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?