The murder of Leiby Kletsky was a tragedy. However, it is important to remember that it was a random act of violence. Since the murder, parents in NYC (and I assume all over) are rethinking how much freedom they should give their kids and at what age they should begin to allow them out on their own. I really hope that this heinous crime will not cause parents to become over protective because independence is one of the most important gifts that you can give your child
I am probably considered an early adapter when it comes to giving my kids the freedom to go outside alone. When Z was 9 he desperately wanted to go to our corner store which was less than 50 feet from out front door. One day when I was in the middle of cooking I realized that I was out of lemons. It was a perfect opportunity for Z to stretch his wings. It took only 5 minutes and my heart was pounding the whole time.
A few months later on, erev Succot, Z came home from school and told me that he really wanted to get the latest Lemony Snicket book before the holiday begun. I was busy preparing and felt overwhelmed at the thought of going to the book store at that moment even though it was just across the street. I told Z that I would go when I was done cooking but he wanted to start reading that book ASAP. The perfect opportunity to cross Broadway had arisen. Z literally ran the whole way and got home before I had time to even get nervous.
We progressed from there to walking home from the school bus and walking to and from friend's homes when he was 10 (he had to call me when he got there and he also had to call me when he left to come home). By the time that he was 11 he and a friend got off the school bus themselves and walked to baseball practice themselves (after they got a snack from Fairway!).
One day, the spring that Z turned 14, he was walking home from the bus down Riverside Drive with his friend J when some boys who went to a middle school for severely learning disabled children pulled a knife on them. The boys demanded that they hand over his friend's ipod. Before anything could happen a man who happened to be coming out of his building saw what was going on and called for Z and J to come across the street. They went across the street and the kids who had attempted to mug them ran away. The man who had helped them stayed with them until the police came and took a report (and yes they did find the kids in the park a few minutes later).
My husband and I did not let this incident stop us from letting Z walk around the city alone. It also didn't stop us from letting T, when she was one month shy of her 9th birthday, walk to the corner store alone for the first time or from letting R and her friends get their nails done with out a grown up going with them when she was 11.
I really believe that people in the city are looking out for each other. My friend recently told me a story about her 9 year old nephew. One day he was in front of her building in Brooklyn waiting for his dad to come around with the car. When his dad got there he yelled to his son "Hey you"! As her nephew walked to the car some people who were on the street immediately went up to the dad and demanded to know who he was and why he was calling out to this kid. When her nephew said that it was his dad they all backed off and told his dad that the were just looking out for the boy. Right now it's important for all parents to remember that this is the norm in the city and not what happened to Leiby Klesky.
7/21/11- I want to make it clear that I do not advise letting your children go out alone without arming them with information that will make them safe. All my children have cell phones so that if the needed to get in touch with me when they are out they can. I have also warned my children about how anyone, and that includes someone who is wearing a kippah, can be a predator. I have also explicitly explained to them where they should never let anyone except for a parent or a doctor touch them.
My kids know that if someone is following them that they should go into a store or into a building with a doorman. They know that if they need help that they should look for a mom or grandma to help them not a man (sexist, yes but also true). They have been told that they should never walk off with someone even if they offer them something like candy, money or the opportunity to walk or pet their dog. I have also read them the book The Berenstain Bears Learn About Strangers, an excellent story about strangers, numerous times, starting at a very young age.
When I make that decision that a child can go out for the first time alone I never let them walk further than to their corner. Then I very slowly let their world expand. I also spend lots of time talking about the order of the street and avenues of our neighborhood (and beyond that when the kids get older) so that when they are ready to go out they know where they are.