I can’t imagine what these parents are feeling:
On Wednesday, [parental fears] did come true for one Brooklyn family, as the body of 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky was found dismembered two days after he disappeared on a short walk between his day camp and where he was supposed to meet his parents. The boy, who had implored his parents for permission to walk home from camp alone, got lost and ran into a stranger who, the police said, kidnapped and killed him.
For parents across New York City, the tragedy set off a wave of fear, self-doubt and sometimes fatalism, not seen perhaps for 32 years, since Etan Patz, who was 6, vanished after begging to be allowed to walk alone to the bus stop, just two blocks from his home in SoHo.
There’s a lot of blaming the victim going on, with people saying, “How could the parents let him walk home in this day and age?!” But you know me. I’m a huge fan of Lenore Skenazy’s blog. I think we coddle kids way too much. I constantly note that the crime rate it the lowest it has been in half a century. So I find myself agreeing with Ta-Nehisi:
I think the boy’s parents will spend much of their lives questioning themselves. I am so sorry about that, mostly because I don’t think they did a single thing wrong. I was walking home by age seven, and on mass transit by age nine. I suspect a lot of you have similar stories. Moreover, there is no 100 percent protection for children. This is, by far, the hardest reality for a parent to reckon with.
Having a child is like watching your arm split off from you, grow its own brain and then do whatever it feels like. On some level, it’s still yours, but you can’t control it, you can’t save it, and you can only, within reason, really protect it.
Exactly. 8 years old is not too young to walk seven blocks in a very safe neighborhood. Something like this happens only 50-100 times year. It is dwarfed by the number of children taken by car accidents, drownings and their own evil murderous parents. Here’s what I said on Skenazy’s blog:
The proper response to this is defiance: to not let one sick evil individual force all of us to live in fear and terror. Every day of every year, 60 million children go out into the wide world. Of those, maybe a hundred have something like this happen to them. Is preventing this kind of thing worth raising a generation of terrified, helpless, out of shape kids? Better to teach them how to be aware of their surroundings, how to recognize danger and how to ask people for help. The only way to absolutely prevent this is to chain your kid in the basement.
I once got into an argument with a fellow parent about this (he was of the “my kid can walk to school when’s he’s in college” school of parenting). Toward the end of the argument, he threw out what he thought was the trump card: “It’s my job to protect my kids.”
But he’s wrong. It’s your job to raise your kids. It’s your job to bring them up to be functional, independent human beings who can take care of themselves. As someone who works in a university, I’ve seen the kind of kids helicopter parenting produces — timid, helpless individuals who can not deal with even minor setbacks or difficulties. They can’t talk to a professor about their grade; mom and dad have to do that. They can’t seek out a scientist to do work with; we have to come to them. And their personal lives are a wreck as they either can’t approach the opposite sex or are too childish to conduct a relationship properly (e.g., go to a store and buy birth control).
Kletzky’s parents did the right thing. That it ended in a horrible tragedy is not of their doing.