Can I Ever Let My Kids Walk Home On Their Own?

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Today, we are so very sad for Leiby Kletzky’s family. By now, most of the country is familiar with this tragedy — the death of 8 year old, Leiby, abducted and murdered in his own Brooklyn, NY community while simply walking to meet his mother, just 7 blocks away from his camp on Monday afternoon. I cannot even imagine the pain Leiby’s parents are feeling. As a mother, my own mind can’t go there, can’t possibly fathom the depth of sadness. There are no words, yet I want to reach out to them. To say, I’m so very sorry the randomness of this world took your son’s life, for the cowardly & horrific acts of an evil man.

In the wake of Leiby’s death, the question continues to arise: When is it safe to give our children some independence, freedom to ride their bikes, walk home or navigate the streets on their own? There is no magical age when it suddenly becomes “safe-proof”. Maturity, awareness, quick-thinking skills… all come into play when making a decision like this. And while I don’t advocate hovering or helicopter parenting, I do recommend that maybe we slow down a little bit and really assess how much our kids are capable of handling when they are on their own, no matter what age they may be. Because it’s different, for every child.

Many parents will react with “That’s it – I can’t let my child walk down the street alone, ever.” Conceivably, a natural reaction in light of what has happened. But this isn’t necessarily the solution. And, while it feels absurd and meaningless right now to say that this is a rare occurrence, that many children walk and ride their bikes safely on their own every day, that is also true. Perhaps our balance is to understand that even though there are no absolutes, no guarantees, we cannot lock our children inside the house, teaching them to be fearful of the world.

In the tragic aftermath of Leiby’s death, perhaps the best we can do is to talk honestly about safety issues with our kids before giving them their freedom and independence, with specific Do’s and Don’ts when they’re out on their own. Give them some clear-cut strategies, a simple action plan in case they get lost, or are approached by a friendly stranger. And have that conversation more than just once. Kids need reminders, even though they may roll their eyes and spit out an “I know, Mom.”

10 Safety Tips for Parents & Kids

• Remind kids never to get near or into a car with anyone they don’t know, no matter how friendly the person seems.

• No entering anyone’s house, unless you’ve gotten previous permission from mom or dad ahead of time.

• If lost or in an emergency situation, go into a public venue, a store, etc. and seek out a mom with kids or the cash-register person to ask for help.

• Don’t take shortcuts in alleys, wooded areas, etc.

• Use the buddy system.

• Walking home from school: plan the route ahead of time, walk it with your child and point out “safe-stops” along the way in case of an emergency.

• Remind your child that safe adults shouldn’t be asking kids for assistance when you’re alone or just with another kid – it’s okay to say NO to anyone who may be asking for help with a lost pet, needing directions, etc.

• Don’t put your child’s name on the outside of their belongings (jackets, backpacks, lunchbox, etc.)

• Use some common-sense “What-If” scenarios to be sure your child knows what to do in an emergency. By playing the “what if” game in a non-fearful manner, you’ll help instill these safety strategies and will also be able to gauge when it may be okay to give them a little more independence and freedom as they grow.

• Even in seemingly quiet “safe” neighborhoods, parents need to go over the safety rules – don’t get lulled into a false sense of security.

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