How Old is Too Young?

Anyone following the news in Metropolitan New York is aware of the malicious death of an 8 year old child inBrooklyn,NY.  Those of you who are not aware, a young boy who was 8 years old child (he would have been 9 years old this week), was given permission to walk home alone from day camp last week.  His mother was going to meet him at a half way point.  The child really wanted to have some independence, and the mother thought meeting him between the camp and home was an adequate compromise.

This seemed OK considering the family was Orthodox Jewish and the neighborhood where they resided was made up of the same ethnic group.  Unfortunately, a sick man thought otherwise.  The child was a little lost, and asked a stranger for directions.  The stranger (it is believed) offered the child a ride, and the result was that the child’s remains were found both in the murderer’s refrigerator and also in a nearby dumpster.  This is very disturbing, and really made me think about a lot of things regarding my own children.

If possible, parents do their best to reside in a safe and nurturing neighborhood specifically so their children can have a full childhood.  Living in an environment where the village raises your child is a plus, especially for working parents with very busy and demanding schedules.  Involvement from the village is great, as long as the village is safe.

The question is: At what age should a child be allowed to flex their independence muscle?  Should you allow your child to walk from the local park or store?  What about around the corner?  Of course this is a personal decision for each family, but as the parent of an 8 year old child myself, I really stopped to think about this.  My son, whom I love very much, is not as mature as I would like him to be.  I can ask him to do something simple as he is walking from the kitchen to his room, and I assure you he will forget while walking down the hall.  Before the murder, I was afraid he would simply have a hard time finding our house from the local 7-11 store.  Now, I am questioning his survival skills when faced with a predator.

I live in a very diverse neighborhood.  I love how I can walk down my street and see Caucasian, Hispanic, African-American, and Asian families, many with mixed-races within them.  My children play with children from many ethnic groups.  My neighbors and I invite each other to our parties, and we watch each other’s homes when we go on vacation.  I feel my children are safe around each and every one of them.  I have thought about my sense of safety since the current incident.

Since the murder, I have refreshed my son on the protocol regarding asking for directions if he get’s separated from the adult he is with (me, his father, a trusted relative or friend), as well as what he should do if someone who is not cleared to take him somewhere walks up to him while he is at the bus stop or on the school playground.  This includes what to do when a stranger talks to him.  Children view most things in black or white.  If I tell my son to speak to those who speak to him, I cannot expect him to immediately know what to do when a stranger who appears nice walks up to him and says hello.  Or can I?

9 thoughts on “How Old is Too Young?

  1. We live in dangerous times, and everybody is just not okay. What people appear like on the surface, is oftentimes not who they really are in private. Even in the “nicest” neighborhood, you can put the zipcode in the child sex registry and find people right on your street. People who would seek to harm children like to live in “nice” neighborhoods, too.

    We must do due diligence when it comes to our children. People who have access to our children should be cleared by both parents, not live questionable lives, be a long time friend of the entire family, and have a history of caring well for their children and the children of others. This, however, only covers babysitters and visitors.

    People walking (or driving) in the neighborhood cannot be anticipated. We must deal with that by not assuming “that never happens around here”. Independance has to be given to children much later, rather than sooner.
    When you have kids, you cannot afford to be naive anymore. The cost is much too high.

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  2. Your post raises some good questions. I’ve been thinking about this a lot since I learned of the NY tragedy, and the answers are not any clearer. This world is a difficult place to navigate because even trusted friends and relatives can turn out to be predators. I think as parents we just have to strive to do our best day by day to be vigilant and use our best judgement.

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  3. I hadn’t heard about this until now. My son is too scared as it is; I hope he doesn’t hear about it. There are over 350 million people in the U.S. I don’t think things are so much worse now than in the past – it’s just that we’re pretty much guaranteed to hear about the atrocities. That poor mother!

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    1. I know. My son is not aware of this either, however I did reinforce protocol. I do however feel things in certain neighborhoods are much worse than they were in the past. This particular case is scary because it was in an otherwise “safe” neighborhood.

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  4. I’m too horrified by this story to hold it in my mind for very long. But, like most other parents, it prompted me to review protocol with my children. I tell them to find a police officer or a mom with children to help them if they are lost or need help. But evil people can find vulnerable children, so who knows if they would remember or if their efforts would be interrupted by some twisted stranger? My heart hurts.

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  5. Let us remember, child predators have cars. No neighborhood is “safe” anymore. Put your zipcode into the child sex offender registry and watch the names and addresses pop up! Things have indeed gotten worse, and there are more people than ever before (thanks to the internet porn business) preying on our young, and unsuspecting children.

    Our job as their parents is to watch over them until they’re old enough to watch after themselves. We take precaution to ensure the security of our expensive jewelry, and put alarms on our nice cars and houses. It would serve us well to put the same care into watching over our precious children.

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  6. While I think we need to be aware, I don’t think we should be alarmist about this. Remember that we only hear about the times that go wrong when children are given freedom; 99.9% of the time, when an 8-year old is given freedom to walk 5 blocks, nothing goes wrong. The news is meant to shock and awe us, and to make us fearful. The sex offender registry has not been shown to at all to increase child safety because 95% of child sex offenders are first time and one time offenders, which means that they’ve already done the offending they are going to do by the time they show up on one of those registries.

    This little boy’s death was a tragedy. But it was also a wild anomaly. I agree that we should teach our children – and role play, I think – about how to be safe when they are out and about without us. But I don’t want them to live in fear. That’s not a good way to live life.

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  7. I’m not a parent, but I AM a social worker and some of these comments are a little naive and they scare me. Now here’s my disclaimer: I’m certainly biased and on heightened alert ( I work with children and teens who have been sexually abused and/or involved in the commercial sex industry) BUT the fact remains is that MOST children are NOT abused or hurt by strangers! Most children are sexually abused by a friend of the family OR a family member. Forget independence. My child will not be going on sleepovers. They will not spend the night with cousins. It’s not the scary stranger you need to worry about, its your best friends boyfriend. Or his/her uncle. Or your significant other. Or even another child! Sad but true….. :o/ There are signs that parents should look out for. Sometimes the perp will tell the child that you won’t believe him or her or even that he/she (the perp) will threaten to HARM you if the child ever tells. Other kids (older ones) can become resentful that you haven’t “noticed” something peculiar going on and shut down. That anger/hurt stops them from talking. Open dialogue is key. Smaller kids need examples. Take them aside and dont just say, “You can talk to me about anything”. Kids need concrete examples. There are really good books out there about sexual abuse. Maybe introduce them and at the end ask them what they would DO if x person did this to them. By framing in in the context of the book they can open up easier and use conditional tenses. Another issue to keep in mind is that the average age of entry into prostitution in our country is 11-13. The domestic sex trafficking of minors is huge. Pimps usually know the ones they can get away with luring however it is not always the runaways who come from bad homes. It can happen to kids from middle class upper middle class backgrounds as well. The whole “dont talk to strangers” thing kinda flies out the window when a hormonal preteen girl is approached by a nice looking twenty something who tells her her hair is cute on the train, continues to follow her daily and finally wears it down so that he ends up taking your daughter to lunch or dinner. What happens when he’s not the creeptastic stranger but a potential (in the eyes of the girl) boyfriend? Ugh. I am so scared to be a parent!

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    1. “Forget independence. My child will not be going on sleepovers. They will not spend the night with cousins. It’s not the scary stranger you need to worry about, its your best friends boyfriend. Or his/her uncle. Or your significant other. Or even another child! Sad but true…..”

      I can understand how this is your perspective given what you’ve seen. But again – you are seeing the extremes of society, and no where near what is the norm. The vast majority of children will not be sexually abused in their lives. I agree that we need to arm our children with the defenses against those who will prey on them, but to say no sleepovers or not allowing them to spend the night with family? I think that is way over the line and going too far.

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