a train with a Norwegian boy. He was ten years old and his English, while careful, was excellent.
The conversation began because he asked me a question. He was travelling alone.
He and his parents were travelling the world for a year. He was keeping up his school work with help from his mother. The train journey he was taking was part of his schoolwork. He was equipped with money, map, a mobile phone, his lunch and his school work. He was facing the world with a degree of confidence rarely seen in ten year olds. Yes his parents were at a business meeting in a seaside suburb and he could phone them for help if he really needed. He was permitted, indeed encouraged, to talk to female strangers he assessed as likely to be safe. Male strangers, unless railway personnel or someone like a policeman were not to be spoken to.
He told me all of this while we waited for the train to leave. He investigated my tricycle and asked questions about it. He showed me the work he had to do as part of the journey. It was demanding. It involved reading, maths, following a map, observations to be taken in the National Park which was his destination and other activities.
Had he done this sort of thing before? Oh yes. He showed me a smaller map of a larger area in his work folder. He was a well travelled child. I have no doubt that the work he had been set would have been done. There was evidence of previous solo expeditions in the folder.
I was telling two people I know about this child yesterday. They were horrified at what he had been allowed to do. Travel alone? Even worse, travel alone in a strange city? He did not speak the language! He could not possibly look after himself all day! He would not have done the work he had been set. It was ridiculous. It was irresponsible. Why had I not reported the incident to someone?
Why should I?
I know children who have never been anywhere alone. They reach the first year of secondary school and they still have not been anywhere alone. They travel in cars and do not know how to use our public transport system. Part of the problem is time when both parents work. A far greater part of the problem however is fear of what might happen if you let your child out alone.
I hope I would be an irresponsible parent. I hope I would want my child to show a degree of independence. I would like to have the trust in my children that the parents of the Norwegian child had in him. It would be taking a risk but it would be a risk you would have to take if you really wanted your child to grow up. Wouldn't it?