Mom Mad City Bus Allowed Her 8 y.o. to Ride: “Anything Could Have Happened!”

Readers — A Michigan mom is upset not just that her 8-year-old daughter hopped a public bus without telling her, but that the bus driver didn’t immediately take some kind of unspecified but heroic action to stop this non-catastrophe:

Two things in particular gall me about this story:

1 – The air time afforded to Worst-First thinking. “The mom [is] just grateful that what COULD have happened didn’t,” the dutifully grave reporter intones. Playing her own part, the mom pipes up:

“Oh my goodness, just all kinds of thoughts run through your mind, somebody could’ve taken her, she could’ve just been lost somewhere downtown.I know a lot of kids who leave home don’t make it back.”

Really? Name one.

I wish the reporter had said that!

2 – Also per usual, the mom is demanding a complete overhaul of the way the bus authority does business, based on this one, single, uneventful event. Hooray for CATA (Capital Area Transit Authority) for not immediately groveling, “You’re right! From now on we will stop the bus in its tracks when anyone young and competent tries to ride without a  guardian.”  Amtrak could use balls like these.

Note that while the mom was angry, the kid refused to see her adventure as anything but fun. “I made some friends!”

It sounded like someone off-screen was chuckling at that pluck — the reporter or the mom — but the mom still had to sum it up this way: “If my kid could do it , some other kids could too.”

To me, that’s an endorsement of her child’s independence. But I don’t think that’s how she meant it. – L

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53 Responses to Mom Mad City Bus Allowed Her 8 y.o. to Ride: “Anything Could Have Happened!”

  1. SKL April 24, 2014 at 11:07 am #

    Why did the news station give this story the time of day? People should protest that decision.

    What if I want my 8yos to ride the bus? For that matter, my eldest probably won’t look 8yo until she’s at least 10, so when does she get to ride the bus?

    Here’s what I think happened. The mom panicked because her child was out of her sight for too long. This is a very normal reaction. On another site there is a long thread going on about how all of us have lost track of our young kids for a greater or lesser time period and how, if it’s more than x minutes, it makes the parent go through all these scenarios and basically get white hairs. But in every single case described – hundreds of them – the child was found safe and often happy.

    The problem here is that the mom is transferring her fear and guilt to the bus company, whose only crime was having a bus stop near where the kid was hanging out.

    Obviously the problem is that the mom and kid didn’t communicate before the incident took place. Either the kid needed to tell the mom what she was doing, or the mom needed to tell the kid not to get on the bus, or something. Maybe the kid needs some consequences for *her* choice to go off somewhere when her mom thought she was somewhere else. Mom needs to cool down. And the news company needs to stop spreading foolishness.

  2. Warren April 24, 2014 at 11:10 am #

    1. Good for the transit company, for stating they have young riders all the time. Must be a safe system.
    2. Mom is a paranoid fool.
    3. I used to ride the TTC in Toronto at that age, by myself.
    4. Reporters are morons feeding the paranoia.

  3. Puzzled April 24, 2014 at 11:26 am #

    I think this actually illustrates one of the largest barriers to free-range parenting being more accepted. When parents act this way, the public gets the perception that when kids are on their own, they are expected to do the parent’s job and make parenting decisions – then when a free-range parent lets their kid walk to the library, the librarian feels that they’re expected to parent, gets upset about that, and wants kids not to be allowed in the library alone.

  4. SKL April 24, 2014 at 11:27 am #

    I loved the bus company’s response!

    I rode the bus alone when I was that size. It is not a scary thought at all to me. It would make me angry that my kid didn’t have the consideration to tell me before hopping on a bus, though.

    Another thing. If they stopped all little kids from getting on the bus, they would cause a lot of responsible young riders to get delayed or lost. Which is better?

  5. lollipoplover April 24, 2014 at 11:28 am #

    Her daughter wanted to ride her bike out front and was told no. The daughter went out front anyway and jumped on a bus! Mom should be dragging her by her ear into her room and grounding her for not following rules. Instead,she wants the bus company to put more rules in place to prevent this from happening? Way to deflect responsibility!
    Put the blame square where it should go- on the daughter.

    The only overhaul needed is this example of scapegoating parenting at it’s finest!Kids all over the country younger than 8 ride the bus daily, many to school. Because her bratty kid went on a bus joyride there needs to be new rules? Why not enforce the ones that already exist, in your home?

  6. Neil M April 24, 2014 at 11:29 am #

    Isn’t it interesting to compare this to the incident in which the homeless woman left her kids in a car while she attended a job interview? When a child rides a bus, it’s the government’s job to step in and do something. When a child is left in a car because he has NOWHERE ELSE TO LIVE, it’s Mom who is expected to step up. I don’t get it.

  7. SKL April 24, 2014 at 11:30 am #

    I wonder why an 8yo was not allowed to ride her bike in the neighborhood in the first place.

  8. Alex April 24, 2014 at 11:40 am #

    Lots of things could have happened, but in fairness, the most likely one was that she arrived at a destination along the route. If the child is lost, I would hope the bus driver would radio it in and someone would call the mom, but I can’t imagine what she thinks that the bus company could do.

    Assuming the child paid the fare, they are entitled to ride the bus.

  9. everydayrose April 24, 2014 at 12:10 pm #

    This sort of thing drives me insane. I WANT my 12 and 9 year old daughters to be out riding the bus. I encourage them to use it when they want to go somewhere, or to just hop on and see where it takes them.

    I’m in WA State and the bus system here actually offers a summer deal to all riders under 18. One price for unlimited rides in June, July, and August. I think it’s great and love how young a lot of the kids are in the advertisements.

  10. nina April 24, 2014 at 12:15 pm #

    In your post you mentioned amtrak not having any balls when it comes to minors traveling alone. This February grandparents offered to take 2 of my older children on vacation to Israel. The boys are 13 and 11. Grandparents live in NYC and plane tickets are much cheaper from there as well, so we figured we’d put boys on the amtrak train and my mom would pick them up from the train station in NY. Sounds easy enough. Well, not quite so. When I went online to purchase train tickets l was informed that I could send my 13 yo alone, but they would not let my 11 yo to accompany him since he’d require an 18 yo guardian. So I found relatively inexpensive plane tickets to NYC. However, there was a $100 surcharge EACH way for each child ($400 extra) since they would require separate attendants to help them navigate airport dangers. Apparently 13 and 11 yo children are deemed too much to handle for a single aattendant. It was cheaper for my mother to fly in and then travel with children by plane. Crazy.HHere goes our plan to send them for a few weeks this summer to see grandparents.

  11. Meryem66 April 24, 2014 at 12:29 pm #

    This is my all-time favourite story about children on public transport:

  12. Warren April 24, 2014 at 12:34 pm #


    I could understand the airline being a little cautious for an international flight, different languages, customs and laws, but on a domestic flight when guardians will be a both ends, that is just insane and nothing more than a money grab disguised as security.

  13. maggie April 24, 2014 at 12:36 pm #

    it’s just amazing that she somehow managed to make her way back home! I mean, eight year olds, they can read! they are most likely able to figure out a map! they most likely know their address! The girl was in no danger so that this was news is absolutely ridiculous. If mom was worried about the “safety of her child” then she would pop her head out the door to see where she was every now and then. The grandmother *thought* she was in the back yard…for how long? the mom said she was riding her bike in the front for a while before riding the bus. if she was so concerned then why wasn’t she watching the child? This story has nothing to do with the bus driver or bus company and more to do with her ability to communicate with her daughter.

  14. pentamom April 24, 2014 at 12:38 pm #

    I had to laugh — CATA said this is the first time anything like this has ever happened, to their knowledge.

    Translation: kids ride the bus all the time, but no one’s ever gone shrieking to the media about it before.

    I’m sure young kids have gotten on the bus without permission and scared their parents before. Most of them probably punished their disobedient kids themselves instead of blaming the bus company.

  15. Tannis April 24, 2014 at 12:39 pm #

    As an avid reader of this blog who (mostly) ascribes to the free range way of thinking, I find this story especially current: in talking to my very independent but sheltered suburban 14 year old, it occurred to both of us that she has never taken public transportation, supervised or otherwise. She said she should feel fine doing it, but wouldn’t know how and because of that probably would be worried. In our sheltered and spread out suburban life, the bus simply isn’t an option that she has or needs. My husband on the other hand uses public transportation daily in his commute. I’m going to make a point to get the 14 year old riding this summer to gain some skills, and just yesterday I took the little kids (3 and 5) on a “bus adventure” to the children’s museum. We weren’t able to bus from our home, but we parked at a park & ride and transferred at a major station so I think they got a good idea of how the system works. They had so much fun, the highlight of the day was the bus trip, not the museum itself! Parking at the museum is $4.00 and the bus cost me a total of $7.00 so all in all it was worth it for the extra enjoyment. Next time I will park at the transit station and pay just $2.00 for the short bus ride to/from the museum. I’m especially happy that this option is actually encouraged on the museum’s website, I think it is a great educational tool.

  16. tesyaa April 24, 2014 at 12:39 pm #

    Does anyone remember the episode/book in which Arthur falls asleep on the bus going to the public pool, stops in a coffee shop to make a call on a pay phone, and takes the bus back home? And he’s just an aardvark.

  17. MichaelF April 24, 2014 at 12:44 pm #

    I take the train to work every day and I am grateful that what COULD have happened didn’t. But then again, I don’t really waste time thinking about it and don’t call the reporters.

    Funny about Amtrak, I used to take that on vacations to visit family going from Virginia to Boston and back when I was in Middle School, alone. Never had a problem, made some neat friends and read a lot of books. Too bad my own kids can’t have the fun of taking a trip like that because of unfounded fears.

  18. Maggie April 24, 2014 at 12:58 pm #

    Goodness, in Japan, school children take public buses to get to school. Somehow, they make it to their destinations. When I was 6 and my brother was 12 or 13, we had to catch the public bus every morning to get to school. We lived in Puerto Rico at the time, and no one questioned this.

  19. everydayrose April 24, 2014 at 12:58 pm #

    @nina…why were they going to make you pay a fee for each kid? My girls have been flying unaccompanied for years and we’ve only ever had to pay one fee since they’re siblings. I’m curious to know why they wouldn’t allow that for you.

  20. John April 24, 2014 at 1:05 pm #

    Kudos to her daughter for taking on that challenge! But due to the mother’s hissy fit, you just watch, some politician in need of votes and favoritism by his or her governed people will exploit this situation and then introduce legislation that would bar all kids under the age of 16 from using public transportation unaccompanied. Because after all, WE GOTTA PROTECT THE KIDS!!! Despite the fact that children that young in Japan and the Philippines and other countries take public transportation unaccompanied quite frequently.

  21. E Simms April 24, 2014 at 1:11 pm #


    Next time check out other airlines. Not all of them require those over 12 to have an attendant at all.

  22. Powers April 24, 2014 at 1:14 pm #

    For those who can’t watch the video, let me point out a few things:

    The girl did not pay a fare.

    The bus company routinely allows children under 4 feet to board the bus without a fare if they look like they know what they’re doing.

    The girl was grounded for her actions.

  23. nina April 24, 2014 at 1:20 pm #

    I guess it depends on individual airline policy. My mother wasn’t too upset she had to fly in to get the boys because that way she got to see her granddaughter too :). But I feel it was an unnecessary hassle. In fact my sons were looking forward to going to NYC this summer with out us. When we come as a family we always end up visiting with friends and relatives and seeing very little of the city itself. We’ll have to revisit that idea in 2 years when both of them will be older than 13. Unless amtrak or bus companies change their policies.

  24. anonymous mom April 24, 2014 at 1:43 pm #

    Honestly, I would not want my 9yo jumping on a city bus, and I would be concerned about him ending up lost in Detroit (a huge city that he is only familiar with a few neighborhoods in) and have a really hard time getting home. That would be scary for both of us. I don’t have any concerns that he’d be molested and murdered, but lost in an unfamiliar part of the city is, IMO, scary enough.

    But, that’s not the bus company’s responsibility, because I have no doubt there are many kids his age who are used to riding the bus and would not have any trouble getting around that way. (Just like my son has walked our neighborhood many times and can comfortably get around that way.)

    He’d be in a world of trouble if he pulled a stunt like that, though. Once I got over being relieved he was home, he’d probably lose video games until he was 40 or so.

  25. Margaret Moon April 24, 2014 at 1:54 pm #

    Thank you, Lenore! You said exactly what I thought, “Name One!” As a 10 year old, I not only rode our city buses without a parent or guardian, I often took my 2 year old sister with me! You say all the things I think about the current “fear everything” mentality in our society. Please never stop.

  26. Michelle April 24, 2014 at 2:06 pm #

    My husband and I sometimes talk about moving a few miles closer to town, to our friends’ neighborhood, and one of the big draws for me is that there’s a bus stop within walking distance. My kids could go anywhere in the city, and I wouldn’t have to take them! How wonderful that would be for them!

  27. SOA April 24, 2014 at 2:31 pm #

    So now kids will have to bring signed notes from their parents saying they can ride the bus? Or how about you watch your kid if she cannot be trusted to not go do stuff she is not allowed to do?

  28. lollipoplover April 24, 2014 at 2:46 pm #

    The main problem here is that we are not holding this 8 year-old accountable for her actions. We are making it someone else’s fault. If this child was smart enough to board a bus (and sneak on without paying!) then she is mature enough to deal with the consequences of her actions. She can get a map and find a way back home. Don’t point the finger at the bus company when it should be on the child. Every action has a consequence.

    This story reminds me of the teen who hid in the wheel well of an airplane and escaped to Hawaii. The hype around airline safety procedures and breaches in security but did anyone truly appreciate the sheer stupidity of the stunt this kid pulled?!

  29. SKL April 24, 2014 at 2:49 pm #

    I’m on an “anything could happen” kick. I think someone ought to make a video compilation of all the good things that could happen if a kid is putzing around the city unsupervised.

    Kid could help a mom soothe her screaming baby.
    Kid could assist an elderly woman and make her day.
    Kid could take advantage of free day at the zoo while her parents work.
    Kid could get some experience helping someone little.
    Kid could learn a new sports or swimming technique at the park or pool.
    Kid could discover a library branch with books he hasn’t seen before.
    Kid could snag an age-appropriate “job” and buy herself an ice cream.
    Kid could learn how to read a map and other navigation skills.
    Kid could discover how strong she is.

    Obviously this could go on all day.
    I know this because this was my childhood.

  30. Lisa April 24, 2014 at 3:01 pm #

    Good grief! She needs to discipline her kid (unless anyone thinks that taking off without permission should be ok – I don’t!), but that’s no reason to ban ALL kids from taking the bus. We all know our own kids best, and when they are ready for different steps. My 11 year old didn’t start taking the bus alone until this year, but was walking all over the place by 8.

    For those trying to figure out flights: it definitely depends on the airline. I was checking last night: both American and United allow kids to travel as alone at age 12 (the unaccompanied minor service is still available, but not required). On Jet Blue and Delta, the age is 14. My daughter will be turning 12 a month before she travels this summer, so the UM fee is a big part of my trip planning (that and making sure she has a direct flight, because having a change AND navigating the airport by herself is not what I want for her first time).

  31. Steve April 24, 2014 at 3:04 pm #

    Even though the mom is a worst-first thinker, the daughter definitely is self-sufficient. She was quite forceful in saying she had NOT been scared and “made some friends.”

    However, just seeing the mom (and the neighborhood) suggests why this mom might be unnaturally fearful. It was good to hear the bus company’s statement which didn’t sound like they would cave to one fear-mongering mom. On the other hand, if some local politician gets involved, we know what will happen.

  32. Emily April 24, 2014 at 3:20 pm #

    Here’s another thought–this girl wasn’t even allowed, at eight years old, to ride her bike in her own front yard (which I was allowed to do when I was maybe five), so does anyone else here think she might have gotten on the bus as an act of rebellion against that? Remember the episode of Bubble Wrap Kids where the kids (two older girls, and one toddler boy) were only allowed to play in the backyard, on the wooden jungle gym that their parents had set up for them (and called “the park,” because the real park was too “dangerous?”) Bike riding could only happen in the driveway, under supervision, and even when the kids were playing in the backyard, it was always “slow down,” and “don’t climb so high,” etc. So, I’m thinking that this girl’s act of defiance here might have been a symptom of a bigger problem–not brattiness, just frustration at being overly restricted for her age.

  33. anonymous mom April 24, 2014 at 3:27 pm #

    The video doesn’t say she wasn’t allowed to ride her bike. It says her grandmother was watching her in the yard, and then she went out front to ride her bike, and she got on the bus instead.

    My 9yo is allowed to ride his bike outside, but not every time he wants to. If he has schoolwork or chores, or if it’s too late, or if we’re about to eat dinner, he can’t. I wouldn’t assume that just because a child isn’t allowed to ride a bike at a certain time, that they never are.

  34. Ann April 24, 2014 at 3:40 pm #

    I’m all for letting a kid ride a bus by themselves. But I can’t say I wouldn’t be upset and worried if I came outside and found my 8 year old just not there anymore, and had not asked my permission to go anywhere. How would I know she was on a bus? If I knew, and also knew that it was a bus she’d been on before with me many times and knew how to get back (as apparently was the case, as she got back by herself) I wouldn’t be as worried. No parent can claim they’re so free-ranging that they wouldn’t be worried if their kid had just taken off with no word at all.

  35. SKL April 24, 2014 at 3:53 pm #

    Well, most of the time when kids go missing it’s the dang sidewalk that causes the problem. What kind of city officials give kids access to sidewalks anyway? Something must be done about this.

  36. Nexist418 April 24, 2014 at 4:46 pm #

    IT seems that some people just don’t really want the responsibility of being a parent.

  37. Practical Mama April 24, 2014 at 5:03 pm #

    I read this news in a different way. The question is not about letting the kid free and doing things independently. It’s not about how the system failed the parent (sarcasm) either.

    She hopped on the bus without telling her parent. And the parent were not aware of whereabouts of her child for that duration. Regardless of the decision to let an 8-year old ride a bus alone, I would want to know where my child is until they are 18. I would want my child tell me they are going somewhere, alone or with someone before they take off. Then the decision to let them go alone or with that someone comes, but an 8 year-old taking off without their parents’ knowledge is a complete different story than letting kids free or not.

    Even I, at this age, inform my husband and my kids where I am going, first for courtesy/out of respect, second for safety.

  38. Warren April 24, 2014 at 5:12 pm #

    @Ann and Practical Mama

    No one said that being upset about you kid being gone was wrong. But in noway shape or form is it the fault of the transit system and their procedures.

    Frankly I think it is cool they don’t charge for kids under a certain height to ride free.

  39. anonymous this time April 24, 2014 at 5:32 pm #

    We are ardently Free Range around here and also have VERY strict rules about leaving the house without indicating where you are going and when you’ll be home.

    Good for this little girl that she is so confident about getting on a bus, making friends. But naughty naughty for going without telling anyone!

    And the bus company plays what role in this scenario?

  40. E Simms April 24, 2014 at 5:38 pm #

    @nina @lisa

    Just in case you didn’t know, if you are letting your kids fly without an attendant, you can get a pass to go through security with them and wait with them at the gate. Same thing on the other end, the person picking them up can get a pass to go to the gate.

  41. Donna April 24, 2014 at 6:08 pm #

    @ Ann – Nobody here is saying that the mother is unreasonable in worrying when she can’t find her child. Of course, she was worried. It is the over-the-top reaction after the child came home and she new where she had been that we are all rolling our eyes about.

    Last week we had to go to a Girl Scout pot luck at a park on the next block. I was running late and sent my 8 year old to the park alone. When I got there, she wasn’t at the park. Long story short she thought the party was at a different park a mile away and went there – a park she had never been to by herself before (the 8 year old mind). Of course, I was worried when I got to the real park and she wasn’t there. But I didn’t freak out about everything that could have happened AFTER I knew what actually did happen like this woman is doing and demand that the Girl Scouts never have a pot luck in a park again for the sake of the other children who may get lost on the way there.

  42. Nobody April 24, 2014 at 6:08 pm #

    What video? I don’t see any links in the post other than one to another post about Amtrak.

  43. Donna April 24, 2014 at 6:09 pm #

    that should be “knew”

  44. Emily April 24, 2014 at 6:57 pm #

    @Donna–Did that misunderstanding get sorted out? Were you able to pick up your daughter and get her to the correct park for the Girl Scout event?

  45. SKL April 24, 2014 at 7:20 pm #

    Am I the only person thinking, “now all the little kids in the city are going to hop on the bus because they heard it is free if you’re under 48 inches!”

  46. SKL April 24, 2014 at 7:26 pm #

    While I’m the first person to say the child needs to be accountable for not telling where she was going – we all know what would have happened had she asked. She wasn’t even allowed out of her backyard.

    Well, now that her mom has seen that she’s capable of getting “lost” and finding her way back home again, maybe they will let her ride her bike on the sidewalk without supervision now.

  47. everydayrose April 24, 2014 at 7:55 pm #

    @Esimms…that’s allowed even when you do the unaccompanied minor. In fact, it’s required and it drives me insane. I feel like my kids are old enough to go on their own without me having to go through the hassle of security, but the airlines feel differently. I can’t wait until I can just drop them off at the airport and send them on their way!

  48. Christine Hancock April 24, 2014 at 9:18 pm #

    Obviously this woman has never ridden a city bus. Lots of kids take the bus to school and all over the Lansing ares. Is, Lansing is dangerous, but not as dangerous as this woman makes it out to be. Truth be told, her daughter is more likely to come to harm around her school or home, than on the bus.

    I know for a fact that kids hop on that bus and ride around without their parents knowledge all the time. I was one of them!

  49. Donna April 25, 2014 at 8:18 am #

    Emily – Yes. She missed the ceremony, but made the party. When you don’t imagine every missing kid is a kidnapping, it is actually pretty easy to think about where they might have gone (although I probably never would have guessed bus if my kid had done what this kid did). I drove around to the couple places I could think of that she might have gone and found her at the park.

  50. SteveS April 25, 2014 at 8:44 am #

    This is local to me and I haven’t heard anything about this until now. It doesn’t appear that this is being covered outside of Channel 10 (I usually watch one of the other networks for local news). While my kid would be in trouble for leaving without asking, I don’t see that CATA needs to change any policies. Apparently, kids have been able to ride without major problems.

  51. Jake April 25, 2014 at 9:18 am #

    Dear sweet jeebus! The kid has more brains and gumption than the mom does. The girl was smart enough, at the very least, to figure out how to get back home on her own.

    I think my favorite part of the whole news report was the look on the girl’s face when they interviewed her. You could tell at 8 years old she already knew her mom was full of sh!t.

  52. Dan April 25, 2014 at 1:27 pm #

    I used to take the city bus to grandmas house. When I was 4. In Los Angeles. By myself. 45 minutes, and the bus traveled through LAX to get there.

    Had my info pinned to my shirt. Sat in the front seat across from the Bus driver, who was told what stop I was getting off at. Grandma was always waiting there.

    When I was older (6) I took my 4-year-old sister with me.

    Was fascinated by the fare box and the coin changer the bus driver wore on his belt.

    Never a problem. Always and adventure.

  53. Sean M May 2, 2014 at 8:52 am #

    I used to go to the city on many Saturdays when I was 8 years old (a boy). Just people watch.
    It was at a time in the late 60’s when kids WERE being taken here, but I was fine with it, and so was my mother.
    I’ve never really been sure of how to take that, as an adult, to be honest… but we moved to Papua New Guinea after that…THEN we had some excitement 🙂