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How Independent is Your Nine Year Old?

iStock_000010889847XSmall.jpgI've been contemplating writing about that horrific story of the little nine year old Hasidic boy who was abducted by a deranged man in his community and senselessly murdered.

What hit too close to home for me was that the child was nine - the same age my son is now. The boy, who was doted upon by his protective parents, asked them to give him the chance to walk home from day camp by himself for the first time in his young life. His parents agreed and his mother showed him the way before letting him do it by himself. Unfortunately, when the boy became disoriented and asked for directions, his innocence was taken away by an unstable man who abducted and killed him and then mutilated his body so that no one would find evidence of his disappearance.

When I think back to my own childhood, I remember walking home from school in the fourth grade and letting myself into my home while my parents were at work. I was a total latch key kid. In my situation, I knew exactly where I was going, traversed the route hundreds of times and oftentimes walked with friends back to my home. In the case of my nine year old, I am ultra protective and would never dream of letting him walk alone without an adult or a friend by his side. In fact, just this year, we gave our 12 year old daughter a cell phone and she now knows that the moment she leaves our house and reaches the bus stop, she must stop whatever she's doing and call us to let us know she's arrived safely.

My nine year old doesn't own a cell phone and he won't receive one until he's ready for middle school. While he can technically walk around the corner to school on his own, we choose to accompany him so that we know he arrives safely. Truthfully, that decision is not motivated by the prospect of him being kidnapped, but the simple fact that there are reckless drivers in our neighborhood who race up and down our streets without paying attention to whether pedestrians are in their path.

If my nine year old were to ask me if he could walk home by himself, I would say no. In fact, I said no to my daughter for nearly two years. As much as she wanted to assert her independence and walk to school on her own, I just didn't feel comfortable - especially since she had no way of getting in touch with us to let us know she arrived safely.

While the Hasidic community installed security cameras that inevitably led to the killer's arrest, I truly believe as a parent that if you decide to give your child some freedom, in this day and age, they should be armed with the tools they may need to protect themselves in the event they get lost or are approached by a stranger. A cell phone can truly be a lifeline for a child and may have played a role in saving that poor little boy's life. Please know that I am not passing judgement on his parents and their actions that day. My heart aches for their loss. In fact, having seen this story unfold in the news only makes me want to hold onto my nine year old just a little bit longer each morning, hoping that my hugs will serve as protection while I'm at work. May this experience give people a wake up call. Even if your child asks you to do something, you don't necessarily have to do it. You are the parent and it's okay to say no.

As far as my own son, he won't be walking by himself until he's in middle school and has access to a cell phone. As long as he has a device in his possession that he can use to call me, his dad and 911, I'll have peace of mind knowing that while he may be out of sight, he's only a phone call away.

Posted in: Blog, Undercover Mom on 07/18/2011


  • This is so true. I don't have my own children, but I have a younger brother and I see how much of a struggle it is for my mother. She wants to empower him and give him some freedoms so that he learns to explore the world on his own and function well by himself but the world is such an unsafe place these days. Terrible things happen to kids, it's really unfair and shameful.


  • Like you, this story makes me physically nauseous. My twins (boy and girl) are 9---I worry about being overprotective, about sheltering, about not letting them take healthy risks. Then stories like this come along. My heart is rent for these parents who've lost their precious boy, Unspeakable. Absolutely unspeakable.

    More than anything I wanted to walk to school as a youth...we lived too far away and the bus was awful as a bullying hotspot. Our kids could easily walk. They won't. Tragic. Will remember this poor family in thoughts and prayers for many days to come...

  • I am very protective too, and I have a nine year old as well. I would never let her to walk to school alone. I let her go out in the front lawn and take the dog out with her sister or brother, but even then she has to leave the front door open and she is not allowed to cross the street and just to stay in our own yard. And even that scares me. I try to teach kids to be independent in different ways; like making their own breakfast, folding the laundry etc. My kids have traveled around the world, can cook, can talk with adults and I think they have plenty of independence. But they can't be alone outside the home. I try to take them to safe places where they can hang out with other kids without me hovering around them, but it's always in a controlled area, never without parents. My oldest one is going to middle-school this fall, and even she is not allowed to go alone, I don't think we'll even consider school bus for her either. I don't think keeping your child safe really has much to do about them being independent. In fact kids who have too much free way might not be "independent" but more insecure because they feel their parents don't care about them, and them taking care of themselves is merely about survival, not confident independence.

  • This story brings me to my knees. I can not comprehend the evil in this man and my heart breaks for this mother. I drove my boys up to a sleep away camp this past weekend and driving home I heard the story on the radio a few times, I almost turned around and went back to get them. I agree that a cell phone is important but it does not give me peace of mind.

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