One Sunday afternoon, while I was watching TV, I heard the doorbell ring. I opened the door to discover my 10-year old son’s friend. Dressed in a fedora, t-shirt, vest, and jeans, he looked like a hipster who was on his way hang out at a coffee shop.
“Hello,” he said as he fidgeted nervously, “Can your son come out and play?”
“Sure,” I said. “What are you guys planning to do?”
“Oh, we’re just gonna go to the park and hang out for a while.” At that moment, my demeanor changed. Although the park is only a short distance from my house, I was worried about letting my son go unsupervised.
“Why don’t you just play in the back yard?” I asked.
“Um, okay,” said the boy looking slightly dejected.
After this incident, I started to examine why I was so afraid let me son go to the park with his friend. I’ve raised him to be careful, and his friend is a good kid who wouldn’t lead him astray. However, I had a nagging fear that something horrific would happen to him if he were out of my sight for too long. I knew that the likelihood of something bad happening to my son was low, but at that moment I was paralyzed by my fears.
When I was my son’s age, I had much more freedom than he does. The closest park to my house was at a mile away and I went there by myself regularly. As long as I was home before the street lights came on, I could go almost anywhere I wanted to.
The only time that my mother restricted my freedom was during The Atlanta Child Murders – a series of murders committed from the summer of 1979 until the spring of 1981. Over that two-year period, a minimum of 28 African-American children, adolescents and adults were killed. My mother was afraid for my safety and kept me close to home until the killer was caught.
Now that I’m a parent, I understand the fear she felt. In 2011, an 8-year-old Brooklyn boy who got lost while walking home alone from day camp was killed and dismembered by a stranger he had asked for directions. This story continues to haunt me and affects many of my parenting decisions.
As a father, I’m compelled to keep my son safe. However, I know that I can’t be with him at all times, nor can I prevent bad things from happening. All I can do is teach him about the evil in this world, prepare him to deal with dangerous situations, and pray that he has the presence of mind to think clearly and seek help if he’s ever in danger
Since that incident, I’ve slowly been loosening the reigns. Letting go isn’t easy, but it’s necessary because it will help my son to be more independent. I’ve given my son permission to ride his bike through the neighborhood, and each time he asks to go a little farther I say yes. Soon he will make it all the way to the park. When he does, I hope his friend is there waiting on him.
Join the conversation: How much freedom do your children have to explore on their own?
This post was originally published on Babble.com
photo by Moyan Brenn