MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Thu 21-Jan-16 15:36:26

Guest post: "My son was almost abducted – but I won't stop him walking home alone"

Although shaken, Ingrid Wassenaar is determined not to curtail her nine-year-old's independence

Ingrid Wassenaar

Dutch Courage

Posted on: Thu 21-Jan-16 15:36:26

(134 comments )

Lead photo

"I fear I am being judged as negligent as I strive to give my children greater independence."

Just before Christmas, our nine-year-old son was nearly abducted.

It was 4.45pm, and he was walking home after Minecraft club. He had stopped to stroke a cat that lives near our street when a van drew up beside him. The man inside leaned across. "I've got some sweets," he said. "If you get in, you can have some."

Our son said, very politely, that he lived just round the corner and had an appointment to get back for. The man scowled at him and drove off.

Our boy watched to make sure the van was out of sight before running for home. When he got back, he was breathless. I suggested he use his inhaler – which was when he casually mentioned that he'd been running because a man in a van had offered him sweets.

It's odd how your brain works in situations like this: I was simultaneously shocked and blasé. Here was my son, safe at home – I couldn't believe that someone would be stupid enough to use the sweets line. In fact, I could barely comprehend that it had even happened.

I did know, however, that I had to raise the alarm. I dialled 999, and then posted a message onto a school Care and Share site. I emailed and phoned his school.

While I went through these steps, I felt like a bit player in a soap opera. I spend so much time persuading myself that it is extremely unlikely that anything bad will happen – avoiding scaremongering, hysteria, TV crime dramas and detective novels – that I could hardly believe that this had happened to our child, in our neighbourhood.

Am I frightened of our boy being approached again? Of course I am – it's our job to worry about our children – but it's also our job to let them go. Children need to seize their independence. How else will they learn how to handle it?


The immediate surge of comments responding to my post brought the impact of the situation home. It showed me how frightened people are of this kind of event – and it also confirmed our son's story: another boy had seen the same man just before, and had also been frightened enough to run home.

After speaking to the school and the police, news spread fast. I was repeatedly asked by other parents whether I would let him keep walking. To start with, I stoutly asserted that I would, aware of the look in other parents' eyes. As the days trickled by, though, both my son and I lost our nerve. I went back to picking him up.

After a few days, the investigating officer called. He suggested that perhaps it hadn't been what I thought it was. He said, "Can I ask what your son was doing, walking home at 4.45pm?" I couldn't take it in. Was he really insinuating that it was my fault that my child had been approached? That by encouraging my son to walk home independently, I was essentially setting him up to be assaulted?

I live with a constant feeling that I am being judged as negligent as I strive to give my children greater independence. The policeman's words only reinforced this worry. I'm so tired of the negative scrutiny levelled at mothers, explicitly and implicitly, bullying them into overprotective behaviour which, in the end, actually harms their children. And, at least in my experience, it does always seem to be mothers who are seen to be at fault. The policeman didn't say anything to my husband.

Am I frightened of our boy being approached again? Of course I am – it's my job to worry about our children, as it is my husband's – but it's also our job to let them go. Children need to seize their independence. How else will they learn how to handle it? Our children are taught 'stranger danger' – and they also instinctively know when someone's a wrong 'un. Our son took it in his stride. Why are we trying to take that victory away from him?

We are letting him walk alone again now. He's very happy, and has been thriving at school. Last week he ran to help an elderly lady with her heavy bag on his way home.

I don't think the streets are the preserve of a handful of predators: I think the streets are for everyone, especially our children. I'm going to live by the advice of the policewoman who came to our house the night of the attempted abduction. She looked my son in the eyes and told him not to stop walking to school: "Never forget," she said, "your independence goes forwards, not backwards."

By Ingrid Wassenaar

Twitter: @ingridwassenaar

anjpink Sat 23-Jan-16 11:53:44

i wouldnt let my 9 yr old walk home, it was after school hours after all. so not like other mums etc around ...
I would say maybe meet half way if your son insists on walking. you cant be too safe these days but you can be too sorry !!

log120 Sat 23-Jan-16 12:06:42

I think Ingrid is right. I am a new grandma and I remember going to school on my own at age nine. In my case it involved catching a bus or a tramcar in Glasgow. Never came to harm. Truly don't believe that human nature has changed since then.I valued my independence then and now. My one reservation about this particular occurrence is that it happened at 4.45 near Christmas. Wasn't it dark then , or nearly so? I would be concerned about a child of that age walking home alone in the dark. I still think it would be fine with a chum.

Vaginaaa Sat 23-Jan-16 12:17:40

I never came to any harm posts are interesting. It's trotted out like proof that the world is safe. The children who did come to harm can't post and tell what happened to them.

log120 Sat 23-Jan-16 12:59:17

Actually I agree with you - ahem - Vaginaaa. "It never did me any harm" is not a good argument, for example when used by adults who were beaten by their parents as children. Lazy thinking on my part. Thanks for drawing my attention to it. I still think that Ingrid is right though to let her child walk to school (in the light, aware of stranger danger etc) and that more damage is done by encouraging children to think of the world is too risky a place to venture out in alone.

ItsAllGoingToBeFine Sat 23-Jan-16 13:34:41

But at 9 years old he cannot physically fight off a determined adult so I think you are taking a huge risk.

An adult woman would struggle to physically fight off a determined man...

steppemum Sat 23-Jan-16 16:58:12

Last night my 10 yo dd walked to scouts on her own at 7pm.

It was dark. It is about 4 min walk, she had to cross a road. (we collect her at the end of scouts as it is later)

yes I let her. In 6 months she will:

cycle to the station (in the dark in the winter)
catch a train
walk to the school at the other end.

and then do the reverse at the end of the day (again in the dark in the winter)

ds has been doing the same for 2 years.

I really, really agree with the OP.

My only hesitation would be whether or not you should temporarily stop until the guy is caught. Bit what if he isn't caught? How long do you leave it?

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syed28 Sat 23-Jan-16 21:55:09

I would never ever do it again if I was you.
I have a 9yo son and he's only allowed to go to the shop which is 1 minute from my house. And even then I'm standing there watching him go and come back. He's my heart my life..I'll not risk his life in the name of independence.
His whole life lies ahead to show independence.
I'm sorry but that's not courage that's just being careless.

LassWiTheDelicateAir Sat 13-Feb-16 13:44:52

OP I fully support you. There is no reason for a 9 year old not to be walking home alone after school.

cappy123 Sun 21-Feb-16 10:15:01

Would like to know if there's more evidence kidnapping or bring approached happens in the dark.

cappy123 Sun 21-Feb-16 10:15:31

I mean is more likely to happen in the dark.

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