“Stranger danger” lectures were being held through a shocked and sickened city Thursday after Leiby Kletzky, 8, who set out to walk home alone from camp for the first time in one of Brooklyn’s safest neighborhoods, was found murdered and dismembered.
“Everyone is reconsidering, 100 percent,” how to monitor their children, said Fagy Gutman, 22, of Borough Park.
“You think you’re living with your own people, everything should be fine … but it seems not to be,” the mother of two said.
Several in the area where Kletzky and his accused killer Levi Aron resided said they would not let fear dominate their lives, and said they allowed their children to head out on their own.
According to the latest figures issued by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, it might make more sense for strangers to give children lectures on avoiding mom and dad: A full 60% of the 18,962 children under five murdered between 1976 and 2005 were slain by their parents. Another 23% were killed by male acquaintances, and 7% by other relatives. Only 3% of the deaths were “stranger murders” that capture headlines.
Ayesha Jones of Harlem, however, said she “already had the family discussion” with her brothers about the need to be street wise. The mother of two little girls, Jones also helps to care for her 10-year-old twin brothers, Tyshawn and Jyshawn, who walked to school alone for the first time just two days before Kletzky’s murder.
Jones said she will give twins cell phones with instructions to call if they get lost or run into trouble with a caveat to never, ever get into a stranger’s car. The boys also got a primer on not trusting men. “Who can you trust?” Jones asked rhetorically. “All you can trust is yourself, your child’s father, and close relatives – not even outside relatives, because you don’t really know them.”
There is no need to share the gruesome details of Kletzky’s death with small children, or even tell them about it, noted Doe Lang, a Manhattan psychotherapist. But teaching practical coping skills in the event a child becomes lost, confused or frightened, is smart. Those skills would include calling home or 911 on a cell phone or to seek help, if needed, from a woman with children instead of a man.
Parents also should set reasonable restrictions, curfews and safety plans. “Parents need support and children need their protection, but they don’t need more fear,” said Lang. It’s key that your kids don’t fear censure, ridicule or anger if they tell you about an inappropriate overture, she noted.
In addition, the Child Sex Abuse Prevention and Protection Center recommends that parents teach their kids to be confident, to speak up when they believe themselves to be treated unfairly or inappropriately and to stress that they are under no obligation to honor “secrets.” A child with clear, healthy boundaries may create family friction by refusing to hug and kiss grandma on command, but is more empowered than a docile, obedient child to repel inappropriate overtures from adults with ulterior motives.
Nervous Nellies throughout the city used Kletzky’s death as evidence that their over protective impulses were on mark.
Siobhan Sauray and her husband don’t always agree on the level of supervision they need to provide to their six-year-old daughter, Gianna, but the Kletzky murder validated Sauray’s preoccupation with keeping her daughter under wing. Sauray is insistent that Gianna hold her hand in public at all times and that she never be unattended in the store or yard. “My husband is more lax. He says, ‘No one wants her! She talks so much they’ll give her back!’” said Sauray, a payroll analyst in Bergen Beach.
Quincy Lennard, 13, of Old Mill Basin, said his “paranoid” Aunt Janice wasted no time in pointing out the peril that can meet young boys on New York streets. “There are some really sick people out there, but that would never happen to me,” said Lennard, who said he has been the beneficiary of advice from well-meaning relatives. “I would be more vigilant and if (a malefactor) tried to take me some place, I’d say ‘no’!”
“He’s very, very responsible,” admitted Quincy’s grandmother and guardian, Joan Parkins, 68. But she still worries. “These kids have to know what’s going on in the world,” to better protect themselves, she said.
But tons of great things – things involving strangers – also happen in the world, reminded Robert Tutein, a 47-year-old Bronx billing and payroll manager.
Kletzky’s murder was unspeakably horrific, but parents risk warping a child by stressing risk and danger, and ignoring the magic that can happen by taking intelligent risks in being open to others, said the father of four. There is no need to make children afraid as long as “we teach them to be smart,” he added.
(With Marc Beja and Tiffany Lo)