Tips for teens on public transport
How to help your child navigate public transport.
Each day, parents walk a shaky tightrope between building independent, resilient kids and keeping them safe. Navigating the world of public transport is a critical life skill, but it can push this balance to the limit. Often, starting secondary school triggers a child’s first solo travelling experiences, as well as a whole range of emotions for both parents and kids.
Ed Campbell, aged 13, who recently started Year 7, says, “I feel pretty confident and excited about tramming to school because I get to be independent and there are a lot of other students going on the same tram. I’m a bit worried about safety with so many strangers in one space and having to carry a large amount home. I also worry a bit about what would happen if my tram was delayed and I got into trouble at school for being late.”
Along with a shiny new Myki card, starting independent travel often coincides with the realisation of many children’s dream come true – their own phone. “We had strongly said ‘No’ in the past to getting Ed a phone,” says Ed’s mum Kate. “But he now has one, primarily for his safety and for better communication while he travels on public transport.”
A father of two teenage girls, Michael Frigo agrees that mobile phones are a great tool to help kids develop independence. “At first, we had an agreed route and the girls would message when they arrived at school, but as they got older they wanted the freedom to travel different routes with friends. They can text us their plans, their ETA and who they are with.”
Chloe, 14, travels to and from school using trams and trains, and also uses them on weekends. “I love public transport. It’s so easy to use and I get to be with my friends. I feel safe because there are so many people around, and if I know I’m going to be delayed, I can just text someone,” she says.
Instant communication is a huge benefit of individual smartphone use, but technology can also help with a child’s time management. “My girls use apps which really accurately track trams and train times,” says Michael. “They know the tram is a four-minute walk, so they usually time it down to the very last minute in the morning.”
Regularly using public transport poses some testing realities for all passengers, from young students to experienced adult commuters. Overcrowding, delays and dodgy passengers are just some of the challenges that kids must learn to manage.
“Kids need to learn to be aware of what’s going on around them, without being alarmed,” says Michael. “They should have strategies to use if they run into a situation where they feel uncomfortable.”
It appears the state government agrees. More protective service officers have been deployed recently, especially at train stations after dark. And $16.9 million was pledged for this year’s spend on Victorian public transport safety, with initiatives such as safer stops and improved CCTV across the network.
Of course, sometimes the fastest route to school may not be the most practical one. Looking into alternative options – for example catching an earlier bus rather than a train – can be a useful exercise for families.
“Students often travel in groups and have large bags, so six or seven kids squeezing onto a train at an inner-city station during peak hour can be difficult. Some train lines and tramlines are more capable of accommodating students than others,” explains Michael.
Giving kids the freedom to try different things – and yes, to make mistakes – is essential in building problem-solving skills and preparing them for adulthood.
“Public transport has helped my girls develop a strong sense of independence. It’s been a really positive experience,” says Michael. “They also travel confidently on weekends as well now, and have made some good friendships by not getting picked up and dropped off at the gate every morning.”