When you're raising a child in New York City, one of the pressing questions as they get older is, At what age can they go out by themselves? It's hard to imagine it ever happening as you're pushing them in a stroller or on the swing. How will this little thing be able to manage the busy, dangerous streets of Manhattan? When you ask parents who have been there, done that and they say it can begin around age 10 or so, it seems frighteningly young.
But then somehow, it starts feeling right. For my son it began with a block or two on his own around that magic age of 10. We'd be walking home from the supermarket and he'd complete the journey solo. Then he started walking the three blocks to his karate class on his own. With each independent outing, his confidence grew and my nerves relaxed.
And then a day like today happens and you remember how frightening the world can truly be. Apparently there were people of all ages at that Colorado movie theater, and I'm sure that must have included some unescorted teens whose parents assumed they would be safe. We all send our children out into the world because to shelter them is not a healthy alternative. They need to build confidence and independence on their path to adulthood. But how can we, as parents, be sure they'll be safe? I guess the frightening answer is, we can't.
We can teach our kids the basic rules of safety and talk about making smart decisions, but there's no way we can prevent a sick mind from acting out at a random moment. The odds of something happening are very slim, but on days like today, those odds seem much greater.
So where do we go from here? Do the safety talks we have with our kids now have to include What to do if a crazed gunman starts shooting? Or does that just instill unnecessary fear? Do we stop them from going out with their friends to the movies? The video game place? The park?
My plan is this: I'm going to sit down with my 13-year-old and talk to him about always being aware of his surroundings. I'll try my hardest not to frighten him, but if a little fear can bring about heightened awareness, then so be it. I'm not going to curtail his new found independence. He will continue to walk the streets of Manhattan on his own, ride the subway, go to the park, and yes, see a movie with friends. In fact, he's scheduled to see Batman this weekend.
Will I worry? Like all parents, of course I will; it comes with the territory. Sadly, taking your life into your hands by just going to the movies should not.
My heartfelt condolences go out to all the families affected by the tragedy in Colorado. May you find peace in this not so peaceful world.