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Parenting Notebook: Balancing Fear and Trust

By Jennifer Hausler

The tragic news that an eight year old boy was abducted and murdered in Brooklyn two weeks ago has many parents debating the merits of allowing children to walk unsupervised through city streets.   It was the first day the boy was allowed to walk the seven blocks home alone.  He got lost and stopped to ask a stranger for directions.  This particular stranger was one of the extremely rare dangerous ones.

I find it heartbreaking that so many have chosen to throw blame at his grieving parents.  ‘€œWhat were the parents thinking?’€ seems to be a common response.

Well, I think I know what they were thinking.  They were thinking that a child has a better chance of being struck by lightning than of being abducted.  They wanted their child to feel independent, and get to know his neighborhood.  They knew that if he got lost, chances are that he’d ask a kind helpful person who would get him safely home.  What happened was inconceivable for them, but it will remain in the consciousness of every parent who has heard this news story.

The incident made me remember my own terror as a child, getting separated from my mom at a county fair, and crying for what seemed like hours, but was surely less than 10 minutes, in the first aid tent, surrounded by caring strangers.  It made me remember losing my children in department stores, and enlisting the help of other women pushing strollers around who immediately understood my panic.  I remembered all the helpful people in the Sheep Meadow when I lost my kids in Central Park two summers ago.

I still feel that fear, allowing my kids to roam unsupervised in ever-widening circles, but I’ve never believed in teaching children not to talk to strangers.  Yes, ‘€œBe on your guard.’€  ‘€œNever allow someone to touch you or pick you up.’€  ‘€œNever get in a car with someone you don’t know.’€  ‘€œIf you’re lost and need help, find another mother with children.  She’ll know what to do.’€   Teaching them to feel comfortable approaching strangers when in crisis will almost always help them.   It’s not unlike the moment when we let go of that two wheeler, and allow them to pedal on their own for the first time — the trick is teaching them to balance fear and trust.

I hope that parents, especially the ones in Borough Park, will read Lenore Skenazy’s Free Range Kids blog, and learn about the real risks of letting their children roam.   Now, more than ever, kids need to connect, in real time, with their natural surroundings.  They need to feel the thrill and pride of doing something on their own.  They need to know that evil exists, but still believe in the kindness of strangers.

Jennifer Hausler writes the Nyack Backyard blog.

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