Most trips to Target start with my 3-year-old asking to walk. Every time she asks me this I struggle. She’s only one child and she’s just trying to find her independence. I should be able to let her dance her way through the aisles while we pick up groceries, browse the toy section and admire the holiday sections. But my internal battle is always the same.
Several times a week I see news stories, articles and terrified mothers’ posts on social media. Stories of being followed, abduction, sex trafficking or a child being kidnapped and murdered. I would prefer not to ever think about these stories if I’m being honest. But they’re here. They happen and they are not going away.
I can’t turn a blind eye because I know from personal experience it can happen.
I was raised in the ’80s. Stores seemed less busy. The news wasn’t on 24-hour access with almost instant reporting. Children played outdoors by themselves for hours and even at a young age, our mothers let us stand in the cereal aisle by ourselves while we debated which cereal had the best toy.
I was little … six or seven.
Blonde hair. Blue eyes.
Standing in the cereal aisle at the local Winn Dixie.
Debating the toys. By myself.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see a lady with brown hair coming down the aisle looking at me the whole time. It seemed strange that she wasn’t shopping, only looking at me. She made her way directly to me and stopped very close to me and said, “Can I pick you up so you can get that cereal off the top shelf for me?”
I remember instantly starting to scream about a stranger and running as fast as I could towards the back of the store. When I turned the end of the aisle, I looked back to see this woman running in the other direction. I found my mom on the next aisle and told her what happened. She assured me everything was fine and that’s the last I remember.
But to this day, I know that being safe is better than being sorry.
So how do I handle this when my daughter asks? I remind myself that knowledge is power. If it’s a casual trip where I have time to keep my focus entirely on her, then I’ll allow her to walk. When it’s a larger shopping trip I usually barter with her to ride in the buggy. All the while, keeping an eye on our surroundings. We talk about staying together and not wandering off. As she gets older and can comprehend more, we’ll talk about how you can never tell if someone is bad or good by just looking at them. That it’s best to be cautious at all times, not fearful. Scare tactics with no explanations are not good teaching tools. I believe in teaching children about realistic situations and the reasons behind them. It gives them the knowledge to know why it’s important. Maybe this seems extreme to you? I feel that in this day and age these lessons are just as important as teaching your child to cross the street.