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Urban Etiquette

Ellen Vanstone answers your questions about the annoying behaviours, poor manners and impatient encounters that dot the days of a city dweller.

How do I keep busybodies at bay when I send my kid to school on the city bus?

We all approach raising small mammals differently. For most of us, it boils down to common sense and personal preference, writes Ellen Vanstone.

Dear Ellen,

I'm thinking of letting my nine-year old take public transit alone this school year, though it can be a scary prospect. My greatest fear is other parents, even strangers, passing judgment — or calling the authorities — on me. How do I tell these busybodies it's none of their business how I parent my kid — and please don't call the cops?

Responsible Parent

Dear Responsible,

You sound more “laissez-faire” than “hélicoptère” as a parent, and as such, you are no doubt on high alert after the recent news about B.C.’s Ministry of Children and Family Development ordering a Vancouver single dad to stop letting his four children (aged seven, eight, nine, and 11) take the bus to school on their own.

Personally, I take a more protective, albeit intensely hypocritical, position: After happily rambling unsupervised across streets, riverbanks, farm land, construction sites and anywhere else I wanted as a child, I am now the worst kind of hovering, controlling parent. Maybe it’s because I had children late in life. Maybe it’s because I’m a hick from the prairies and parenting in big, bad Toronto seems scarier. Maybe I’m just an obnoxious, controlling, uptight boomer. "N’importe quoi," as they say in St. Boniface, Man.

The point is that we all approach raising small mammals differently. And with every case being different depending on who you are and where you live, and with rules that vary widely and fuzzily across the country, it’s hard to say who’s definitively right or wrong when it comes to sending kids off to elementary school alone. For most of us, it boils down to common sense and personal preference.

So let’s address your specific question vis-à-vis the etiquette around strangers butting in when they disagree with your parenting methods.

I hope we can all agree that if we see a child in danger, or distress, or we suspect they’re being mistreated, or abducted, the right thing to do is immediately contact authorities. In extreme situations, it would be not only polite, but morally imperative to step in and physically rescue a child from an abusive or dangerous situation.

Meanwhile, if you’re a concerned citizen, and you see a child happily riding the bus to school, and that child doesn’t look lost or scared, and if you approach the child and they tell you to piss off because you’re a stranger, then you can probably rest assured they do not need rescuing, and you should politely leave them alone.

If you’re a parent who lets your under-12 child ride public transit alone, and your worst problem is concerned citizens calling the police and reporting you, you should be grateful the annoying busybodies at least have your child’s best interests at heart, and accept that you might have to wait a few more years to let them ramble unsupervised.

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