Out in the Open

What happened when one father taught his kids to take public transit to school without him

When Adrian Crook empowered the four oldest of his five children (ages six, eight, nine and 10 at the time) to ride Vancouver city buses to school and back without him, he ended up being investigated by the Ministry of Children and Family Development. And then he ended up back on the bus with his kids.
Adrian Crook's children riding the bus in Vancouver (Courtesy of Adrian Crook)

Adrian Crook wanted to teach his children independence, but his lesson plan led to an investigation by British Columbia's Ministry of Children and Family Development into the Vancouver father.

Crook taught his four oldest children — ages six, eight, nine and 10 at the time — to take public transit to and from school by themselves. The trip involved two Vancouver city buses and took about 45 minutes. 

"Taking transit is a great way to build independence and it's a really safe way to get your kids feeling that way." - Adrian Crook

"Of course, they all had cell phones, so I'm tracking their position...and communicating with them every step of the way. These are daylight commuter hours in Vancouver. I'm not sure you can get any safer a mode of transportation."

Crook says his approach caused him concern for his children's safety, but he continued doing it in pursuit of his greater aim.

"I think that's sort of a misconception a lot of people have when they hear me talk about this...they think I'm totally care free and whatever and have no worries about my kids but I have all the same worries anyone else has. It's very stressful, but it doesn't mean it's not the right thing to do."
Adrian Crook was investigated by the British Columbia Ministry of Children and Family Development for letting four of his kids ride the bus unaccompanied to and from their school. (Courtesy of Adrian Crook)

The children rode as they were taught for nearly a year without incident. Then, the Ministry of Children and Family Development received a complaint about Crook, alerting it that his kids were riding alone.

After an investigation, Crook was cleared of any wrong doing but the ministry ruled that his kids could not be left alone in the home, outside, or on transit until they are 10 and older.

Out in the Open asked the ministry to comment on Crook's situation. A representative said the ministry is not legally allowed to comment on case specifics, but shared the following statement: "The Ministry completely supports building independence in children. There is no law in B.C. which prevents children from being left unaccompanied, provided these arrangements do not leave them unsafe. The ministry only gets involved when someone makes a child protection report and expresses concerns about the safety and well-being of a child. In such instances, social workers have a legislated duty to look into the matter, assess the nature and validity of those concerns and work to ensure the child's best interests are being met."

Crook says he thinks the ministry's ruling is not supported by rationale and has had an adverse affect on his children.

"It's definitely put a lot of unnecessary fear and restricted freedoms into our family that is just completely unwarranted, especially given the amount of training I've given these kids on how to navigate a city."

Still, Crook doesn't view his attempt to enable his kids as a failure.

"We are told so often...to be afraid," he says. "So it's as much about empowering them individually as it empowering them against the fear that is not based in reality."

Crook sees a change over time in how kids have found freedom, from being in the outside world, to being glued to a screen.

"Kids these days are finding that freedom online and finding that freedom in virtual worlds and we're criticizing them for that too, while simultaneously telling them they can't have the freedom in the real world to make mistakes and get dirty and be away from our direct supervision for even five minutes."

Crook says he thinks modern parents have a choice to make about what kind of generation they want to raise.

"I think we've really got to figure out what we want from our kids. If we want to raise a generation of infantilized humans that need us to chauffeur them and chaperone them to their job interviews and college applications, then that's where we are headed right now."

This story appears in the Out in the Open episode "Enablers".