EVERY TIME my son leaves the house I tell him not to jump in the canal, steal things, or play on the building site. Jack is almost 13, but he’s still my baby, my first-born child. The thought of something terrible happening to him is unbearable.
We’re both reeling from the news that the body of seven-year-old Conley Thompson, was found on the very building site I’ve warned him about. It’s just 10 minutes’ walk from our home.
I don’t know who is more shocked and upset – me or Jack. Things like this don’t happen in our close-knit community. It’s old-fashioned, but we watch out for each other. When Jack’s roaming around, I know that someone we know – relative, friend, a parent from school – will always spot him. Worsbrough has its troubles and anti-social behaviour, like any other, but we do self-police our community as far as we can.
When we heard the news yesterday morning, Jack and I went straight to the site. To bear witness to such an awful thing happening so close by? Or to remind ourselves that we are alive? When we got there, I was surprised to find myself bursting into tears. However Conley died, to think of that cold little body lying there all alone in the mud was too much for me to take. Any mother would surely feel the same.
What are we parents to do though? We have to find a way of allowing our children the freedom they need to grow up into mature and responsible adults. At the same time though we must keep them safe. It is such a tricky one to call. And it’s not my job to speculate on whether it’s right for a seven-year-old to be out on his own without an adult in the evening. At what age should a child be allowed out to play anyway? There is no law which tells us this, only our own judgement. Indeed, other parents may think I am too lax with Jack. In these long school holidays, some days he sets off from our house at mid-day with a rucksack stuffed with biscuits and pop and doesn’t come home til his agreed “time” of 9pm.
I couldn’t tell you exactly where he is. He’s off out with his friends, exploring the very woods and fields which surround the site where Conley was found. And I want him to, because he will learn more about life, and nature, by exploring than by sitting in a classroom or in front of a computer.
Yet, I take my duty as a parent very seriously. Public safety campaigns are welcome, but I find with boys especially that they just don’t listen unless something happens to shock them into taking it in. My daughter, Lizzie, who is nine, could tell you everything about “stranger danger” because she has learned it at her Brownies, at the parish hall near that building site. Ask Jack about the recent campaigns to keep children off railway lines, or warn them about the dangers of swimming in reservoirs though and he’ll just look blank and defensive. He only takes care crossing roads because the other week, a friend of his was knocked down by a car and suffered horrific multiple injuries.
That lad’s dad posted movingly on Facebook about receiving “the phone call that every parent dreads”. This was sad enough, but imagine what the parents of Conley Thompson must have gone through on Monday morning. And now questions are being asked. Why was Conley there? At that time? On his own?
We must remember this though. A terrible thing has happened. We should not waste time sitting in judgement. We should concentrate on thinking about how best to prepare our own children for the world, but never forget that it is our job to protect them from its dangers.