Overwrought & Overprotective.

by Wendy Sachs


I will never forget Adam Walsh. The image of the sweet, smiling, gap-toothed six-year-old boy in his baseball uniform is forever emblazoned in my memory.


It was 1981 and I was ten years old, living in Miami. I vividly recall the terror of Adam’s abduction from a shopping mall in Florida. One minute he was watching video games at a Sears while his mother shopped for lamps about 75 feet away. Less than ten minutes later, he was gone. Adam’s severed head was found in a Florida canal a few weeks later.


The Adam Walsh story traumatized me as a child and woke up an entire generation of parents to the reality of kidnapped children. Soon after the tragedy, my mom took me to our local Publix supermarket to get me finger printed and assigned an I.D. card. I remember looking at the ink on my thumb and wondering if this would really protect me. I was now terrified to go into public bathrooms alone and almost had a nervous breakdown when I lost my little sister, Debby, for about fifteen minutes at our shopping mall. I was 14-years-old at the time, and Debby was four.


My mind drifted back to the Adam Walsh story last Sunday when the New York Times reported on parents’ anxiety over letting their children walk to school. I still choke up when I think about him, but now my visceral reaction comes not from being a frightened child, fearing for my own safety or my sister’s, but as an anxious mom.


As the article discusses, many parents are made to feel negligent these days if they let their ten-year-olds walk a few blocks to school rather than being driven or escorted by parents. It’s now customary for a gaggle of grownups to be waiting at bus stops, with not only their young children, but with their tweens and teens as well.


Are we suffocating our kids by not letting them amble along on their own? Are we quashing independence and creating anxious, needy children forever tethered to their parents? Or are we just being realistic and cautious?


I struggle with this in my own neighborhood. When I see children walking to and from the bus or school in my leafy suburb, I, too get nervous. On the one hand, it reassures me that other parents feel confident in the safety of our neighborhood. On the other hand, it still makes me tense. Bad things do happen in my town.


I remember Adam Walsh. And, my oldest daughter was the same age as Samantha Runion when she was kidnapped in our county 7 years ago while she played in her front yard. I find it impossible to make the decision to allow my daughter to walk to the park behind our house or ride her bike to her friend's house down the street. My husband and I even insist on watching her cross the street to her friend's house. She's 12 years old and asks why she can't do these things on her own like some of her friends. While I believe logically she understands that there are bad people out there, I know she feels a bit stifled and unable to spread her wings. It's MY issue and I'm unable to let myself NOT keep an eye on her every second because I'm afraid the one time I turn away will be the time something bad happens... and then, how could I live with myself? I know, logically, I have to let her spread her wings. And, I try within my own paranoid constraints to do as much as I can to allow myself to let her be more and more independent each day. But, I just can't imagine how I would reconcile a mistake. I'm working on it... and that's the best I can offer for now! In the meantime, I found an organizaton I wish more parents knew about. It's called "RadKids.org" and they offer classes to children to help them understand what can happen in different types of emergency situations and what they can do to protect themselves. I took my daughter when she was 7 years old, and it was a terrific experience! It was a one-week class offered by the police department at the local university, and kids were taught -- in an age-appropriate way -- what to do in the event of a fire, an abduction, a dog attack and other emergency scenarios. The trainers indicated that children are more likely to fall victim in an emergency situation simply because they don't know what to do because no one teaches them and practices with them. For example, despite having had a safe escape route it's not uncommon for fire personnel to discover children who have succumb to smoke inhalation in a fire simply because they hid in their closets (like from a moster) rather than having taken a clear route to safety. In the class kids were taught what to do in these kinds of emergencies and they got to role play to give them a chance to try out their new skills. I think it builds confidence in children and helps them be more comfortable with their own independece while teaching them valuable skills and information. I hope you will share the information on "RadKids.org" with all your moms on mommytracked.com. Thanks for your article and the chance to share my thoughts!


You have hit the nail on the head. I have children ranging from 30something to 12 and my fears began with the 30something and have heighten over the years. My heart is in my throat each time my 12 yo leaves me. But, I know that I cannot protect her all the time and I have to let her grow as I did her siblings. I used what I called "contolled structure" that allowed them to develop their independence and make choices but in an environment that had built in limits and was age appropriate. Example: my 12 yo likes to fish at the neighborhood pond that is not within sight or hearing distance. Her watch alarm is set for every 30 minutes and she has to call me on the family companion phone. While I know that there are many things that can happen in 30 minutes this is a measure that allows me some sense of security and her the independence that she has earned. As a widow I work long hours. I have always had an adult that was actually the surrogate mother to greet my children when they came home from school. When the older ones were in high school there was someone there to continue to provide that environment with age appropriate limits and to blame when they knew that a suggested activity was a poor choice and they said they had to go home or there would be big trouble. Did this cost money? Did I have to sacrifice to make this happen? Yes! But, an indelible tool that has helped keep my sanity and a level of freedom for my children. This is a delicate balance that calls for inner strength and prayer.


This is how I feel. I am trying hard not to let my fear/worries dictate how I parent. Our kids need to learn how to trust themselves / their instincts, and how will they do that if we're always hovering?



Thank you for your article. I am strong believer in trust over fear and I want my children to walk to school and to explore so that they can become self reliant, couragous children. I am who I am because my parents let me explore and I will try my hardest to not let paranoid parents keep my children from having the freedoms they need to become happy, successful adults. I wish that I had children a couple generations ago when people were less fearful and overprotective.


I am the same way! My little boy is 6 and if he is out of my sight for more than a moment, if we are out somewhere, I get freaked out. We know the bad things that can happen. I talk to him about it all the time. The other day we were at the store and a little old lady came over to us and started to talking to him and myself. She was asking him questions and he wasn't answering her. We got in the car, leaving, and he said Mom, you told me not to talk to strangers, and I didn't say anything to her. I just kind of explained that its ok if I am right there, but he was right about it. I think he gets alot of freedom at daycare and school to make decisions on his own. But again, he is only 6, we'll see how I am when he gets a bit older.