One of the great joys of the teenage years is the break parents can get from taxi duty if public transport is reliable and accessible.
But where once the worries parents typically had about public transport revolved around whether or not their children would get off at the right stop, these days their worries are a lot more substantial.
On speaking to parents, it became apparent that whether their teen is a boy or a girl can dictate the type of worries they have, and even the age they’ll allow their teens use public transport.
Mother of two Sue says she was never nervous about her 13-year-old using public transport, until she took a recent trip to town on the Luas. “It scared me, the amount of weirdos on it.” she says. This prompted her to have a discussion with her teenage daughter about safety. “I said [to her], ‘don’t engage in conversation with anyone. It’s okay to be rude and ignore people,’ – the opposite of what I would usually say.” She also warned her daughter “not to take her phone out, and stay with friends”.
Colette is anxious about letting her 14-year-old daughter use public transport. Her daughter uses the bus to go shopping with friends. “During the day, it’s fine. In a group they manage,” Colette says. “However, there were some incidents where she was stared at by adult males, and another time male teens harassed her.
“She’s a bit self-conscious anyway, and is an attractive person, so have noticed this myself while out with her. Once, I truly wanted to punch a 40-45 year old man who was staring at her on public transport. Instead, I made eye contact with him and let him know it was not appropriate to stare in that manner at a child.”
Jackie is a mother of two and she is not comfortable with her sons using public transport. Her older son has encountered incidents of undesirable and antisocial behaviour while travelling on the Luas to school.
Jackie is also aware of friends’ children who have been victims of unprovoked attacks on the Dart. Her younger teen son, along with his friends, meanwhile, “experienced an incident on a regular bus route into town for a school trip”.
A man was “playing with himself” on the bus, she explains. Her son was very upset by it.
“I would love to see a traffic corps that hop on and off like the inspectors used to do,” Jackie says, adding that these sort of experiences can be particularly worrying “for the lads who are a bit younger, or a bit vulnerable and not as streetwise”.
Context matters, such as whether it’s in a city, or at night-time, and things like danger and risk, when it comes to making a decision around the age to use public transport independently, Dr Colman Noctor explains. He feels 13 is probably a good age to start, as children begin secondary school.
There possibly is an age differential about when a parent would be comfortable to let a girl use public transport independently, as opposed to a boy. As wrong as that is, I think that’s just a reality of the world we live in— Dr Colman Noctor
Noctor says while this might be interpreted as being cautious, it’s important to remember that “it’s a different world they’re trying to negotiate”.
Whether a child is a boy or a girl might also influence a parent’s decision, Noctor adds. This is not about shifting responsibility to girls for the actions of others, but about recognising that we’re unfortunately not where we should be when it comes to girls’ safety. “This is not about girls being more vigilant,” Noctor says. “This is about men being less leery.
“There possibly is an age differential about when a parent would be comfortable to let a girl use public transport independently, as opposed to a boy. As wrong as that is, I think that’s just a reality of the world we live in.”
In preparing teens to manage public transport independently, Noctor recommends having a stranger-danger type of conversation with them, so they know what to do if they ever felt unsafe on public transport.