We brag that Plainview is only 30 miles from Manhattan, said to be the greatest city in the world.
We marvel that people travel from across the country and, in fact, the globe to visit the city which, for us, is but a car or train ride away. And we are pleased when our children enjoy a Broadway show or experience the Thanksgiving Day Parade or an exhibit at the Museum of Natural History, whether with us or through the school.
So why do we shudder in dread the first time we hear our teenagers pose the inevitable question: "Can I go into the city with my friends?"
Maybe we fear they will get off at the wrong train stop going into or out of Penn Station. Maybe we are worried they will get lost and wind up in a "bad area;" or perhaps we think they look innocent and will fall prey to pickpockets.
Notwithstanding these fears, assuming the teenagers are of suitable age, that their motive for being in the city is legal and that they are otherwise trustworthy, parents can, in good conscience, accede to the request, recognizing that it is a rite of passage. However, permission should be given with parameters both for the children’s wellbeing and the parents’ peace of mind.
- The first trips should have a specific destination and timeframe. Attending a basketball or hockey game at Madison Square Garden, for example, is a good option as it does not involve extended travel from Penn Station where the kids arrive by train. Similarly, taking a weekend class at FIT in photography, which has been popular with some Plainview high school students, is a great introduction to the city in a venue close to the train station.
- Teens should also be instructed to text or phone their parents at particular junctures, such as arrival at the city, and at the destination, so that parents can keep track of their whereabouts.
- Unless attending an interview, audition or special program, teenagers should not go into the city alone; they should be with at least one other friend and agree not to separate from their companions. At the same time, it is best to avoid traveling in a very large group as the kids will undoubtedly have divergent interests once in the city and likely be less organized and directed in their travel.
- For initial trips into the city, teenagers should try to stay north of Greenwich Village. Although the Village and areas south of it such as Soho, Chinatown, Tribeca and the Seaport can make for fun destinations and are certainly worthy of future visits, the streets downtown are laid out in a confusing configuration that can add unnecessary stress for the first time visitor. By contrast, the areas north of 14th Street are in a straight forward grid, making it easier to find specific locales. For example, if the kids are interested in seeing the Harry Potter Exhibition at Discovery Times Square, they need only walk up twelve blocks from 32nd Street to 44th Street.
- Although public transit, and in particular the subway, is likely the quickest and most economic way to travel distances in the city, it should be avoided, if possible, by teenagers new to the city. If the city is a bit daunting, it is more so underground and cell phones generally do not work in the subway system, making contact with parents or others impossible. Taxi rides shared with friends or walking, assuming a reasonably close destination, are the preferred means for young first time visitors.
- Teens should be reminded to keep their belongings close to their person and not to put their cell phones or other electronics down someplace where they may lose or forget them.
- A day in the city, including train fare, can be extremely costly and parents should consider that if their children are responsible enough to make the trip, they are probably also old enough to bear or share the cost.
New York City has so much to offer ranging from tours of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, free ice skating in Bryant Park and unparalleled views from atop the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center to cafes with exotic foods as well as teen friendly eateries like Max Brenner’s chocolate shop and Eataly, and cool clothing stores in Soho. Allowing your teen to discover these sorts of attractions and to develop a lifelong connection to New York City is one of the greatest gifts you can offer and the price tag is the few bucks you agree to pay…and the knot in your stomach until they know their way.