A Mom Lets Her Son Wait in the Car. An Onlooker Videotapes this “Crime”

Readers, “The Day I Left My Son in the Car” is a great, long piece by a mom who called me up a couple months ago, Kim Brooks. As it says in her subtitle:

I made a split-second decision to run into the store. I had no idea it would consume the next years of my life

Kim was running an errand and had her 4 year old son with her. He didn’t want to come in, so:

For the next four or five seconds, I did what it sometimes seems I’ve been doing every minute of every day since having children, a constant, never-ending risk-benefit analysis. I noted that it was a mild, overcast, 50-degree day. I noted how close the parking spot was to the front door, and that there were a few other cars nearby. I visualized how quickly, unencumbered by a tantrumming 4-year-old, I would be, running into the store, grabbing a pair of child headphones. And then I did something I’d never done before. I left him. I told him I’d be right back. I cracked the windows and child-locked the doors and double-clicked my keys so that the car alarm was set. And then I left him in the car for about five minutes.

In that time, some bystander videotaped the boy (happily occupied with an iPad), then forwarded it to the cops. The mom was arrested.

You can read the whole story here. If you do, you will get to the part where she telephones me. She admits:

…I wasn’t sure what to expect of her, if I was going to end up talking to a fringe “expert” who would tell me to forgo seat belts and bike helmets and vaccines to help my kids toughen up. Instead, Skenazy comes across as calm, direct and adamant in her ideas.

I asked if I could start by telling her a little about my story, but I’d hardly finished the sentence when she interrupted. “Don’t bother,” she said. “Instead, let me tell you your story.” Apparently, she knew it by heart. “Just let me close the office door first because my husband’s heard this spiel a million times. OK, so, you were running errands with your kid when you decided to leave her in the car for a couple minutes while you ran into a store. The surrounding conditions were perfectly safe, mild weather and such, but when you came out, you found yourself blocked in by a cop car, being yelled at by a nosy, angry onlooker, being accused of child neglect or endangering your child. Is that about right?” Skenazy’s heard it all before. But her demeanor suggested the outrage such charges elicited in her hadn’t dissipated much over the years since, in response to her son’s subway ride, news outlets dubbed her “the worst mom in America.”

We talked for about an hour, and what stuck with me and surprised me most was not her sympathy, but her certainty, her utter lack of equivocation or doubt. “Listen,” she said at one point. “Let’s put aside for the moment that by far, the most dangerous thing you did to your child that day was put him in a car and drive someplace with him. About 300 children are injured in traffic accidents every day — and about two die. That’s a real risk. So if you truly wanted to protect your kid, you’d never drive anywhere with him. But let’s put that aside…. People will say you committed a crime because you put your kid ‘at risk.’ But the truth is, there’s some risk to either decision you make…Say you take the kid inside with you. There’s some risk you’ll both be hit by a crazy driver in the parking lot. There’s some risk someone in the store will go on a shooting spree and shoot your kid. There’s some risk he’ll slip on the ice on the sidewalk outside the store and fracture his skull. There’s some risk no matter what you do. So why is one choice illegal and one is OK? Could it be because the one choice inconveniences you, makes your life a little harder, makes parenting a little harder, gives you a little less time or energy than you would have otherwise had?”

Later on in the conversation, Skenazy boils it down to this. “There’s been this huge cultural shift. We now live in a society where most people believe a child can not be out of your sight for one second, where people think children need constant, total adult supervision. This shift is not rooted in fact. It’s not rooted in any true change. It’s imaginary. It’s rooted in irrational fear.”

I’d say, “Right on!” but…that would be weird, saying ,”Right on!” to myself. Instead I’ll just say I’m really glad this issue is getting out there. And I’m really sorry the reason it’s getting press is that so many parents are being arrested for making decent, rational decisions. – L

The law seems to believe a child is in danger in any non-moving car, no matter how content the kid.

The law seems to hold a child is in danger in any non-moving car, even when he’s not.

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82 Responses to A Mom Lets Her Son Wait in the Car. An Onlooker Videotapes this “Crime”

  1. Renee Anne June 4, 2014 at 1:51 am #

    I will admit that I have left my 3.5 year old son in the car at the gas station. Several times. I fill the tank with him in the car, firmly strapped into his car seat (he can loosen it but he can’t get out of it yet). If I run inside to pick up a Gatorade for him (and, God forbid, a SODA for me), I leave his happy little butt in the locked car. It’s less than a minute and I can see him the whole time.

    Perhaps I should be more scared of busybodies than I am…

  2. Rick June 4, 2014 at 7:03 am #

    Yes, the real risk is being ratted on by a complete stranger over exaggerated fears of imminent death to unwatched children. It’s been promoted by Homeland Security over the past 13 years. Snitch on your neighbor in case they might be terrorists, or bad parents. After all a Police State needs you to believe only they can protect you so your given the task to instill this indoctrination on your children. Criminalizing “bad” parenting choices thus becomes a way to ensure compliance to all the ridiculous rules at the checkpoints, lock downs, “shelter in place”, “free speech zones”, etc.

  3. Cassie June 4, 2014 at 7:30 am #

    I read her entire article. I am stunned.

    I leave my kids in the car all the time (Australia is a little less ridiculous). It is stupid to pull kids out of the car while you pay for petrol (the car never leaves your sight), and my butcher is awesome, the park out front is almost always available (and typically only used by the elderly or parents wanting to leave kids in a car).

    I was at a small railway place the other day. It had begun to rain and the group I was with had packed up and were about to head off. I was with my 4yo and 2yo and we were the last people in the place. My 4yo had bought along some money to spend in the shop, at that exact moment my 2yo refused to do anything other than walk out to the car with the rest of the group. I felt caught between a rock and a hard place, a heap of people (with cars full of kids) were hanging around awaiting my 4yo (who was taking forever to make a decision in the shop). I gave the keys to my friend and she went and strapped my 2yo in the car, I returned to my 4yo, checked that she knew “the right things to do” (meaning, don’t pull everything off the shelf) and checked with the elderly shop volunteer if it was okay if my daughter remained browsing without me (No problems there).

    I went back to my car, where my friend was waiting with my 2yo, and her whole family was waiting for her. I told her to go. I then locked the car (it was a cold day, but not seriously cold) and returned to my 4yo.

    My 2yo was alone in a locked car (in reasonable weather) in the middle of an empty parking lot (in the middle of the bush at a backwater railway exhibition).

    I worried. I knew my friend disapproved as she drove off and I worried that I was doing the wrong thing.

    The car was out of site, but it was locked and lots of volunteers were doing their business, so there was no fear of a bushranger galloping out of the bush to break into the car.

    But I still worried.

    My daughter made her purchase and I felt horrid for hurrying what was a lovely autonomous event for her (she had some money that she saved and the entire shop was full of things well within her price range), but the shop lady was lovely.

    My worry was not real, I wasn’t afraid of anything happening, I was only afraid that I would be judged badly, and that it wasn’t the “done” thing to leave a child in a car out-of-site.

    Keep preaching it Lenore… The message needs to be got out.

  4. Kerry June 4, 2014 at 8:17 am #

    If I ever witnessed an adult skulking around videotaping a child like that I’d call the cops on THEM. Where are the laws against that? I think somehow we need to teach our kids to stand up for themselves against these busybodies trying to scare them all the time.

  5. A Mom June 4, 2014 at 8:25 am #

    This is exactly why I teach my elementary school kids to lay down on the floorboards and pull the shades up.

  6. Tamara June 4, 2014 at 8:43 am #

    I so have a problem with the use of this phrase – “lapse of judgment” in these cases. As in, the parent in question just made a bad decision to leave the child in the car for 5 minutes because of her temporary lack of good judgment. The same as in the “kiddie porn” article from a few days ago. It’s a bad choice to take pictures of my kid in the tub? To leave them in the car while I pay for gas? When as Lenore says, the bigger risk is putting them IN the car in the first place?

    I get that maybe the judge/police whoever are maybe looking for an out that will leave them not having to take the kids away from their parents and have to say *something* because of all the fuss but the truth is these parents did nothing wrong! Is our world so unsafe now that we cannot go outside alone? I should tell my kids “sorry, you can’t go to the park it is not safe in our world? Ridiculous. Fear and control. You’ve got it, Rick – back to the Cold War times – snitch on your friends and all will be well because you are being a good citizen.

  7. Lex June 4, 2014 at 9:04 am #

    “Contributing to the delinquency of a minor?”

    This one time I left my four year old playing with an iPad in the back seat for five minutes, and when I came back he was selling crack out the window.

  8. Michelle June 4, 2014 at 9:13 am #

    I am absolutely sick with anger over this, and the part that bugs me the most is that some fool out there thinks he or she did a good deed by calling the cops.

    Standing back and video-taping a perfectly happy child sitting in a car for a couple of minutes, and then turning said video over to the cops after the mom shows up and everyone drives away unharmed, is not being a Good Samaritan. It’s not protecting a child, or looking out for kids, or saving the day. It’s nothing but being a COWARDLY BUSYBODY. A busybody because you’re getting involved in a situation that’s none of your concern, where no one is actually in danger, and creating a problem where none exists. And cowardly because, if the child WAS in danger, you did NOTHING to actually help!! The biggest risk to a child left in a car is overheating, and if you think that is happening you need to act NOW. If a child is actually overheating in a car before your very eyes, break the window and get them out! Scream for help! Call 911 and tell them to send an ambulance right away!

    Or, you know, you could traumatize a perfectly happy and safe child and parent by introducing the specter of family services, and potentially destroy their lives just so you can pat yourself on the back without having to actually get involved.

  9. Michelle June 4, 2014 at 9:30 am #

    PS, I let my kids stay in the car for a minute or two all the time. If I’m going on a quick errand (like the convenience store), I intentionally take along one of my older kids so they can stay in the car with the baby. Yesterday I left my 10yo in the car while I ran into a liquor store. Shocking, I know, because it’s more acceptable to leave your kid if you aren’t buying something purely for yourself, but believe it or not, he didn’t die! I even took longer than I expected — they didn’t have what I wanted so I looked around for something else — but he still survived! When I returned, the car was still cool from the a/c having been on when I was driving, and I live in TEXAS!

  10. Matthew June 4, 2014 at 9:45 am #

    It’s interesting some of the issue is that there isn’t a law clearly defining when it’s an issue, leaving it up to judgement.

    In SC, we had a legitimate problem with video poker, and parents leaving kids deliberately for extended periods (80s, early 90s). That’s a case when it makes sense, and we had announcements encouraging reporting. But, if I recall correctly, they mentioned paying was ok, and said 10-15 minutes.

    I’d much prefer having a specific law that identified no line of sight, 15 minutes, and possibly an ambient temperature or maximum temperature inside the car (details TBD). It’s a protection against legal system abuse since it removes opinion and gives police a specific proof threshhold to meet.

  11. caryn June 4, 2014 at 9:56 am #

    Did you see the responses on this thread? ALl of them (in response to “Is it legal to leave my kid in the car” completely flipped out. Ridiculous!
    https://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20070303165009AAQljuH

  12. anonymous mom June 4, 2014 at 9:59 am #

    This is completely insane. At this point, I think we can safely say we are suffering from mass hysteria over child safety, and our perceptions of what is and is not risky are delusional.

    What we don’t seem to realize is that there is ALWAYS an inherent risk in any action we take. This week, my middle child has been attending an art camp that is at a gallery about 1/2 mile from my front door (maybe a bit less). It’s been hot and I’m 8 months pregnant, so I haven’t felt like walking over, and have been driving (which, is risky choice #1).

    So, I have a few options: I can drive over with all three kids, and take them all in with me, hoping my 2yo won’t get away from me and run near the very busy street and somewhat dangerous intersection it’s located on. (Actually, the time I did do that, I left him outside to play with sidewalk chalk with the gallery owner’s 8yo daughter, while I brought my daughter inside and got her settled in, which I’m sure somebody out there would have felt was grounds for calling the police.) Or, I can drive over with all three kids, and leave my 10yo and 2yo in the car while I drop off my daughter, leaving them alone in a car on that dangerous, busy intersection. Or I could leave my 10yo at home with my 2yo and just run my 4yo over to her class, and hope that I don’t get reported for neglect.

    I’ve actually done all three of these, depending on what seems like it will work best for everybody at the time. But the irony is that the one decision I most certainly would NOT get criticized for is the most dangerous one I made, which was deciding to drive the kids over rather than walking. But nobody would fault me for that, while I’m sure I could find a stranger willing to fault any of the other choices I made, to the point where they’d think calling the police was warranted.

    This mother did not have a “lapse in judgment.” She made a judgement call, in a world where everything we do carries some degree of risk. I mean, sure, the child could have decided to open the door and run into the parking lot. However, if she had taken him into the store, he could have decided to bolt away from her and run out of the store into the parking lot. There are no 100% risk-free options in life, and we need to accept that, and recognize that rational risk-assessment can lead different people to make different choices, and that’s okay.

  13. JM June 4, 2014 at 10:03 am #

    So the issue isn’t surreptitiously videotaping a child/minor… how strange. In the current culture, you could bet as this person was videotaping the kid, somebody ELSE noticed them and alerted the authorities about a strange person videotaping children… and after THAT all schools would go into lockdown for a day, transit being re-routed… because Mom jumped into a store for a moment. BRAVO AMERICA

  14. anonymous mom June 4, 2014 at 10:16 am #

    @Matthew, I agree. Vague laws are no good. I’ve been looking things up like laws about leaving a child in the car or leaving them home alone in my state, and they are very vague and open to interpretation.

    For example, this is directly from the statute dealing with children being left alone in cars:

    “(1) A person who is responsible for the care or welfare of a child shall not leave that child unattended in a vehicle for a period of time that poses an unreasonable risk of harm or injury to the child or under circumstances that pose an unreasonable risk of harm or injury to the child…

    (3) As used in this section:

    (a) ‘Child’ means an individual less than 6 years of age.

    (b) ‘Physical harm’ and ‘serious physical harm’ mean those terms as defined in section 136b.

    (c) ‘Unattended’ means alone or without the supervision of an individual 13 years of age or older who is not legally incapacitated.”

    What on earth does that mean? What is “a period of time that poses an unreasonable risk of harm or injury to the child”? What are “circumstances that pose an unreasonable risk of harm or injury to the child”? What is an unreasonable versus a reasonable risk, especially in a society where we seem unable to tolerate the idea of ANY risk?

    Given those terms, one person might feel that leaving a child in the car for 15 minutes on a 65 degree day while they pick up a few groceries is entirely within the bounds of the law, while another might feel that leaving a child in the car for 3 minutes on a 50 degree day while they run into the post office to mail a letter is illegal. I agree that I’d rather see them clearly define what they mean: How long can the child be in the car?, In what temperatures is leaving a child in the car allowable?, How far away can the parent be?, etc., so we’d at least have a clear legal standard to work from.

    My state also has no laws regarding when a child can be left home alone. I wish they did. Personally, I’m comfortable leaving my 10yo home alone for a couple of hours at a time if I’m nearby (sometimes I take my little ones to play at a friends’ house a block or two away, and he doesn’t want to come) or for very short periods of time (under 20 minutes or so) with one of his younger siblings. But, I have no idea if that could get me in trouble or not. One thing we’re really having trouble deciding is what to do if I go into labor in the middle of the night with this baby. If it’s 3 in the morning, we’d really rather wake up the oldest, let him know what’s going on, and leave him in the house with his sleeping younger siblings, knowing that we have several neighbors who he call if he needed anything, and have my husband drop me off at the hospital, which is less than 5 minutes away from our house, and then come right back home (and then get the kids settled in with a babysitter in the morning and come back to join me). To me, that seems safer and more practical than getting three kids into a car in the middle of the night, but who knows?

  15. delurking June 4, 2014 at 10:20 am #

    I’d like to know how common these prosecutions really are. There are many anecdotes in the story about people leaving their kids in their cars. The lawyer sees prosecutions a lot, but it is his job to do that.

    Many parents at my kid’s daycare leave young kids asleep in car seats while they go inside to drop of their other kids. This is in Maryland where there is a specific law, not the vague application in the story:

    Family Law §5–801. Unattended Children
    (a) A person who is charged with the care of a child under the age of 8 years may not allow the child to be locked or confined in a dwelling, building, enclosure, or motor vehicle while the person charged is absent and the dwelling, building, enclosure, or motor vehicle is out of the sight of the person charged unless the person charged provides a reliable person at least 13 years old to remain with the child to protect the child.
    (b) A person who violates this section is guilty of a misdemeanor and on conviction is subject to a fine not exceeding $500 or imprisonment not exceeding 30 days, or both.

  16. SKL June 4, 2014 at 10:24 am #

    This makes me wonder whether I avoided being arrested because I drove away (without “permission”) leaving the cop standing there, or because my kids were 6yo instead of 4 when this happened to me. I was hoping it was because the cop knew it wasn’t a crime.

    We really need someone to go on network TV with a PSA. “Concerned about someone else’s kid? Be a good neighbor! Check it out, ask the mom if everything is OK, maybe lend a hand! But save 911 for real emergencies!”

  17. J- June 4, 2014 at 10:58 am #

    You made me read an article in Salon I agreed with. I feel dirty now.

  18. lollipoplover June 4, 2014 at 11:00 am #

    Her lawyer said:
    “Here’s how I look at it. I’m glad we live in a world where people are watching out for kids. I’m glad that when someone thinks they’re seeing something wrong take place, they get involved. But in your case, what happened wasn’t malicious. It wasn’t neglectful. It was a temporary lapse in judgment. This is what we need to stress.”

    What’s up for negotiation is the “something wrong”.
    A child playing happily in a car is not something wrong! How about putting the camera down and having an actual conversation with a member of your community. A good samaritan is someone who behaves in a helpful manner. It does not support the youth of our community by cowardly submitting videos to police of non-crimes.

    I had an incident yesterday with my foster pup who dug a whole under my fence (and ate the wood fence too) and escaped just as the kids were biking off to school. I chased him down for almost 20 minutes but he’s crazy fast and was on a scent of either a rabbit or squirrel so I couldn’t catch him. I went home to get my other two dogs to help me track him down and when I came back to the field he was running in, two college students with leashes and dog treats were actively searching for my dog, trying to catch him. They saw him loose, went home to get supplies, and for 15 minutes they devoted their time to catch a loose dog. The one student was a dog trainer at a local pet store (where I will now shop). She gave me great advise on reinforcing fencing and I thanked them profusely for their kindness and time. This is what I call “watching out for each other”.

  19. Neil M. June 4, 2014 at 11:09 am #

    Not to get overly political, but I cannot help but feel there’s something quite privileged about concern over these kinds of things. Remember a month or so back when the homeless woman left her kids in the car so she could attend a job interview? The outrage was that the kids had been left alone in the car, not that the car served as the kids’ home. It’s easy to criticize a struggling parent who doesn’t act as we wish, but it’s much harder to actually address those struggles. I think that prosecuting this woman for essentially nothing is a product of that privileged worldview. We won’t do anything about children who are underinsured, or undereducated, or underfed, but leave ‘em in a car alone for 30 seconds and you’re off to jail!

    I’d like to see a world in which the cost of prosecution is re-directed toward getting children what they really need — food, clothing, decent housing — and away from indulging our own paranoia.

  20. DirtyHooker June 4, 2014 at 11:18 am #

    This was my fear a few weeks ago. I left my 15-month-old daughter in her car seat (she can’t get out yet) while I popped into the wine store to get a couple of bottles for a gather at my house. It was 41 F. I knew exactly what I wanted, so I went to the back, got it, and went to the register. I was parked directly in front of the glass doors by the register, so she was out of my sight for about 90 seconds.

    While I was paying, another customer confronted me about how kids were being snatched out of cars “all the time like that.” A guy next to her told me she was just trying to help. I informed her that no, kids were not being snatched all the time like that. I’m not aware of any kids in my city snatched from a car in full view of their mothers.

    Totally ruined my day. I spent the entire rest of the week worried I’d find a cop at my doorstep.

  21. David DeLugas June 4, 2014 at 11:24 am #

    Keep fighting the cultural shift, Lenore! As you and I have discussed often, without legislation that takes what the Constitution says about parenting (as interpreted by the US Supreme Court) which is that, without actual harm to a child, parents have the right to decide how to raise their own children. A compelling state interest is necessary before states (the government) can infringe on substantive Constitutional rights. thus, in my analysis, legislation enacted state by state that makes it clear that parents, who make such risk-benefit analysis, such as allowing a child to participate in gymnastics or tackle football, to bungee jump, to climb a hill while playing (risk of tumbling down), or to do or not do anything, shall not be investigated or stopped in the absence of actual harm. After all, there ARE far too many children who suffer harm, real harm, that are not sufficiently addressed by the so-called “Child Protective Services” and made safe for any resources, time or funds, to be expended bothering parents where their children are not hurt. Parents must rally together and have something of an “uprising” to battle back both through telling off a society that wants to suggest we must parent at the lowest common denominator with an illusion of safety (as noted, a child is at greater risk of harm in a moving car than in a parked car, so long as the conditions and the length of time in the parked car are not extreme) AND we must be as parents sufficient powerful to get such legislation enacted. Of course, that is one of the reasons why the National Association of Parents was formed. When parents are as strong as the AARP, unions, teachers, and others who have discovered that only when battling together will legislators and others “hear” us. For more information and to join or donate, please visit our website or Facebook page. https://www.parentsusa.org

  22. GRS June 4, 2014 at 11:28 am #

    This article saddens and angers me. It’s another example of a prosecutor going for charges because they CAN, not because they SHOULD. Never mind that there is likely no real danger: They have taken their own idea of how things should be and in an abuse of discretion imposed that idea upon the original intent of the law, using any vagueness of the law to run a mack truck through people’s lives to add another notch to their prosecutorial gun.

    Beware of prosecutors who campaign as being tough on crime: There is a good chance of getting nothing more than a straight-out bully in the office.

    OK…so how do we get legislators, police departments, prosecutors, judges and CPS people–all bureaucrats in some fashion who find it easier to ‘just say no’ to any kind of ‘shade of gray’–in the same room that we are in, get the point across what this is doing, address their own agendas that often have nothing to do with children and everything to do with things unrelated to children (for example, power and control), and get long-term change that puts a stop to this madness?

    All of us on this and other websites and discussion groups see it, but most of the ‘powers that be’ folks I list above seem to be in a thoughtless parallel universe where the mindless bureaucratic checklist rules and where even asking the questions about what this does to children, parents and society in the long term is at best discouraged and at worst condemned? Get that notch in the gun, get that scalp in the collection to trot out for the next election, and the collateral damage to lives and society be damned.

  23. Heather Considine June 4, 2014 at 11:33 am #

    I thought it was an excellent article and she really touched home on how parents have an enormous amount of pressure to keep their kids safe. What I struggled with as a Free Range Parent was her repeatedly saying she made a mistake, telling her son she made a mistake. I don’t think she made a mistake, she used her judgement as a parent with her child’s best interest in mind to leave him in the car. That was not a mistake, and we as Free Range Parents need to continue to stand up for our rights as parents and our children’s rights to be free.

  24. gap.runner June 4, 2014 at 11:39 am #

    When I first came to Germany, I ran a recycling program on a US military base. There was a recycling center on the base that was very popular because of the convenience. People could drive into the center up to the particular bins that they needed. What does this have to do with leaving a child in a car? One day I got a call from a woman with a 2-month-old baby. She said that she wanted to use the recycling center because it was so convenient. But she was worried about leaving her baby in the car while doing her recycling. At the time Army regulations said that kids under 9 could not be left alone in a vehicle. I explained to the woman that she would not get in trouble. She could drive right up to the bin, walk about 10 steps to the bin, and recycle her items. She would be 10-15 feet away from her baby at the most and within sight and sound of him. I explained that a two-month-old could not unbuckle his car seat and crawl out of the car, so he was perfectly safe. It took a while to convince this woman that it was okay to leave her baby in the car while she did her recycling.

    I think that paranoia about getting into trouble has led to the decline of common sense. If the woman was within 10 feet of her baby and could see him and get to him if he cried, it makes perfect sense for him to stay in the car. If she were on base and left the baby in the car while she was shopping in the PX for 20 minutes, that would have been another story.

  25. Emily June 4, 2014 at 11:44 am #

    Every once in a while, someone will notice my son’s awkwardness when he runs or watch me grinning stupidly at some new skill, one that is usually more suitable for a child half his age and they’ll ask me about him. He broke his leg when he was 3. His femur. That’s when the questions really start. Was he hit be a car? Did he fall out of a tree? No, he was walking across our kitchen, fell on a wet spot, went down and broke it. Another boy 3 months younger than him was in the er the same night as us with the exact same injury, also occurring from a a fall on a wet spot.

    The “least safe” my son has ever been in his life was while he was walking in his own home. It would have had the exact same result had he been in my sight. I couldn’t have saved him from breaking the hardest to break bone in his whole body. It just happened.

  26. gap.runner June 4, 2014 at 11:45 am #

    On another note, in Europe it is perfectly acceptable for parents to leave their babies outside when they go into shops, restaurants, or even home. Many Mom and Pop shops are too small to accommodate prams, so the mothers leave their babies outside. The shops are small enough for the parents to be in visual and auditory contact with their babies. I have seen sleeping babies left outside of restaurants while the parents ate. The parents sat by the window, where they could keep an eye on the stroller/pram. When my landlady’s kids were babies, she would leave them outside napping in their prams. She would go for a walk and the babies would fall asleep. Instead of waking them up and dragging them into our apartment building, she left them sleeping outside in the fresh air.

  27. Paula June 4, 2014 at 11:45 am #

    I leave my son for, GASP 3-4 min everyday to take my daughter into school! Arrest me, I dare you!

  28. Susan June 4, 2014 at 11:55 am #

    There are not enough words in the English language for me to express my disgust and outrage at the “good Samaritan” who did this horrible thing to that mom! Does ANYONE think anymore? Do these busybodies realize that when they report someone like this, they are potentially RUINING A FAMILY’S AND A CHILD’S LIFE? What do they think will happen to the child if he/she is taken away from the “irresponsible” parent and placed into the foster care system? That things will be better for the kid? Do they ever think of the consequences their so called “good deed” will have on that child’s future if craziness prevails and the parent is arrested, prosecuted and deemed an “unfit parent?” I have a pretty big vocabulary, and I don’t even have enough words to describe the level of outrage I’m feeling right now!

    We live in a society that makes us paranoid to even go outside with our kids, lest we be judged by total strangers. When my son was small (he’s nearly 16 now), I actually had to think about where I would get gasoline if he was with me because I was so afraid that someone would “report” me if I left him in the car for ten seconds when I had to go to the window and pay for the gas! (Back then, pay at the pump wasn’t as ubiquitous as it is now. But even then, I shouldn’t have HAD to think about that, especially if the car was within my sight while I went to pay!) I was so paranoid about OTHER people that I actually went to full-service gas stations so that I wouldn’t have to make that “choice.”

    Keep fighting the good fight, Lenore — this is an outrage!!

  29. Amanda Matthews June 4, 2014 at 12:00 pm #

    I really don’t get why it is okay to have your kids across the house from you in a large house, but that same distance to go into a store is not okay. Or why a kid is in more danger being on the other side of the front door or car door from me, than they are on the other side of a bedroom door.

    Anway… the only lapse in judgement I see here is letting a tantruming child keep the ipad and buying him headphones. But of course, no one should face legal trouble for making parenting decisions I disagree with.

  30. D.F. June 4, 2014 at 12:07 pm #

    I really appreciate the presentation of Ms. Skenazy’s explanation of risk in the article. There is *always* risk in everything we do, including when we’re sedentary and doing nothing. We need policies that consider relative risk and some realistic cost-benefit analyses, rather than knee-jerk, strict rules. The number of kids left in cars and killed by heatstroke, 44 in 2013, barely registers against all the other causes, including motor vehicles (~6,700), drowning (~1,000), and poisoning (~1,000). In the U.S. there are about 40 million kids under age 10, meaning about 1 in 1 million will die each year from heat stroke in cars. That’s enough to care about, but there’s also room for common sense in policies and focusing on the bigger dangers. I think we can all agree it’s bad to leave kids or dogs in hot cars, but that doesn’t require a blanket prohibition for any temperature or any length of time.

    One winter a couple of years ago I left my six-year-old in the car while I ran a 5-minute errand in a store. It was 35 F degrees outside, and the inside of the car never got below 65 degrees. My daughter was wearing her coat while waiting in the car. You can probably guess what happened. Another parent witnesses this and freaks out, scolding me when I got back to the car. I tried to explain to no avail that: 1) My daughter was safe and warm; 2) She was fully capable of walking into the store on her own if she somehow got cold; and 3) She walks to school on her own (gasp) in weather much worse than that all winter long. This woman was seconds away from calling the cops, and it’s quite possible that I would have been submitted to all the same hassles as the mother in this article.

  31. Robert Monroe, Jr. June 4, 2014 at 12:42 pm #

    Some people just need to mind their damn business.

  32. Brenna June 4, 2014 at 12:51 pm #

    Infuriating, to say the least, and common sense is nowhere to be seen. I saw it all the time this winter. It was a brutally cold winter here, and the wind chills when I was dropping my son off at daycare were -30F on multiple days. Icy, snowy roads. And yet people would haul their infants out of the car, into the freezing cold, and walk across icy ground while carrying the heavy seat, rather than leave a sleeping baby in a warm car for the 2 minutes that it took to sign the older sibling in. How does that make any sense at all?? I routinely leave my kids in the car to run errands. And I see others in my small rural area do the same, so hopefully I won’t see the cops at my door any time soon.

  33. Reziac June 4, 2014 at 12:53 pm #

    As I’ve said over and over — if it’s an actual emergency, there’s no time to wait for help to arrive. If it’s an actual emergency, rescue the child (or animal) yourself.

    If you’re not willing to do this — IT WASN’T AN EMERGENCY and there was NO reason to call the authorities, who might show up in 20 minutes or four hours or maybe never. In an actual emergency, that’s too late.

    And when I was a kid, leaving kids in the car was considered the SAFE alternative to dragging them around parking lots and in and out of gas stations and convenience stores.

    This notion that OUT OF SIGHT EQUALS DEAD is an insane level of paranoia, right up there with any disorder listed in the DSM.

  34. Reziac June 4, 2014 at 1:01 pm #

    Neil says,

    “Not to get overly political, but I cannot help but feel there’s something quite privileged about concern over these kinds of things.”

    Yes, but not in the politically correct meaning of the term. Rather, it’s something people do when they feel that they can look down their noses at you, for whatever reason. They’re better than you, they would NEVER do that to THEIR children. And methinks these do-gooders are indeed people whose lives have never included any real risks, so they have absolutely no experience at judging risk. Therefore anything they have not personally experienced constitutes “risk” — no matter how benign it really is.

  35. Ag8 June 4, 2014 at 1:23 pm #

    In the Netherlands, children walk or bike to school by themselves from about 8 yrs old. In small rural towns that is, with sidewalks for pedestrians and little and relatively slow driving cars. In cities with lots of cars, trams, buses, scooters and fellow cyclists, parents will accompany their children a bit longer.
    Also children will be sent out or ask to run errands, at first something small like maybe a carton of milk you forgot. My kids have been doing this since they were 7 and 9, I think, in a neighbourhood store two blocks away.
    When we lived in CA, I let my kids play outside small stores, and also in the street. I’d let them go over to friends on the other side of the block, and later to the play ground.
    I had to refuse to let them bike to elementary school by themselves because cycling is too dangerous because a lot of American drivers don’t notice cyclists (even wearing neon safety thingies) as drivers are not taught and not used to look out for cyclists.
    Anyway, my point is that I have wondered how American kids learn to be independent, to be responsible. Once I saw 14 year old girls all being dropped off. for some sports event. I told my sons not to expect to be driven around at that age cause mummy wants to start getting more of her life back.
    I wondered: if kids are so protected and taken care of, what will they do when they go to college, can they handle the freedom?
    A lot of friends told me they used to run, bike and play without supervision when they were children. My guess is the excessive media coverage when something does happen is largely responsible for the change, and the way an incident is covered. I really do hope that children will get more freedom again to get dirty, be naughty (ding-dong ditch), make friends, explore, make mistakes, to learn who they are, to learn about the world in their own pace.

  36. Dawn Pedersen June 4, 2014 at 1:27 pm #

    I suppose that parenting the way I want to will require a string of civil disobediences on my part, in order to let my son live free. Let him sit in the car for three minutes while I run into a store, let him ride a bike without a helmet, let him play around the neighborhood without supervision, let him walk to school by himself.

    Thank you, Lenore, for helping to remind us of the true risks to our children. And illuminating the irrational fears.

  37. Katie Tempel June 4, 2014 at 1:28 pm #

    I am by no means saying this mother did anything wrong because honestly I’ve wanted to do it many, many times.I however am more afraid of who will see me doing it and freak out on me. I have 4 kids; 8, 6, 4 and 13mos. That is a lot to drag out of the car for a quick errand. I however drag them out or run the errand when my husband is home so I don’t have to take them all. Its sad that as a parent I cannot make the decision to leave my kiddos in the car for a few minutes to run into the gas station or a restaurant or something. Just today I went to meet a lady that I was buying a toy kitchen from. My 6 yr. old woke up not feeling well. My first thought was I have to cancel the pickup. Second thought was I could leave her at home since it was only going to take about 30 minutes. I decided to do the pick up and take her along. Needless to say I couldn’t get the kitchen to fit into my car because there was no room for it and my two kids who ride in the back row. Will have to go back later this evening when the hubby is home. Tired of society dictating how I raise my kids.

  38. John June 4, 2014 at 1:38 pm #

    I’ve said this once, no, I’ve said this a thousand times here and I’ll probably say it at least a thousand more times. In the United States when it comes to children, the constitution doesn’t seem to apply. I am not a parent but I really feel sorry for those parents here trying to raise healthy and independent children. We are becoming, or already have become, a police state when it comes to raising children.

    Now you can debate a parent’s judgment to leave their 4-year-old child unattended within a parked car for a very short time on a 50 degree day with doors locked, until the cows come home. Naturally your helicopter crowd will have decenting opinions to that BUT criminalizing parents who make mildly “bad” judgments when raising their children is tantamount to a totalitarian culture. Now when an enraged parent holds a hot clothing iron to their child’s face in a fit of anger, THAT is when authorities should be called. When an irresponsible parent is snorting cocaine in front of their young children AND encouraging them to do it, THAT is when authorities should be called. Running off somewhere for a week and leaving your 5-year-old children home alone, THAT is when authorities should be called. I could go on and on. But leaving a 4-year-old alone in a parked car on a mildly cool day for a very short time while you run into the store or gas station to pay, is nothing close to being flagrant.

    The problem is, the term “child abuse” here in America has greatly expanded within the past 30 years. It seems as if EVERYTHING nowadays in America is considered child abuse. If you make your 10-year-old son or daughter bundle up on a subfreezing day and walk 5 blockes to school instead of giving them a ride, somebody will call cps on you. So momentarily leaving a 4-year-old child unattended in a locked car on a cool day is put into the same category as plastering a red hot clothing iron to his face. There doesn’t seem to be any perspective when it comes to children here in the U.S. because EVERYTHING is considered “child abuse”.

    Unfortunately I just don’t see this changing anytime soon because these politicians run on the platform of “protecting the kids” and then more crazy laws are passed without any regard to the collateral damage they cause. But since children are such an emotional issue for us Americans, it’s a great way for a candidate to round up some cheap votes.

  39. anonymous mom June 4, 2014 at 1:44 pm #

    @John: “The problem is, the term “child abuse” here in America has greatly expanded within the past 30 years. It seems as if EVERYTHING nowadays in America is considered child abuse.”

    I basically agree. I think part of the problem is that we’ve moved from seeing abusive behavior as behavior that actually causes real harm, but instead as behavior that could potentially cause harm. And, as we know, many if not most behaviors could potentially cause harm, which gives us the freedom to define nearly anything as “abuse.”

  40. Jenny Islander June 4, 2014 at 1:53 pm #

    @Rick: “Shelter in place” is not security theater; it’s common sense. If you live in a place that is prone to natural disasters that may knock out power and/or water or close the roads, and your house is not directly in the danger zone, be prepared to shelter in place now because you won’t be able to go get stuff then. My local government has been producing shelter-in-place pamphlets since the ’70s (earthquakes, tsunamis, blizzards, landslides, ammonia leaks from the fish processing plants that line the waterfront).

  41. Jenny Islander June 4, 2014 at 1:58 pm #

    Oh, and volcanic ash. Yesterday the USGS put a volcano in our fall zone on red alert. We’ve only ever had a dusting in my lifetime, but just over 100 years ago this town got 18 inches and a day with no light.

  42. DirtyHooker June 4, 2014 at 2:00 pm #

    This issue makes me sad and angry. I don’t fear child predators, but I do fear my own neighbors, at least in this regard. I hate that I’m reluctant to help build my community because I never know what busybody asshat is going to get overly involved.

  43. Maggie in VA June 4, 2014 at 2:29 pm #

    So far, I’ve only been willing to leave my kids in the car when I have line of sight to it from the business, it’s below 70-75 degrees F, and my transaction will only take about five minutes. That is far more to do with my fear of situations like the one described her than concern that my children are at risk. Well, that and the fact that my boys are now old enough to get into real mischief. My mother used to leave my sister and me in the car all the time without worrying about it.

  44. Lex June 4, 2014 at 2:34 pm #

    A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he surreptitiously videotaped him from a distance, and sent the recording to the Roman police, who arrested the man for indecent exposure.

    That’s how the parable of the Good Samaritan went, right?

  45. Blue Beryl June 4, 2014 at 2:42 pm #

    I recommend a few sessions with a cognitive behavior therapist for those parents engaged in worst-case thinking. People who says things like “what if” and “anything could have happened” (especially when the outcome is known and nothing happened) are experiencing disordered thoughts that can be brought into control with help from a professional.

  46. SKL June 4, 2014 at 3:05 pm #

    I think we should get the personal info of the next busybody we meet, and if s/he has kids, file a police report the next time they do something statistically more dangerous than leaving a kid in a not-hot car for a few minutes. Such as:

    – drive their kids anywhere
    – take them swimming
    – go to sleep or take a shower with their kids at home

    But wait – that would probably get ME arrested, wouldn’t it?

    How do we get some consistency in the results of frivolous reports?

  47. Jen Juhasz June 4, 2014 at 3:39 pm #

    A constant fear of mine! My heart goes out to this Mom. I drive a company truck (my husband’s renovation business) and sometimes I have to do pick ups for him with the kids. Most businesses are totally fine with my well-behaved boys coming in and participating in the buying and purchasing of goods, but there are a few who basically look at me like evil incarnate for (gasp) involving my children in the grown-up business of, uhm, buying plumbing fittings or electrical whatevers or tile or …you get it. So – I make the judgement call, on a regular basis, to let my boys be safely in the car. I constantly fear the day I’ll come back to my car with a cop standing there ready to take me in for doing something my mother did with us All The Time as a child. I remember my older brother getting stuck in the car for throwing tantrums in stores while Mom finished her shopping. I remember going to Sears and being allowed to sit and watch cartoons on the big TVs while Mom bought school supplies.
    It’s absolutely horrible the catch-22 that parents are stuck in. You can’t leave your children unattended, not even for a moment, no matter how safe. But you also can’t inconvenience other grown-ups with the sight of your children, no matter how well behaved, if it’s an ‘adult’ environment (dinner out, movies, workplaces, etc). We live in a time where Dogs are granted better privileges (on par with what kids had in the 70s) than our own children.
    Heaven forbid a parent raises an independent and capable child – who knows what that might do to the mindless scared little rabbits we’re supposed to be turning into adults.

  48. SKL June 4, 2014 at 3:46 pm #

    I just did a little internet research to update my knowledge about kids dying in cars from heatstroke.

    One thing I had not noticed before was that many of these deaths are caused by safety considerations and fears!

    – A young child wanders away and climbs into the car to play, then either falls asleep or can’t figure out how to get out. The family’s first thought is abduction/murder, so they round up a search party that searches for hours, everywhere except inside the family’s car. By then the child is dead.

    Also in the cases of little kids crawling into cars, child safety locks are probably an issue – the kids cannot open the doors to let themselves out.

    – The number of deaths increased very dramatically from the days when there were no airbags. Why? Before, people let young kids sit in the front seat of the car, where they would not forget them.

    – The oldest kid who died in 2013 was 14yo! How could that happen? Well, she had decided to sit in the car waiting for school to start, and her brother went off with the car keys. The car could not be unlocked from the inside without the car keys. She was stuck there throughout the school day and she died.

    Some other info that might be interesting:

    Only 18% of the kids who died in cars were intentionally left there. 81% were either forgotten or they wandered into the car and found themselves locked in.

    Of course the vast majority of the kids were under 2yo.

    In 2013, the *lowest* outside temperature associated with a child’s death was 76 degrees.

    In every case where the family could estimate the time in the car, it was no less than an hour, usually several hours or even days. There is no case of a child dying of heatstroke in a car in a matter of minutes.

    The studies say (on a summer day) the temp rises less than 10 degrees in 5 minutes, less than 20 degrees in 10 minutes. Unless the car was very hot to begin with, this is not enough to kill a child.

    The facts indicate that when a parent intentionally chooses to leave a child in a not-hot car for a short time period (10 minutes or less), the child is NOT in any danger of heatstroke.

    The site containing all this info urges people to call 911 if they see a child in a HOT car. Not any car.

    The site also says that if you are looking for a child, look first in the pool and second in the car. Unfortunately people seem to think of the car last, if at all. :(

  49. Backroads June 4, 2014 at 4:00 pm #

    What breaks my heart is that her son is now messed-up! She did nothing wrong! Heck, as a kid, if we got lost in the store… we were taught to go outside to our (unlocked) car and wait. We started doing it if we got bored with shopping. If Mom or Dad couldn’t find us when the shopping trip ended, they would check the car before freaking out. I don’t think they ever had to freak out. Sure, there were exceptions to this rule based on age and new locations and whatnot, but it was the general rule.

    The other day on Facebook a friend had posted that ridiculous report about the dangers of window decals. So… I got into it. I mentioned it was ridiculous to make all decisions based on potential dangers. The response I received: “All real dangers start out as potential dangers”. Sigh.

    But this article made me mad! And I’m on the cautious side of leaving your child in the car on a hot day.

  50. anonymous mom June 4, 2014 at 4:10 pm #

    @Jen, that’s the problem: people are so judgmental, parents always have to make trade-offs.

    I’m glad I’m relatively anonymous, because otherwise I would fear somebody would call the police on me. But, just an hour or so ago, I left my 2yo napping on the couch with my 10yo (who was playing video games next to him) while I was out. I was going to wake the youngest, who had just fallen asleep, but my oldest insisted that he would be fine and wanted to stay home with his brother. I did the risk assessment: it was highly unlikely anything bad would happen if they were home, especially since my son knows that there are adults home he can go to if he needs help two houses away in two directions (and if we count neighbors he knows he could run to if there was an emergency in a one-block radius, it’s more like half a dozen). If I woke up the little one and took him, I’d have to carry him around because of the mood he’d be in (and I’m 8-1/2 months pregnant so that is not fun and sometimes quite painful) plus it’s raining, so I’d be waking him up to drag him out in the rain. I decided to let my oldest stay home with his brother. I first had to pick my daughter and a friend up from art camp and bring them home. It was about a 10 or 15 minute trip. I stopped home to see if the kids were okay, and they were. My oldest said his brother was still fast asleep and he didn’t want to come out, so I left them home for another 15 minutes or so while I picked up their dad from work (I did take my daughter with me, because I didn’t feel comfortable leaving my son with an awake younger sibling, since I was going to be about 1-1/2 miles away and she can be difficult). We got home, and everything was fine: my oldest had a great time (he’d just played video games and sent me a few e-mails to tell me things were going well) and my youngest slept the entire time and just woke up about five minutes ago.

    I hate that what I think was a reasonable parenting choice that I’m entitled as a mother to make, knowing the maturity level of my children and having more concern for their well-being than any stranger would, is something that a stranger would feel was grounds for calling the police. I also hate that our legal system seems to refuse to distinguish between truly negligent behavior and behavior that is perhaps a little outside the norm but still safe. I want to be trusted as a parent to make decisions, and I think the presumption should be that most parents can make reasonable choices for their own kids. I would not leave my oldest home to babysit his younger siblings while my husband and I took in a leisurely dinner in the suburbs. However, I think he’s perfectly capable of staying home with a sibling who, by all historical precedent, would remain fast asleep for another 90 minutes at least while neighbors he could go to for help were home and I was running errands in a 1-1/2 mile radius (and not leaving him unattended for more than 15 minutes at a time). It’s the line of thinking that goes from leaving an older child and napping toddler in a safe setting for a short period of time straight to leaving the kids to make dinner and care for themselves overnight while mom parties at the casino until 5 a.m.–and assumes we have to criminalize the former because otherwise mothers everywhere will start doing the latter–that bothers me.

    And I should add that this is another issue my state has no clear law on, so it’s not like there’s any clear legal guidance for what is or is not allowed.

  51. Jessica June 4, 2014 at 4:11 pm #

    Can we make a push to stop calling these buybodies “Good Samaritans”? In the parable, the Samaritan stops and helps, cares for the man, and ensures that the man is cared for by a person he likely knows and trusts when he has to go on. What he did not do was call the cops or other local authorities so he could do his “good deed” without actually doing anything or committing any of his time or resources. The Good Samaritan is the one who helps, not the one who whips up a frenzy.

  52. anonymous mom June 4, 2014 at 4:22 pm #

    Just to add, I think we should all operate with the default assumption that, when it comes to kids who are not our own, their parents care more about them and their well-being than we do. So, whatever level of concern we may have for a child’s safety, the parent in nearly all cases has a higher level of concern. Therefore, if we see a child in a situation that isn’t like immediately, clearly dangerous, we should assume that their parents did a more careful risk assessment than we did and leave the situation alone.

    This idea that we, as passing strangers, somehow care more for a child’s well-being than the child’s parents do is insane, as well as ridiculously self-righteous. Which is why we should limit our involvement to situations in which a child is clearly in imminent danger, not to situations that seem a bit questionable to us. And, even in those imminently dangerous situations (like a child in a car on a 100 degree day who is showing signs of dehydration or illness), we should want to help a loving parent who may have made a mistake or forgotten their child was in the car or misjudged how long an errand would take, rather than want to punish somebody we decide must be a terrible human being deserving of the harshest punishment.

  53. SKL June 4, 2014 at 4:53 pm #

    Yes, that’s the thing to remember. 99.999% of the time, the parent loves the child and wants the child to be safe. Parents make mistakes in risk assessment, estimates, predictions, etc., but let’s start with a pro-parent and pro-family mindset.

    One thing that I notice is that as far as I can tell, the busybodies usually aren’t with their own kids (if they have any) while they are reporting on other moms. In my case it was somebody sipping a coffee at Starbucks. I guess having no responsibility at that moment makes you a better person than me.

  54. Betsy in Michigan June 4, 2014 at 5:22 pm #

    This makes so livid. We have GOT to start fighting back against these awful, subversive, and nasty people (who are NOT “Good Samaritans”. I’m thinking a Freedom of Information request to identify the busybody (THEY are the one with a “lapse of judgement”), then a civil suit (since criminal probably doesn’t apply, though it’s akin to stalking, if you ask me). The madness has to stop somewhere.

  55. anonymous mom June 4, 2014 at 5:23 pm #

    @SKL: Well, in general, I’ve found that I am a far better parent when I’m not actually with my children. ;)

  56. Craig June 4, 2014 at 6:14 pm #

    Busybodies are a big problem in this age of Gesta.. uhh, Fatherlan.. Uh, Homeland security initiative to get mindlessly programmed drones to inform on each other to “If you see something, Say something”. It would be easy to call for a busybody laws to fine and jail people for behavior that ruins lives, wastes huge amounts of resources and makes the emotionally warped Busybody feel good about themselves. But in this age of increasing bureaucracy and growing numbers of horribly abused and misapplied new laws, yet another of these laws is something we don’t really need. Instead we have the ability to act to change this situation ourselves rather than waiting for the Govt to fix it for us.

    If you see a busybody, videotaping or wanting to call the police to report any non issue, don’t only do your best to stop them, but SHAME them. Draw public attention to what they are doing. I guarantee these emotionally damaged people will not like that kind of attention. Shame against stunted people can be a powerful tool.

    It will work after the fact too when they relate to you their prideful story about how they “Saved” someone from disaster through their heroism. Roundly and loudly criticize them, especially if there is a group of you. Send them weeping to a therapist who might be able to help them get to the root of their emotional neediness and victim mentality. The true root of the problem. I find it handy these days to have a stack of business cards for therapists who are looking for new clients, and hand them out to such people once you have them triggered.

  57. Maegan June 4, 2014 at 6:34 pm #

    Lenore, you are a hero. A champion for good. This is a great article, and a terrible story. How ironic that the real fear for parents today is being arrested for doing something completely rational!

  58. Maegan June 4, 2014 at 6:36 pm #

    Oh, and I wanted to say that this quote is so true and so disheartening. I’m tired of competing already and my twins are only a year old!

    “This is America and parenting is now a competitive sport, just like everything else.”

  59. Craig June 4, 2014 at 7:51 pm #

    Here is what an actual emotionally balanced good Samaritan would have done.

    They would see a kid quietly playing a game by himself in the car. There may or may not have been other people around or cars parked nearby. They would have remembered how they used to stay in the car waiting for their parents when they were little. But even if they believe the lie they have been programmed with, that the world is more dangerous today, then they might have just stood at a distance and watched. Just in case. Then when the mother came out and got into the car, then the Samaritan would have been satisfied and left. There would have been no need to tell anybody about anything. No attention would be needed to make themselves feel important. And life would go on.

  60. Jenny Islander June 4, 2014 at 9:22 pm #

    @Renee Anne: I remember when a police department somewhere in the U.S. issued a bulletin telling people to take their kids and babies out of the car every time they filled it up, because a carjacker might decide to steal a car while the pump was running, notice kids in the back seat, and instantly change focus from “part this out and take the money” to “what ho, murder awaits, how smashing!” It was reported here and soundly thrashed. Are you telling me that it’s conventional wisdom where you are that you have to take your kids out with the fumes and the gas drips and the cars rolling by in order to keep them “safer?” If you don’t mind, where are you?

  61. hineata June 4, 2014 at 9:25 pm #

    Yes, Craig, that!

    I have hung around at a distance a couple of times, probably looking suspicious myself :-). Each time the parent turned out to be not far away. No need to call the police, for goodness sake.

    The only time I ever saw a justifiable time to call the police was when I was working uni holidays in a store and a woman double-parked in front of the shop, on a busy and very narrow road. This must have been before car seats, because she left the window on the traffic side open, and her 2 year old in the backseat. He proceeded to lean out said window into the traffic. After watching cars driving as wide as possible to avoid this kid for several minutes, one of the managers went out and hauled the kid out of the car, bringing him into the shop while another called the police. Mum turned up fifteen minutes later, really cross that anyone would interfere…..

    That was a one-off. And now we have carseats I can’t imagine it happening again, in the city anyway.

  62. Beth June 4, 2014 at 11:05 pm #

    This story is my daughters story. 2 sleeping kids in the car returning home from a full day, 9pm, 50 degrees outside, needed milk for the next day-the people from CP said a “good Samaritan ” called police – lawyer, court, fine, community service, CP visits (to my 4 year old granddaughter: “does your mom/dad ever hit or spank you?” 4 year old crying: ” no “). I’ve read of parents having CP called because their children are overweight and never exercise and the next one being turned in because they let there child run around and play. You can’t win. As a grandma my grandchildren are my world but I believe this mom and my daughter did nothing criminally wrong. My fond memories of my childhood are of getting on a bike in the morning during the summer (often with a swimsuit in my backpack) and my Mom saying “see ya by supper” – no cell phone – and when I got home if she wasn’t there – no worries – the house was never locked!

  63. Jona June 4, 2014 at 11:14 pm #

    Americans are quite extreme in a lot of things!! In Germany moms always leave their small child in the car waiting while they pick up the older one from daycare/pre school… We dont have any law about leaving your child unattended anywhere. I guess we think that parents can make this decision by themselves… But then we also dont have as many guns on the streets as in the USA….

  64. compassion June 5, 2014 at 1:16 am #

    “I just did a little internet research to update my knowledge about kids dying in cars from heatstroke. One thing I had not noticed before was that many of these deaths are caused by safety considerations and fears!”

    Here’s what I remember as a kid: my mom left us in the car nearly EVERY time we went on an errand run, and it wasn’t just a couple of minutes, sometimes it was easily 20. And if it was summer, THE WINDOWS WERE ALL ROLLED DOWN.

    Can we talk about how UNSAFE it is to leave kids in a car that is running to keep the A/C going? You don’t want to leave a kid in a running car. That’s WAY MORE DANGEROUS than leaving a kid in a car WITH THE WINDOWS ROLLED DOWN.

    Why don’t we leave them with the windows rolled down? Because we think they’re going to climb out the windows? Well, then, they can’t be left in the car alone if they’re a risk for that anyway. Is it because it’s too cold outside? Well leave the windows up then. Is it because we think that locking them in the car with the windows rolled up WILL PREVENT ABDUCTION?

    Good Lord, it’s far more dangerous to leave kids in locked cars than it is to leave them in cars with the windows rolled down. Every time we go through these stories, I think of my childhood, sitting in the car WITH THE WINDOWS ROLLED DOWN. DOWN. DOWN.

    I know this mom didn’t need to have the windows down because the temp was chilly anyway. But I’m throwing this out there. Doesn’t anyone want to acknowledge that the hysterical “safety” precaution of locking kids into RUNNING CARS is a bit bizarre? Why don’t we roll the windows down anymore?

  65. compassion June 5, 2014 at 3:01 am #

    And: I just read the comments after that woman’s Salon article and I think my head exploded from all of the vitriol saying the mom did a “stupid thing.”

    IT’S NOT STUPID TO LEAVE YOUR CHILD IN A PADDED BOX FOR A FEW MINUTES.

    God in heaven I’m so exasperated to see how many people think this is akin to putting a child in the middle of a busy highway. “Just because no harm came to the child doesn’t mean it was WRONG!” What the what? Why don’t we arrest dads who are throwing their delighted children up in the air? I’m sure there are a few people who drop their babies every year, with disastrous consequences. Better nip that risk in the bud with a NEW LAW.

    I want to set myself on fire, I’m feeling so desperate to call attention to how INSANE and CRUEL we are becoming when we subject parents whose children are HEALTHY, HAPPY, and FINE to prosecution because some D.A. is sputtering “what if, what if, what if.”

    This is not justice. It is collective hysteria. CHILDREN USED TO DIE A LOT MORE, and yet people were more relaxed about it. Now no child dies ever, or if they do, it’s national news, and there has to be a new law for every child who dies, and every parent has to go insane worrying about whether or not they will be harassed and arrested for simply RAISING THEIR DAMNED KIDS THE WAY THEY THEMSELVES WERE RAISED.

    GAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!

  66. FSR June 5, 2014 at 4:06 am #

    Hey Lenore. Kim quotes you as saying that about 300 children are injured in traffic accidents every day, and that driving someplace with her child was more dangerous to him than leaving him in the car unattended (or anything else she did to him that day). Does anyone have well-documented statistics on that comparison?

    I would love to be able to say, “Which is more likely to harm a child: Leaving them unattended in a parked car, or driving them around for the same length of time? Answer: Driving them around, by a factor of _____.”

    The “same length of time” is because otherwise people can say, “Abductions don’t happen as often as car crashes because other parents are smarter than you — they don’t leave their kids in the car!”

    (I realize there aren’t any precise numbers on how much time kids spend unattended in cars, but surely an expert could make a reasonable estimate?)

    Here are some very rough guesses:

    Average number of children harmed in the US per year
    …As a passenger in a car, while it’s being driven: 100,000
    …Unattended in a parked car: 100

    Average number of minutes children spend in a car per day in the US
    …As a passenger in a car, while it’s being driven: 40
    …Unattended in a parked car: 1

    If 1000 times as many children are harmed while being driven around, despite only spending 40 times as much time that way, that means that being driven around is 25 times more likely to result in harm to a child (on average, per minute) than being left unattended in a car.

    Again, the numbers above are very rough guesses.

    Thanks.

  67. ShadowWarrior June 5, 2014 at 7:47 am #

    Why are we defending “our” choice? Endangering our children? Sure, we “feel” a child needs protection yet, safety cannot be guaranteed UNLESS you’re encased in a box with no outside influence. Why are we subject to others who have assumed a self-righteous, authoritative position? Why have people been conditioned to “watch”, “pass judgement” over their neighbor. This has gotten so out of control, the Nazi State is now in effect. When it comes to “opinion” great, have your own, express it (non-violently) debate it, yet DO NOT IMPOSE IT, by law or force. If you’re so inclined to “monitor” child safety, then mind your own children. Then again, you MUST be aware, the “Cops” love to be the empowered ones. They don’t think anymore, just enforce laws, most of which do NOT allow freedoms that we used to have. If you call police, then you have yielded your personal authority to them. Calling 911 is the LAST thing you should do if you haven’t exhausted all the options a reasonable, thinking person has. Panic does no good except create chaos. Cops love chaos. Social Services love chaos. It gives them “meaning” and authority. Cops used to tell people to mind their own business. Now they want as much drama like the TV shows they see (COPS, CSI, Law & Order).Sure, people will make poor decisions, sometimes it will hurt or kill others (children too) but that is LIFE people. Some parents will be devastated, some will get over it, yet it’s NOT your place to just call the cops and walk away. Take the initiative and locate the parent, or wait for 15 minutes and see if they return. Oh, too inconvenient, tough, if want to BEGIN with taking the step to call police, then you’re going to be inconvenienced, BUT your little feeling of being the “hero” is egocentric and thin. When you bring in the cops, you start a snowball down a steep hill that will NEVER end. Just like being “called” a sex offender by a distraught, heart-broken teen, you will be branded for life EVEN when the charge is not true. “Child Endangerment” will never go away. Cops have laptops in the cars and EVERYTHING about you is in a database and tells him/her everything, EVEN if it’s not accurate.

  68. Donna June 5, 2014 at 8:49 am #

    I understand the mentality of the busybodies who call 911 when they see a child alone in a car. I don’t agree with them, but I understand that they are probably really just concerned citizens who have bought the hype that children should never be left alone in a car.

    I absolutely don’t understand the mentality of this bystander. S/he clearly didn’t believe that the child was in any danger as s/he recorded the child before ever calling the police. It was clearly a malicious attempt to get someone else in trouble for no reason. No better than a 4 year old tattle tale. Don’t we generally outgrow that behavior during childhood?

  69. 2horseygirls June 5, 2014 at 9:43 am #

    The idea of letting a four-year-old have that much say in what transpired that day is where the author went wrong. If she didn’t want the aggravation of taking him into the store, then he should have been left with Grandma, period. If he went with her to the store, then he went in – flailing feet, whiny tone and all. She could have picked up headphones at the airport; haven’t been in one yet that didn’t offer them at any one of a dozen kiosks/newsstands/shops.

  70. Swain June 5, 2014 at 10:02 am #

    What’s the “good samaritan’s” name? Why does the whistle-blower always get to be anonymous. If they’re so set in their convictions, why don’t they go on the public record?

  71. Laura June 5, 2014 at 10:05 am #

    I did that. My 5-year-old fell asleep in the car. We were on our way to a friends house and I stopped by a convenience store to pick up some chips. I tried to wake him. No response. I slammed the car door to see if he’d wake up. Nothing. And then I stood there debating what to do next. I ran inside knowing I’d only be a few minutes. A minute later a woman came into the store and let me know that my child woke up crying. I thanked her and ran outside to grab him. It never occurred to me that she could have recorded my sleeping kid and called the police on me. After reading this, I’ll never make the decision again. But I still don’t think this woman did anything wrong. Or that I did anything wrong. My mom used to leave me playing with the radio while she grabbed a few things in the grocery store. Sometimes both my parents would let me stay in the car when I didn’t want to go into a store. In extreme weather conditions it’s completely wrong. But in the age of technology, you just can’t do anything without it being blown out of proportion. I feel terrible for that mom. There are truly neglectful parents who should be punished in this world. I don’t think she is one of them.

    I didn’t even know that New Jersey has passed a law in January of this year that no child under the age of 18 may be left unattended in a car. That doesn’t even make sense considering kids start to drive in NJ at the age of 17.

    At what point can you really fight for change without facing the risk of losing your child? Once the woman who left her child in the car unattended realized she could risk losing her child by taking the fight to court, even she opted instead to take a guilty plea. Nothing will change when we are all so afraid as parents.

  72. SnarkyMomma June 5, 2014 at 10:37 am #

    An interesting thought just occurred to me – the people who are so concerned with kids being left alone are usually the ones who think “anything can happen” and that the world is full of kidnappers and pedophiles. Well, as a mom I have to say that someone videotaping my child on their personal cell phone would raise more red flags that that person is a giant creep, and possible pedophile than seeing a kid playing on his iPad in the car.

  73. lollipoplover June 5, 2014 at 10:42 am #

    I hate it when I have to get off my smartphone and videotape a happy kid playing in a car to create first world problems.

    http://www.whydontyoutrythis.com/2013/12/first-world-problems-read-by-third-world-children.html?m=1

  74. anonymous mom June 5, 2014 at 10:45 am #

    @Laura, the issue of what happens to people once the are caught up in the legal system is a separate but really important issue. So often prosecutors will threaten excessive and overblown charges if the accused dares to go to trial, but much less serious charges if they’ll plead guilty. Sometimes it’s the difference between risking years in prison or being guaranteed just a few years probation (not to mention the expense of what could end up being years of court battles if you go to trial). It’s hard to think of many situations where a loving, responsible parent *wouldn’t* just give in and take the plea so they could at least keep their family intact. But the fact that it’s okay for people to be bullied into plea deals this way is a serious problem with our legal system.

  75. Bill K June 5, 2014 at 12:56 pm #

    I finally read the full Salon article. There’s a lot going on here.

    The near-the-end quip that in America parenting has become a competitive activity rings true. And why not. You’ve got a declining society with a seemingly permanently contracting economy, and many parents are caught up trying to ensure their kids get one of the relatively few decent opportunities.

    Meanwhile, a dysfunctional criminal justice system tries to ensnare as many people in its clutches as possible.

    Now is a great time to understand why so many East Germans cooperated with the Stasi. It couldn’t have been just out of fear.

    Car-driven design plays a part here as well. If the writer had lived
    in a better designed neighborhood her son would have had to choose between walking to the store with his mother (or biking), or staying
    home with the grandmother. 50 years ago Macluhan described the car as carapace, and it’s treated as an extension of the home. You can’t leave a 6-year-old alone in either.

    I have to get to work. At some point I’ll sit down, throw about a hundred post-it notes on the wall, and work out a coherent essay. Working title: “Just another day in post-Carter America”

  76. Havva June 5, 2014 at 2:46 pm #

    It always bothers me that the response to going to court for these things is to call it a “lapse in judgement” and that moms like this author convince themselves that the really did have a “lapse in judgement.” No, they didn’t their judgement was just fine. The problem is the training of our society to freak out and presume kid-in-car=death-in-5-minutes.

    I nearly called a mom in once. It was a sunny warmish day and I spotted two kids in car seats/booster seats sleeping in the back of a minivan with tinted windows. It was at the way back of the lot of a Target, where I did a lot of 2hr shopping trips. I tapped gently on the window and the kids didn’t wake up. I realized I had no way to tell if they were just sleeping heavy, or passed out from heat stroke. So I worried and paced, and then I thought about their mom. She pulls in with heavy sleeping kids and she maybe just needs one thing (like I did that day). So she would have to disturb them, deal with two tantrums, wrestle them out, take two tantruming kids across a busy parking lot… or just run in and out real quick. I figured I would be out in 5 minutes myself so I promised I would call 911 if the kids were still there when I got back. I figured even if they passed out from heat they could survive 5 minutes. When I got back, they were gone. There were no cops, and there was no report of dead or hospitalized kids on the news the next day.

    At the time I felt like the kids had a close call… now I realize the mom had a close call. That she took fine care of her kids and her business. But had I made that call it probably wouldn’t have been handled by someone with knowledge of what conditions are or aren’t dangerous. They wouldn’t have advised me on what I wanted to know (if I should break a window or not). Nor would it have resulted in a cop opening the door with a slim jim, making sure the kids were okay, and giving mom or dad a warning/education on the topic. No, most likely it would have traumatized mom and kids, made a harried mom have to do yet more to satisfy CPS. And for what, for something I did many time at the age of the younger and no doubt hundreds or maybe a thousand times by the age of the older girl. I can still see that girl’s sleepy little face, and I’m so glad I didn’t shatter her rest or get her mom in trouble.

  77. Ben June 5, 2014 at 3:45 pm #

    Isn’t making a video of a child that is not your own without the consent of either the child or a parent a criminal act in itself? Why wasn’t that person arrested?

  78. Havva June 5, 2014 at 4:29 pm #

    @Ben,
    Legally speaking you can video/photograph anyone you want in public without consent. Now of course if you are male it might upset someone and you might have to talk to the police who might say you are causing a public disturbance.

  79. Bob Cavanaugh June 6, 2014 at 4:14 pm #

    I am glad this story is actually getting some mainstream media exposure, heard about this on the radio this morning, although 2 days after it was posted here. I would hope more people see this as ridiculous.

  80. Jennie June 7, 2014 at 10:32 pm #

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the past few days, and the thing that upsets me the most is the bystander… the “good samaritan.” I keep wondering a) how would I have acted if in that person’s shoes, and b) how I would have wanted them to act/reacted to them if I were the mother. Am I wrong – wouldn’t it have been so much nicer for that person to just wait? Either wait and satisfy themselves that the parent had returned and the child was okay? Or wait and confront the parent? Even the latter, while perhaps on one level obnoxious, would have been so much more human/brave/compassionate. Because acting how they did seems to me to indicate that they really didn’t care about the child’s well-being, but only about “sticking it” to the parent.

    The other thing this story reinforces to me is that our current way of life is really not set up to be accommodating in any way to parents of small children. I’ve noticed this dozens of times already with my small child – never have I been more grateful for drive-thrus. I order online whenever I can, just to avoid the multiple in-and-out of car errands that would be necessary otherwise. If any local grocery stores delivered, I would totally take them up on it. And guess what? That’s not a novel concept. My father’s family ran a grocery store in the 1940s-1950s and his first job was local grocery delivery for it. Bring back the milk man, I say. The fact that in America, at least, we depend so much on cars and things are at such a distance, make this a real problem. My husband grew up in a small town in the 1960s. His mother didn’t even drive. Assuming she took him with her when she ran errands, it’s a lot easier to wheel a sleeping/occupied child from store to store in a stroller, for example. Our car culture just doesn’t give the modern parent a lot of options. And if you drag the sleeping child out of the car, resulting in a tantrum or crying fit, you’re judged for not “disciplining” your child properly. Like many of the posters here, growing up in the late 1970s/early 1980s, my parents left us in the car ALL the time. As a matter of fact, I can remember my sisters and I messing with things like the wipers and radio controls so that the car would flip out when my parents returned…

  81. Papilio June 9, 2014 at 10:26 am #

    Did anyone ever think to stick a window thermometer inside the car window for the bystanders to see just how hot (or not) it is inside the car?

    (something like this, if ‘window thermometer’ is non-existant English ;-) : http://www.cosmostrading.nl/images/TH49.jpg )

    “She admits: ‘…I wasn’t sure what to expect of her, if I was going to end up talking to a fringe “expert”'”

    :-D

  82. Joel June 9, 2014 at 8:27 pm #

    Use public records and call logs find the busy body and place a $10,000.00 lien on them. See how they like loosing money and time.