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.