Our friend’s seventh-grade son had an interesting ethical/safety dilemma and she wrote about it for The New York Time’s Motherlode.
Her son was walking home from school with a friend. An elderly woman standing on her stoop asked the boys to give her hand a moving a box inside her house. At first the boys politely declined but then she asked again. The son’s friend went up to help. She then asked him to move some recyclable containers. All turned out fine and they were on their way.
However, the event lead to an interesting discussion at our friend’s home that night – when is it safe to help someone and how do you know? Should there be just a standard answer of “no” and stay away from any strangers or should the child try to weigh how safe the situation is?
Our friend, Lisa Flam, called some experts for advice. From The New York Times:
“For Nancy McBride, safety director for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the situation was clear-cut. Even though the woman appeared harmless, she said, children need to be taught to follow the rules consistently, because looks can be deceiving.
“Adults should not be asking kids for help,” she said, adding that women have been used to entice children and that one of the top “tricks” used to lure children is to ask them any question at all. “I don’t want the little boy to feel bad who helped her, but he made a judgment call that turned out O.K. this time, but it might not be O.K. next time. You don’t know who’s in the house with her.”
“If the woman had fallen or had another immediate need, the boys, armed with their cellphones, could have called 911, Ms. McBride said. In the absence of an emergency, she said, they should have shifted the burden to a parent or school official, because they did not know the woman or have permission to go in her home. Children, she said, don’t have the experience or judgment to make these kinds of tough calls as adults do.”
However, another expert had a different view.
“Paul J. Donahue, a clinical psychologist in Scarsdale, N.Y., who specializes in children and families, does see room for that gray area. Helping the woman would have been a reasonable, low-risk task for the boys, he said, adding, “I would have let my kids do that.”
Flam ends the article meditating on the three women held in captivity for 10 years in Cleveland, and that’s exactly where my mind went when I read the scenario. You have no idea who else could have been in that house.
I am all for helping people. And I want my kids to provide service for others, but it can’t put their safety at risk.
I agree with the first expert. I think an alternative would have been for the boys to call home and ask their parents to come and help the woman. The parents could help helped with the immediate problem and at that point a relationship could be established and maybe then the boys could help more often. (We have two sweet neighbor middle school boys that have been helping a widow on our street. I love that they are so thoughtful of her.)
So what do you think: Should the boys have gone to help the old lady? Should they have called parents for help? Should they have not gone near the lady’s house or into it? Which expert do you think is on target? What have you told your kids about this type of scenario? (We’ve never discussed helping someone at his or her house. We always talk about not going up to cars to answer questions or give directions.)