Were you planning to have your tween take the train to your ex's this Christmas? Too bad. Amtrak has just raised its unaccompanied minor age from 8 to 13.
That's right. Five years of a child's development are now officially being ignored. It's like lopping teens off at the knees and saying now they're too small to go on the ride. As of Nov. 1, any traveler younger than 13 must be accompanied by someone who is 18 or older. Why? Jeff Snowden, Amtrak's senior director of service (so-called!) delivery, said, "This is not in response to any incidents," but "out of an abundance of concern for the comfort and safety of all our travelers."
Got that? Amtrak is admitting there is zero REAL reason to make this new rule, just "an abundance of concern" -- an abundance that somehow manages to feel not at all concerned about the legions of parents who believe their kids are ready to travel solo. And why shouldn't they? A kid on a train is not like a hitchhiker flagging down ice road truckers. The kids know where they're going. (It even is written on the ticket!) There are conductors to answer questions. There's a snack car to sell overpriced, undercooked hot dogs. There's nothing to prevent kids 8 and up from getting where they're going -- except the brick wall of baseless worry.
How baseless? You can SEE the train brains casting around for a rationale. Here's one they tried: In the past, guardians had to bring their minors to the station, get them a wristband and then wait with them till their train departed. But sometimes, an Amtrak spokesman explained to MSNBC, "if a specific train station ran out of wristbands, we'd have to deny travel to that child because of no fault of their own."
So to REMEDY that, the corporation is denying travel to ALL children? That's like saying, "Because once in a while we are total boneheads and forget to order milk for the cafeteria, from now on no child gets any milk." Must be that ol' "abundance of concern" welling up again. And here's another dollop: The spokesman added that these new rules are "more customer-friendly."
Yeah, the same way not allowing fliers to bring their water bottles through security is more customer-friendly.
What this new edict does -- besides dismay me, a train lover who has taken Amtrak from New York to Chicago many times and even on to Arizona once -- is to make official the trend I call "10 is the new 2," the trend of treating our kids as cute little nincompoops who need parental help every baby step of the way ... to college.
Remember that we are living in an era that already is selling us things such as computerized play date organizers because our kids can't possibly make their own arrangements. And then there's my favorite whipping boy, the child carrier backpack that's designed to let parents schlep their offspring up to (according to the company's website) "60 pounds or seven years of age." So this is a culture that sees nothing wrong with treating 7-year-olds like babies.
And Amtrak is right on board. Until last week, a third-grader could travel solo. Now even a seventh-grader can't. Our government has no faith in our kids. That should be of abundant concern to us all.