At what age is it safe for children to walk to and from school?
It's a question parents have pondered a little more seriously in the days since a 9-year-old Timaru boy was found 15 kilometres from where he should have been after school, suffering from facial injuries.
And the answer is . . . it depends.
It depends on how far from school the child lives, whether he/she walks with others, the nature of the child, hazards along the way, and the town in which they live. Twizel is not Fairlie is not Waimate is not Timaru is not Auckland.
And the rules will change with time. What was acceptable 20 and 40 years ago might not be now.
Yet people have to be realistic as well. Compromises are sometimes required.
The main carer, usually mum, may also have babies to care for. Babies who are asleep. Siblings who are sick.
We might like to protect our children at all times, yet that just isn't practicable. A level of risk is acceptable.
So we teach them road safety, we teach them about stranger danger, we pair them off with neighbours and are aware what alarm bells will ring if the child doesn't make it to school.
And then we hold our breath.
Until something like this happens, and we review all the steps again. And so can schools. Which is no bad thing.
Better communications today help. Messages can be left on answerphones about a sick child; text messages can be sent back if a child doesn't make roll call.
Sadly though there are dangers out there that are difficult to protect against, but police chief Dave Gaskin is right, we should not give in to fear. "We've got to live our lives as normal."
I grew up in the Marchwiel area. The biggest dangers then in walking to school were neighbourhood dogs and clod fights with other kids. And what mum might do to you if you kicked holes in your shoes.
An element of unpleasantness was part of life. It was called growing up.
That is surely still the case, albeit in some modern form. And that's OK.
Just as long as parents are comfortable about the overall level of danger.
And this event is a good excuse for them and schools to review where they sit.
- The Timaru Herald