Parents across New York City are reeling this week, following yesterday’s discovery of the dismembered remains of Leiby Kletzky, an 8-year-old boy who went missing on Monday on his short walk home from summer camp. Not only is this an incredibly tragic and heartbreaking story for his family, but it raises tough questions for the rest of us, about what it means to protect our kids, and what kinds of freedoms we should allow them and when.
Little Leiby had reportedly asked his parents repeatedly if he could walk home by himself, and his parents finally acquiesced—only after deciding that his mother would meet him halfway and rehearsing the 7-block walk with him. But, on Monday afternoon, Leiby got took a wrong turn, got lost, and asked a man for directions, ultimately getting into his car with him. That was the last seen of the boy until the police arrived at 35-year-old Levi Aron’s door at 2:40 a.m. Wednesday, where they found part of Leiby’s body in Aron’s freezer and were directed to the rest of his remains in a suitcase thrown in a nearby dumpster.
There is nothing more gut-wrenching than the thought of losing a child—and it feels almost unbearable to contemplate losing one to such random (and in this case, perhaps preventable) violence. Because, really, what it comes down to in this particular case, is that if he hadn’t been alone, this wouldn’t have happened. That is not to say that his parents are in any way to blame for his tragic death—there is no question that Levi Aron is responsible for that. But parents across this city are now asking themselves how—and even if—we can keep our kids safe. I know I am, and I also know I would have made the same decision as Leiby’s parents, wanting to give my son age-appropriate freedom in what has been considered—until now—a very safe neighborhood. Should we accompany them everywhere outside of the home until they hit high school? If so, how will they ever learn independence and confidence?
“There is no magical age at which children become ready to tackle a new challenge, and moms and dads who think otherwise are only deluding themselves. As parents, it's our job to foster independence in our children and to gauge when they're ready for each incremental next step. Some 6-year-olds may be ready to cross the street without an adult; others may be too dreamy to accomplish that task safely for several more years,” writes Bonnie Rochman on Time.com.
And Lenore Skenazy, author of Free-Range Kids and an NYC mom who allows her 9-year-old son to ride the subway alone, wrote yesterday on her blog, “There are horrible people in the world. There always were, always will be. There were horrible people in the world even when we parents were growing up, and our own parents let us play outside and walk to school and visit our friends on our bikes. Our parents weren’t naive. They knew that we live in a fallen world. They also knew that they had a choice: Keep us locked inside for fear of a tragic, rare worst-case-scenario, or teach us the basics — like never go off with a stranger — and then let us out. They let us out…
“People will blame the parents for letting their son walk even a few blocks on his own. I’ve already read some of those comments. They are like knives. Is it better to have a city — a country, a world — where no child is ever outside again without an adult? Where parents who let their kids walk to the bus stop are treated like pariahs? Where the parks are empty, the playgrounds are empty, bikes sit in the garage and children hunker inside with their terrified moms and dads?”
Has this story rattled you as much as it has the parents in our office? How do you strike a balance between protecting your kids and allowing them the freedom to grow up?