I'm not going to let my kids walk anywhere alone. I can't. Not now. Not after knowing that 10-year-old Jessica Ridgeway was murdered after walking to school in Westminster, Colorado. Years ago, 6-year-old Etan Patz was killed while walking to his school bus stop in NYC. Last year, Leiby Kletzky, 8, was abducted and subsequently murdered in Brooklyn after walking to meet his mom after camp. These cases, these senseless killings of children, are stuck in my head. They make up my worst nightmare. And it's not worth it for me to be a free-range parent when the risk is too great.
What happened to Jessica Ridgeway is proof this can happen anywhere. In the safest neighborhoods. Even when it's only a few blocks. As parents, we can never be too sure of their safety. And waiting until they are a bit older might be what we need to do in order to stop predators from seeing our children as easy prey.
We can teach them about stranger danger, but how much are they listening? How well will a child react when a potentially terrifying situation occurs? Will they be lured with sweet promises preying on their innocence?
We don't know these answers until it actually happens. Until it's too late. And even then we don't have all the details because the children are gone. Vanished. Unexplained. Or found ... tormented for years and years like Elizabeth Smart. Or found ... murdered.
I want my kids to learn independence. I want to trust them. I want them to trust me. But there is a limit to what I will allow them to do now ... in light of these cases. If I allow them to walk to school alone, or to the bus stop, maybe I will shadow them. Stay just far enough behind to be sure. Allowing them to feel grown-up but also allowing me to feel safe. Maybe I will let them go in a group. Or I will find other ways to let them feel independent. Maybe I'm overreacting. Letting my fear take over. But for now, in these times, it might be what we have to do. We may even have to share the information about these abductions -- perhaps limited details -- to let our kids know what is going on and why we fear their safety. Open dialogue. Letting them understand why we won't let them walk alone. Essentially because there are too many "whys" involved in why these things happen.
Is the Jessica Ridgeway case making you re-think allowing your kids to walk to school or anywhere alone?
Image via VinothChandar/Flickr