The XX Factor

The Disappearance of Annie Le Makes Letting My Kids Walk Alone Harder

Hanna, I want to say: Let her walk to school! Because I’ve been convinced, by parent advice-givers like Wendy Mogel, that there is a cost in overdependence for kids, as well as a value to them from independence. If kids don’t have enough chances to deal with the world on their own, in all its complications - and yes, Amanda, I agree this includes catcalls - then they grow up fragile and timid and brittle. Yes, there is also such a thing as introducing too much risk and real-life difficulty too soon. But if you live in a safe neighborhood and the chances of your child being mugged or kidnaped on the way to school are, in fact, infinitesimal, then elementary school kids should be able to walk to school on their own without anyone calling the mommy police or blaming you if, God forbid, something goes wrong. Sure, walking in a group is the perfect solution if you can organize a functional one. But I don’t think we should rule out kids walking alone or with one brother or sister, either.

We’ve been grappling with this in our house because we recently started sending our 9-year-old by himself to the Italian grocery store on the corner. This means that he walks to the end of our block, crosses a pretty busy two-way street, and goes inside a store where we know the check-out people by name. Eli’s initial reaction when I asked him to buy the sliced turkey for his own lunch, on a particularly harried morning, was utter surprise: What, me, do an errand on my own ? This only served to increase my determination to send him. And now out the door he goes, serenely. But then last week, as the whole country knows by now, Yale graduate student Annie Le disappeared, horribly a few days before her wedding. The New Haven police are saying they don’t believe Le’s murder was a random act, and the Yale building where a body was found on Sunday is on the other side of town from our house. So I should stop myself from seeing a connection when there isn’t one, all my rational cells are telling me, and keep letting Eli walk to the grocery store. But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that letting him out of my sight feels harder.

Photograph of children walking by David De Lossy/Photodisc/Getty Images.