Sitting Next to Kids on Airplanes

08.13.12


Mr. G and I flew home from San Francisco Sunday morning. Since it was Southwest we sort of had to scramble to find two seats together (not that we can’t survive solo) and in the second row there was a boy about our son’s age sitting against the window. He had the little placard around his neck identifying him as an unaccompanied minor.

Since I’m “the mom” I sat down in the middle and gave my husband the aisle. I also did this because I’m smaller than my husband but on a not completely subconscious level I knew that it would be more comfortable for me, a woman to be sitting next to this boy traveling alone.

Sitting next to him I said, “Hi.” He said, “Hi.” and looked uncomfortable. I asked him if he was returning from camp, the boy made no eye contact and said, “No.” He was silent for the rest of the flight. Someone had given him a lecture about not speaking to adults.

When I was getting off the plane I told Mr. G about this and I told him it was sad that a child didn’t know how to speak to an adult. I also found it peculiar that there were two unaccompanied minors on the plane and that both were at window seats. Why not seat them together? Why not put them on the aisle where they could actually be seen if there was so much concern about how the whole world is a child molester?

I told my husband that it made me sad that kids were taught to be fearful and to override their own judgement. It’s not normal for a ten year old child to be afraid to speak to people. We’re doing these children no favors. Frankly it was uncomfortable for me to have a boy next to me that wasn’t empowered to make a decision for himself. Kids fed this sort of stranger danger bullshit are dangerous for adults and my mind zipped to how horrible it must feel for a man to not be allowed to sit next to a child on Quantas airlines or to go into playground areas where there are chess tables.

I understand statistically speaking that men are more dangerous to our children than women. I also understand that there’s a level of grooming that happens and that teaching our children that strangers are not to be trusted is simply wrong. We need to teach our children that their own instincts can be trusted, they should trust themselves more than they should trust any adult including coaches, religious leaders, camp counselors, teachers, neighbors and anyone on staff at Penn State.

Empower your kids. Stop making them afraid of the world and stop making the world afraid of them.

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9 responses to “Sitting Next to Kids on Airplanes”

  1. Laura says:

    Yes, I agree about not teaching kids to be afraid of mere speaking to adult strangers. I will say that it is entirely possible that the kid is just shy and awkward. I have to really remind my 8 year old son that he needs to respond to people and to look them in the eye and that it is important to partake in a conversation if someone takes the time to ask you questions, etc. We have to continually work on it. My daughter, on the other hand, has never met a stranger… It is amazing how different 2 kids with the same raising can be.

  2. Julie says:

    Ya, that’s nothing like my kid. He will talk to anybody. He actually brought up the phrase “kidnapping” today in the car. I’m not sure where he heard it, but it was the first time that he had ever mentioned it to me. Had to be something from camp.

  3. Great piece. I love it when adults I know tell me they had a conversation with my daughter. I’ve never focused too hard on the “stranger danger” issue, but instead told her to never get into a car with a stranger, etc. So, if she were on a plane, I imagine she’d have talked to the person next to her. 

  4. Cathy Flynn says:

     I completely agree, but I know a lot of moms who adhere to the “Stranger! Danger!” cry. I am always impressed by children who are able to carry on an intelligent conversation with an adult rather than run off crying under their Mommy’s skirt whenever someone they don’t know approaches. Is there a magical age when they are allowed to speak? Will it be in college?
    As far as the plane goes, you have good suggestions, but I wonder if the parents request the seats thinking that their child might prefer a window seat.

  5. Donna says:

    I do agree with you that it is sad that our children have to be this way, with “stranger danger” always forefront in their brain. Because of so many incidents with kids being kidnapped and/or hurt it is understandable why parents, myself included do this. I do however, tell my kids, the youngest one now as the other two are older, to just be aware of who she’s around and what is going on around her. This way she can as someone mentioned, use her instincts. Definitely there’s no stopping to help anyone looking for a lost puppy!

  6. Coffee with Julie says:

    I agree, all the “stranger danger” talk is just terrible fear-mongering. But in this instance, the boy could be just awkward and even sad or angry (lots of kids have to travel this way to go back and forth between divorced parents and it’s gotta be emotionally tough on a kid).

  7. Mike Haley says:

    I flew home next to a young kid today and thought of this post. I was amazed that the contrast in the situation’s we had as he was willing to cautiously engage in conversation with me and others around him when he needed to. He was a cute kid and made the flight enjoyable.

    • Mike, August is not my month. Just a few hours ago I boarded a plane from Utah back home and there was a girl sobbing uncontrollably while her father said goodbye and put her on the plane.
      Who do you think she sat next to? She curled up between me and the window and cried herself to sleep. Her mother met here here on the other end.

  8. lula says:

    I wouldn’t assume that it was parenting that made him act this way. I have a brother who even saying “hi” to a stranger at all would have been challenging. (he was perfectly competent to ride the train and seek help if necessary) I also have a daughter who is encouraged to speak to strangers (because I am a crazy mom) but who if she was sad about leaving a place etc. may not have acted differently than this child. She also hates flying and is way less “herself” on an airplane.

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