A 6-Year-Old Walking Alone to School? Is This Crazy—Or Is It Just Me?

By NICK CHILES

There was a story that sprang to my attention a couple weeks ago and it’s been bothering me so much that I had to write something about it. It involves a 6-year-old boy in the Bronx who was saved by the school janitor when the boy was approached by a crazy-looking man who claimed to be his uncle and who was trying to take the boy away with him.

The janitor, a man named John Velasquez, sensing that something was not right, asked the little boy if he knew the man and then grabbed the boy’s hand and pulled him into the school. The janitor said the man’s eyes were bulging and he looked like he was “definitely on something.”

While that all sounds horrific and the janitor certainly deserves the praise that came his way, there was another part of the story that floored me. It was this line in a piece on the Huffington Post:

While the 6-year-old usually walks to school alone in the morning, his mother accompanied him on Monday to thank Velasquez.

The story doesn’t dwell on the implications of this sentence; it just moves on to describe the man and the cops telling people to be on the lookout for him. But excuse me if I dwell for a minute. This is a 6-year-old boy. In the Bronx. Walking to school alone.

Is anyone else as disturbed by this as I am? I was born in New York and I lived in the city for many years, though never in the Bronx (at various times in my life, I’ve called Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens my home), so I don’t want to look like I am indiscriminately trashing one of the boroughs. But anyone who has ever been to New York and the Bronx in particular knows that those streets are not the safest places for 6-year-olds. Hell, I live in a bucolic suburb in Georgia and we still walk out to the bus stop with our fourth-grader, who is just days from her 10th birthday.

My question is: What kind of crack do you have to be smoking to let your 6-year-old walk to school alone in the Bronx? And why weren’t child welfare authorities instantly on the scene, asking this mother what was wrong with her?

But maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m being too harsh. I do recognize that the prevalence of crime stories, particularly those involving children, in our 24-hour news cycle means that when a kid gets abducted in Colorado, I’m going to hold my kid just a little closer in Georgia, even if I’m thousands of miles away. That’s just human nature, and it probably results in us being overprotective of our kids. But hey, you never know. Just a few days ago, we discovered that in our previously mentioned
“bucolic suburb,” there was a sexual predator living down the street JUST THREE HOUSES AWAY FROM US. Dude was on the news last week and everything for trying to lure young boys into his home. All these years, just down the street. The only thing that was keeping him from being registered as a sex offender is his previous case was still working its way through the system. But then he struck again. Or at least he tried to, but the boys got away. When we wait at the bus stop with our little girl, we can actually see the creep’s house—though he actually lives somewhere else with his parents and apparently just used the empty house for his little boy encounters. Ugghh! The whole idea of it makes me want to hit somebody. Hard.

Anyway, I digress. A necessary digression, but a digression nonetheless. I would like to know how others feel about this stuff. How do you feel about a 6-year-old walking to school alone in the Bronx—or anywhere else in these here United States, for that matter? Are we as a society of parents overprotective—or not protective enough?

Where do you stand?

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[Photo credit: Schmuli Photo]

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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.

21 Comments

  1. You can’t leave a child of that age home alone, why on earth would it be okay for them to wander the streets of New York alone, I wouldn’t even rome the New York streets alone.

  2. My 5 year old is headed to Kindergarten, and I didn’t even want her riding the bus. I live in the same county as you and your wife and there were a couple of news stories at the beginning of this past school year where Kindergarteners were let off the bus at the wrong stop. Thankfully for me and my over-protective mamma bear self, we were able to get her into a charter school that doesn’t have buses. So I think it goes without saying that there’s no way in Hades I’d let my daughter walk to school alone @ 6 years old!

  3. My oldest child is 12 yrs. old and I don’t allow her to be alone at any one time. There is too much craziness and it is too risky to allow children of any age to be alone. Criminals have weapons and can quickly use them on kids and you’ll never see your kid again.

    Parents aren’t using their brains these days – actually many of them don’t have any brains. I am seeing way too many negative news these days on parents and children, it is horrible!!

  4. While I do cringe to think about a six year old walking to school on his own, I also cringe to think about the reality of a mama who might not see that she has any other choice but to allow him to do so. That’s the thing about news stories, they often miss some of the story, like mama is working two jobs and doesn’t know anyone in the area to walk little one to the schoolhouse so she has to take her chances that she’s taught him to run, scream, and kick ‘em where it hurts. I suppose that’s the reality that makes me saddest is that in so many situations there is just no other option. I know I am blessed that my hubs can drop our little one off and I can pick him up, and we will be in a position to figure something out when things change for elementary school. Whether Nana gets called in or after school program or something. But my reality isn’t the reality for more parents than I’d like to count.

  5. I don’t know the specifics of this child’s neighborhood, so I won’t speak to them. I do know that when you see too much negative news, it’s not because bad things are happening more frequently–in fact, crime stats show that they are happening less frequently than they have in decades.

    But we hear about them more for two reasons: (1) we can, and (2) negative news sells.

    How many children have walked to school in the course of history and have never been approached by a predator? The numbers are vast.

    Bad things can happen. But they don’t happen nearly as often as Nancy Grace and her ilk would have you believe. So don’t believe them.

    Make your decisions based on your actual circumstances, not on fearmongering. If you evaluate your circumstances and determine that drivers are too inattentive, or the crime rate is too high, or that your child is, as an individual, not ready for a certain level of independence, then take the precautions you think are necessary.

    But base that decision on your reality, not on someone else’s ratings.

    • Nichelle Hayden

      I’m in total agreement with you Derek. the way the world is today, excuse and years ago I would never let my 6 year old walk to school by himself. I don’t care if its Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens or Manhattan this world is filled with crazy people and our children have to be protected at all times. so it’s not just you

  6. this week, with all the news of the arrest of the alleged murderer of etan patz, the 6 year old who disappeared walking to the school bus stop in soho 33 years ago, we now know that what almost happened to that little boy in the bronx is exactly what happened to etan patz on that fateful morning. six is just way too young to leave them out there alone. their spidey sense isn’t honed yet. thank god for the janitor.

  7. The issue is and forgive me for pointing this out but where is the child’s father??–Second point >> We have allowed politicians cut nearly every helpful resource in this country in favor of tax cuts. I just read last week a county will soon eliminate all school crossing guards but the same county cut taxes for multi-millionaires. That mother may be a victim of a system that forces her to work multiple jobs just to survive–and sadly she may be the victim of an unwise decision to have a child with a man she knew would have no presence — look at the entire picture .!!

  8. Derek, there is no big picture…. if and only if Mom works ever so many jobs that she cannot walk her 6 yr old to school…. she dayum sure can find another elementary school mom and kid and ask that mom if their kids can walk to school together… heck, mom can go to the school to ask the principal what are her options for getting her child to school safely… ain’t.no.excuse!

    Period!

  9. I agree the mother may have to work and the father may not be around but that still doesn’t mean you let your 6 yr old child walk to school alone! That means you find someone trustworthy who is available to take your child to school or you find work that allows you to get your child to school safely. Either she is going to put more thought into their circumstance or one day the child is just not going to come back home to her! She made it to the school to thank the janitor so she should be able to see that her child makes it safely to school everyday.

  10. Is 6 too young to walk to school alone, I think so. Although when I was 6 I walked to school alone on occasion. Mostly, I walked with whoever was going. I do remember that there were adults and older kids who kept a look out for me though. It was kinda “hood law” to do so. I haven’t lived in the hood for a long long while, so I don’t know if those securities are still in place. I guess they must be since the boy was saved.

    To answer your question about us being overprotective, yes. We are. We are raising kids who don’t know how to handle themselves without us being around, and that’s not good. We are overburdening ourselves and we are crippling our kids. We must find a balance and live more fearless.

  11. No, you’re not over-reacting!! I am flabbergasted that anyone would think this is OK!!
    If it came down to paying the rent by working so much that I was putting my child in that danger, we would live in a woman’s shelter so I could guarantee their safety to and from school. Kids are resilient enough to survive and thrive after living in a shelter but if a pedophile got a hold of them they probably wouldn’t.
    I am a single Mom of 3 so I know what it’s like to struggle. I also know that God has his hand on everything in my life and I would never have to sacrifice their safety for any reason.
    If she is in that dire of a situation, she needs to go talk to someone at a church. They usually have resources and know of places that can help.
    We will never have a more important job than raising our children.

  12. No – no indiscriminately of the boroughs…. It doesn’t matter where you live. I totally said, “What?!” at the mom walking him to school the thank the janitor. My eyes are still bugging and I am shaking my head. It was on the news just last week about the 30+ year old (now solved) missing person case of a little boy who was taken on his walk to the school bus. He was dead the same day he was taken. My son is seven. I don’t think I am overprotective but I am not naive as to what/who is out there lurking just waiting on opportunity. I do not have a mindset that it won’t happen to us. I just have common sense. Sometimes I’m in Walmart watching somebody’s child who is too far away from their parent. I stay out of it, but I keep an on the child to make sure they reunite with their parents. To the parents I want to say “Really?”

  13. When my mom taught school she had students came to school alone, but also took the city bus to and from school. And I’m talking 20 to 25 years ago.
    I don’t agree, but I’d like to think if their parents COULD take their kids to school, they would do so. It’s hard to a lot of parents, particularly single parents to work around the school schedule.

  14. Last year an 8 year old child in New York City (maybe queens?) walking alone was taken, killed and dismembered. I don’t know how any parent who lives here could let their kid walk alone after that story. I’m a broke single mom in NY and I will do whatever I need to do to make sure that might son gets safely to school. I walked to school alone at that age 150 years ago (or the 70’s) and it was dangerous back then.

  15. I actually grew up in and around the northeast Bronx neighborhood where this incident with this 6 year old boy occurred and while it’s not the safest neighborhood in the Bronx, it’s not known for being one of the worst. I believe this happened in Co-op City, which has 5 sections of high rise co-op’s and town homes for working class and middle income families. The buildings are surrounded by green ways, a track and field in some sections, tennis courts and schools. Now as for the mother and child being discussed, I read in another article that the mothers 6 year old son is normally escorted to school by his 9 year old brother who normally waits around with his younger brother for the school to begin letting kids on. On this particular day apparently the older brother felt it would be okay to walk off a few minutes early believing his younger brother would enter shortly. But what a difference a split second makes! We now know based on the shocking news report of this boys near abduction that a second is all it takes. Now, I have two girls ages 7 and 4 and this I’d the first year our 7 year old is on a school bus and not being chauffeured by her dad or I, the 4 year old is driven by us or carpooling parents we’ve partnered with. Under no circumstance would I ever allow my girls to walk anywhere alone! We just don’t get down like that and we live in a beautiful picturesque resort town in the mountains of PA. We don’t even allow the kids to walk down the mountain to the bus stop that’s in our community! I can’t imagine what was behind the mother’s decision to allow her sons to walk to school alone, but hopefully this experience has brought her up to speed that no neighborhood no matter how affluent, bucolic, picturesque, whatever, no neighborhood is 100 percent safe and we should always be on our guard. Thank god for that security guard, a father himself, allowing his paternal instinct to take charge!!

  16. When I was six, I walked several blocks – more than 20 – to get to school. That was 25 years ago, in Philadelphia proper. I already had a street-sense though, which is what you get when you grow up in a working-class neighborhood in a major city. I don’t remember ever feeling afraid, and I knew what to do if someone tried to get me. Not that I would have been successful at getting away, but lord knows that I would have tried.

    My parents had no choice but to let me walk alone. They did work 2 jobs each, and we didn’t have a car. But they also checked my homework every night, were very strict disciplinarians, and went to every parent-teacher conference until I was in high school. As parents, sometimes we make decisions that have to balance all of our competing responsibilities. I don’t think I would have been better off if my parents had not worked, and we lived in a shelter, just for them to walk me to school everyday. It’s not fair to judge this mother without knowing what the circumstances are.

    A previous poster is correct – the absolute chance of a child being abducted while walking to school is incredibly low. Something like 99% of children who walk alone to school will never have a problem. Predators can get to our kids in a number of ways, and if they are truly predators, they will find a way, no matter what we do. Do we want to make it easy for them? No. But perhaps we are better served by teaching our kids what to do rather than try to shield them from all possible danger.

    All that being said, I also agree that we are too over-protective of our children. I have a six year old, and I wouldn’t let him walk to the corner without me. He isn’t hardly let out of my sight. I haven’t equipped him with the tools to navigate the world on his own, but I wish that I had. There is something to be said about raising your kids in tougher places because that’s how they learn to be independent, to take care of themselves. I don’t know, living in a high income suburb, if my kids will get that opportunity as long as we are here, and if we move elsewhere, if the instinct to protect oneself will ever become natural. We just worked today on “stranger danger” role-playing what do to if a stranger approaches them, or tries to take them. My kids (6 and 4) saw it as a game — the idea that there may be danger out there to get them is like a fantasy.

  17. There is no excuse for having a child that age walk to school alone, if the mother was able to walk to school to thank the janitor, then she could walk everyday. Anyone could be a victim and therefore proper precaution and/or necessary sacrifices should be taken to improve ones chance of being safe. It behooves the h-e-double hockey sticks out of me that anyone would believe this is okay under any circumstances!!! Parents are responsible for their children’s welfare, not the child.

  18. While we can’t protect our children from EVERYTHING, 100% of the time, there is an absolute necessity to do EVERYTHING we can to ensure their safety at all times. A 6 year old walking to school alone is simply not acceptable, NO EXCUSES. Anything can happen and EVERYTHING does happen. I’m sure a 6 year old isn’t responsible for getting himself up & dressed…so whatever designated person does this should also ensure a safe route to school. TIMES HAVE CHANGED & IT JUST DOES NOT PAY TO TAKE WHAT IS LIKELY NOT TO HAPPEN FOR GRANTED!!!

  19. Personaly, I wouldn’t let my son walk to school alone period, this counry needs some Holy Oil to be spread across cause people are sick

  20. ~ The REALITY is a 6 yr old is too young to be walking to school unsupervised regardless WHERE you live. Whether you’re aware of it or not, child predators are among us. Children are always at risk. I would like to assume this mother felt she had no choice and is not deliberately negligent. I hope this article is a wake up call to all of the other parents letting their children walk alone. I would hope another parent has taken notice and offered to accompany this little one to and from school, if needed. I believe child services should have taken an interest in this 6 yr old being left unattended.

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