Experts: Children missing out on growing social skills by skipping the school bus ride

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For many of us, taking the bus to school was part of growing up. But now, some parents have decided that it’s better to have their children skip the bus ride altogether.

They say bullying is among their biggest concerns, but skipping the bus could actually cause your child to miss out on critical social skills.

Child psychologists say that the time before and after school gives children the chance to learn independence and grow in social situations.

“It’s non-supervised. It’s open. It’s honest. Teachers aren’t watching them. Adults aren’t necessarily watching them,” explained Tanya Gesek, a child psychologist at Upstate Medical University. “It is an opportunity to practice a different set of social skills that they don’t often get to practice at school.”

However, many parents are worried about what can happen in those social situations.

“I was worried about situations that would come up as far as bullying, as far as inappropriate friends, things they would hear. Things that they would learn about before they needed to learn about them,” said Raine Dufrane, a mother of two.

Next to bullying, parents also cite the noise and chaos that can cause anxiety as a reason for their kids to skip the bus. Being around older kids is also a concern for parents. Plus, parents say they worry about bus driver safety, especially when their child is on for the longest route. 

“The bus in the morning can be anxiety proving for some kids. It can be a real volatile and chaotic start to the day which really isn’t the start that we want our kids’ to have,” Gesek said. “So, I think parents need to take it on a case by case basis and you need to know your kid.”

Gesek says it’s important to talk to your child about their experiences on the bus and to watch out for any behaviors that are out of the ordinary.

“When kids start to act out of character, different for them, that could be a sign that something’s bothering them,” Gesek said. “I think like with any situation, I think parents need to keep that open dialogue about what’s happening. A lot of things can go undetected and a lot of the times kids are afraid to tell because they’re afraid of retaliation.”

Raine’s sons, Austin, 12, and Colton, 11, are students in the Pulaski School District and they’ve been riding the bus for four years, and counting.

It’s been a smooth ride and they have not looked back, Raine says.

Austin described his first ride on the school bus as fun and a place to make new friends.

“It’s like a social time in the morning,” Colton explained. “You can get yourself woken up and when you’re leaving you can start winding down and getting ready to go home.”

Despite her initial worries, Raine says deciding to put her boys on a daily school bus ride has opened doors to lines of communication.

“We communicate. I’ll ask them on a daily basis, ‘how was the bus ride? Any gossip at school?'” Raine said “Then that just really helps us communicate and come up with a plan if they kind of run into a situation, bullying for example.”

With every bus ride, Raine says her boys are “learning to make good choices.”

“Normally, you don’t see somebody bullied, being bullied, but occasionally we might. We tell them to stop or find another seat,” Colton shared. “But if someone is alone, Austin or me might site with them and make them happy if they’re sad.”

Raine says her boys are becoming more independent as they learn these social skills.

“I love it,” Raine said. “I think it encourages self-reliance. I think it’s the best time they can prove who they are and show how much they’ve learned.”

If parents still feel skipping the bus is best for their children, Gesek suggests starting a carpool, which can also mimic the types of social situations kids encounter on the school bus.

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