Does Leiby Kletzky’s Murder Mean Parents Should Hover More?

I can’t stop aching over the story of little eight-year-old Leiby Kletzky‘s murder. It is one of those shocking stories that makes you just want to hold your children tight and never let them go. Literally. Many parents around the interwebs are asking whether the death of an eight-year-old who went on a few-block walk alone means that parents should never let their children walk alone.

I’m someone who tries to balance my impulse to protect my children from any and all potential threats with my fervent belief that parenting is all about raising healthy, independent humans. That means that while my instinct is to never let them out of the house alone — and at their current toddler ages, this is the reality of our lives — I plan to let them walk distances alone within a pretty short period of time.

And when I hear about the Kletzky murder, do I blame the parents for letting him walk a very short distance alone? Of course not. As a human being who uses logic and reason in addition to motherly impulse, I know that the number of children who walk short distances alone and benefit from the experience exponentially outnumber the number of children who have negative experiences walking alone. The reason stories such as Kletzky’s make front page news is because of their rarity, not because of their ubiquity.

It’s really hard to think rationally about this when you’re a parent because however remote the chance that something bad might happen, our tolerance for any harm coming to our children is incredibly low. But unless you honestly believe that the best parenting strategy is putting your child in a Pyrex bubble until they’re 30, you have to be willing to accept some risk.

Time magazine reports on just this question and ends with a discussion with Lenore Skenazy, author of Free-Range Parenting. She’s the mother who got called “America’s Worst Mom” after she let her nine-year-old son ride the subway alone:

The murder rate is lower in New York City than it’s been in 50 years, Skenazy points out; Leiby’s death is but a horrific anomaly. For many New Yorkers in particular, it immediately brought to mind another local disappearance that occurred more than 30 years ago, when 6-year-old Etan Patz vanished after begging to be allowed to walk to his school bus stop alone, two blocks away from his SoHo home.

These tragedies grab headlines, but they’re hardly typical. “This is beyond the exception,” says Skenazy, who draws a comparison between the number of kids kidnapped and killed by strangers annually ”” statistics put that number at about 50 ”” and the number of children under 14 killed in car accidents each year, which is more than 1,300.

On her blog, Skenazy speaks out as the antithesis of the helicopter parent, believing that children need to learn how to fend for themselves. “The idea that the only good parent is a parent who has her eyes literally upon her children 24/7 is a modern, post-1980s notion,” she says. “Once in a while, some gut-wrenching, stick-a-knife-through-my-heart story happens and it’s everyone’s deepest, darkest fear. It is hard to send our kids out after a story like this, but we have to.”

She says it well.

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