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Jessica Ridgeway abduction: Getting a grip on the parenting overreaction

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AP/Westminster Colorado Police Department

(Read caption) Jessica Ridgeway, 10, was abducted and killed last week. The case has parents examining their parenting style and just how much freedom they can allow their children to be outside alone.

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Like many parents this past week, I’ve been following the news about Jessica Ridgeway – first with concern, and then with horror and sadness.

The tragic story about the 10-year-old girl, who was abducted while walking to school, and whose body was later discovered in a nearby park, hits particularly close to home: Jessica’s town of Westminster, Colo. is about a 20-minute drive from where I live with my two young kids.

Her story has been a regular topic on local listservs, and at the playground, and her fate is every parent’s worst nightmare. And I see that, right now, as my challenge as a parent: not to let it so overtake my fears that it fundamentally changes the parent that I want to be. How can I be prudent without being fearful? How can I allow my children what I believe are necessary freedoms and opportunities to be independent, while still not being naïve.

My kids – three and five years old – are younger than Jessica and still not old enough to walk to school or the park by themselves, though I have been giving them increased freedom to play by themselves in our immediate, quiet neighborhood.

But in the past week, I’ve heard – and read – from a lot of parents of older children that Jessica’s fate is changing what they allow their children to do. Yesterday, a neighbor whose kids regularly roam the blocks around my house on their bikes and scooters told me she’s no longer allowing her nine-year-old to leave the house without her.

Some of this makes sense. For parents in this area, they know that a predator is still at large, so the threat feels particularly real. And our natural instincts after reading about a tragedy – even if it’s across the country – are to hold our children closer and to maybe hover a bit more than we might have in the past.

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