On Monday Baby made a small declaration of independence by going to our corner shop (a BP garage shop) by herself for the very first time.
The trip is not long – takes about 15 minutes – but she has to cross one main road, which has a robot that can be manually operated. [Crossing the road alone has been off-limits to date]
“A man tried to steal me,” she said, when she came back. She looked hot, very annoyed and a little scared. “He slowed his car and offered me a lift. When I didn’t answer, he said he was not a stranger and it was okay for me to get in the car with him. I just walked faster and tried to ignore him.”
The incident scared me silly, and made me wonder if allowing Baby, at nine and half years old, to go to the shops alone was a good decision.
We live in a village-like environment, but this is a city and an era where children, boys and girls, are not safe. As a parent I have to keep a very protective shield around my child. But I also want Baby to gain a measure of independence and confidence in herself.
I don’t want her to be terrified of the world, barely able to do things like go to the shops to buy bread. That’s no way to live either and sometimes I think kids who have been cocooned all their lives, and then sent out in the world in their late teens are the ones in the most danger because they lack the tools to protect themselves.
Our safety rules
Experts tell us that it’s not just “strangers” who kidnap and hurt/kill children. Sometimes they are hurt by people they know. As far as I’m concerned, the “don’t talk to strangers” rule is not sufficient protection.
The basic rule in our house is that Baby must never hold long conversations with grown-ups, unless I’m in the room, or they are her immediate family. That means my friends, my partner and his friends, my friends’ partners, the parents/relatives of Baby’s friends are not allowed to engage her alone for long. Other kids must be in the room, and alternatively, I must be there. What does adult need privacy to talk to my child for?
Sadly, the same principle also applies to people in uniform – police, security etc. My theory is it’s easy enough for a paedophile to wear a uniform to lure kids, so the uniform does not offer legitimacy. This lesson was tougher, because in theory, these are the people who are supposed to offer safety.
”If someone insists you have to go somewhere with them, start screaming, regardless of who they are and how they are dressed,” I remind her every time we go to the mall as a precaution should we, by some miracle, be separated. “Tell them to phone me, and if they are genuine, they can wait right where you are until I come get you. But don’t ever let anyone move you from a public place.”