Subway Safety: Kids Riding Alone

From train safety to travel manners, here are tips and suggestions for what to do when your Tween/Kid is ready to ride the Subway alone.

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Image by Ed Coyle Photography via a Creative Commons License

 

In this article you will find tips about:

 

Getting Around

Manners

Safety

Handling hiccups

Building Confidence

Parent Experiences

Tips from Around the Web

 

Getting Around:  

 -Travel with friends whenever possible. There can be safety in numbers.

- Get a subway map (print from www.mta.info, https://transitapp.com/https://citymapper.com/nyc,  and www.hopstop.com) and get your child knowledgeable of the different subway lines. Learn the whole system (over time, though, since it can be overwhelming!)

- Help them understand the difference between Uptown/Downtown, Manhattan/Queens/Brooklyn, Coney Island/Manhattan, etc.

- Help them understand the difference between local and express trains

- Discuss subway "etiquette" (see below) and how not to engage with overly friendly strangers

- Teach the kids about free transfers (one free transfer within 2 hours of swiping your card)

- If train is crowded wait for the next

- Remind them to NOT get into an empty subway car.

- Travel with some form of identification. There's a heart app on all iPhones and you can put in your medical information.  Put an emergency contact name and phone number in their backpack, purse and wallet.

 

 

Walking To and From the Subway

- Walk the walking part of the route to school, pointing out businesses that could be good "Go To" businesses (and ones to avoid) if they need help.

- Examine the walking route to look for traffic issues like turning traffic, bad sight lines, speed zones.

- Practice making eye contact with drivers from the side so they are sure to see you walking

- Discuss acceptable and unacceptable routes to walk. (They should know multiple ways to walk)

 

Manners: 

 - Move to the center of the subway car

- Offer your seat to people who look like they need it (pregnant, disabled. elderly, etc.).

- Respect seats reserved for people with disabilities 

- Make sure passengers exit before getting on

- Discuss texting/walking rules (always stop with your back against a building, text so someone can't grab your phone from behind when you're not looking, NEVER EVER cross the street looking down.)

 

Discuss safety: 

- Teach kids to listen to their gut. If something doesn't feel right, leave the car and go to an MTA booth and ask for help.

- Riding in the subway car with the conductor adds an extra layer of protection. 

- Try to stand on the platform with your back to the wall so people cannot walk behind you.

- Do not be buried in your phone or become so engrossed that you don't know what's going on around you.

- Keep phone and electronics out of sight

- Keep volume down so you can hear the surroundings. Better yet, tell them not to wear their headphones (or only one).

- Avoid sitting in the seat closest to the opening doors

- If you can't travel with a buddy sit or stand close to a family so you don't stand out as much and appear less vunerable.

- Remain alert

- Avoid first and last cars

- Avoid walking close to buildings, dark doorways and other places people can hide

- During off hours use exits with the most activity (24 hour booths)

- Discuss when 9-11 should be called (life-threatening emergencies, immediately after an event so that NYPD can catch perpetrators).

- Keep your bags close by and closed at all times

- Don't keep wallets or money in back pockets

- How to respond to panhandlers

- Ride with the conductor. On subway platforms, look for the black-and-white striped board. This is where the car with the conductor will stop. 

- Discuss mugging (what it is, what to do) Their safety is more important than the cost of any device.

- Make distinctions between NYPD and security guards (NYPD logo, work in pairs, have badge)

- Explain how to stay in plain site even when talking to NYPD officers but to follow their orders and ask to call parents ASAP!

- Help kids understand what is "unusual" vs. "weird" and how to trust their gut if something doesn't seem right.

- Avoid falling asleep on the train. Secure your wallet and phone if you think you might. 

- Describe the differences between typical and unsafe/serious behavior that should be immediately reported to parents, NYPD and school officials

 

Handling Hiccups 

 -Pay attention to announcements

- Practice what to do if you miss your stop

- Talk about what to do if you get separated from friends

- Map out alternate routes and CONTINGENCIES (especially what to do if the subway is cancelled or the train skips stations)

- Discuss what to do in emergency situations (first ask a woman with children for help, then MTA employers, don't rely on uniformed people who may not be NYPD)

- Have a place to store an extra MetroCard or a few extra dollars (and change) to buy another card or make a phone call underground where their cell might not work.

- Discuss how to disengage from other people if they bother you (pulling out a book/homework, move to another car, look for other kids to walk up and talk to).

 

Build Confidence 

- Make practice trips!  

- Determine the best entrances to access to get to your destination (e.g.,  Northeast corner, etc.)

- Determine if there are subway entrances that access only one direction so they don't go into the wrong way.

- Check the sign before you swipe (so you don't get caught doing the wrong way without a second swipe)

- For extra reassurance find a buddy to ride with if possible. Make sure those buddies meet at a designated place, don't leave without each other, and have backup plans if someone doesn't show.

- Get your child a cell phone and discuss issues related to informing you if they will be more than __ minutes late (whatever you're comfortable with) realizing that they can't contact you if they are stuck underground

- Be confident in your child's abilities while giving them the tools to be safe and successful.

 

Parent suggestions & experiences: 

“I do think that most middle school students want to commute on their own, and if they don't ask now, they might ask after the first week of 6th grade! So it's good to be thinking about the transit options and practicing now. My oldest son started taking the subway in the morning only in 5th grade (age 11) at the Atlantic/Pacific station R train and I felt more comfortable with that because of all the morning commuters. The afternoons can be a little crazy at that corner because a high school is also there. But I know there are always school safety officers at that corner, encouraging kids to "move along" ie get into the subway and go home. I think a buddy system is a great idea, as well as some review of street smarts, ie keep the cell phone hidden and maybe buy your snacks at the other end of the commute, not in the crowded deli on 4th Ave.  Another tip is to always have an extra Metrocard or a few dollars or change to spare to buy one. If the school card goes astray, our teens and tweens should know not to jump the turnstile but to buy a new card. I've heard of many teens who get collared when they "just once" forgot the card.  It's scary at first, but it's a great experience for their own independence. It's also one of the great benefits for tweens and teens in NYC! No one needs to ‘drive them to the mall!’”

 

“My son, age 12, took the subway every day for five weeks to attend a summer program in Manhattan.  What we did that helped me (he was fine):  1) got a subway map, and printed from www.mta.info and www.hopstop.com alternate routes; 2) activated a seriously old phone so he could call/text me; 3) discussed subway "etiquette"; and 4) made practice trips.  Good luck!  I don't think I'll ever be comfortable, but I feel confidence in my son."

 

"We made sure that our twins and two of their friends had a meeting place inside the station, and no one was allowed to leave without all four together. We made sure they had each other's cell phone numbers, in case they had to find each other. We did a practice trip, showing them where to go in the train station, where to swipe the MetroCard, where to wait on the platform, etc. We told them to sit together and pay attention, to make sure they remember to get off at the right stop. We reminded them that they can ask MTA employees for help if they need it, and/or call us parents for help. We told them not to expose their wallets or electronics, to avoid theft.'"

  

"My boys, who will be in 6th and 7th grade at the same school, want to commute via subway together.  Without an adult.  On one hand I'm ok with it.  On the other...holy cow!  I had no freedom at all until I got my drivers license and my mom realized it was convenient for me to grocery shop.  I'm interested in other people's experience with letting their kids commute."

 

Resources & Tips from around the Web 

 Safety Tips from NYC Gov

Safety Maps from NYC Gov

Walking to School Tips from NYC Gov

Guide to using student metrocard

Walking/School Bus (1, 2, 3)

Variation - Bicycle Train

Gavin de Becker's Perspective on walking alone (author of "The Gift of Fear" and Protecting the Gift)