When Should Children Be Allowed To Walk Alone?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The lost little boy in Brooklyn who encountered a killer on his short walk home is another worry for parents like Kelly Commodore who doesn’t let her three kids far from sight. So, when should children be allowed to walk by themselves?

“Things have changed quite a bit,” said the St. Paul mother, who has three kids ranging from 5 to 13 years old.

Commodore says she only lets her teenager walk alone to the bus stop, but her 9-year-old can’t take his bicycle off the block, while her 5-year-old is in sight at all times.

“I just want my child to come home safe. You have to know your child, are they responsible enough to handle those kind of things?” said Commodore.

According to the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center, which is part of the National Child Protection Training Center, tragedy can be a starting point for your own family’s safety.

“Here is an unsafe situation that happened, we don’t want that to happen to you, so what can we do at the grocery store when you get lost?” said Molly Cirillo, the JWRC Community Outreach Coordinator.

JWRC was founded in 1990 by Patty and Jerry Wetterling following their son Jacob’s abduction near St. Joseph, Minn. The organization educates families on safety as well as provides assistance during missing person cases.

There isn’t a right age to let your child venture off alone, according to Cirillo.

“Some child at 15 will be ready and some at 8 will be ready,” said Cirillo, who recommends parents begin conversations early.

“Practice when you go to the park, have your child bike ahead of you so you say how to get there, can you lead me? So you can gauge how well your child knows the neighborhood,” said Cirillo.

Cirillo suggests training your kids, if they are lost, to recognize neighborhood landmarks, like a familiar corner store or sign. recognize safe people, generally someone in a uniform or another mother.

When Cirillo educates families on how to prevent the worst outcome, she tells parents to teach their children to memorize their phone number and address even if it is through something simple like a song, and adds that family passwords are a good idea, too.

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) found approximately 36 percent of attempted abductions happened when a child was going to or from school or a school-related activity, in an analysis of attempted non-family abductions.

More common safeguards can include using the buddy system, especially under the age of 8, and giving your child a basic cell phone for 911 calls and emergencies.

Above all, the JWRC has a universal guideline: leave the anxiety to the parents, and let kids be kids.

“We have to give them the tools to feel safe,” said Cirillo.

  • asdf

    Well if you live in St. Paul I would NEVER let my kid walk alone…instead get a second job save some money, and MOVE to a different city. That place is filled with criminals, drug addicts, pedophiles, and gang bangers.

    Try ANY OTHER city in the state and it’s better than St. Paul…hell even Woodbury is.

  • Saint Paul

    I live in Saint Paul (highland park) I never see any drug dealers. Expect for the pharmacists that lives next door. Actually, I love highland park so much better when I lived in South Minneapolis or any part of Minneapolis.

    Woodbury are you kidding me.. Woodbury is soccer mom USA.

    • The Architect

      I’d rather live in Soccer Mom USA than in the Darkness of the Ghettos of St. Paul. You couldn’t offer me a free house in Highland Park to move from where I am now.

      • Jim Saporito

        Highland Park is bad? Since when?

  • bill

    I don,t care where I am. I carry a gun and never let my 10yr old daughter walk alone.

  • Elmo

    There are more criminals on the bus, and parents let their minors ride everyday. So I guess their children can associate with the criminals daily. It all comes to the parent spending time with their kids. Stop setting them in front of the TV, or Computer screen. Get outside and enjoy your time with them. That includes you Dad.

  • Esther

    15? So just one year before they drive alone you could let them walk alone? You are not going to prevent the terrible disaster in NY from happening to any kid. If a sick freak wants to kidnap and kill your child, he will do so no matter what precautions you have set up. Jacob Wetterling was with friends when he was kidnapped, obviously the buddy system didn’t pan out for him. Not trying to be morbid, but get realistic. Your children need to build self confidence, and that includes you being confident in them. I have 6 kids, and that is part of the reason we live in a smaller town. Even still we have rules about where and when they are allowed to go off on their own. Where are you going? What route are you taking? When will you be back? The world is a scary place, we need to prepare them for it, not just hide them from it.

  • momof5

    In today’s society I don’t think it is ever safe for any child to walk alone, it is always better to walk with a group of people and even then you aren’t always safe. I Just think it is really sad that we have to even ask this question, people say child molesters and rapist have a right to be on the streets after they have served their times but shouldn’t my children have the right to walk down the street alone and feel safe in doing so? I live in a small town and do not let any of my children walk anywhere by themselves, I just started letting my 14 yr old ride his bike alone to go to the park and meet his friends for a game of football or baseball. It has nothing to do with my children but everything to do with you just never know who is out there.

  • drts

    Never when they have to walk by a Catholic church.

  • The Architect

    In our town, there are only 25 mph roads and no highways closer than 1.5 miles from our house. We let our 4 boys (14, 13, 11, 8) ride their bikes pretty much anywhere in the city as long as they stay together and have at least one cell phone with GPS locating services on it. They also have predetermined check-in times, and are under instruction to leave any location that has older teenagers in it.

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