Children aren't little adults
A few weeks ago, my child and I were shopping at a major department store searching for a birthday present for a friend of hers. While standing in the toy aisle, we saw a plastic inflatable ball fly over from another aisle. The obstacle then hit my child in the head. Merely startled, my child said “ow”.”Where did that come from?” I asked her. She didn’t know, but looked around somewhat bewildered.
We continued looking up and down the aisles for the perfect gift for the seven-year-old to be when another ball flew over and landed behind me. The voices from the next aisle giggled and suggested trying again.
“Pow – Pow – Pow” I heard the ball volleying and escape the grasp of the giggling girls. I went around the corner and looked down their aisle. They had retrieved a fourth ball from the cage and continued to play toy-aisle volleyball with each other, stretching to reach each exchange.
“Excuse me,” I interrupted, “would you mind apologizing to my daughter for hitting her in the head with one of your stray balls?” They both apologized and scurried off, wary of each time they saw me. They were probably eleven or twelve at the most. Not much older than my own nieces and nephews (children of my cousins, for clarification). I had seen them dropped off maybe a half-hour prior by a mother-figure and then saw said mom-figure drive off, leaving the two girls unattended in the department store.
Just last week, a mother in New York sent her son to Day Camp. She had gone over the route with him many times and opted to have him walk half the 14-block route home, planning to meet him at that halfway point. The young lad was eight. Despite having gone over the route many times, he still got lost. Sadly, the young boy chose the wrong person to ask directions from. He was found a few days ago dismembered in a man’s apartment. Some of the boy was on the counter. Some of him was in the fridge. Some was in a trash can a few blocks away. All because the poor kid wanted some independence.
When I was twelve, I roamed the neighborhood with several other friends. We got into our share of trouble. We played hide and seek in the grocery store and managed to get ourselves kicked out one summer afternoon. We played chase in the pharmacy next door. We were boy-crazy and followed one particular one all the way to his house once hoping that we’d catch his eye. Sometimes, I’d wander alone into the abandoned golf course behind my house where, at night, we’d hear coyotes chasing their prey. However, this was the 80’s, where seat belts were optional, smoking was cool, and babies would bounce around in the back end of station wagons unrestrained. The memories were good, but the dangers were unrecognized.
Twenty-five years later we should know better. Yet, parents don’t watch their kids as they should, either assuming their progeny will behave if unsupervised or not caring. Kids still run rampant through stores, pushing down other patrons and the parents never see this. Meanwhile, sexual predators and murderers are given easy access to these innocent children almost as much as they were when I was a child.
It’s not that murderers and sexual predators appear more frequently. We are just more aware. I became fully aware that such a danger was out there when I was five. I lived in Atlanta at the time. Adam Walsh and I were born within days of each other.
It’s nothing news, these dangers that lurk out there. It’s just that we should be more aware that an unrestrained child can continue to fly through a windshield (or at 25MPH into a dashboard as yours truly did when she was 8). Children don’t always behave as they do at home when left alone in a department store and most of all, even today, people can snatch your child, change their name and use them for sexual purposes or worse yet, dismember them and dump them like trash.
Who cares if people think you’re hovering. You’re keeping them safe. You’re making sure they are out of harm’s way and making sure that they aren’t harming anyone else. Don’t give them the independence they crave prematurely. It may be the last time they’ll ever see it.