In the aftermath of the recent shocking crime in Brooklyn, there are doubtless many parents who would benefit from clear guidelines for child supervision. But national and state governments hesitate to promulgate “one size fits all” guidelines, since each family must consider the maturity of its own children, as well as its unique set of circumstances. For instance, is a trusted neighbor immediately accessible? Do neighborhood parents keep a watchful eye on each other’s children?
Nevertheless, parents and community leaders may find some of the guidelines developed by the U.S. Armed Forces for military families useful as starting points for their own safety discussions. For example, an Army base in New Jersey has established the following rules of thumb: children under 10 may never stay home alone or play outside alone; children under 11 may never babysit for younger siblings; children under 13 may never babysit for non-siblings; children under 18 may never open the door for a service technician. Other issues that are important (but for which military base guidelines do not translate as readily to civilian areas) are the ages at which children may be unsupervised in yards, in playgrounds, in cars, and while walking in their neighborhoods.
For preparing children for self-supervision, the New York State Office of Children and Family Services suggests establishing clear rules, role-playing diverse scenarios, starting with a semi-supervised trial period, and always checking in frequently.
While parents can never guarantee their children’s safety — for reasons that are beyond human comprehension — redoubling our efforts to protect our children is one of the best ways that we can honor the memory of Leiby Kletzky.
Shari Reiss, Ed.D.
Dr. Reiss, an educator, directs JVet, a non-profit organization that supports recent veterans, active members of the U.S. Armed Forces, and their families.