarding my bus, but he did it ALL BY HIMSELF.
Just like when I drove my car behind him during that first part of 3rd grade, I could have jumped in if he needed help, but he didn’t. Through his extensive travels and careful explanation from me, he was confident enough to fly from Hamburg, Germany to Las Vegas, Nevada. That is pretty damn cool.
For the record his route home was HAM-FRA-SFO-LAS. Global Entry made things easier for him when entering the U.S. and flying in Business Class no doubt made things a little nicer along the way, but the kid did it. He handled everything he needed to and he got a huge dose of empowerment. I don’t see much stopping him now other than a bit of jetlag as was evidenced by the fact that he was texting me at 4am Vegas time this morning!
What if Something Went Wrong
I know the worriers among you are ready to tell me to consider what would have happened if there was a problem. Well, the kid is 15. He will be on his own in a few years and I have confidence he would be able to handle it. If something serious were to happen, I was in the same general area and I could have traveled within a few hours to be with him.
In other words, he was on his own, but not hung out to dry. If a flight had been cancelled or something else strange had happened I could have been there relatively quickly to help him through it. He was all on his own, however if he needed help (which he didn’t), then help would have been there. His cell phone with international data and texting didn’t hurt either.
This Is Me & Me Is Different
This post isn’t meant to be proactive or meant to accuse you of being wrong if your opinions differ from mine. The blog is called Miles to Memories, because I am a traveler. Sure I am very good with miles & points and I am very good with manufactured spending, however I am also very good and experienced with traveling. My way of doing things may be different than yours, but it works for me and thus is worth sharing.
Don’t ask me why it makes perfect sense for me to send my 15 year old son halfway around the world by himself, but it does. Shawn Reece has of course been globetrotting since he was 6, so perhaps that is part of it, however I felt he was ready for this challenge and he proved that I was right. As someone with a deep passion for travel, creating another generation of capable travelers is something that is meaningful to me.
I really struggled whether to share this on the blog, since I know a lot of you will utterly disagree with this. The truth is that just about every major airline allows kids 15 years and older to travel by themselves internationally. While I agree that children shouldn’t have to travel alone as a matter of habit, having that one amazing trip where they navigated the process from beginning to end is a priceless experience. I am very proud of my son. Where have the years gone?