A Vancouver father of five is protesting a provincial government decision to keep him from sending his kids on city transit on their own and he’s started a fundraising campaign to take the province to court.
Adrian Crook is a video game design consultant who lives with his five children in downtown Vancouver and writes about the experience on his blog, 5 Kids 1 Condo. This year, in response to an anonymous complaint, BC’s Ministry of Children & Family Development conducted an investigation, interviewing all the family members before ultimately concluding that Crook’s kids (those under the age of ten, at least) are not allowed to ride the bus unsupervised.
Crook says that the decision goes against his family’s rights to freedom of mobility. “I am a staunch advocate for abundant public transit for everyone who wants to use it,” says Crook in his fundraising campaign promotion. “I also strongly believe in evidence-based policy-making. All the evidence supports bus travel being the safest method of transportation for people of all ages.”
Crook says that the Ministry’s decision is endemic of a “cover your ass” culture which places restrictions in order to prevent any potential events for which they may be help responsible.
“The result in this case is the Ministry once again reinforcing the damaging trend of ‘helicopter parenting’ that robs our children of agency, independence, and responsibility,” says Crook in a blog post.
The campaign is trending on the fundraising platform, GoFundMe, and Crook says that he’s already received coverage on national media and tonnes of support on social media, all within the first week of his campaign. “There’s been a huge amount of support today on Twitter, with 5kids1condo even trending nationally at one point,” writes Crook. “Even Kim Campbell, our former Prime Minister of Canada, chimed in with her support on twitter. Pretty amazing,” he says.
More broadly, the issue connects with wider concerns over modern parenting practices. A handful of other provinces have age restrictions on children using transit or being either at home or in public unsupervised. (Yet in Japan, children are encouraged to travel on their own at as early an age as two or three.)
Detractors see the lack of freedom for children to travel on their own as representative of an unwanted shift in public consciousness about safety.
Lenore Skenazy is a New York writer and mom who gained attention as well as public push-back in 2008 for letting her nine-year-old son take the subway and bus home in Manhattan. She has argued that overprotectiveness is itself dangerous and leads to a car-bound version of both childhood and parenting.
“It’s a radical new norm: childhood spent under constant adult supervision, and, often enough, in a car,” writes Skenazy for the Atlantic. “The results wreak havoc on kids’ bodies, the environment, and any parent with hopes and dreams (or even a paying job) beyond the minivan.”
There’s also a civic cost to keeping kids on a short leash, as well, says Brent Toderian, an urbanism consultant and former chief planner for the City of Vancouver.
“The public-policy implications of this are significant,” Toderian said to the Globe and Mail. “We have transportation problems in cities that connect to our irrational fears of letting our kids walk, bike and take transit to school. It’s surprising how much of our traffic in peak hours is related to parents thinking they have no other option but to drive kids to school,” he states.
For Crook, although his oldest son will soon be able to supervise the family daily transit rides, he plans to take up the fight for the sake of the wider societal consequences.
“The constant supervision and prevention of all risk on a minute-by-minute basis is the government’s gold standard for parenting,” he says. “Society then wonders why our kids grow up needing us at every step, unable to navigate college admissions or job interviews without a chaperone.”