A mom in suburban Atlanta was looking for a way to get her son to Florida to visit his grandma. So she hired a driver she found on Craigslist advertising a rideshare.
When the driver learned his intended co-pilot was only 9 years old, he called the cops and the mom was arrested. Now she's in jail, unable to care for her son, for the crime of failing to supervise her son closely enough. Seems totally counter-productive, doesn't it?
Until three years ago she could have simply put him on an Amtrak train. Children as young as 8 could ride as unaccompanied minors. But then Amtrak suddenly changed its policy and now kids have to be 13 to ride alone! When asked why it had added a full five years to its minimum traveling age, Amtrak replied that this was not in response to any incident whatsoever, but merely out of "an abundance of caution."
Run whenever you hear that phrase.
That "abundance of caution" means that, across the country, children like this 9-year-old boy in Atlanta are no longer unable to take the train to grandma. Or to visit a divorced mom or dad. Or to get from any point A to point B on our national taxpayer-subsidized train service unless their parents can afford the time and extra money it now takes to travel with them.
So it's not surprising that a mom would turn to Craigslist in desperation. Not all of us have friends with cars who are driving to exactly where we want our kids to go. Trusting a stranger may sound bizarre, but a sub-optimal parenting choice does not make this mom a criminal. It makes her a desperate mom without a lot of options, who made a decision she thought would work for her family. And it looks like it would have—the guy she picked obviously had a strong sense of responsibility toward children—if the driver hadn't turned her in.
On the other hand, the driver himself had cause for worry. Any male driving an unrelated minor across state lines could easily be taken for a predator.
The long and short of it is this: We are not allowed to trust our kids to travel, we are not allowed to trust strangers, and strangers aren't allowed to trust us. The government must always intervene.
This could have been a simple (maybe even fun!) roadtrip. In a less fear-crazed world, that boy could be hanging out with his grandma by now. And his mom wouldn't be hanging out in a jail cell.
For more stories like this one, check out Lenore Skenazy's Free-Range Kids blog.