UPDATE! Two Versions of What Happens When We Let Kids Wait in the Car. NEEDED: Someone Who Has Faced Kids-in-Car Charge

************UPDATE: Readers, one of you has just written to say that after leaving her two kids in the car for a short time, she was cited by the cops and now must appear in court on Jan. 15 (despite a visit by CPS that found nothing amiss at home). She would love to talk to someone who has been through this: a lawyer or a parent. Please write here or, if you prefer, email me at heylenore3@gmail.com with a way for her to reach you. Thank you! – L. *******************

Readers — The other day I ran a post about a mom who left her toddler in the car for a minute (and visible to her), but was nonetheless excoriated by a “Good Samaritan,” with a hyper-inflated sense of the child’s “endangerment” and her own heroism — which took the lovely form of screaming. Free-Range Kids stands by the belief that our children are NOT in constant danger, and this idea that “Anything could happen!” even in normal, everyday circumstances is a cancer on our society. It robs parents of the ability to make decent, caring judgments based on reality, not hysteria. We must keep fighting for this idea, spreading the Freee-Range message until notes like THIS are the anomaly, not us:

Dear Free-Rande Kids: Sorry, this was needlessly dangerous and something she should not have done.  The other [yelling] woman was fully in her right.  Why?

1) Car could have been stolen.  Look it up.  Guy runs inside to get ice at a convenience store, car stolen.  A mom in my area left sick baby in car when she ran in to get medicine, was out within 5 minutes, car was stolen.  Don’t be an idiot.  You wouldn’t leave a million in an unattended car.

2) Child could not release car seat and escape car on their own if something went wrong.  Therefore child was too young to be left in car alone.  I’m not silly, to me it’s alright for my 6 year old to be in a car alone now and the main reason is because she knows to not get in the driver’s seat and she can get out of a car seat on her own and leave the car if something goes wrong.  A 2 year old can’t.

3) Sure she was still in ‘line of sight’ but if something had happened inside the building no one would have been aware of the baby in the car.  And the baby would have been unable to escape the car on his own, and no one would have been able to get him out without breaking windows.

Infants and toddlers die from parents running in a store quickly to get just one or two items and becoming delayed.  That woman getting upset had no idea how long the child had been left.  Where I live you can be charged if you step further than 20 feet away from your car with your toddlers/infants inside, and the reason is because if someone comes up to a car and finds a baby strapped inside then no one knows how long they’ve been there, you can’t tell from looking at them if they’re suffering from heat or cold exposure, and you need to act quickly to get them out so the law needs to support these rescue efforts.

Then I received this note from Kate, a Montessori teacher in Chicago, bringing us back to the real world, thusly:

I can’t tell you how many times I left my children in the car. Because I lived and died by an old adage “Never wake a sleeping baby” – well, I never did. Because they fell asleep in the car so regularly, I could often be found running into stores (with the car always in sight) with sleeping babies in the car. I usually just left the car on and locked as I had two keys. I had a similar experience of someone finding me in the store and threatening to call the police and another time a parking lot security guard threatening to call the police. Interestingly, both of these incidents were in the suburbs, not in the city where I live. At these times, I always remembered how often my four brothers and I were left in the car. We had entire games to be played in the car. One was “dentist” where you dropped the seat back and the person in back of you worked on your teeth. These are the things that taught me patience, ingenuity, tolerance, cooperation…. Such a crazy, crazy world.

I agree: It is a “crazy, crazy” world, in LOVE with the idea of death always lurking nearby, ready to teach non-helicopter parents a lesson. I guess it makes life more exciting. But I can’t say the same for childhood. – L

P.S. I am trying to think up a clever way to bring this issue to greater attention and create some resistance to the idea our kids can’t wait in the car even for a short, safe while. Ideas welcome. 

children car use

When our freedom to raise our kids SANELY is threatened by crazy social norms and laws we MUST fight back.

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82 Responses to UPDATE! Two Versions of What Happens When We Let Kids Wait in the Car. NEEDED: Someone Who Has Faced Kids-in-Car Charge

  1. Crystal December 30, 2013 at 9:01 am #

    Not to be a pain to the first letter-writer…but I TOTALLY would leave a million in a car unattended. After all, I leave my kids in the car for 2-3 minutes alone, and they’re worth way more than a measly million bucks to me!

  2. Mike December 30, 2013 at 9:04 am #

    I often leave my 4 year old and two year old in the car to run quick errands as long as the car is in my line of site or will only be out of site for a moment, like when I’m working the ATM. Obviously not on a hot sunny day.

    It concerns me more to take the kids out into a busy parking lot or traipse them through a gas station so I can pick up a coke after filing up the car. Busy bodies never seem to consider these dangers.

    Sure somebody could steal the car, but somebody could run them over in the lot too.

  3. Heike Reagan December 30, 2013 at 9:22 am #

    What a sad way to live , always worried about what might happen…how about:dont even go into the store because it could be robbed right then. A shooter might come In right then. We better all just stay home in our house with the glade plug in for fresh outdoor scent and grow our own food so we never have to go out into the big scary world.
    What a sad life.

  4. pentamom December 30, 2013 at 9:23 am #

    1. If your convenience store is in the middle of the Philly slums, don’t leave your kid in the car for two minutes. If it’s in 99% of the rest of America, your locked car is not going to be stolen in broad daylight in full view of the customers and employees of a store within a five minute window. Especially when the crook gets a glimpse of the kid in the car — a complication he does NOT want.

    2. What “could happen” to a child in a car in a motionless, shut off car that would require the kid getting out of the car in order to save his life, that could not happen to him in his crib? Tornado? Okay, don’t leave your kid in the car while there’s a tornado warning on. I can’t think of anything else, and anything else anyone could dream up would be so ridiculously unlikely it’s not worth thinking about.

    3. Keep your child strapped to your hip at every moment until the age of 18, because someday, some highly unlikely emergency might happen where you could not get to him or her. If you don’t think that’s reasonable, then use some other standard for whether it’s safe to leave your toddler asleep in a car in a safe neighborhood within your own sight.

    I don’t know what GS has in mind with “something might happen,” inside the building, but in any event requiring the response of police or rescue personnel, of course they’re going to check the cars adjacent to the building as a matter of routine. And hard as it is to accept, the magic of being in your arms actually does not protect your child from crime or disaster. Maybe if you live in a country where there’s more than a vanishing possibility that some kind of terrorist element might show up and grab kids out of cars to provoke a response, this is worth worrying about, but given the present state of affairs, Americans have NO BUSINESS judging their own or their countrymen’s actions by that standard.

  5. pentamom December 30, 2013 at 9:25 am #

    Having said all that, I still probably wouldn’t do it if I still had kids that young, unless it was really inconvenient or awkward to take them along at that particular time. It’s not disasters I fear, it’s that if I’m in a fairly stressful situation like a sick child already, the last thing I want to deal with is the ilk of GS messing with me or calling the cops on me.

  6. Onemusingmama December 30, 2013 at 9:33 am #

    Just recently I left my 8-year old home alone (recovering from a stomach bug) while I took her younger brother to school. She was alone just under 30 min and I was more worried about her looking for her Christmas gifts or finding something inappropriate on YouTube than anything happening while I was out. I think she was safer at home alone than leaving her in the car while I walked her brother in to his preschool class. Fortunately I’ve never had anyone say anything to me the times I have left her in the car (and I have on any number of occasions) but I’m glad my kids are getting old enough that I can leave them and not worry all the time about busybodies. (I’m also glad for the tinting on our side rear windows!)

  7. Emily December 30, 2013 at 9:36 am #

    I agree with the second letter-writer (unless you’re in a dangerous area, or at a large store like Wal-Mart). Also, I thought it was funny that the letter-writer and her siblings played dentist in the car. Most kids (and adults) hate going to the dentist. I wonder if playing that game made the letter-writer and her siblings less scared when it came time to go to the real dentist?

  8. Onemusingmama December 30, 2013 at 9:37 am #

    And when I say “safer” in my previous comment I mean safer from busybodies and the people that drive way too fast in the parking lot (especially for an elem school) not because I’m concerned about the car spontaneously combusting or being stolen by another soccer mom.

  9. Suzanne December 30, 2013 at 9:54 am #

    I completely agree with Crystal. I would leave a million dollars in the car the same way I do with my kids, I would take the keys with me and lock the doors. The chance of the car being stolen is pretty slim – could it happen? sure but it still isn’t likely. Also, the mom who left her kid for a couple of minutes most likely also left the keys in the car – most times when a car is stolen and there is a child in it the car was left running as well, which is dangerous on a whole new level.

  10. K December 30, 2013 at 9:57 am #

    My boss left his eight year old in a locked car for thirty seconds while he ran back into his business to grab his phone, and some woman told him someone could have stolen his child.

    Last week, I stopped at the ATM in the pouring rain and left my kids in the car half a block away. They are 9 and 7. Some woman wondered what would happen to them if something happened to me. as if my kids would be helpless enough to just sit in the car and starve to death.

    I wouldn’t leave a baby in the car, or a dog, but I did leave my cat for five minutes the other day when I ran into the library.

  11. Pam December 30, 2013 at 9:57 am #

    I blame Nancy Grace, first and foremost, for this mass hysteria. She is horrible and she is poison. Anyway…

    People today aren’t able to recognize an actual dangerous situation, or they are but are too scared or stupid (or the dreaded combo of both) to do anything about the true dangers in this world. We have become busybodies, and as we know busybodies never uncover the terrorist making bombs in an apartment they rent out. No, busybodies gossip and invent a crisis so they’ll have something to talk, or brag about…something to make themselves feel better than everybody else by having done NOTHING except report on the invented terribleness of someone else.

    I think this issue, and the larger issue it represents, unless there is a true danger, mind your own business. But this isn’t what happens. I can list off the top of my head seven different instances where I actually was quite possible in true danger, one in which my child was with me. The number of Nancy Gracers who stepped in to assist. Zero. The time I was with my daughter and my car blew a tire on a busy highway, it was up to me to get the car to the side of the road into the safest spot possible, flick on the hazards and wait for AAA. Not a single car stopped to help. Fine by me. But if you’re not going to help a mother and child stranded on the side of a highway, do not even try to scold me for leaving my sleeping child within eyesight in a locked car while I run into the WaWa to take out money. Don’t even try it.

  12. Adam December 30, 2013 at 10:01 am #

    Apropos both this and yesterday’s post.
    http://journals.co-action.net/index.php/ijch/article/viewFile/18284/20976
    It’s a thing in Finland to have small babies sleep outside in the cold.
    “CHILDREN SLEEPING OUTDOORS IN WINTER: PARENTS EXPERIENCES OF A CULTURALLY BOUND CHILDCARE PRACTICE”

    Further,
    I think the “exposure” argument is more than a little bogus.
    While of course it’s *possible* to leave a child or animal in a car too long such that they suffer ill effects, The vast majority of parents *don’t do that*.what critics of “leave them in the car for a few minutes” are in effect saying is that *no parent* can be trusted to take care of their children/make decisions about their children’s well being. because a vanishingly small number have proven they cannot.
    This is the heckler’s veto, and we need to root it out wherever possible.

    On just a common sense basis, if you’re someone who is so so so worried about kids in a car that you think there’s bad parenting going on, here’s a crazy idea.
    Observe, or even talk to the kids through the window. Are they OK? See if they’re OK. [I don’t believe for one second that you can’t effectively evaluate a child’s temperature-based well-being visually.]

    “Hey, how’s it going? You OK?”

    Oh, wait, then you’d get arrested for being a stranger talking to children in a friendly way.
    Never mind.

  13. Marianne December 30, 2013 at 10:03 am #

    My rule is that if I can see the car and not be more than 5 minutes, I will leave the kids in the car. Gas stations, dry cleaners, our small bank branch, picking up take out at the local pizza place…the chances of something happening to us outside of the vehicle is probably equal to being in the locked car and something happening. Gotta be careful in the summer, though! Cars can heat up fast.

  14. Jeanette December 30, 2013 at 10:03 am #

    I left my son for the first time when he was 5, tired of outlet shopping & with a fresh slice of pizza. I locked & alarmed the truck, telling him not to open it or get out for anything. The back windows are so dark, I would think it unusual for somebody to be looking that hard in there. Lately, the youngest dog has been coming along with us. Most criminals do not want to deal with a strange (female pit bull) dog protecting her kid. Actually, most ppl will walk around my truck when they see the dog in the driver’s seat!
    Oh! And yesterday, he went skating with his friends’ father. Who better to take 4 boys skating?

  15. David DeLugas December 30, 2013 at 10:04 am #

    As much as I support and agree with you and the principles of Free Range Kids, the awareness and acceptance of the true risks will make nary a difference until and unless parents collectively get such a powerful voice that legislative changes can be made such that a child, unharmed, who was left in a car does not subject the parent to criminal charges and/or to child protective services investigation and claims of neglect! Yet, I agree that it would be helpful, enormously helpful, if more and more parents would put aside their exaggerated perception of risk in favor of the actual risks balanced by the benefits to children. Keep on Free Ranging, Lenore, the USA needs the education you and your followers provide! David DeLugas, Executive Director, National Association of Parents. p.s. Year-End Donations to this 501(c)(3) charity are tax-deductible.

  16. Sarah December 30, 2013 at 10:06 am #

    I spent four years working at a gas station and I never saw any problem with leaving your kids in the car for the 2 minutes that it takes to pay for your gas and a snack. There were even a few times when I agreed to watch a car for someone while they quick used the bathroom. *gasp* I know.

    Somewhat unrelated side note: I would suggest that while you’re fueling your vehicle EVERYONE who is still inside it unbuckle their seat belts – kids or adults. Cars do start on fire either from engine trouble (if you’re having a problem, most people will stop at a gas station) or from a fuel spill. We had one that did from engine trouble and a couple of close calls. That extra bit of time can make a big difference if something happens, and most people would do well to stretch a bit anyway.

  17. Stephanie December 30, 2013 at 10:08 am #

    I don’t know how well it convinces worst-first thinkers, but when defending leaving a sleeping child in a locked car (assuming it’s not hot outside, etc., etc.) to go into a gas station convenience store, I usually ask them to consider which is more likely: That my locked, not running car will be jimmied open, hot wired and stolen in broad daylight with witnesses around within the 5 minute window that I am inside, OR that a thief in a ski mask will pull a gun while I am inside and rob the store, potentially threatening customers and staff with bodily harm. Both are incredibly unlikely, but I bet the latter is more likely from a statistical point of view. (How many cars with babies in them are stolen each day vs. armed robberies of convenience stores?) In the case of the armed robbery, I would be so thankful that my child wasn’t with me. So there, fearful busybodies! Maybe leaving your baby in the car IS the safest option in some cases! The point is, we could play the “what if” game back and forth endlessly. But we shouldn’t.

  18. Wendy December 30, 2013 at 10:18 am #

    I think we can lay some of blame for this mindset on the “it takes a village” crowd. People have always built their own “villages” from the people who surround their daily lives (and those children whose parents PURPOSELY AVOID doing so probably ARE at greater risk of some sort.) Now, too many people think it’s their responsibility to become part of the village of every random child they see. Society has sanctioned busy-bodies, and we are afraid, or too nice, to tell them to mind their own business.

  19. k December 30, 2013 at 10:22 am #

    AND…even if the first letter writer was right, that’s NO excuse to scream at someone! I can’t think of an instance where screaming and yelling had a bigger long term impact that someone being reasonable and calm.

  20. anonymous mom December 30, 2013 at 10:26 am #

    I was just thinking, I hope all of these people who are up in arms about people leaving young children in cars are the first to offer to run errands for the parents of young children. I hope the first commenter offers to run to the store to get medicine when a friend or neighbor has a sick child.

    Because, many parents would prefer not to leave their kids in the car; it’s not anybody’s favorite thing to do, especially when they have to worry about legal consequences. They would love to not have to run to the store when their kids are sick, or run errands during naptime. But, if there is nobody offering to help, and the medicine needs to be picked up or the errands need to be run, they are left to decide whether they are going to wake a sick, sleeping child and take them through a parking lot and store or if they are going to leave a child unattended in the car.

    I will have my fourth child this summer, at which point I’ll have three kids four and under. I am NOT looking forward to having to put three little ones in the car to pick up a prescription or a gallon of milk, especially if I also have to get them all strapped into the car, get them out of the car, get all of them into the store, get them back to the car, strapped in again, and then out of the car and into the house. I also don’t love the idea of leaving three kids in the car alone, both for legal reasons and because there’s just a lot of potential for fighting and screaming.

    So what I’d really hope is that, if I had a sick child or was desperate for some milk or eggs, a neighbor who was running out to the store that day anyway might give me a call and see if they could pick up anything for me. I’d hope that somebody would decide, rather than being a busybody and threatening to call CPS on a mom trying to figure out the best way to run errands with sleeping or sick kids, would offer to help out a mom she knows by running an errand for her or offering to watch her kids at home so the parent could run the errand without kids in tow.

    This is just another example of issues that would largely disappear if we all just offered to help each other out more. Just like the problem of “unsupervised” children outside wouldn’t be less of an issue if we knew our neighbors and spent time outside ourselves, it seems like this would be less of an issue if we would offer to help out a neighbor who had a sick baby. So much of helicopter parenting seems to come down to an us-versus-the-world mentality, where the outside world is full of people we need to protect our kids from, rather than people who will come into our lives to help us.

  21. Katy Franz December 30, 2013 at 10:34 am #

    In the state of California, it is illegal to leave a child under the age of 6 unattended in a car without supervision of someone 12 or older.

    http://www.dmv.ca.gov/pubs/vctop/d06_7/vc15620.htm

    One hot day, I came across 2 chikdren in a car the post office parking lot. The older one was in the fromt seat and the toddler strapped in her seat was wailing.

    I went into the post office waited 3 minutes, then asked the crowd if the white SUV was theirs.

    The woman said yes, I said your kid is screaming. She tried to finish her transaction. The postal worker refused and scolded her to go get her kids.

    Same came back in to explain she had left the car on with the air conditioner running and the older one crawled over and turned it off.

    I told her it was against tge law and she was lucky I found them first.

  22. Donna December 30, 2013 at 10:36 am #

    “but I TOTALLY would leave a million in a car unattended. After all, I leave my kids in the car for 2-3 minutes alone, and they’re worth way more than a measly million bucks to me!”

    Okay, that is just ridiculous. The difference between a million dollars and a child is that my child is worth more than a million to ME, but worth absolutely nothing to almost everyone else. A million dollars is worth a million dollars to everyone.

    Pedophiles are rare. Thieves are a dime a dozen. I have no doubt that the people who stole my ipod out of my car and my lawn mower out of my shed would steal a million dollars. I highly doubt that those people would steal my child, even though she is frequently alone in the same places.

  23. Sarah December 30, 2013 at 10:46 am #

    I was always too scared of people’s reactions to leave my son in the car, so the poor guy was woken up countless times and dragged into places for quick errands. With my second, I know better, and I let sleeping babies lie!

    I just introduced my son to Calvin and Hobbes, and we were looking at a collection together. It was published in the early 90s. The boy and his tiger do increasingly crazy things, culminating in the tiger blowing the car horn. The mom comes back – carrying a bulging bag of groceries – and says “Can’t I even run a simple errand without you blaring the horn at me across the parking lot?” What is SUPPOSED to be funny is that Calvin says it was his [toy] tiger who did it. What I found interesting is that her leaving the kid while she got groceries was seen as something that could be portrayed as normal.

  24. Michelle H December 30, 2013 at 10:52 am #

    I’m sorry, the first letter writer lost all credibility when she said, “Infants and toddlers die from parents running in a store quickly to get just one or two items and becoming delayed.”

    Please cite your source, and the statistics. They also die from their parents DRIVING to the store, getting too close to a pool, in the bathtub, SIDS, and a boatload of other things which, I suspect if she’d bother to do any research, she’d find to be more statistically likely to happen. She needs to get off the TV and stop regurgitating random things she heard.

  25. Gary December 30, 2013 at 11:14 am #

    Lenore, please post the name, address and telephone # of the first letter writer. I need it for ummmm, training purposes?

  26. Pamela December 30, 2013 at 11:21 am #

    I just had to decide whether or not to leave a sleeping kid in a car yesterday. I promised my 7 year old that she could buy a pack of gum at the convenience store on our way back home. Of course, my 3 year old fell asleep in the car. I didn’t want to wake her up and deal with crankiness over a 2 minute stop so I parked at the front door, walked my 7 year old inside, waited at the door so I could see the car AND my 7 year old in the candy aisle, paid for gum and was back in the car within 90 seconds. I got lucky finding an open parking spot right by the door, but I had just read the story of the woman who got yelled at so I was paranoid. It’s so silly that I had to worry.

  27. ChicagoDad December 30, 2013 at 11:37 am #

    I think this phenomenon of strangers berating moms for leaving their kids safefly in the car for a few minutes is partially motivated by concern for the safety of the children (however well -meaning or misplaced) and partially because it seems socially acceptable to bully moms of young children. I’ve seen a lot of strangers, relatives, even mothers-in-law, tell moms of young children that they are “doing it wrong” and make the moms feel like they are bad parents. Readers of this blog have seen countless examples of commercial marketing that exploits this insecurity and bullying to sell products. This kind of bullying is prevant and often done without consequences.

    My wife and I came up with some experiments that could help tease out how much of the motivation is concern for the kids and how much is bullying. You would need a couple of kids or child actors who were in on the experiment, some hidden cameras and some parents or parent-actors. You park the car, the “parent” runs into the store for a set amount of time, the “kids” play contentedly, and you film the reactions from the public that follow. You run the experiment with a number of variables: new expensive luxury vehicle vs used inexpensive minivan, suburban vs urban setting, meek vs confident parent, mom vs dad, mom vs grandma, white vs minority family, no-bumper stickers vs military/police/firefighter bumper stickers, etc…

    If bullying was a significant factor, than in each experiment one would expect to see that the reaction from the public would be more muted and controlled when the family and parent had a more empowered appearance. For example, members of the public may be less mean and threatening if the vehicle is expensive, and more mean and threatening if it is a cheap car.

    If bullying is a big factor in these interactions, then statistics and facts about child safety aren’t going to be a strong counter measure. Instead, helping & training parents to approach these confrontations with confidence and grace could have a big impact on how socially acceptable it is to berate strangers for making normal parenting decisions.

  28. ChicagoDad December 30, 2013 at 11:37 am #

    I think this phenomenon of strangers berating moms for leaving their kids safefly in the car for a few minutes is partially motivated by concern for the safety of the children (however well -meaning or misplaced) and partially because it seems socially acceptable to bully moms of young children. I’ve seen a lot of strangers, relatives, even mothers-in-law, tell moms of young children that they are “doing it wrong” and make the moms feel like they are bad parents. Readers of this blog have seen countless examples of commercial marketing that exploits this insecurity and bullying to sell products. This kind of bullying is prevant and often done without consequences.

    My wife and I came up with some experiments that could help tease out how much of the motivation is concern for the kids and how much is bullying. You would need a couple of kids or child actors who were in on the experiment, some hidden cameras and some parents or parent-actors. You park the car, the “parent” runs into the store for a set amount of time, the “kids” play contentedly, and you film the reactions from the public that follow. You run the experiment with a number of variables: new expensive luxury vehicle vs used inexpensive minivan, suburban vs urban setting, meek vs confident parent, mom vs dad, mom vs grandma, white vs minority family, no-bumper stickers vs military/police/firefighter bumper stickers, etc…

    If bullying was a significant factor, than in each experiment one would expect to see that the reaction from the public would be more muted and controlled when the family and parent had a more empowered appearance. For example, members of the public may be less mean and threatening if the vehicle is expensive, and more mean and threatening if it is a cheap car.

    If bullying is a big factor in these interactions, then statistics and facts about child safety aren’t going to be a strong counter measure. Instead, helping & training parents to approach these confrontations with confidence and grace could have a big impact on how socially acceptable it is to berate strangers for making normal parenting decisions.

  29. pentamom December 30, 2013 at 11:56 am #

    “Some woman wondered what would happen to them if something happened to me. as if my kids would be helpless enough to just sit in the car and starve to death.”

    Because nothing bad could ever happen to you, resulting in your kids needing to be cared for, anywhere else. If you don’t leave your kids in the car, you are guaranteed not to die or be seriously injured.

    Beam me up, Scotty, there is NO intelligent life here!

  30. pentamom December 30, 2013 at 12:00 pm #

    anonymous mom, EXCELLENT points!

  31. Stephanie December 30, 2013 at 12:12 pm #

    Chicago Dad, I think you may be on to something about stereotypes coming into play. I have NEVER had anyone say anything to me about leaving my kids in the car. I have never done it for longer than a few minutes, but I’ve done it frequently. Now, partly this is just me getting lucky, I’m sure, but I have a friend who has been confronted on several occasions by strangers for the same behavior. The difference, I suspect is based on a couple of factors. We are both white, so race isn’t a factor. But at the time our kids were little enough for this to be an issue, she was overweight and I was not. There are some other possible factors, but that’s a big one, I suspect.

  32. kate December 30, 2013 at 12:15 pm #

    It is unlikely that your car will be stolen in direct line of site at a busy gas station. But, if this woman cared about her children she should never take them through the parking lot. 205 kids are killed in parking lot accidents ever year! (http://www.myparkingsign.com/blog/parking-lot-accidents/#.UsGh17Tt7ac)

    I am not sure what could possibly happen that would necessitate a child get out of the car and into an unsafe parking lot by himself. Perhaps it might spontaneously combust?

    If something happened inside, wouldn’t you want your child safely away from the building? What if a robber with a gun appeared?

    If I were to worry about every bad thing that could possibly happen, I would never be able to leave the house. Then again, a car could crash through the living room (it has happened) lightening could strike a tree and crash into the bedroom (also happens) ….

  33. David DeLugas December 30, 2013 at 12:36 pm #

    As much as I support and agree with you and the principles of Free Range Kids, the awareness and acceptance of the true risks will make nary a difference until and unless parents collectively get such a powerful voice that legislative changes can be made such that a child, unharmed, who was left in a car does not subject the parent to criminal charges and/or to child protective services investigation and claims of neglect! Yet, I agree that it would be helpful, enormously helpful, if more and more parents would put aside their exaggerated perception of risk in favor of the actual risks balanced by the benefits to children. Keep on Free Ranging, Lenore, the USA needs the education you and your followers provide! David DeLugas, Executive Director, National Association of Parents. p.s. Year-End Donations to this 501(c)(3) charity are tax-deductible. Learn more about how your donation and your membership raise the volume of our voice for parents! https://www.parentsusa.org

  34. Melanie Jones December 30, 2013 at 12:56 pm #

    While I agree passionately with most posters here, I went down the rabbit hole in 2013 when someone called the police because they saw me leave my car with my kids in it, and instead of approaching me and asking where I was going (this is all documented in the police report), they immediately called the police. I was back in seven minutes, and so were the police. It was hellish, and now when my husband orders our kids out of the car even when they are asking to remain behind for a short errand, the reason given is because “the police will take you away if someone calls you in”. I hate the fear. Sometimes reality and common sense don’t line up, and I would hate for anyone else to go through what I went through, so there are some things I think are important to this discussion:

    1) Statistics that aren’t from the paranoid Kids and Cars organization that promotes scare tactic videos and stories and is lobbying to make it impossible for you to leave your child unattended in a car ever. The heatstroke death statistics are presented in a plain, un-hyped way here: http://www.ggweather.com/heat/. Anyone can see that a) heatstroke death in cars is exceedingly rare. b) common sense cautions should be exercised with the 0 to 2 group who is most vulnerable, and c) sadly, the most common type of death is a “forgotten” child, easy enough for any overwhelmed parent of a newborn to fall into.

    2) ALL parents need to hear stories with video so they can visually see that middle class, well-educated, loving and doting parents just like themselves are falling in this rabbit hole daily. It is a complicated mess of laws/lack of laws, and police officers, CPS, and “good citizens” that all are living in fear of LIABILTY. This fear completely suspends all rational judgement. When the police show up at your unattended vehicle, there is a good chance they will be completely UNWILLING to listen to all of the good, common sense reasons that your kids are JUST FINE, and depending on the laws in your state they may be legally compelled to report you to CPS even if there is absolutely NO law against leaving children unattended in a vehicle in your state. The claim I was neglecting my children was indeed substantiated. That means that in Charlottesville, VA it qualifies as child neglect to leave a five year old and a two year old in a minivan for seven minutes while they sit completely calmly sipping water and reading books by definition. The only way to change that is by working to change things at the government level.

    3) Advocate for people to post their anonymous police reports from this issue online so we can look for biases, similarities, differences, and see if there is a common thread or a way we could easily separate “criminal” neglect of children in a car versus good solid parenting.

  35. Marcy December 30, 2013 at 1:08 pm #

    What is this “line of sight” issue for school-aged kids? My 8 year old didn’t want to go into Walmart (who can blame him). I left him in a locked car, key still in ignition as he was listening to the radio. He was sitting in the front seat so no one would be tempted to steal a boring minivan with a kid in it. I hate the traffic congestion around the store, so I park further away from the entrance. We were gone a good 15 minutes. I know my son. He would not fool around with the vehicle controls (other than the radio). IF someone had come along, he would not open the door. The person would be told to wait for me to return. IF he had a problem he would (and has) gone to customer service and had me paged.
    Another time in the summer I wanted to run quickly into the store and I knew my 2 year old would make that trip 3 times as long. I left my 8 year old with all the windows wide open and instructions that if it got really hot, he should get himself and his brother out of the van and stand in the shade. I then parked far away from any other car (and thereby way out of line of sight) because I wanted to minimize busybody risk.
    I know my kids. I know the real risks. Frankly, if I felt the car had to be within “line of sight”, I probably wouldn’t leave my kids in the car.
    As for the issue of getting word out that leaving kids in the car is not tantamount to child abuse: how about an information campaign about adverse outcomes of leaving children in cars versus having them walk through parking lots. Kate posted a link to some stats on parking lot deaths. I’m not a fan of supplanting one fear for another, but it is the most effective idea I can come up with on a Monday :)

  36. Doug D December 30, 2013 at 1:36 pm #

    If you leave your child in front of some toys in the living room while you watch him or her, a car from a street could drive through your living room window and kill your child. It has happened, therefore it is likely right?

  37. Andrea December 30, 2013 at 1:58 pm #

    So, the car could have been stolen, the kid could not escape car in an emergency, something could have happened in the building leaving the kid alone and stuck… But what if the kid, sick of the in-and-out of running errands, darted in the parking lot and wound up getting hit by a car? What if something terrible did happen inside the building (fire, terrorist, earthquake) and the car was unscathed out in the lot, turning out to be the safer place for the kid? If we’re going to invent dangerous scenarios, I can think of plenty that could happen by NOT leaving your kids in the car.

  38. Pam December 30, 2013 at 2:09 pm #

    To Mel. J:

    I’m really sorry to hear what you went through. I went through something similar. It is nightmarish and traumatic and completely wrong. Stay strong!

  39. Rebecca December 30, 2013 at 2:30 pm #

    To the worst case scenario Mom- WHAT ARE YOU DOING even HAVING your chld in the CAR AT all?? More kids die in CAR ACCIDENTS than in any of the ways you mentioned. If you “really” love your child keep him/her out of that dangerous object. Stay home. Don’t use electricity though, because you MIGHT have an electrical fire. Don’t heat your house with Natural Gas because you MIGHT die of carbon monoxide. Holy cow. LIFE is JUST too dangerous!! Don’t know how you made it to the age you are!

  40. Anna December 30, 2013 at 2:46 pm #

    As far as ideas for getting this issue attention, what about some memes that illustrated the absurdity of these laws. For example, in Texas there is no law against leaving a kid at home alone, but leaving your child in a car is. What about a photo of some kids doing something wild, fun and maybe a little questionable while there parents are away from home, next to a photo of a kid sleeping in a seatbelt, air-conditioning running, in a locked car while mom stands in line at a gas station 20 feet away, keeping one eye on the car? Words printed on each photo would indicate which act was breaking the law.

  41. Donna December 30, 2013 at 2:49 pm #

    So, according to writer 1, it is better to have your children inside a building where something has just happened catastrophic enough to render you incapable of getting the few feet to your child than it is for them to be safe in a car in the parking lot because it may take some time to discover the child is there? Really?

    Show of hands – how many parents would rather have their child in the store for the armed robbery instead of nicely tucked away in the car?

  42. Papilio December 30, 2013 at 2:51 pm #

    It’s so remarkable to me that these bullying busy-bodies often seem to be older than the young parents.
    Whenever I hear my family talk about child-rearing, it’s what you would expect: the young parents (my cousins) may be a bit insecure (or not…), but my aunts and uncles and own parents, now in their 50’s and 60’s, are very calm and matter-of-factly.
    “Of course – when you guys were little, we would … ” [insert helicopter parent’s nightmare story]
    They didn’t leave us outside the grocery store on their bicycle though 😛

  43. Kelly in MN December 30, 2013 at 3:18 pm #

    Lenore,
    How about starting a “Facebook Party” to get the word out. Do you remember when everyone was changing their status to a color for breast cancer awareness. We could all change our statuses to something we’ve done where nobody got hurt. Ex: my mom left us kids in the car for 30 min at a time while she purchased a hundred dollars of groceries.

    Kelly

  44. Kelly in MN December 30, 2013 at 3:18 pm #

    Lenore,
    How about starting a “Facebook Party” to get the word out. Do you remember when everyone was changing their status to a color for breast cancer awareness. We could all change our statuses to something we’ve done where nobody got hurt. Ex: my mom left us kids in the car for 30 min at a time while she purchased a hundred dollars of groceries.

    Kelly

  45. Kelly in MN December 30, 2013 at 3:18 pm #

    Lenore,
    How about starting a “Facebook Party” to get the word out. Do you remember when everyone was changing their status to a color for breast cancer awareness. We could all change our statuses to something we’ve done where nobody got hurt. Ex: my mom left us kids in the car for 30 min at a time while she purchased a hundred dollars of groceries.

    Kelly

  46. Mike December 30, 2013 at 3:27 pm #

    My kids are 4-1/2 and 1-1/2 years old, so I always take them inside the store. However, I will leave them in the car to go get a shopping cart first (line of sight, just a few seconds); then I load ’em into the cart, and I don’t have to worry about them getting run over in the parking lot, or wandering off in the store. If I really only need ONE thing from the store, then I either suck it up and accept the fact that it’s going to take an extra few minutes to make the stop, or I figure out how to get by without that one item until the next shopping trip.

  47. lollipoplover December 30, 2013 at 3:38 pm #

    I wish there was a a STOP Judging bumper sticker like the ones for STOP texting.
    Cars don’t kill young children, drivers do.
    But a phone call to the police for a non-emergency can tear apart families.
    If you see a young child inside a car, chances are the parent is nearby and has made a parenting judgement call. Before judging the parent, wait for them. If you are genuinely concerned, you wouldn’t call the police first.
    That is what asshole busybodies who judge others do.

    Maybe you will learn that their entire family has the norovirus (ours had it for Christmas) and are highly contagious and in desperate need of Pedialyte. Dragging sick kids through stores compromises the health of the elderly and community in general. It shouldn’t be illegal to make a parenting judgement call.

  48. Chihiro December 30, 2013 at 4:03 pm #

    Look, I’m sorry, but I have to agree with the first lady. I see nothing wrong with a young child being left alone in a car-provided they could get themselves out if the car gets too hot/cold. Babies and young toddlers can’t do that, because they can’t get out of their carseat. My concern isn’t a car being broken into, or the engine combusting or something. Babies have a much lower tolerance for extreme temperatures than older children and adults. And temperatures can skyrocket or plummet very fast inside a car. I know the people on this site like to think that’s not true, but it is.

  49. pentamom December 30, 2013 at 4:17 pm #

    “I know the people on this site like to think that’s not true, but it is.”

    No one here thinks that’s not true. What we think is, roughly:

    If it’s between 45F and 65F out and the car is safely in that range when you stop, the temperature cannot spike or plummet fast enough to endanger a child within five minutes. It is simply physically impossible, since temperatures respond to known weather forces, there are not little gnomes who secretly install stoves and freezers into our cars when we’re not looking.

    We also think we’re capable of judging whether the temperature is in a safe range.

    No one’s claiming it’s always wise to do this. We’re claiming there are times when a parent can appropriately judge that doing so is not a threat to the child’s life and limb.

  50. Papilio December 30, 2013 at 5:47 pm #

    So on one page we talk about babies taking naps outside in (almost) freezing weather, and on the other we’re concerned that babies may die inside a car because the temperature might plummet within a 5 minute range?

    Just asking.

  51. L. C. Burgundy December 30, 2013 at 5:55 pm #

    This is something where it can be done safely, but there are a lot of situations where it can be unsafe as well (running cars and young children who can leave their seat on their own is a huge no no as far as I’m concerned. I don’t care if it is for only two minutes.), and it can be very hard for someone who comes upon this kind of situation to be able to tell the difference between free ranging and negligence. I won’t call the cops on anyone unless the situation seems dire, but it’s really placing undo faith on the kindness and goodwill of others to leave infants, toddlers, and young kids in cars in public places with any sort of regularity.

  52. E December 30, 2013 at 5:55 pm #

    Personally, I never left my kids in the car. It’s just not something I would feel comfortable doing. If I saw a small kid (preschooler or younger) in a car alone, I think I would probably hang around to make sure something wasn’t amiss. Perhaps I’m admitting to my own inflated concern that’s created by the annual stories about kids/pets left in cars.

    Calling the police is a different issue. Yelling at the parent is a different issue. There’s no harm in me noticing people doing something I wouldn’t, but involving the law or being rude are unnecessary.

  53. L. C. Burgundy December 30, 2013 at 6:08 pm #

    I will add that I have a little problem calling this a “free range kids” issue, because let’s be honest, it’s not like the kids are learning a lot being left in the car alone for a few minutes, or that they have the opportunity to explore their environment or conquer something on their own. That’s free ranging.

    This is much more about parental convenience. That isn’t bad or anything, but it’s not really a free range child development issue.

  54. SF lawyer December 30, 2013 at 6:09 pm #

    @KatyFranz: Stop spreading fear and get your facts straight.

    CA law – as you can see for yourself at the link you provided – states that it’s an infraction (less then a misdemeanor) to leave a child 6 or under in a car, unsupervised, IF:
    (a) conditions are present that pose a significant risk to the child’s safety;
    OR
    (b) the car is running or the keys are in the ignition.

    Note:
    – “Supervision” can be as young as 12.
    – “Risk” to safety must be “posed” – not theoretical. This means, e.g., high temperatures. It does not mean a theoretically possible but unlikely carjacking or asteroid strike.
    – Car must be running or keys left in the ignition.
    – It’s an infraction, punishable by fine ($100 or less, IIRC). Not a misdemeanor, certainly not a felony.

    Net: Feel free to leave the kids in the car, just use common sense: turn the car off, take the keys with you and don’t do it if it’s actually risky for some reason (too hot or too cold).

  55. Al V December 30, 2013 at 7:35 pm #

    I wouldn’t leave my kids in the car regardless if they were sleeping. At 4 and 1.5 they can both undo their belt buckles, and the older one already knows how to open the door. All it would take is the older one to have a “I need to tell Daddy something super-important!”. Door open, two boys roaming the parking lot…..
    Leave the engine running? Not on a bet. I can just imagine doing that and finding the car buried in a store front.
    It may be “worst first”, but this is a risk I am unwilling to take.

  56. pentamom December 30, 2013 at 8:57 pm #

    “It may be “worst first”, but this is a risk I am unwilling to take.”

    That’s not “worst first.” That’s a reasonable calculation based on the known abilities of your kids (ability to get out of the car), their likelihood to get into trouble (they’d be inclined to do that given the chance) and the actual, real-world dangers of the situation (young kids running around in parking lots with moving cars is something that realistically does result in bad outcomes.)

    “Worst first” is thinking up the worst thing that can happen, regardless of its likelihood, and using that as a reason to do or not do something, instead of calculating the real-world dangers involved and making a judgment based on that.

    And I disagree with L.C. on this — as Lenore uses the term, “Free Ranging” is not only about letting kids explore for the sake of development, though it includes that. It’s about the idea that kids don’t need to be caged up and guarded 24/7 because the world isn’t that dangerous. One benefit of that is more exploration and development, but that’s not the sum of the issue. You might use the expression differently, but that’s how Lenore defines it, and having published a high-selling book on it, I figure she’s entitled to use her own definition. :)

  57. Becca in Alaska December 30, 2013 at 9:21 pm #

    I had a Facebook “decision” on something similar. Durning the summer I was parked 4 spaces away from the cart carrel. After all 4 of my kds (5 and under) were strapped in I left both doors and the trunk open (minivan of course) and returned the cart. I noticed a lady parked across the aisle from me told her maybe 7/8 yo to buckle in and she not only shut the doors, she then locked them. It was 85 degrees and while it was only for a few seconds the car would be hot from sitting in the sun, which is why I left the doors open, give them some air. Anyways I said something on my Facebook about it and got slammed. I asked my frinds who pulled the “I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if anything happened …my kids are my whole life” card , if they know of anytime I child was kidnapped or a car stolen in a parking lot in broad daylight in a safe area with the owner 30 feet away. (Mind you I had the keys) I also pointed out that it would be physically Impossible to remove a child from a car seat in the amount of time it would take to return the cart. Logic just didn’t work. I was the bad mom

  58. kate December 30, 2013 at 9:26 pm #

    L. C. Burgundy: This is a free range issue because a child learns that one can take care of and entertain oneself for a few minutes, or longer. Bad things don’t automatically happen because a parent is not within arms reach.

  59. Betsy in Michigan December 30, 2013 at 9:32 pm #

    L. C. Burgundy wrote:
    “I will add that I have a little problem calling this a “free range kids” issue, because let’s be honest, it’s not like the kids are learning a lot being left in the car alone for a few minutes, or that they have the opportunity to explore their environment or conquer something on their own. That’s free ranging. This is much more about parental convenience. That isn’t bad or anything, but it’s not really a free range child development issue.”
    No,no,no. Free Range is HOW you parent. To teach your children that they WILL be okay for a few moments “on their own”. This is a critical life skill that is being given short shrift these days! “Teachable” moments are often an accumulated knowledge thing, not “oh, you learned 2 +3 from a flash card”. You know, all that “play” kids do on the playground that the actual play experts recognize as important to healthy minds and bodies?

  60. CrazyCatLady December 30, 2013 at 10:19 pm #

    Unfortunately, I don’t meet the judgmental people in person, I usually meet them on FB, in a large group, where they post photos of kids incorrectly fastened in child seats, or how they “couldn’t believe how that parent of the newborn in the store with the toddler didn’t pick up the newborn immediately to stop the crying.”

    In the first case, I pointed out that not knowing the family, they shouldn’t have posted the picture of the child on the net in case the child was involved in a custody battle. If the person felt that strongly about the belt safety, they should carry pamphlets advising people where to go to get their seat checked. Besides, people who know her might have linked the photo to her, resulting in a lot of embarrassment.

    In the second case, the woman DID tell the mother to “PICK UP YOUR CHILD!” which I found incredibly rude. After I pointed out that the new mother may very well be overwhelmed and the that the more appropriate thing (instead of making her feel like a bad mother by berating her,) would be to offer to hold the child for a couple of minutes and to maybe even help her with her shopping. In the end, I got back an “oh, I didn’t think of her needs and what I could do to help her.” Even a few of the people who initially agreed with the poster that the woman should pick up her baby in the end agreed that the village should HELP the mom, not tell her she was a bad mom.

    Should I come across a parent being yelled at…yup, I have my answers ready for the busy body. I hope I won’t but this site has given me the words to say.

  61. Bob Davis December 30, 2013 at 10:28 pm #

    There was a case where a car was stolen with a child sleeping in the back. As soon as the thieves discovered the child, they parked the car and one of them made an anonymous call to the police dept. Stealing a car is one thing, but getting busted on a kidnapping rap is something else entirely. Some of the “residents” of the state pen take a dim view of guys who harm kids.

  62. parallel December 30, 2013 at 10:52 pm #

    Someone mentioned it must be so sad to think ‘worst first’…

    It IS sad. I imagine it’s also EXHAUSTING. It’s so strange, because I was raised free-range. Now the same woman who let me roam with my pals until well after dusk would be the first to chide a stranger for leaving a child in the car for two minutes.

    When I ask her why, the answer is always that times are different. When I tell her the statistics, she says “it’s just my opinion”…that facts are facts is outweighed by the media machine.

    Now she worries constantly. Not just over stranger’s children, but over everything…”What if we die on the way to the store…who would look after the cats?” It’s exhausting just to listen to, I can’t imagine having all that stress and anxiety in my head. I’m so glad I grew up in a different time…a time when my mother understood that risk is part of life and must be considered and managed, not avoided completely at the cost of actually living.

  63. Havva December 31, 2013 at 12:13 am #

    The hard part of fighting this issue is that we are living in a world that believes in absolute answers. The way public safety campaigns have been going lately they try to reach the parents most likely to put their kids in danger with fail-safe advice. So to get out of the heated debate on cold cars example. You get things like “NEVER LEAVE YOUR CHILD ALONE IN THE BATHTUB”

    Not a subtle … “A lot of small children drown when their parents abruptly leave them in the tub, for example to answer the phone or the door, or grab a towel. Keep in mind that a baby who can sit up easily may panic if they fall in the tub and could drown. Other young children may try to follow a parent and be injured falling into the water, thus risking drowning.”

    Now most people would shrug at that and say that’s common sense of course. But the “NEVER….” campaigns convinces people that children are dying in droves, in perfectly ordinary situations that ordinary people would consider safe.

    Perhaps that is why nick jr recommends taking your 5 year old out of the tub and locking them out of the bathroom if you need to answer the phone…. Tough luck kid if the cold shock makes you need to pee.
    http://www.nickjr.com/home-life/bath-time/bath-parenting-advice/bath-safety_ap.html

    The NEVERS… also teaches people that parents need to be constantly berated or they will kill, maim, or otherwise damage their kids. All while doing things that seem safe.

    I don’t know how you get people to back off that edge, except perhaps by pointing out that it isn’t the intentionally left behind kids who are dying.

  64. Havva December 31, 2013 at 12:26 am #

    As for the Facebook status idea… I think I know what my post(s) would be.

    “When I was about 4 my mom left me alone in the front seat of the car to run a short errand. It wasn’t the first time. But this time she left me with a prescription pill bottle on my lap. Having just started reading I saw ‘Push down and turn to open.’ And opened it. It was the first time reading accomplished something. But I knew about medicine so I put the lid right back. Everything was fine, just like every other time before and after.”

    Or perhaps… “When I was maybe 6 my mom reluctantly left me in the car to go grocery shopping on a hot day. Even opening the doors it was getting too hot. So I got out and waited next to the car. I still preferred it to going in with her. Now parents have to go to court for less.”

  65. Reziac December 31, 2013 at 12:32 am #

    Geez. When I was a kid, it was perfectly normal to leave kids in the car for an hour or more while the parents shopped. It was assumed any kid big enough to turn the crank was smart enough to roll down the windows if they got too hot.

    Pam said:
    ====
    People today aren’t able to recognize an actual dangerous situation, or they are but are too scared or stupid (or the dreaded combo of both) to do anything about the true dangers in this world.
    ====
    There you have the meat of the matter. Parents today, having been sheltered from danger all their lives (a side effect of everyday life becoming LESS unsafe with each generation), have never learned what is or isn’t dangerous, so EVERYTHING is dangerous. Imagine the parents *their* kids will make, and how freaked out that next generation will be.

  66. charlene December 31, 2013 at 1:23 am #

    I live in San Diego, where it is not a criminal offense to leave a child in the car. There are some stipulations like not a risky situation, such as with the keys in the car or too hot, but if they are 6 years or older the law states its ok regardless. Probably deeming a 6 year old smart enough to be careful. My son is 6, and daughter 5. I will leave them in the car, out of my sight, for a quick errand. I do not leave my keys in the car, and if i dont think its safe, i wont leave them. When I mention this to most people I know, they think it is illegal. Funny, they just assume its illegal and immediately condemn me. I have looked at the law and feel confidant I am not breaking the law, and am making the best decisions for us all. We all know our kids limits. To each his own. But I do try to spread the word that its not illegal, here at least.

  67. Melanie Jones December 31, 2013 at 2:52 am #

    To the mom who is currenty going through this situation: I imagine that things vary quite a bit from state to state, so I don’t really know whether to encourage you to get a lawyer or something like that. I do know many attorneys offer a free thirty minute consultation and you are likely going through something that is very common in your area. Meeting for a free consultation can probably give you a flavor of what the system is like in your area – it woud probably be a attorney specializing in family matters. This doesn’t commit you to hiring an attorney, and shocker, prepare yourself to meet an attorney that thinks you are a horrible person, but really the information can be helpful in understanding the system – especially if you have a rosy happy view of the justice system like I once did. In my interaction with the system, personally, I found that each person I spoke to had a very negative view of me and zero interest in why I did what I had done, thus me presenting why I had made a common sense choice was translated as being “defensive” and “belligerent”. (I guess saying I’m not on the interent isn’t very convincing…but I’m not.) I won’t guide you on what to say, but because the system seems to view mothers as incompetent and irrational I would recommend avoiding excessive emotionalism including crying but especially including raising your voice or moving your body in a way that could be called threatening. (standing from seated position, rolling eyes, baring teeth, sighing, etc,.) Try to forget your kids are at stake because that is so scary it just messes with you. Say to yourself over and over “I have every reason to trust this system and I trust I am a good mother. I have nothing to worry about.” Monitor yourself and be sure to speak slowly and thoughtfully, and don’t be afraid to pause before answering any questions. More importantly, don’t be surprised and get discouraged if these people are really rude to you or seem to not mind saying things that are very derogatory. I feel like there is an aspect to the system that is subtly designed to get you a little hot. I also feel like there is also an aspect of the system that subtly suggests everyone is going to think you are awful if you talk or make any requests. That is not true. Share your story. Learn what your rights are, and be active in getting your full police report and the full write up from CPS. Information is power, and you want to show that you aren’t going to be steamrolled. Eventually my claim was substantiated by CPS – meaning that it is neglectful to leave your kids in the car for seven minutes in Virginia. It is in their system three years, but otherwise there are no consequences other than now I really can’t leave them in the car ever even though I think it is STOOPID. I asked if I woud be able to allow my daughter to drive at 16 as in my state there are no age guidelines attached to my agreement to not leave children in the car. This question was sidestepped multiple times, with no one ever willing to let me know at what age they could be in the car and for how long, so basically in Virginia the crime is being called in by someone no matter how old your kids are apparently. I felt it was similar to the first time I got a D on a paper. I was a straight A student and I was devastated. My mother reminded me that grades didn’t change who I was or who I had the potential to be. I think in most cases what winds up happening is the equivalent of having a “D” on your mothering report – which is devastating if you feel like an “A” mother and doubly so if you actually didn’t break any laws or do anything you would deem as neglectful to your child. So please don’t let it affect who you are as a mother – then the crazies have really won. If you find yourself withdrawing from your kids or getting short with them because your mind is so occupied with fear about what might happen, just snap out of it sis and refuse to let anyone steal the joy out of mothering because that belongs to you. You determine every single day what kind of mama you are, not Officer Blowhard and Nosy Nellie down the road. Just think about something else. Finally, CPS might require references and such – thoughtfully consider who to have as a reference, and don’t let embarassment be a factor. Choose someone who really sees you parent day in and day out even if it feels embarassing to let them in on your dilema. Your kids doctor might be called – again, don’t switch doctors later – confront the situation and let who you are shine through. Ask their opinion and share your reasoning. You haven’t done anything wrong any more than Rosa Parks did something wrong. And I will stand beside you and be that kind of wrong any day of the week. (And I don’t mean to offend anyone by the comparison – I fully realize that segregation was far more ugly and widespread, but please realize that these people came to my home and had the nerve to say they would happily take my children into the foster system if I didn’t realize it was neglectful to leave a child unattended in a car and to me that ain’t the kind of America I will just happily sit by and live in. I got lucky. It haunts me to think of people who didn’t.)

  68. LRothman December 31, 2013 at 7:29 am #

    I used to travel with my three young kids from the DC area to upstate NY on long weekends fairly regularly. From the time the third one was born (oldest was 4, other was 2) they knew that if it was nighttime and they were asleep, I would NOT wake them up when I stopped for gas and used the restroom. If they woke up and the car was parked, they knew I’d be back soon. I’d leave the engine running and the heat/ac on and use my spare key to lock them in. None of them ever got out of the car, turned anything on or off, or otherwise injured themselves. Worst thing that ever happened was that after I got back one was awake and complained I had taken “forever” – but she wasn’t crying or upset, just bored because she woke up and her siblings were asleep.

  69. SP December 31, 2013 at 7:36 am #

    I frequently leave my kids in the car for short errands. Usually playing a video game or reading a book. Last year, I stopped at a walmart in an unfamiliar town, and decided my 10 year old should come in since I didn’t know how long I’d be. As he got out of the car, he accidentally dinged the car next to us. A quick short errand turned into a $350 lesson as I explained why we had to leave a note about the damage. And shocked the heck out of the other car’s owner who couldn’t believe I’d be so honest as to leave a note!

  70. James December 31, 2013 at 9:46 am #

    Most of the horror stories in the first response reminded me of the classic Ferris Bueller line:

    “Um, he’s sick. My best friend’s sister’s boyfriend’s brother’s girlfriend heard from this guy who knows this kid who’s going with the girl who saw Ferris pass out at 31 Flavors last night. I guess it’s pretty serious.”

    Leaving a kid in a car on a hot day is dangerous. But the rest of these fears are far fetched. The main way kids get hurt or killed in cars is in crashes, not when they’re parked.

  71. Alex R. December 31, 2013 at 9:52 am #

    I have two takes on this issue:

    First, that a free-range parent is essentially making an important risk-benefit analysis. As free-rangers we make the informed judgement that allowing our children a higher level of risk has gigantic benefits for a child’s character development which strongly outweigh that higher level of risk. This particular judgement is the primary principle which informs all free-range parenting.

    This principle does not mean that a free-range parent shouldn’t make judgements about any given risk. In my opinion the risk of leaving a small child in the car does not outweigh the benefits, as the amount of “character development” that will be accomplished by a baby or small child strapped into a car seat will essentially be zero. On the other hand, the risk involved, particularly on a very hot or very cold day are well above zero – not very likely, as so many on this thread have observed – but the risk is still higher than the potential reward.

    Also, as some of the comments above make clear, there’s a substantial legal and personal risk to any parent who leaves their child in the car. This is a risk any free-range parent needs to weigh against the benefit to their child, as a parent going to jail, or spending their money on lawyers/fines/etc also has no benefit for the child.

    Obviously the risk/reward calculus changes when the child becomes old enough to accept coaching about what to do if Mom/Dad doesn’t come back quickly or the car gets too hot, but that’s not what I’m addressing here.

    My second take on this issue is a risk/reward analysis for the free-range movement as a whole. I don’t think we can win the argument in favor of leaving babies or toddlers in the car. Since the character development of a small child left alone in a car is miniscule, our ability to argue that the risks justify the benefits is essentially zero. This gives the frightened majority an effective weapon to use against the movement, so I’m personally in favor of dropping this particular issue as something we advocate for. In the larger political calculus, it might even be something we should argue against.

  72. Donna December 31, 2013 at 3:59 pm #

    I completely disagree that there is no character building in infants and toddlers being left in a car. One of the traits that was important to me to build in my child at a young age was the security to be alone for a few minutes and the realization that I will be back. Of course, you don’t need to leave a child in the car for that but it is a way.

    Further the analysis is completely irrelevant. Underlying much of free range parenting is the belief that everything doesn’t have to be about the kids. We don’t have to be a martyr to the parenting cause. It is perfectly acceptable to balance the risk to the child against the benefit to parents. It is fine to say “there is no risk to my child and it is much more convenient to me.”

  73. bmommyx2 December 31, 2013 at 4:25 pm #

    OMG, what a nut. I would like to see the proof of her arguments. #1- I think the likeliness that a locked car of getting stolen out in plain view within five minutes, while possible is unlikely. If I am wrong show me the stats. #2- Give me some examples of what realistically could go wrong that the child would need to escape the vehicle? #3-I always leave a window cracked. In the unlikely event that something happens to me (if I get taken hostage in the bank for example) & I don’t return eventually the child will start screaming & I have confidence in that event someone will take action to help. I would like to hear the fact about “all of these children who have died” while waiting a few minutes in the car on a not hot day. Tragically most stories I hear about where a child has died has been on a hot day or they were in the car for an extended period of time & even forgotten about. I hate for any child to die from something that can be prevented, but that doesn’t mean we all go overboard with ridiculous precautions that mimic the no tolerance policies.

  74. bmommyx2 December 31, 2013 at 5:11 pm #

    Katy Franz, the situation you described is not what is being discussed here. The situation you have described is dangerous & against the law. I also live in Cali & am familiar with the law. It states that you can’t leave them in the car when it’s running or in an unsafe situation like a hot day. That said on a not hot day with the engine off & the windows cracked, doors locked & the children secured in their car seats, they are safe for a few minutes if you are nearby. Like previous posters have said it’s much more dangerous statistically speaking to bring them into a bank or convenience store where it could be robbed. Maybe we should all never leave the house, oh but danger lurks there too. It’s funny how perspective has changed in just a short few years. I was recently watching an old episode of the TV show Emergency; Season two, episode 21 that originally aired on Apr 07, 1973. They were called out by some busy bodies concerned for a baby in a car. They were not allowed to open the car & they waited. The mother came out of the hairdressers to retrieve the sleeping baby & yelled at the paramedics & they left. Now I don’t condone leaving a baby in the car while you get your hair done, but here we are a mere 40 yrs later & there would probably be 12 policemen & they would have immediately broken into the vehicle & handed the baby off to CPS, oh & the news crews, can’t forget them. What has happened in the last 40 to change our idea of what is safe so drastically????

  75. ifsogirl December 31, 2013 at 9:07 pm #

    When I became a single mom to two children I had to figure out how to get two sleepping children, aged 5 and 2, from my parking stall at the back end of the garage to my fourth floor apartment.

    At first I would put the younger in the umbrella stroller, pushing it with one hand while carrying the sleeping 5y/o and whatever bags I had with me. This was made even more difficult by the angled floor of the garage and the crappy turning radius of your standard umbrella stroller.

    It didn’t take me long to figure out it was much safer to take the little one up and get her tucked in bed and safe, run back down and get the big girl and anything else left behind. Neither child was left alone for more than five minutes and as I told my older child this was how I magically got the two of them home she knew to wait in the car and be “asleep” so she would be carried up instead of having to walk.

  76. Natalie January 1, 2014 at 6:56 am #

    Lenore-
    have you written about this in the newspapers you freelance for? You’ve written about the subway, you’ve written about leaving kids in the park unattended, and a host of other issues related to free range, but I don’t think you’ve written an article entirely devoted to this subject.
    It would be controversial and increase page views, call it “yes, it’s ok to leave your kids in the car” and then qualify it with an asterisk and tiny print (for brief errands)
    You’ve got stats on your side for all the fears. You know that the fear of death comes from forgetting your child in the car, not leaving her there unintentionally. More kids die in parking lots than cars (although that’s not a reason not to take kids out of the car, just showing how misplaced the fear is) Make a case, write it up.
    And then talk about the damage “well-meaning” good Samaritans do by calling 911 over absolutely nothing. Explain how parents are being forbidden from making common sense judgement calls, and it’s intrusive and limits freedom.
    Wrap up with a million dollar counter argument, which has already been deconstructed here many times. And finally, a poll to the readers. Ask them if they’ve ever done it, under what conditions, and what happened. Would they do it again?

    Helicoptering is coming under fire for good reason. Keep stoking the flames. Show people that other options exist.

  77. Buffy January 1, 2014 at 7:56 am #

    I was looking for some stats on kids dying in hot cars, and found what looked to be a reputable study by the Department of Geosciences at San Francisco State University. It provided this:

    “An examination of media reports about the 562 child vehicular heatstroke deaths for an thirteen year period (1998 through 2012) shows the following circumstances:

    •51% – child “forgotten” by caregiver (288 Children)

    •29% – child playing in unattended vehicle (163)

    •18% – child intentionally left in vehicle by adult (101)

    •2% – circumstances unknown (10)”

    It goes through a whole bunch of other stuff, and then ends with Safety Recommendations. #1 is written in bold, all-caps, and red, and are…you guessed it…

    •NEVER LEAVE A CHILD UNATTENDED IN A VEHICLE. NOT EVEN FOR A MINUTE !

    And this study was also published in the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. I’m afraid it’s a losing battle, if educated people who know the stats (562 in 13 years and half of those were forgotten) still think NOT EVEN FOR A MINUTE is an appropriate recommendation.

    http://www.ggweather.com/heat/

  78. Brenna January 1, 2014 at 1:15 pm #

    Honestly, the “no running car/keys in ignition because it’s so dangerous” line of thought angers me. You’re assuming things you don’t know. Exhibit A: My car. 1. It uses two sets of keys – doors and ignition. Thus, I can leave the car running for the kids and still have the doors locked. 2. It is child-proof. Even with the engine running, my kids could not get it out of park. In order to do so, you have to push the brake pedal completely to the floor while simultaneously pushing the gear stick up and away from you before you can bring it down into drive. Without the brake fully compressed, the gear shift will not move an inch. Yes, a kid could manage to stand on the brake pedal, but the position in which they would have to be in order to do this would make it almost impossible for the child to move the gear shift. Exhibit B: My children. 1. My kids are not allowed to play in the car, or to ever sit in the driver’s seat. They know that if I ever catch them doing so, the result will be a particularly unpleasant experience that they might not survive. Because I let them be independent as much as possible, and don’t have strict restrictions on most of the rest of their lives, they have no interest in messing around in the car.

    Is there a chance that they’ll rebel and somehow figure out how to change gears? Sure. But it’s a small enough risk that it doesn’t factor into my decisions.

    That being said, if it’s hot or cold enough that I feel it necessary to leave the car running, it’s very doubtful I would leave them in the car. But the assumption that if I did leave the car running bad things will instantly follow really grinds my gears.

  79. Jenna K. January 1, 2014 at 6:37 pm #

    It is so infuriating to me that these things are considered criminal. I leave my kids in my car all the time. Why would I get six kids out when it’s 10 degrees outside when all I need to do is run in and grab one thing, like a gallon of milk, and go through the self checkout line and why is it anyone else’s business what I do with my kids? I know the government felt they had to jump in because of real abuse cases, but they have taken it way too far and I’m so sick of it!

  80. Emily January 2, 2014 at 12:49 am #

    Well, nice to know you read your posts. Singling my post out I have to assume I struck a nerve. Comparing it to the other post is silly since it’s obvious I’m talking about children who CANNOT undo their seatbelts or leave the car, which is a far cry from kids old enough to play dentist in the car. I’m also not saying children should never be left in the car, but judging from my oldest’s ability to undo her car seat I set the age at 6. Why? Because my mom, a mom from the 50’s who let her kids run through fields and play pretty much free-range, always set the common sense rule that when your kid can open the door and get out in an emergency then they can be left in the car alone. Before then, the least that could happen is them locking you out of the car.

    To answer other people’s questions, no the car stolen was not in a ghetto area. Cars being stolen is having the largest crime increase, and we have actual laws about where I live leaving a car running unattended, let alone with children inside. Do a search on car stolen, children inside, it’s not nearly as rare as you’d think. A child old enough to get out of their seat can call for help, yell when someone breaks in, or even get out of the car if they have to.

    My biggest argument is that if your child is too young to be able to get out if they needed to then leaving them there is an entrapment hazard. What could happen? Again, someone stealing the car, someone hitting the car (I’ve had people hit my parked car before), getting too hot or too cold so they need to get out of the car, getting cut, hurt, etc, things like that where they NEED to be able to get out of the car and get help. The very least that could happen is them locking you out.

    That good Samaritan could not know how long the child was in there, the condition of the child, or if the mother left the child at every inconvenient stop. Shoot, if the child had been old enough to say “I’m okay, my mom is right there” then that is a different picture.

    There’s an unrealistic view you and many on here have that a car is safe. Kids barely get kidnapped. They barely have any accidents in the house. Look up how many get hurt in or around cars and compare them to that number. I’m sorry, I’m not advocating strapping your child to your hip until they’re 18, or anything as silly as you or others are attacking me for. I’m talking about making sure your child can leave the car if they need to and THEN allowing them to wait in the car. You’re basically saying it’s fine to tie a kid up and assume they’re safe because they can’t get out and the doors are locked.

  81. Jodie January 2, 2014 at 7:03 am #

    It’s posts like this that make me glad I’m blind and don’t have to worry about owning a car. My daughter can’t be left by me in something I don’t own.

    As for sighted parents, I was left alone in a car, either by myself or with my brother or sister, many many times and I’m still here. Even as much as I hate sensorship, I think the media needs to be forced to show the real side of things instead of only what makes people panic. That’s not sensorship in my book; it’s telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Aren’t reporters supposed to report the truth?

    I’m shutting up now. I’m cranky from being sick and this is only worsening my mood. Belated happy New Year and I hope you all had a good one.

  82. Buffy January 2, 2014 at 9:43 am #

    Emily, there are 80 posts here telling you why you’re wrong, and saying back to us “look it up” doesn’t bolster your arguments in any way. And where do you live that there are such dramatic unpredictable weather changes in the space of minutes? Because man, I don’t want to move there.