Can't imagine letting your kids out of your sight? Try letting them take public transportation in a huge city. Without you. It's one of the best decisions I ever made — and they agree.

Remember back in 2008, when Lenore Skenazy wrote about letting her kid take the subway alone and coined the term "free-range kid?" Yeah, I thought she was nuts, too. For a minute.

Then I was inspired to let my then-10-year-old take the city bus.

By himself.

He was invited to join an after-school drama program but I couldn't get him there (I mean, seriously, if I could leave my job every afternoon when school let out, he wouldn't need an after-school program, but I digress.). So slowly but surely, with plenty of practice rides with Dad, he was on his way.

stack of quarters

Now, while Skenazy armed her son with quarters for the pay phone and money for emergencies, we bought our son a basic cell phone. Our rule was he had to call us when he got on the bus, when he got off the bus at the park, back on the bus and home. This was one of his first chances to gain independence and learn responsibility when Mom and Dad weren't around. Granted, I was nervous — not so much about him taking the bus alone, but the whole letting go thing.

Family reactions

Initially, my parents thought I was nuts. When I was a baby, they lived in Manhattan, and couldn't believe it when they saw kids on the subway alone. Now, they think it's pretty cool. Think about it: If you lived in a city with public transportation, your kids were old enough to ride alone (or with friends or each other) and weren't beholden to pickup times and all the other schlepping that comes with being a parent, would you let your kids go alone? I never thought I would, either. But it's been fantastic for all of us. However, that doesn't mean it's right for all kids.

Know your kid

My oldest son was born an old soul, always a bit wiser than his years. (Now that he's a teenager, he thinks he's wiser than everyone, but that's for another article.) We knew he was street smart and would be responsible. And he was. My youngest just started taking the bus alone (to the same park but for summer day camp) at 11 years old. We joke that before that age, he would have ended up in another state after spending the entire ride with his face in a video game, not paying attention. He agrees.

Both boys love their independence. Maybe it goes with living in a big city. I think it's important to instill this in kids no matter where they live.

iphone textingMy free-range kid, five years later

My 15-year-old son is an accomplished actor who wouldn't have gained so much experience had he not been able to get to that after school program. And my 11-year-old is awesome about texting me when he gets to and from his destination (we instilled the same rule as with my oldest, but now they have smartphones.).

True city kids

Recently, we visited their grandfather in suburban Michigan. After a few days, my kids said, "We can't go anywhere here unless you or Papa drive us. We have to get back to the city!"

Read more about letting kids be independent

Is my tween old enough to stay home alone?
Texting my teen: The best thing to happen to our relationship
Why aren't teens driving?

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