Teen on a train

Every morning at 07h51, just as I’m opening my office door, my phone starts screeching. I jump every time, even though I’m expecting it. Depeche Mode announces my daily Please Call Me from teenage son. One message means I’ve arrived at school, no need to reply. Two means Really Please Call Me; something’s wrong. An actual phone call means Armageddon. Today, there’s only one message.  And so I exhale, even though I wasn’t aware of holding my breath. Another Metrorail trip survived.

It’s a bit of a drag, but I think it’s been good for him. Great for teaching problem-solving and self-reliance when Metrofail lives up to it’s name. Being stuck on a stalled train between stations is an excellent lesson in handling stress and gaining perspective – you’re going to be late, no matter what you do. So chill. Deal with it. It’s not, in fact, the end of the world. And if it was, you’d phone your mother, right?

It’s the big bad world out there, and scary things happen – thankfully, they haven’t yet. But common sense should minimise the chances. He knows that there are to be No Visible Gadgets. He knows about the Nonchalant Carriage Swap, for when you feel something dodgy is afoot. Developing an instinct for what feels okay and what doesn’t is so important, and will only happen if you’re aware of your surroundings.

The daily slog means learning all manner of train etiquette like whose job it is to open the doors when they get stuck, how loudly you can discuss your operation before somebody pukes and how much garlic was too much on last night’s pasta. Having other people’s inconsiderateness shoved in your face brings home the message of good citizenship quite nicely, I feel. And you meet all sorts of people – the talkers who can’t shut up, the stalkers who always save you a seat, the old lady who makes you guess her age. It’s learning to get along in the real world - not something you can learn in a classroom.

I’ll never forget the shocked face of an acquaintance when I told him about the travel arrangements. ‘Wow! You’re really bringing him up tough, aren’t you?’ he said, awestruck. As if I was putting the boy to work in a coal mine, with only a baked potato in his pocket to keep his hands warm. Of course, this man and his family see the world through Mercedes-coloured glasses, rarely venturing outside the borders of Leafy Suburb country. I feel a bit sad for them. Sure, they always have dry socks and are never late, but they’re still missing out.

Nevertheless, I hold my breath until I get that SMS, and I thank him for never forgetting to send it.

Is exposing teens to the world important or dangerous?

Read more by Tracy Engelbrecht
Rox 2009/08/17 12:53:24 PM
Very well-written! Goodness, the sheltered life some people live, it's quite scary actually. One colleague even asked me if there are white people on the train. I mean, REALLY. I travel by train (40min to work, 40 home) every weekday, and although I often lose my marbles with late, cancelled or overcrowded trains, it really isn't THAT bad. Way safer than taxi's and busses I think. Some people really need a reality check! Not all of us live 5 minutes away from work and never get to work soaking. On the contrary, I'm grateful for that (don't push it Murphy!)... I can say I've lived (thus far anyway, Im only 21!). Thanks again, brilliant article!
Zano 2009/08/17 01:36:01 PM
I agree with Tracy... our teens should be exposed to the real world as we were. We were not driven/picked up to/from school. We had to walk. Yes there are now more dangers but how well are you preparing your child for these dangers. Only experience can prepare you for life.. no textbook/tv show/talk can do this. I also have only recently started exposing my teen to train travelling.. yes it is worrying until you know they have reached their destination. But you know this makes the child less dependent on someone else.
Est005 2009/08/17 02:12:23 PM
I couldn't agree with you more. It is not good at how sheltered and detached from the world they live in most kids have become.
Simon 2009/08/17 04:13:51 PM
As a black man I salute you for encouraging people to face up with the chalenges of this country instead of leaving in their own cacoons. The more you run the more your followed wherever you go. Face up!
Michelle 2010/01/15 11:36:04 AM
I caught the train all though high school and recently went through a few months of catching it again (the cheapest, quickest, most stress-free way of getting to the place I was working). I actually like the vibe on the train - the people reading and knitting, the singing beggars, me eavesdropping on other peoples' gossip... And I think the trains are safer these days, though that said, nothing has ever happened to me (and I've never witnessed an incident) in years of catching the train. Good job, getting the boy on the train!
Julie 2010/01/15 12:04:19 PM
I think its great! I caught the train for a few months and loved it - so much cheaper than driving into town, and without the hassle of parking or traffic. And while I wouldnt catch it out of peak hours, I never felt hassled. My friends thought I was crazy when I invited them, stating reasons such as "I have to take my lap top with me" or "I have an expensive wedding ring" The short walk from the station to work, past the coffee and dougnuts man was also a great start to the day
Tshepo Makhate 2012/12/25 07:57:00 PM
I have a thirteen year old daughter who can't even take a taxi to go buy bread. I find that often we both organize our time off around her and drive her around. Lately I park the car and walk with her to the corner and have to tell the driver where she's going and how she must take a taxi back. So good for you for getting it right. I used the train when I was in high school and I use it sometimes.