Teen on a train
Entrusting my teen son to the unloving embrace of the daily commute is a little scary, admits Tracy.
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

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