What Could Happen to Your Kid in the Car While You Pay For Gas?

Hi Readers — Over at Parentdish I wrote a rttnriyeay
saying that sometimes you CAN leave your child in the car for a few minutes while you run in to pick up a pizza or pay for gas. Yes, crack the windows. Yes, take out the keys. Yes, always keep your purse or wallet in the back seat so you have to open the back door to get it and be reminded that your child is back there, and make your decisions accordingly. No one wants to see kids forgotten in the car that could quickly heat up, etc., etc. But I’m talking about a four-minute errand in a place where you get something and leave. Anyway, here’s a typical response:

By making a conscious decision to leave your child in the car, even to pay for gas, you are putting your child in harm’s way. Car thieves and child abductors lurk; your child could unbuckle them self and get caught in the power window or move to the front and put the car into gear.

This is what I call “What if?” thinking.  Not thinking about will PROBABLY happen 99,999,999 out of 100,000,000 times. It’s the modern-day compulsion to think of the “worst first” and work one’s way back from it (the child COULD get kidnapped, so let’s never leave him there), giving no credit to the parent who HAS considered the real-world odds and, based on a reasonable risk assessment,  decided she can and will trust to fate and probability for a minute or two: “My kid’s asleep, it’ll take me 4 minutes to pay, I can see the car from here — seems fine.”

What’s really off, though, for folks like that letter writer, is the “probability” part. Many people have gotten to the point where they really BELIEVE the worst case scenario is very likely to happen in the very next minute to their very child.  And that’s why I harp on the way “the media” has changed us parents, for the worse. Nightly, the news will cull terrible stories from literally around the world (Maddie McCann, Natalee Holloway) and put these on TV. And if you are fed a steady diet of one tragedy after another, you DO become convinced these are happening “all the time,” because, on TV, they are. And Americans, on average, watch over 4 hours of TV a day — far more time than they spend in the “real world” that is their neighborhood, walking around and getting to know their actual neighbors.

And since TV never shows the millions and millions of non-events that happen every day — the children NOT snatched from the bus stop, the 29 year olds who never spent 18 years in captivity — and since people aren’t out seeing normal ol’ non-headline life for themselves, their perspective gets skewed. It’s like they LIVE in the world of  TV. And when you’re stuck in that world, everything looks like a potential disaster, including my brain, possibly about to explode, as I try to explain this over and over and then people say, “Fine.  But what if it was YOUR kid snatched from the car…” — Lenore

It's only recently we've decided leaving a child in the car for a few minutes is incredibly risky.

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178 Responses to What Could Happen to Your Kid in the Car While You Pay For Gas?

  1. Daniel August 24, 2010 at 8:39 pm #

    When visiting my grandma as a child, she would leave me and my brother in the car for what seemed like hours (but was probably more like 30-40 minutes). She would leave the keys in the car so we could listen to the radio. She would tell us to roll the windows down. She would tell us that if we got too hot we should get out of the car and sit in the grass under a tree.

    All of this in 90+ degree summer heat and with us under the age of 10 (maybe around 7 or 8 years old).

    I can’t for the life of me figure out what was wrong with that, but now I’m terrified of doing anything similar with my kids when they are older (they are admittedly to young at this point at 2 and 3 yrs old) for fear I will be reported.

    We had a friend with 4 and 5 year olds who was 9 months pregnant who could not bear to get the kids in and out of the car for a quick errand. She went into a drug store for all of 4 minutes only to return to find that someone had called the police to her car. She had to hire a lawyer, go to court, and complete mandated parenting classes.

    This is another side of the coin of assuming the worst in every situation – because people are so shut off from their communities people assume that every parent out there that makes different choices than they would is a child abuser or neglectful parent. Rather than just wait around a few minutes to discretely confirm that the kids will be ok, someone did the “right” thing by calling the cops and adding a huge amount of stress to someone’s life for no reason.

    All that to say that I agree… it is discouraging.

  2. Peter Brülls August 24, 2010 at 8:41 pm #

    Lenore, you should really try to get the the College Humor guys to make a skit about the many improbable dangers children face.

    Something like http://www.collegehumor.com/video:1819259 or Staplerfahrer Klaus ( http://www.youtube.com/verify_age?next_url=http%3A//www.youtube.com/watch%3Fv%3DkflBLc20f-Q )

    Toddlers Stabbing trying to stab themselves with forks, getting abducted while moms paying for gas, etc

  3. Deborah August 24, 2010 at 8:44 pm #

    Seems to me that the safest place for a child at a gas station is IN the car! There are cars coming and going constantly and a child could easily get run over. But, then again, if the child is chained to you, he or she can’t get away.

    Is there any common sense left in the world? (Other than you, Lenore!)

  4. Vi | LokiTheShiba August 24, 2010 at 9:05 pm #

    The only thing I’d change about the advice is that during warm days, I’d open the windows all the way down, not just a crack.

    I mean think about it, why do people only crack the window open? So that thieves don’t come and steal your car or snatch your children. Well, if you think the probability of that is low relative to the probability of your child being over-heated, then put the windows all the way down.

  5. Becky August 24, 2010 at 9:06 pm #

    It amazes me that these “what if” people don’t think “what if someone holds the gas station/grocery store/whatever I’m in while I have my kids in there!? They could be shot!” That’s about as likely to happen as your kids getting kidnapped right out from under you while you pay for gas.

    The selective “what if” thinking is what really gets me, is what I’m saying. Either you are afraid of everything that could possibly remotely happen, or you aren’t. Why would you choose some things to get worked up over and not others?

  6. Tara August 24, 2010 at 9:06 pm #

    Yesterday I was at the store with my four kids (9, 6, 5 and 3). I forgot my bank card and had to make a return trip to pay for the groceries. I left the kids in the car for a grand total of 5 minutes (from the time I left the car, got the groceries, loaded them up and turned the car back on, I timed it.) I wasn’t nervous about my oldest’s ability to keep his sibs under control and in the vehicle. I wasn’t nervous about them overheating (it was early in the day, not hot at all). I wasn’t nervous about them getting kidnapped or run over in the parking lot (they’re obedient and when I told them to stay in the car I knew I could trust them to do just that).

    I was nervous about someone seeing me do that and either confronting me on it or calling the police. The first thing I checked when I got out of the store was to see if there was a police car by my van! Of course they were fine!

  7. Tuppence August 24, 2010 at 9:12 pm #

    Checked out the comments (yikes) regarding the article at Parentdish and Leonore has my condolences. And deep gratitude, of course, for ‘taking the bullet’ in the name of common sense. “The appeal to probability is a logical fallacy. It assumes that because something could happen, it is inevitable that it will happen. This is flawed logic, regardless of the likelihood of the event in question. The fallacy is often used to exploit paranoia.” Source: Wikipedia. Seems to fit the bill.

  8. Greg August 24, 2010 at 9:16 pm #

    We’re more concerned about the kids freaking out. Our five year-old tends to screech if left alone, despite our best efforts to reassure her. The two year-old could not care less.

    Fortunately, we have a phone line through On Star, so we’ll usually just call mom or a grandparent while I run in and grab a gallon of milk. If I don’t have direct line-of-sight, I’ll set the alarm on the car.

  9. N August 24, 2010 at 9:17 pm #

    Walking across the parking lot is way more dangerous than being alone in a car for a few minutes.

  10. Teresa August 24, 2010 at 9:18 pm #

    The first time I got up enough nerve to leave my kid in the car while I paid for the gas, they busted a drug runner with a stolen car at the pump right next to us. LOL. I swear it. I’m watching the car, I’m paying for the gas, and all of a sudden here comes this car full of college age people and 4 cops blazing in with lights and sirens and then guns drawn on the car.

    The cops start hauling people out of the car, tossing the car and the trunk, cuffing and stuffing people and my 9 year old is sitting in our car with the windows down watching the whole thing.

    I finally get out to her, and we ask one of the officers what was up, which is how we found out what was in the car. My kid is not terrified. She is not traumatized. We went to our suburban playdate and she was the star of the show because she got to witness a drug bust up close. The cop didn’t hassle me for leaving my kid in the car and was more than willing to answer her questions.

    I asked her on the way what she would have done if they had started shooting. She said she would have gotten out of the car on the far side and hunkered down behind the tires in the front like the cops do on tv.

    Kids are resilient and they know more than we give them credit for.

  11. Gail August 24, 2010 at 9:26 pm #

    What makes me crazy with this sort of comment is the way they throw in actual possibilities (child putting car in gear or leaving car, etc. ) along with the Big Fear. It’s as if they want to throw us off the scent of what’s really bothering them. And it’s true, I suppose, that a parent who believes that predators are lurking around every corner is not capable of using an emergency brake or teaching his children to behave properly in the car.

  12. Lihtox August 24, 2010 at 9:39 pm #

    My problem with the dissenters is that they think in absolutes: they start with worst-case scenarios, or occasions when it would indeed be a bad idea to leave the kid in the car (e.g. Phoenix in the summertime), and want to make a general rule of it. And because they think in absolutes, they think that Free-Range is about absolutes too: “So you’re in favor of leaving your child alone in the car for an hour in downtown Detroit in the middle of winter with no heat?” Well no, we’re not.

    It reminds me of abstinence-only sex education: if you can do it, great; but most people benefit from a broader discussion on how to mitigate the risks.

    And I wonder if some of this is a positive feedback loop: if you don’t give kids responsibility, then they don’t learn to evaluate risks, which means that you can’t leave them in risky situations. Surely you don’t have to be 12 or 14 to realize that releasing the parking brake is a bad idea, but maybe sheltered kids, who watch too much TV, don’t realize this? I don’t know.

  13. Elfir August 24, 2010 at 9:45 pm #

    I spotted that when you posted it on ParentDish and purposely avoided going near the comments. I wouldn’t have even attempted to broach that subject (especially in August, when everyone’s convinced it will ALWAYS be 900 degrees out or something).

  14. Cynthia August 24, 2010 at 9:57 pm #

    Deborah and Becky- my thoughts exactly.

    We had a tragedy in my town last week where a 10mo was forgotten in a car (dad forgot to drop her off at day care before going in to work) and died. My husband and I have been horrified by the response of the community (online, not in person) to a grieving family and a doubtlessly already self-flagellating father. I can’t believe that some people’s first response is to harp on dad, but apparently it is.

    We need to give each other some grace.

  15. LauraL August 24, 2010 at 10:14 pm #

    yep, yep, yep.

    Just the other day I had to correct a response to a story about a 5 yo child who had been dropped off at home by mistake (child was supposed to stay at an afterschool program) and attempted to walk the 8 miles to where his mother worked.

    Kind strangers stopped their car to offer assistance to this small child walking in the rain. Child declined to get in this stranger’s car, so the stranger walked with him a ways.

    Another parent said, “It’s just as likely some CREEP would have picked him up!”

    Uh, no. In fact, what was likely is JUST WHAT HAPPENED – an adult saw a child they believed to be in poor circumstances and tried to HELP.

    Risk assessment is hard to defend in the face of a mother’s fear of losing her child.

  16. Christine August 24, 2010 at 10:14 pm #

    I have to feel sorry for kids that can’t figure out how to sit in a car for 5 minutes without getting stuck in a power window.

    I go one better…. if I am using cash, I just send my 7 YO in to pay for the gas.

  17. Becky August 24, 2010 at 10:19 pm #

    @Christine No kidding! That actually made me laugh out loud.

  18. Katy August 24, 2010 at 10:32 pm #

    My kid is safer buckled in a locked car than walking through all the traffic between the pumps and the cashier.

  19. Dee August 24, 2010 at 10:33 pm #

    I go to a cash-only station . . . and have never thought twice about leaving the kid in the car while I pay for gas. The car is under the shade of the roof thing, and since I have to cross the station’s entrance lane to get to the building (and people zip in there like manics), I’ve always figured its far more dangerous to have him dawdling alongside me than in the car.

  20. lakeline August 24, 2010 at 10:40 pm #

    Becky, don’t even kid about that, someone used that as a SERIOUS ARGUMENT with me about leaving a kid in the car. That someone might hold up the gas station while you’re in it and then your kids would be alone in the car for longer. I was like “I’d rather have them at a lower risk of being shot if we’re going to go down that logical route…” I mean worst case scenarios are just becoming beyond absurd when it involves children.

  21. EricS August 24, 2010 at 10:46 pm #

    @Becky: You took the words right out of my mouth. Ignorance and stupidity are the only reasons for “selective ‘what if’s”. What if someone broke into your car and kidnapped your kids, what if there was a gas leak and the gas station blew up, what if lightning suddenly hit out of nowhere and struck the gas pump and blew up the gas station, what if your child woke up this morning and tripped on one of his toys. What if’s. That’s so infinite. You can come up with a 1000 ways for things to happen. Does it mean it’s possible…yes. Anything is possible. Is it most likely to happen to you at that given day…no. The only sure fire way to protect your child, IS TO NOT HAVE ONE. That way, all the “what if’s” will never apply to your child. I don’t get why people have children only to put themselves and their child through this terrible ordeal of fearing everyday about almost everything. I don’t know about anyone else, but that’s not how life should be.

    All I can say, is that ignorance begets ignorance. Negative energy can only bring negative outcomes. That sometimes, people like this actually bring it upon themselves to make bad things happen to them. And as I always say, parents like this are nothing but selfish. Because no matter how they paint it or dress it up, their fears are primarily about them, NOT their children. Their overwhelming desire to quell their own fears makes them treat their children so destructively. Yes, helicopter parents are destructive towards their child’s mental and emotional well being. They just haven’t gotten it in their thick skulls yet. Because either they don’t realize it or don’t want to, but the outcome will be much more apparent as the children get older. But buy then, it’s become part of their personality, that you can’t change it anymore. And your child will be too afraid to change themselves.

  22. Silver Fang August 24, 2010 at 10:53 pm #

    My mom started leaving me alone in her car when I was about ten or 11. I listened to the radio and nothing bad happened. I doubt a few minutes alone in a car will harm a child as long as they’ve been taught not to play with the gear shift and the steering wheel.

  23. jkruofa August 24, 2010 at 11:01 pm #

    Well, hey. I’ve got one for you. I have a book titled “Death in the Canyon”. It’s about all the deaths that have happened at the Grand Canyon over the years. In one instance (out of sveral hundred) an adult couple got out of their car to take in the view. They left their two sleeping children in the car, but didn’t turn on the emergency brake. The car rolled into the canyon. The children died, of course, b/c it was a 4,000 ft drop. The year was sometime in the 1950’s. It hasn’t happened since. Should I freak out now whan I take my son to the Grand Canyon this Christmas??
    I love ‘What-if’ people.

  24. Gilraen August 24, 2010 at 11:07 pm #

    I get the impression that the reason for most parents to not leaving their children in the car has nothing to do with their overbearing thinking. Their issues and fears for the children, but for fear of what might happen to them!
    To be labeled bad parents, getting called in by the police, mandated parenting classes. Most parents would be more than willing to be pragmatic, if not for society as a whole putting undue pressure onto them. No wonder parents worry so much. Worry about the children and their safety, but also about their own accountability and staying within a narrow lane that scared people thing ought to be done.
    Sad state of society IMO

  25. Tate August 24, 2010 at 11:07 pm #

    My mother left me in the car all the freaking time. She didn’t just leave me, though, she also left me in charge of my four younger siblings. She left me as early as about 9 years old with whatever collection of siblings had been born at that time.

    Places She left Us: In rural Mass, in the summer, outside the fabric store for up to 45 minutes (It felt like forever). We tended to whine an complain when we went in with her and who wants to hear that when you’re fabric shopping. We got the windows down, but rarely any radio for fear of running the battery down. Occasionally when I thought the group I was watching was getting really antsy I’d send in the oldest (so, a five year old?) to remind her to get moving.

    She also frequently left us in the car as it was double parked in front of Fairway in NYC. There was never any parking and what, we were just not going to eat? The idea of taking 3-5 kids inside the 72nd st. location (That’s all there was at that point) is a hideous one.
    I was put in the driver’s seat, the car was on with blinkers and I was given clear instructions.

    I was to keep the doors locked at all times. I was to let No One in, including the police. If the cops did come by I was to say my mom just ran to the garbage can to throw something out and then I was to honk the coded honk that to meant anything from “The cops are here” to “someone needs to get out of their spot”.

    I never used the coded honk. I never got caught in any gears. And none of the kids/babies that were left in the car with me ever suffered in the slightest.

    I don’t know that I can even go over to Parentdish. Their comments make me want to stab myself with a fork.

  26. Dave August 24, 2010 at 11:18 pm #

    Thanks again for emphasizing the fact that everything we do has risk and that we need to take the odds into consideration when making decisions. You always make the point that children need to be outside more and I totally agree, but I am coming to the conclusion that maybe the parents need to get out of the house more and walk the neighborhood and sit in the park to learn what life is like. They are the one’s as you point out are spending too much time before the TV and have a warped sense of what life is like.

    How about a take your parents to the park alone day?

  27. Christine August 24, 2010 at 11:19 pm #

    @tate, parentdish makes me twitchy. I was loving the comparison of leaving your child in a pool to leaving them in a car. Because my car is filled with water.

  28. Liz August 24, 2010 at 11:22 pm #

    @Becky: The selective risk thing is something we notice all the time, and it’s one of the reasons I think parental panic is at least in part an act of selfish grandstanding. People are only interested in panicking about something they can do something visible to prevent (like dragging their kid everywhere they go), that way they look like concerned parents.

    Even free rangers feel that pressure, right? We’re worried about what other people will think of us as parents. We want everyone to know that we’re responsible, concerned, and involved. I think many parents get into this herd mentality about all of these “dangers” because to do otherwise might suggest that they didn’t love their kids as much.

  29. pentamom August 24, 2010 at 11:25 pm #

    “It amazes me that these “what if” people don’t think “what if someone holds the gas station/grocery store/whatever I’m in while I have my kids in there!? They could be shot!” That’s about as likely to happen as your kids getting kidnapped right out from under you while you pay for gas.”

    Because the operating assumption is that if your kids are “with you” they’re always safer, no matter what, than if they’re not with you. It doesn’t bear two seconds’ examination, because parents are not omnipotent in our ability to protect our children from harm, but that’s what’s behind the “logic” of it being safer to drag your kids out of the car, maybe into the cold, across the parking lot, into the store, where holdups happen, rather than leave them in the car, safe from being run over, in a place where carjackings happen but at a grossly lower rate (and only if the person with the keys is at hand.) It’s also why it’s safer to drive your kids to school than let them take the bus, and so forth.

    I wanna know how kids get caught in the power window if mom takes the keys? Are people assuming that they, themselves, are morons, such that if they place themselves or their children in situation X, they won’t know to take the appropriate measures to make situation X reasonably safe?

  30. cookiemonsta August 24, 2010 at 11:30 pm #

    I leave my kids in the car all the time to run into shops. I only do it for shops that the parking is directly outside, but I do it a lot. I normally have the windows all the way open, but I take my bag and the keys with me. Only problem the kids have is that since I take the keys, they don’t have the radio playing.

    A visible handbag, a running vehicle, or keys dangling from the ignition are much more enticing than four energetic children.

    If I only have one or two of the kids with me, depending on which ones and whether or not they want to come with, I may or may not leave them. When it’s just me and the littlest one (just turned 3) she comes with me, except for petrol stations.

    If anything takes longer than I expect, I duck back out to the car, make sure all is good, chat while we wait. Most shops we visit know my routine and will wave out the window at me whenever things are ready.

    Must admit, it is possibly easier for me to remember I have kids with me, as I’m rarely without at least one.

  31. Brandon August 24, 2010 at 11:38 pm #

    I see absolutely nothing wrong with leaving the kids in the car for a short errand like that. I week or so ago, I went to pickup takeout we had ordered for lunch, and had both of our kids with us (3yo son & 9mo daughter).

    For a brief moment, I considered bringing them in with me, but realized it would take longer to get them in and out of the car than it would to actually pickup our food and pay.

    I was parked right up front, so I knew I wouldn’t be far away, so – GASP – I left them in the car all alone. I turned off the car, took my keys, locked the doors, and half-jokingly told my 3yo son “I’ll be right back, you’re in charge of your sister”.

    I was gone for all of 3 minutes, and much to my amazement, my kids were just fine when I returned.

  32. cookiemonsta August 24, 2010 at 11:39 pm #

    Oh, and yeah that Parentdish site is scary. Those people must have some hellishly nervous dispositions, eyes flicking back and forth constantly looking for danger. It’s very sad to see people be so scared of simply living.

  33. Donna August 24, 2010 at 11:47 pm #

    This comment was my favorite:

    “…the mother didn’t get back to the vehicle in time to rescue her son from the fire in her vehicle
    ….her son knocked her vehicle into gear and killed another child when the vehicle ran over him/her
    ….came back to see her son blue and not breathing because he was caught in the power window
    ….her son had put an unused seatbelt around his neck and the belt was ratcheted so tightly he passed before she could get a scissors or knife to cut him loose
    ….left the vehicle because he was scared being left alone and was run over by another mom who was texting after dropping off her children (who YOU would sue for killing your child)
    ….found the gun you store in your glove box and shoots himself in the face.
    These aren’t things that might happen…..but actually events that have already taken place.”

    Really?? While I’m sure that these things have indeed all happened ONCE, they are certainly not something that we need to fear.

    The people on parentdish seem incapable of seeing the difference between forgetting you have a sleeping baby in the car long before you reach your destination and making a conscious choice to leave a child in the car for a few minutes. The first almost always leads to tragedy; the second almost never.

  34. KarenW August 24, 2010 at 11:48 pm #

    Yeah, the swimming pool comparison was something else. Would I leave my kids next to a pool for a few minutes (if they couldn’t swim)? Yes I would, because at ages 7 and 10 they would absolutely know better than to jump into the pool. I would not leave a toddler by a pool, but I also would not leave the same toddler in the car even for a minute unless strapped in a car seat and sleeping.

  35. Larry Harrison August 24, 2010 at 11:51 pm #

    Lenore, I want to make sure you hear me loud & clear–you are RIGHT and I applaud your courage in posting this against the tidal wave of “LEAVING YOUR CHILD IN THE CAR EVEN FOR FIVE SECONDS IS ABUSE YOU MORONS!!” posts that are sure to follow. Don’t waver, my dear friend–you are right, and you know it. Don’t back down!

    I leave my 1 year old and 3 year old in the car ALL the time for SHORT periods when we, say, are at a garage sale. The car is off-the-road, in the shade, the windows are cracked, we’re in a person’s private yard, we’re at close-range, and frankly–yes, I would like a little convenience thank you.

    I will NOT apologize for factoring convenience into the equation. Convenience matters. It doesn’t trump safety but it does matter. Try taking the children in & out of the car for every single garage sale you go to (it can be 5-8 or so within an hour period) and see how quickly you tire of it.

    Convenience matters.

    (Gretchen) at the ParentDish column is absolutely right. Anyone who would call CPS or the police even for a brief 1-minute gasoline stop, such people are busybodies and–maybe Lenore doesn’t agree with me saying this and I hope I’m not wrong in saying it–but frankly, such people are people whom I have the absolute highest level of contempt for. I cannot and will not regard them as “concerned citizens who only want the best for your child.”

    They are busy-bodies who do not respect the fact that the PARENTS are the ones who are supposed to make the decisions about such things, and that, unless you’re rescuing a child bruised-up from being smashed upside the head with a wood plank, you are butting your nose in where it doesn’t belong and it is not welcome at all.

    And, in my opinion, they are not to be appeased or treated nicely–they are to be defeated and put in their place, and told where they can stick it. They need to hear it straight from the parent’s mouth–my child, my business, NOT any of yours at all. Parent your own children, madam or sir.

  36. Ladybug August 24, 2010 at 11:52 pm #

    We had the same system! Locked doors, don’t talk to anyone except to say that mom was ‘right over there’, and to honk the coded honk. 🙂

    I’m more afraid of being reported than of anything actually happening to my sweet boy.

    Now, in the age of in-car DVD’s and PSP’s, kids are just fine sitting in the car and not freaking out or being in danger. Hell, they might just get to observe a really cool drug bust, @Teresa! 🙂

  37. Waltz August 24, 2010 at 11:53 pm #

    And then there’s the whole your child is more likely to be killed or injured while driving around in that car with you thing. Yeah that

  38. EricS August 24, 2010 at 11:57 pm #

    @ Dave: LOL!! That thought slipped my mind. Some parents act just like children, so why not treat them like that till they “grow up”. Teach them, so they in turn can properly teach their children.

    Also, I think there should be a law that protects good parents from other people who have a holier than thou attitude (the ones who call authorities on parents THEY think is being bad parent). Not only are their claims unfounded, but a waste of tax payers money and resources that can be utilized to address REAL crimes.

    Although Parentdish has some articles that have good tips. For the most part, they like the media, help to perpetuate and enforce the fears of already fearful parents.

  39. Margaret August 25, 2010 at 12:11 am #

    I leave my kids in the van all that time. If it’s summer, I leave the air conditioning on, and if it’s winter, I leave the heat on. So yes, I even leave it running, though obviously I take the key fob or spare key and lock the vehicle. I started when my youngest was a baby when I would run into the post office. It only took a few times of hauling his car seat in and out for me to be done with that, especially as it was particularly difficult to get it locked in place when I put it back in the car. Now my kids are 7, 5 and 2, and there are many times when they don’t WANT to come in the store with me, so I go and get groceries or whatever and let them stay in the van and watch a movie or sleep or whatever. I live in a small town kind of place, so I’m not really concerned. I’ve even done it a few times in the city if I needed to run into a store to get something (as opposed to walk around looking at everything).

    My only concern from reading this stories is that I read a study at some point that said if you crack the windows on a hot day, it does not make any appreciable difference in the temperature inside the vehicle. So I think if you are leaving the kids in the vehicle on a hot day, you need to either leave it running with the a/c or open the windows ALL the way. I think vehicle off and window just cracked is a much greater risk than vehicle running, locked, with a/c. After all, there is only a slight risk that someone will come along and break down the windows and steal my vehicle, but there is a 100% risk that the vehicle is going to get hot in the summer (though I am NOT saying a 100% risk that your child will be harmed from being in a warm vehicle, but things happen).

    As for paranoia — when my first was a baby, I used to worry about what would happen if I was taking him to the vehicle and slipped on the stairs and was knocked unconscious or killed and he was left outside for hours until my husband came home (we live on a farm, so nobody would pass by and rescue him). I still left the house, but I used to think about that. Realistically, that was a much bigger risk than leaving him in a vehicle in town where other people would be around.

  40. Margaret August 25, 2010 at 12:18 am #

    Oh, and when I said the thing about 100% risk of vehicle getting hot, things happen, I do not mean that things of a deadly nature happen. Just things happen when you think you will only be a minute and then you take longer than you thought (really long checkout, chatty person you can’t seem to escape from), and the child could get very uncomfortable in the hot vehicle. Not saying they will DIE if you do it.

  41. Lindy August 25, 2010 at 12:23 am #

    I leave my 4 y/o in the car when I pay for gas, always have, even when she was a newborn. People have got to get a grip and stop living in fear. I also take my daughter with me when I go to restaurants. We cycle to arks through busy city streets. Exposure to these things have made her behave appropriately. It’s a pleasure to do these things with her. I look forward to the day when she is old enough to walk to and from school alone. These molly-coddled children will one day run the world- then we all need to be afraid.

  42. Susan August 25, 2010 at 12:33 am #

    I don’t think the issue for these moms is “Is it safer for my children to be in my car by themselves or inside the gas station with me?” Rather, the issue is “Would people be more likely to say I was a bad mother if the children were in my car by themselves or inside the gas station with me?”

  43. Mornington Crescent August 25, 2010 at 1:00 am #

    Forgive me if this has already been mentioned, but BA has changed their “all men are child molesters” seating policy after they lost their lawsuit.


  44. Roberta August 25, 2010 at 1:00 am #

    I totally agree with the general tone of these comments, but I do wish to reiterate the importance of taking the keys out. Up here in the frozen north (Edmonton, Alberta) it is common for parents to leave their car running in the winter if kids are in it – and there have been a couple of cases recently where the cars were stolen. One child was driven around for a couple of hours before the underage car thief finally parked the car and called the police to tell them where it was. A running car is really an invitation to a car thief. And frankly, even at -30 C, it takes more than a few minutes for a car to really get cold. If your child is properly dressed (IF!) they can sit in an unheated car long enough for you to pay for gas.

  45. EricS August 25, 2010 at 1:21 am #

    @Susan: True, but even in that case it’s still a case of another fearful parent (or person) acting on THEIR fears. When it comes down to it, it’s all about FEAR controlling people’s lives, rather than THEMSELVES controlling their own lives. Don’t get me wrong, we all have fears to some degree or another, but it’s how we let it affect us is what matters.

    And with these “rats”, unless the child is obviously in imminent danger, or you actually see the parent abusing the child, mind your own f’n business. They don’t realize by ratting out on parents they have know idea about, can affect what the child goes throw after the fact. eg. parent goes to jail, or god forbid the child gets taken away. What do you think will happen to the child then. They never think of the consequences of THEIR actions.

  46. Chicco August 25, 2010 at 1:28 am #

    we have new product for kids

  47. EricS August 25, 2010 at 1:33 am #

    Thanks for sharing Mornington. Indeed…a victory for “common sense”. However this still shows the ignorance and single mindedness of some people. With all the cases of Priests, Teachers, Coaches, Babysitters molesting children under their care, who’s to say these Flight Attendants aren’t guilty of doing the same thing. But now, with the change of BA’s policy, these children are now being segregated to a separate area of the plane. Away from watchful eyes of the other passengers. Who knows what the flight attendants are doing. I don’t believe that of course, but I was just illustrating that you can put a spin on different things to make it look bad.

    My take, you don’t treat the child any different, he/she sits where he/she sits. If it’s beside a lone man (or woman), so be it. They are in open space for all to see, one would have to be insanely stupid to try anything to harm the child, which includes the flight crew. This not only protects the child (mentally, emotional and physically), but it also prevents from cases like this from happening. Keeping airlines out of the courts.

    COMMON SENSE. How are hard is that to grasp. We all have it, it doesn’t cost a thing, and is easily accessible and deployed. People just need to use it more.

  48. Chicco August 25, 2010 at 1:40 am #

    Wow … beautiful photography.

  49. Betsy Strohmaier August 25, 2010 at 1:42 am #

    So funny, I remember my dad leaving all 4 of myself and sibs in his chevy luv truck to run into several stores as a kid.

    The truck:
    –>2 seatbelts in front, littlest w/carseat got one and the other was luck of the draw
    –>the back had a shell and was carpeted, my dad put little booster seats between the front of the cab and the wheel wells and we had little seats
    –>he would do “police drills” and we had to lay down and be quiet so he wouldn’t be pulled over for seatbelt laws in the early ’80’s–think he did it more to amuse himself and get us to quiet down

    So one day he went inside a flower shop to pick up a bouquet for our cousin’s b-day party. He parked on a slight slope. My brother put the car out of gear and we rolled back and hit the other parking space behind us, wheels bounced and we then rolled forward into the aisle. Imagine his surprise when he came out, and the car was in the middle of the parking lot out of its spot.

    Moral of the story: if you leave your kids in and have a stick, back in or park so it will roll to the parking block only!

    No one was hurt and we are all professional successful adults today.

  50. Leppi August 25, 2010 at 2:01 am #

    I am back to my theory that people that gives this kind of “advice” either have no children or just one….

    You consider the pro and cons of leaving 2,3 or 4 kids in the car while you pay for gas/pizza.

  51. bmj2k August 25, 2010 at 2:09 am #

    “Car thieves and child abductors lurk” I would hate to live in this person’s world, where behind every rainbow lurks the dark shadow of a criminal.

    On the other hand, ” move to the front and put the car into gear.” I actually did that when I was 8 years old. The car rolled six inches and bumped into the curb, no damage.

    When people spout nonsense, I wish others would dare them to back it up with facts.

  52. LauraL August 25, 2010 at 2:15 am #

    newer cars require a firm foot on the pedal and a key in the ignition to change from park to drive/reverse – at least in automatic transmissions.

  53. MommyMagpie August 25, 2010 at 2:18 am #

    totally agree that it is due to parents’ fear over what other adults will think, or fear of being reported for (perceived) neglect, that makes a mom haul her 3yo, 19mo, and newborn out of three carseats to go pay for gas, waking up the two youngest in the process. I’d do things differently now. When did society stop believing that parents know best for their kids? I know some 13-year-olds that aren’t capable of being at home by themselves, but on the other hand I know 8-year-olds who would do just fine. We need to help and support our neighbors and fellow citizens, not rat them out.

  54. pentamom August 25, 2010 at 2:26 am #

    FWIW, just to clarify, I wasn’t saying that it’s necessarily wrong to leave the keys. But in some cases, with some kids who are less predictable and less inclined to follow instructions (e.g., “Don’t touch the keys, the windows, or the gearshift”) it might be wise to take them. If it’s super hot or super cold, that means leave the windows open and don’t waste time completing the errand. So that’s what I meant about people not even trusting themselves to be smart enough to know what’s safe. If the person who fears the child getting stuck in a power window that’s a sufficient reason not to leave the kids in the car, she’s as much as saying that she’s not smart enough to take the keys with her.

  55. pentamom August 25, 2010 at 2:27 am #

    Well, not leave the windows open if it’s super cold, of course. Do what’s necessary for the conditions, is my point.

  56. LauraL August 25, 2010 at 2:30 am #

    Pentamom, that’s what I would classify under the “know your child” in risk assessment. Is he capable or not? Then decide what the best course of action is based on who, where, what, why, when. 🙂

  57. EricS August 25, 2010 at 2:33 am #

    Leppi…what “advice” are you referring to? You don’t need more than one child or any for that matter, to use common sense. I don’t have kids myself, but I have my nephew. I treat him like he was my own. I’ve even got my sister to start a Free-Range thinking. After all that’s how we grew up. Guess what, I couldn’t more proud of my nephew. At 4 years old, he’s more learned, more confident, very intelligent, and savvy kid. He even corrects and watches out for other kids (some older), and even his own parents, by pointing out what they are doing wrong and what can happen. He even repeats what we have taught him. ie. what can happen if he’s not buckled up in the car. So whenever he’s put in the car, he tells us “buckle up, or you might fall out of the car.” Now, I don’t usually put my seat belt on when I’m in the backseat, and he’s gotten mad at me when I ride in the back with him. So I buckle up now with him the car. lol Of course we only teach him practical things and useful things. Not the paranoid stuff other parents shelter their kids from.

    You can leave as many children in a car by themselves for a few minutes, as long as they understand what they ARE NOT suppose to do while they are alone. Children are curious by nature, so if they aren’t taught about consequences, they are more inclined to do things out of curiosity. It all starts from the parent, how you raise and teach your child is what they will keep with them. If one is ignorant in how they raise their children, a very good chance the child will grow up ignorant (thinking that it’s normal). Plenty of those kids have grown up to be adults, and a lot of these adults deserve bitch slaps. lol

  58. Heather August 25, 2010 at 2:41 am #

    I have a remote start in my car, so whenever I leave my daughter in the car for a couple of minutes, I lock the doors and, taking the keys with me, start it remotely after setting the AC or heat as current conditions require. My daughter is old enough to take care of herself (to adjust the heat, to unlock and open the door and get out in the case of an emergency, etc.) but in the meantime, she is safely locked inside a climate-controlled car (that will not actually drive anywhere until the keys are back in the ignition). Oh, and she has a cell phone, so that she can contact me or call 911 if she needs to. And when it’s 103 degrees out yet nicely air conditioned in the car, or when it’s snowing and hailing outside and yet toasty warm in the car, it would be absurd for me to drag her outside for a quick run inside the convenience store.

  59. SKL August 25, 2010 at 2:43 am #

    I’m with those who feel that sometimes it’s safer to leave the kids in the car than to take them with you. It’s not like kids never get run over in parking lots, etc. Especially with the way car seats are made nowadays (very hard for wee kids to unbuckle), there isn’t much mischief they can get into if you lock the car and take the keys.

  60. Tuppence August 25, 2010 at 2:47 am #

    I know, wasn’t that comment (unintentionally) hilarious? I loved the last one — found the gun you store in your glove box and shoots himself in the face. Note to self . . . next time remember to take gun out of the glove box and bring it with me into the store when kid’s in the car while I go pay for gas.

    Ahh, back in the day. I really enjoyed reading your comment.

  61. sonya August 25, 2010 at 3:01 am #

    As kids my brother and I were left in the car a lot. However, one lesson I learned from that was – never leave anything which might tempt a thief in the care of your children. Admittedly this was in a developing country, but I remember valuables being stolen from the car twice while we were in it – once we didn’t even notice (I think we were busy having a sibling squabble), another time the thief very politely said “tell your parents I’ll look after these for them”, opened the door and left with a camera. We had to have windows down because it was hot, hence thieves had easy access to anything. So now I prefer (a) to be in sight of the car (b) to have windows up almost all the way (c) doors locked (d) definitely no keys in the ignition. There was a period, between kids learning how to undo seatbelt but before they became more responsible, when I wouldn’t leave them alone at all.

    Being in sight of the car is also because I’m scared of busybodies/cops. At our local gymnastics school, the police put up a big sign stating that any parent who left a child in the car, while dropping off another child at class, would be arrested, no matter if it was for only a few seconds. (Well so being in sight wouldn’t prevent arrest, but at least I could run out and drive off if I saw the cops drive up, hopefully before they noticed there was a child in the car).

  62. Quantum Mechanic August 25, 2010 at 3:01 am #

    I’d have no problems leaving my 3yo in the car while I went in to pay for the gas, or grab some takeout, or whatever as long as I could see the car from where I was, for all the reasons everyone has said.

    The problem is that as I live in helicopter central — otherwise known as the Boston metro area — I’m worried about someone calling the police.

  63. Ted August 25, 2010 at 3:38 am #

    First of all… regarding the fear of kids being trapped in power windows in a car… that’s one that is real (or was) but only in specific circumstances. If you take the keys, then the windows won’t work.

    Also, all cars manufactured for sale since 2008 have to be designed so that the power windows are “resistant” to being accidentally activated in such a way as to cause them to close. I remember the old GM system where there was a simple rocker switch on the armrest – push the switch forward toward the front of the car and the window would close, pull it back toward the rear of the car and the window would open.

    Those style of switches have now been replaced with new designs where pushing on them accidentally will cause the window to open – you have to actually lift up on the switch to cause the window to close.

    This used to be a real problem, but this is an example of good government regulation, in my opinion. It doesn’t cost significantly more in the long run to use one style of switch vs. another style of switch, so there’s really very little expense in requiring the auto manufacturers to use a safer design.

  64. E August 25, 2010 at 3:46 am #

    Pentamom hit the nail on the head:
    “Because the operating assumption is that if your kids are “with you” they’re always safer, no matter what, than if they’re not with you. It doesn’t bear two seconds’ examination, because parents are not omnipotent in our ability to protect our children from harm, but that’s what’s behind the “logic” of it…”

    I also think that many parents take it one step further: they attempt to fully control the situation, even though that’s impossible, because they’re trying to assuage their own potential guilt should one of the “what ifs” actually occur. Driving (safely) with the kids buckled in and getting slammed by a drunk driver? Not their fault. Leaving the kids in the car and something awful happens? They blame themselves, because they weren’t “in control” and couldn’t do anything to stop the awful thing from happening. (Never mind that, if you’re hit by a drunk driver, you’re no longer “in control,” nor could you prevent THAT from happening… )

    A friend of mine who is, by all accounts, so *not* a helicopter or overprotective parent, refuses to leave her children (ages 4, 5.5, and 9) in the car alone, even for one minute, for that exact reason: if they’re with her, she feels she can control the situation, and if something happened, she’d at least feel she tried (to help prevent it). If they’re not with her and something terrible occurred, she’d never forgive herself for making that choice.

    On one level, I think we all can identify with that line of thinking. Most of us hold onto particular fears, however irrational, that occasionally affect how we run our lives, parent our children, etc. Perhaps your best friend choked on a grape when she was a kid, and so, even though you recognize that you’re probably overreacting and being absurdly cautious, you cut grapes into bite-sized pieces for your 3 year-old while thinking nothing of allowing her to suck on hard candy or eat hot dogs, each of which likely poses an equal choking risk.

    Personally, I have an irrational fear of fans catching fire because one did so in my brother’s room when we were little. And so, although I know it makes no logical sense, I don’t allow fans to be running overnight in my girls’ rooms – not because I actually think they WILL catch fire, but because if they DID, I’d never forgive myself. Of course, I’ll allow a fan to run all night long in my OWN bedroom, and we have a gazillion other electronic gadgets plugged in which are, surely, equal fire hazards… So I realize that my fear is based on nothing rational, and that I’m being silly… But I continue to act upon it, nevertheless.

    So, if a parent was just “too nervous” to leave their kid in the car, even for a moment… I can probably understand… And I can even become understandING when that parent *recognizes* that the nerves aren’t based on logic, and recognizes that taking a kid through traffic or out in poor weather might be even LESS safe than leaving the kid in the car… but simply cannot get over their own knowingly silly and irrational fear, so they don’t leave their children in the car.

    I’m much less understanding when parents “support” their fears with faulty logic (“Children are abducted from care every day!!”). And I become downright angry when those parents make sweeping statements that either condemn those of us who DO leave our children alone (“It’s never safe, period, and anyone who thinks so is a moron!”) or that allow no room for other choices to be made (“You’re leaving your kids in the car? Wrong. Just plain wrong. No excuses.”).

    If you don’t want to leave your children unattended for a few minutes in the car, whatever your “reasoning” behind that is, no problem! Take ’em with you. But don’t condemnand judge those of us who DO leave them for a few minutes, especially if the points you make to support your so-called arguments aren’t based in any kind of reality. And if you see a kid alone in a car and it makes you nervous, for heaven’s sake, WAIT before calling the damn cops! Stand around for 5 minutes and see if anyone comes outside – and then, if you’re STILL uncomfortable, TALK to whoever approaches. NICELY. If no one arrives, try to find the adults in question! Cop-calling should only be done in the MOST EXTREME of circumstances, and where you’re absolutely CERTAIN that the parents are nowhere to be found.

    That’s the ONLY thing that makes me nervous about leaving my children unattended in the car: nosy busybodies who have no idea what they’re talking about calling the police. I leave my kids all the time – in safe places, where I can see the car, no keys in the ignition (not 100% sure my kids wouldn’t unbuckle and try to “drive” a car with the keys inside…), when the temperatures cooperate, when I know I’ll only be gone for a few minutes, etc., etc., etc. Each time I leave them, I’m making a well-reasoned-through decision, and I always believe that it is ultimately SAFER and BETTER than to bring them with me.

    I’d love to think that I could explain myself to a cop, should I be approached by one, and that my clear logic and obvious love for, and devotion to, my kids would make it a no-brainer to simply drive on… But, judging by the Parentdish comments, I’m not so sure. 😐

    All the more reason to keep trying, though, as far as I’m concerned. 🙂

  65. Becky August 25, 2010 at 3:59 am #

    “If you don’t want to leave your children unattended for a few minutes in the car, whatever your “reasoning” behind that is, no problem! Take ‘em with you. But don’t condemnand judge those of us who DO leave them for a few minutes, especially if the points you make to support your so-called arguments aren’t based in any kind of reality. And if you see a kid alone in a car and it makes you nervous, for heaven’s sake, WAIT before calling the damn cops!”

    This. Amen.

  66. Kate August 25, 2010 at 4:06 am #

    Common sense people.
    I have four kids (ages 4-9) and I’m tired.
    I will not drag them in so I can pay for gas.
    I will not drag them in while I mail a package.
    I will not drag them in to pick up a pizza.
    It’s common sense.
    And like others have mentioned…I do not worry about my kids AT ALL. I’m just worried about the others who are worried about MY kids. Get a life.

  67. Erica August 25, 2010 at 4:34 am #

    I’m so afraid of leaving my kid in the car for even a second, and it’s not because I think she’s going to be kidnapped, tortured, or killed by the non-heat in my area. I’m afraid because I think the state I live in houses the largest number of parenting Nazis. After grocery shopping and putting groceries in the car I once left my kid in the car to put the cart in the cart return area that was about three stalls down. A guy came to me and took the cart, “so you don’t have to leave her in the car alone”. I’m not f*cking kidding. Three car stalls down.

  68. This girl loves to Talk August 25, 2010 at 5:04 am #

    ive made this comment before but I have NEVER seen anyone take their kids out of the car to pay for petrol (gas) in Australia. ANd my petrol stations around where i live dont have the swipe you bank card and pay at the bowser either.. we actually go in.

  69. Christine August 25, 2010 at 5:14 am #

    I don’t know, Erica. I pretty frequently offer to take back a cart for older people, or people juggling a passel of kids. It’s not because I think they *shouldn’t*…. it’s because I was raised in a wee small little town, and that’s just what we do.

  70. EricS August 25, 2010 at 5:15 am #

    @ Sonya: “the police put up a big sign stating that any parent who left a child in the car, while dropping off another child at class, would be arrested”

    Is there a law where you live, where you are not allowed to leave your child in the car while you walk your other kids to class, pick up a parcel, or pay for gas? If there isn’t, tell that cop to mind his own business and do his job by catching real crooks. If so…WOW. The lawmakers in your state must be helicopter parents. Which kinda scary, considering you have paranoid people running the state. That’s like leaving a really nervous, twitchy guy in charge of pressing the self destruct button, and he already has his finger an inch away from the button. lol

  71. Shannon August 25, 2010 at 5:27 am #

    I posted a link to your parent dish article on my Facebook page, and one of my dearest friends immediately responded that her Dad was an ER nurse and he’s seen so many bad things that happen do to people leaving their kids in the car (and also, from adults sitting in parked cars without their seatbelts on) and she would NEVER EVER do it, and I shouldn’t either.
    We’ve talked before about why I’m making the decisions that I am regarding what she sees as safety and what I see as giving my kid choices and responsibilities, but I don’t think she’ll ever understand. Her 15 year old is still not allowed to open the door in her own home unless one of her parents awake and home with her.

  72. Vanessa August 25, 2010 at 6:25 am #

    My daughter’s almost 12, and I still get a little twinge of worry that someone will call the cops on me for letting her stay behind while I go into the supermarket to get milk. I do it anyway, because it would be dumb not to, but I always wonder what I’m going to find upon my return. (So far, I’ve never found anything but her sitting there, listening to her iPod and looking bored in that special way that only preteens can.)

  73. Aaron August 25, 2010 at 7:28 am #

    I remember riding around without seatbelts, being LOCKED into the car while my mom or dad ran into the store, wrestling with the dog in the back seat, etc. All in West Texas where winter doesn’t exist.

    I now live in Wyoming in a very small town. I routinely leave the keys in the car while I go in to get the mail (no doorstep delivery out here) and even leave it running with our baby inside while I do so. No busybodies “turn us in” for this. In fact, quite often I come out to someone looking in the window making faces at my daughter. Including the town cop just yesterday (our 7 month old gives big, bubbly, beaming reactions, so people love doing this).

    Kids here run free. The crime rate is so low that a thrown punch at the town bar becomes headline news every year when it happens. Most homes don’t have bolt locks on the door. Our security system consists of three units with four legs and an alarm that sounds like “woof.”

    I don’t understand these whiny, pantywaste idiots that live in cities and worry about every damn thing that might happen. What kind of existence is that?

  74. RobC August 25, 2010 at 7:40 am #

    “….found the gun you store in your glove box and shoots himself in the face.”

    So this is an argument against leaving your kid alone in the car, rather than an argument against NOT CARRYING A LOADED GUN IN YOUR GLOVE BOX?!?!

    Who needs to take a loaded gun with them everywhere they go? Where did this family live, Deadwood?

  75. Vanessa August 25, 2010 at 8:22 am #

    And on another note, I just got a voice mail from Daughter’s school stating that this year, to ensure students’ safety, no parent will be allowed on campus after the morning flag salute unless they’ve been cleared by the Department of Justice. Seriously? This is her seventh year at this school, and suddenly I can’t be on campus (not even working with kids, just physically present inside the gate) until I get fingerprinted?

  76. Donna August 25, 2010 at 8:41 am #

    @ Tuppence – My favorite was the first one. Made me remember how grateful I am that my child is not in the car every time it spontaneously combusts. If cars suddenly bursting into flame is something that happens regularly in that lady’s neighborhood, I don’t want to visit.

  77. Andy August 25, 2010 at 8:43 am #

    I am not a parent, but will probably be one some day. As a child, I remember being left in the car as my parents paid for gas, and got us drinks. I also remember a story being told about me and my sister somehow getting the car out of gear (manual) and the car rolling down a hill in a parking lot/shopping center. I think we might have even had the presence of mind to try and raise the E-brake. 🙂 My wife has similar stories, and her little brother (who has now graduated college, and gotten his first job) being smart enough to escape his child seat when he was hot in the back seat.

    I am living proof that disaster does not strike at every moment! Saying this here is sort of like preaching to the choir, figuratively, but still… happy stories, and fun memories 🙂

  78. RobC August 25, 2010 at 8:45 am #

    “And on another note, I just got a voice mail from Daughter’s school stating that this year, to ensure students’ safety, no parent will be allowed on campus after the morning flag salute unless they’ve been cleared by the Department of Justice. Seriously? This is her seventh year at this school, and suddenly I can’t be on campus (not even working with kids, just physically present inside the gate) until I get fingerprinted?”

    So they’ll consider every parent a danger to children unless proven otherwise, but they’re fine with letting children go home with these potential perverts and abusers every day after school?


  79. Donna August 25, 2010 at 8:45 am #

    “to ensure students’ safety, no parent will be allowed on campus after the morning flag salute unless they’ve been cleared by the Department of Justice.”

    What if you need to pick your child up early from school and they have not yet cleared you? Must they escort her to the front gate? Will they take her to the orthodontist for you since you can’t pick her up (might be worth not getting the clearance for that)?

  80. Aimee August 25, 2010 at 8:49 am #

    My children are 5, 3, and 3 and as long as I can see my van from the store window I leave in the van. I figure it’s a lot safer staying inside the van. I also have remote start on the van so I initially turn off the van and then once I’m out turn it back on. The doors are locked, van is running to keep them cool or warm and they know not to get out of their seats. Of course I am always worried that someone will report me but nothing has happened yet.

  81. LauraL August 25, 2010 at 9:04 am #

    My god, Vanessa. I would challenge this as disruptive and a violation of your rights as a parent to be on PUBLIC school property where YOUR child attends.

    That’s ($#*%%($ RIDICULOUS!

    At the end of the school year last term, Kyron Horman disappeared from his elementary school. He has not yet been found, but the circumstances are awfully suspect that it’s someone he knew, to be able to take him from school without a peep.

    however, since that happened, we volunteers are suddenly subject to background checks, etc. I filled it out and listed my reference person as the PTA president, the LEADER OF THE VOLUNTEERS.

    I was a little pissed but to keep the peace and get through jsut TWO more years of this school, I did it.


  82. LauraL August 25, 2010 at 9:05 am #

    oh I should say, I’ve been volunteering at the school since 2005….

  83. Beth August 25, 2010 at 9:21 am #

    @Rob C, great point about the kids going home after school with the very parents who aren’t allowed to be on school grounds!

  84. Molly Santa Croce August 25, 2010 at 9:21 am #

    Thank you again Lenore for reminding me that I’M NOT CRAZY!! I am realizing as I write this that I have not watched TV in a few weeks. I think I’ll try and keep up the streak. I have read a few books instead. Hope you are enjoying the last nights of summer, thanks for being there for all of us!

    To quote the OOmpa Loompas, “What do you get from alot of TV…a pain in the neck and an IQ of 3….”

  85. meghann August 25, 2010 at 9:38 am #

    My mother used to leave us in the car all the time. I’m *told* you simply can’t do that anymore, because the world is “different” now than it was then, and I rattle off statistics showing that, in fact, the world *is* different now than it was in the 1980s – for one thing, it’s actually *safer* to be a kid now than it was then in many ways. But no one listens. Hopefully none of them will turn me in for leaving my kids in the car while I pay for gas.

    Many years ago – after I’d moved out of town, but while my parents were still living there with my sister – a teenage girl my sister knew went missing from her mother’s car in a grocery store parking lot down the street from our house. I remember my mother saying, “My god – I left you guys in the car there all the time while I shopped” – and for my mother, grocery shopping can be an hours-long event. Especially when she runs into people she knows, which is always. But I digress.

    So of course this was held up as an example of why you should never, ever, ever, ever leave your kids in the car alone. Even if they’re of an age that most people would consider perfectly OK for them to walk to the store.

    And it was a tragic story. They found the girl’s body in the lake. But it turned out not to be a random abduction by a creepy stranger. She’d gotten involved with the “wrong” crowd and apparently with someone else’s boyfriend – rumour had it that she was pregnant at the time, but I don’t think that was ever confirmed – and the kids (I say “kids” – they were older teenagers/early 20s) came after her one day. Apparently they lured her out of the car with friendly gestures & then once they got her to go with them they did awful things to her and threw her body into the lake. The kids involved were caught & prosecuted and the whole thing was truly awful.

    But what always bothers me is that even though it turned out to be something very different, people *still* hold it up as an example of why you shouldn’t leave your kids in the car because they might be abducted by a creepy stranger. It’s like they remember the tragedy but forget the details.

  86. Karrie August 25, 2010 at 9:51 am #

    I love this article and I love the comments! I think nothing of leaving my two children (Ages 7 and 2) in the car for a few minutes if I have to run in somewhere. Most likely place is to go into the bagel shop in the morning on the way to school. I am in and out within 3 minutes and I can see the car through the huge storefront window. I am paranoid every single time though, not that my kids are in danger, I am quite sure they are perfectly safe with the locked doors and alarm engaged. What I am paranoid is that I will be hauled off to jail in front of them because of all the “what if’s” and the laws that have been put in place. I can’t seem to find laws that clearly state what happens in this circumstance though. I am from Illinois….anyone know where to search for something like that?

  87. Nicole August 25, 2010 at 10:01 am #

    I agree, the only thing I’d change is to have windows fully rolled down, and make sure the car is fully turned off with keys removed. Here, with the heat and humidity, cars are like ovens, however with windows fully rolled down it’s usually tolerable for a few minutes.

    I’ve heard stories of kids plowing into storefronts after escaping their car seats- and while that’s usually not that dangerous, I’d still prefer to avoid it. I trust little ones with a lot of things, but I think the temptation to play drive the car is a bit irresistible.

  88. justanotherjen August 25, 2010 at 10:14 am #

    We went to the laundromat today and left 4 of the 5 kids in the car. The oldest was 10 and the youngest was 6 weeks and strapped in his carseat. My 8yo son came in with us to help carry bags of laundry. After about 10 minutes of loading up the washer while my son explored the connected arcade and my husband stood watching me I realized the girls were in the car with the windows up and told him to go open them. I didn’t think my husband was going to stand inside and wait for me, lol.
    They were fine. The older girls knew to open the doors if they got too hot. I didn’t even think to bring them all in. Just the thought of getting the younger 2 out (carrying in the infant seat and undoing the 4yo from her seat) just to put laundry in the washer and then strap them back in to go to the store.

  89. dmd August 25, 2010 at 11:06 am #

    Part of the reason parents are so scared to leave kids in the car is the preponderance of scare tactics in the parent magazines and media. As a new parent, I was terrified when I forgot something in the house after I’d gotten my son strapped in- in front of my house. I did leave him to go back in but the warnings about kidnappings rang in my head..

    Fortunately, I’ve gotten wiser.

  90. Melodie August 25, 2010 at 11:36 am #

    For me, I’m just always worried what other people will think. Like will they think I am a bad mother leaving my kids for hours on end when really I’m just returning a couple library books? I do it but I hate that I have to worry about other people seeing it and judging me.

  91. LauraL August 25, 2010 at 11:44 am #

    Melodie, I am the one who, if I see you’ve left your kids in the car to return that library book or what is obviously “running in”, I’ll hang and be the babysitter FOR you. One set of watchful eyes to take care instead of condemning. I’m the one who will help you out. 🙂

  92. Heather August 25, 2010 at 11:47 am #

    Call me weird, I like to take my kids with me when I go places.
    I’ve adjusted my life to fit having children, not the other way around.
    It seems to me if you have to drag your kids all over town and leave them in the car while you run in here and there for just a few minutes at a time…that you and they would be better served by hiring a sitter for 2 hours.

  93. LauraL August 25, 2010 at 11:49 am #

    Heather, for me, likely because the trip involved several stops, some of which required the child’s presence, and some of which did not. Hang in the car for ten minutes with a DS or stand in the pharmacy line with mom, annoying her by asking for fifty things they can see?

  94. Larry Harrison August 25, 2010 at 12:05 pm #

    @Heather. Well, call ME weird, but as much as possible, I expect the children’s life to adjust to MINE, not the other way around. Yes they are my responsibility, but I’m the adult and the one in charge, not them. Babysitters are for when you & your wife need a night out on the town, giving each other the undivided attention your marriage deserves.

    Otherwise, keep the children around & expect them to behave in such a way as to suit YOUR life (without being narcissistic/neglectful about it). So, my kids go to bed when *I* say it’s time, not when they wind-down their energy. In like manner, they stay in their bed until *I* say it’s time to get up. They can be in charge of their own lives when they’re grown, not a moment sooner.

  95. Maman A Droit August 25, 2010 at 12:51 pm #

    While I respect the fact that you’re all trying to do what’s best for your kids, I would absolutely never leave kids in the car. Earlier commenters mentioned having the kids with you seems safer, and for me, it is because if something happens, I get a chance to respond. I realize it’s unlikely that anything would happen with my
    son in the car or with me either one, but if my son is in the car and I’m in the store and something goes wrong, there’s no option of me helping. That’s scary as a mom, and less safe IMO. Maybe I have too high an opinion of my problem solving/crisis management skills. But that’s my 2 cents!

    PS there are still gas stations without pay-at-the-pump!? Crazy!

  96. BeQui August 25, 2010 at 12:51 pm #

    In all fairness, I *did* put the car into gear and roll across a street one time when I was a kid. Yes, the kidnapping and car thief theory is ridiculous, but it’s not hard for a kid to knock a gear shift while they’re trying to climb into the front seat and honk the horn.

    So like you said, if the kid’s asleep, too small to unbuckle themselves, etc., then I’d leave her in there for a minute. But probably not if they can undo their seat belt.

  97. Virginia August 25, 2010 at 1:11 pm #

    Isn’t it much more likely that your toddler will dart away from you in the gas station parking lot and get run over by a distracted driver than that some evil person will manage to break into a locked car, undo the carseat straps and kidnap him/her in the >5 minutes it takes to run in and pick up a diet soda so you can stay awake for the rest of the afternoon? Or that you might trip and fall and hurt yourself and your baby in your distracted and overwhelmed state? That’s what I’ve always thought, anyway.

    @BeQui, my brother did the exact same thing two or three times when he was a kid! Once the car rolled down a sloping driveway into a busy street. Another time it broke a hole in an old family friend’s fence. It’s kind of a miracle no one was ever hurt. That’s why I always made sure the keys were in my purse, the car was in park, *and* the parking brake was set anytime I left little kids in the car for a few minutes.

    –Virginia, glad her kids were out of toddlerhood before California passed its “kids in cars” ordinance–which, btw, if I remember correctly, only bans leaving kids in cars if there is a “danger” present, anyway.

  98. BeQui August 25, 2010 at 1:17 pm #

    Oh, and Becky:
    One time I went inside a gas station with my mom and someone DID rob it and they shoved me out of the store and onto the hood of a car while they were making their getaway. (I was pretty oblivious and didn’t notice what was going on, or I would have gotten out of their way.) I TOTALLY would have been safer in the car that time!

  99. BeQui August 25, 2010 at 1:32 pm #

    I’m leaving a lot of comments tonight…

    @Karrie: Just call the police station and ask. I called mine to find out how old your kids have to be to be left at home alone, and there’s no law stating a specific age, it “depends on the child.” I then called CPS to see if they have some other regulation, and it’s the same thing. (I’m in Utah, though.) I think I read somewhere that most states have a “2 minute” rule, that if it’s under 2 minutes or 5 minutes or whatever then you’re fine.

  100. Vanessa August 25, 2010 at 1:53 pm #

    I think pretty much everyone here has adjusted their life to fit having children, rather than the other way around. No one is talking about leaving the kids in the car while they get a manicure or meet friends for drinks, but about doing ordinary errands that parents have been doing for generations, and maybe even longer than that. In fact, I’ll bet before cars existed, people would leave the kids in the horse-drawn buggy (with strict instructions not to touch the reins) while they ran into the general store to buy a pound of sugar or a bolt of calico. It’s an old, old problem that used to have a much simpler solution!

  101. nicky August 25, 2010 at 2:21 pm #

    I’ve taken to often leaving my children, aged 6 and 3, in the car when I run quick errands, including paying for petrol (aka gas). I do it for a few reasons: to encourage some independence and confidence in them, to avoid running the gauntlet of the chocolate and lollies on the way to the counter, because it’s much quicker if I go on my own, because petrol stations are not safe places for kids to walk around and because I can’t be bothered with the rigmarole of getting the two of them out of, and back into, the car for such short space of time. I always leave the car fully switched off and locked for their safety. I wouldn’t leave them for more than a minute or two on a really hot day and would open the windows when I did go.

  102. Virginia August 25, 2010 at 2:23 pm #

    @Maman: In some states (New Jersey and maybe also Maine, I think?), pay-at-the-pump is not permitted by law. I don’t know why, though, as I don’t live on one.

  103. Belladonna August 25, 2010 at 2:55 pm #

    I leave my little boy (2 3/4) in the car (safely clipped into his car seat) when I pay at the petrol station or do a short errand (car parked outside the shop).
    Admittedly, this is more to do with saving my sanity, than encouraging his free range tendencies. He’s right in the pull everything off the shelves, throw a tantrum when told ‘no’ and scream and struggle as he’s put in his car-seat, phase. For the sake of a 2 minute separation, it’s not worthwhile putting us both through the drama.
    If it’s summer I’ll crack the windows (doesn’t ever get very hot here in NZ), but not in winter.
    Incredibly, my mother gives me a hard time over this! This is the same woman who happily left my baby brother sleeping in his cot, while she went to an afternoon tea at the neighbour’s! How times have changed……

  104. Belladonna August 25, 2010 at 3:00 pm #

    It’s actually impossible for anyone to shift my car *(Mitsubishi Colt Plus) into gear without the keys in it. The column shift locks in park, and it can’t be shifted until you put the keys in.
    This is a safety feature in lots of cars, more to prevent them being stolen, than kids fiddling with them.

    And, I too, put my dad’s car in gear and rolled down the hill when I was a kid.

    Luckily, considering the temperament of my little boy (into *everything*), technology has outsmarted him in this area.

  105. Jon August 25, 2010 at 7:38 pm #

    The only “what-if” that keeps me from leaving the kids in the car is “what if someone freaks out and calls the police because I left my kids safely in my car.”

  106. Donna August 25, 2010 at 8:09 pm #

    @ Heather – MY life doesn’t revolve around my children. I’m not paying $10+ dollars to get a babysitter so that I can run errands. My child can learn to behave during boring errands with me just like I did as a child. When the hell did we get the idea that our lives need to be child-centered? I was loved and well-cared for but certainly not the center of my parent’s universe around which all other things revolved.

  107. Donna August 25, 2010 at 8:23 pm #

    “Yes, the kidnapping and car thief theory is ridiculous, but it’s not hard for a kid to knock a gear shift while they’re trying to climb into the front seat and honk the horn.”

    Actually in most newer cars it is. Most, if not all, have buttons that need to be pushed in order to put them into gear. Stick shifts are a different story but how many of us are still driving them. Engage the emergency brake and you have another barrier between the car rolling down the driveway.

  108. Christopher Byrne August 25, 2010 at 8:24 pm #

    Fear is an aphrodisiac. No, not in a sexual way. But most of us lead fairly ordinary, mundane lives without much drama. Mature, integrated adults treasure that and teach it as a value to their children. But that is not what the hysterical media thrives on.

    “What if?” is an ego-driven response that is a mood changer as much as a drink or a bump of heroin. It takes us out of reality, short circuits rational thought and creates a dangerous emotional environment that is more dangerous than the risks to our kids.

    “What if?” creates drama, and that’s a cultural addiction right now–from the lunatic reality shows to the evening news. It’s all about manufactured drama, false “controversies” and a culture in which anyone can say anything and be validated because we conflate emotional opinions with demonstrable facts.

    The only way out of this is to fight emotion with science–and statistics are a science. No one is going to say that tragedies don’t happen or that there aren’t risks inherent in any choices. Consequences can be dire, and one feels powerless and grief-stricken in the face of a real tragedy. We need to take rational precautions, and accept that life is full of risks, but we need a recovery program for all this irrational drama. Our bodies were not designed to be at such a heightened level all the time. Our adrenal systems can’t handle it, and our emotional lives suffer. Which means our kids suffer.

    Now, I’m going to WALK to work. If the Madison Avenue bus doesn’t lose control and run me down, or a dog doesn’t slip his leash in the park and give me a bite, or if the angry mom who yelled at me when I said “hi” to her kid that ran up to me don’t get me, perhaps, just perhaps, I’ll survive the morning.

  109. Gail August 25, 2010 at 8:26 pm #

    I want to move to Wyoming.

  110. Edward August 25, 2010 at 8:43 pm #

    “Fine. But what if it was YOUR kid snatched from the car…”

    I’d expect the law enforcement agencies of my community to properly do their jobs, capture and punish criminals, not harass law abiding citizens.

  111. Jennifer August 25, 2010 at 8:59 pm #

    My worst fear about leaving my kids alone in the car when I go inside for something?

    They’ll change my radio station…

    The HORROR!

  112. gramomster August 25, 2010 at 9:31 pm #

    @ Donna… Exactly my thoughts… that money I’d pay the babysitter is half a tank of gas or lots of veggies at the farmer’s market! Don’t know about anybody else, but going unemployed in May with no eligibility for unemployment has made none of my bills go away, but has made me stretch a dollar further. And I didn’t hire babysitters before!! When I get a babysitter, it is, as Larry says, to go out with hubby, we do it very rarely, and it’s usually my youngest kid, whom I pay with homemade food for his house, not money. He’s got a job, his rommies have jobs, but none of them are fabulous cooks yet. They get really happy when my kid babysits.
    Even the preschool teacher my grandson most especially loves takes food as payment. This is just one of many reasons I love her. But literally, in the last year, we’re talking 4 times I’ve gotten a babysitter. Certainly not to go run errands.

  113. Diana August 25, 2010 at 10:20 pm #

    Why take a chance with your child? What if? What’s wrong with people today? Who takes a chance with their childs safety? This is not the 1940’s. There are really bad people out there. How stupid. There are much safer ways to foster independence in a child.

  114. Dee August 25, 2010 at 10:21 pm #

    @Maman A Droit: there are stations around us which are going cash-only due to the hikes in credit processing fees. Given that they are ten – fifteen cents a gallon cheaper than the stations still taking credit, I use them.

  115. jess August 25, 2010 at 10:24 pm #

    I was left in the car all the time as a child. if i got to hot or wanted my mom i would climb over the seat and go out her door since there was the child lock on the back doors(i opened the door once well my grandma was driving), my mom knew i was fine and could get out if/when i needed to.

    About the people “helping” your child and calling the cops, they need to look where they are and the ages or the child. kids old enough to get out probably fine, baby at gas station probably fine, baby in a car at a place where quick trips really aren’t common, maybe than it would be appropriate if you know its been like 10-15 mins or for any reason they look in distress.

  116. R.B. August 25, 2010 at 10:24 pm #

    I wouldn’t leave a wallet or purse in the back seat. When I took the citizen’s police academy at the local PD, I found out that it’s a common MO (key word: common) for thieves to watch areas where women are likely to leave their purses behind for ” just a minute,” such as when picking up kids, break the window, swipe the goods, and be taking off in a getaway car (driven by an accomplice) in a matter of seconds.

    Car thieves are unlikely to target a car in such a situation (it takes a little longer for even the most experienced thief to hot-wire the ignition) unless it’s left running. Even if it’s locked, a running car might as well have a lit sign over it flashing “Break a window and steal me!”

    If a thief sees a kid in the car, they’re far, far less likely to target that car because they don’t even want to mess with Amber Alerts and kidnapping charges. They’re usually out either to strip the car or just take it for a joyride.

    Child kidnappers—who are RARE—generally stalk their victims and plan ahead. I’m pretty unconcerned about them. Yes, parent’s worst nightmare and clichés like that, yadda yadda, but it’s more likely the kid will be struck by lightning if you take him out.

    As for the danger of a kid getting caught in a power window, that really depends a lot on the kid. I learned early on that my oldest could not be left in the car if the keys were in the ignition for even (literally) ten seconds while I went to open the tailgate, but I also know his little brother won’t budge from his seat.

  117. BeQui August 25, 2010 at 11:08 pm #


    This elementary on my area is trying to get more dads involved in the PTA. Some activities they’ve recommended are helping with traffic in the parking lot before or after school, or “[They could] just eat lunch with their child and other students.” They don’t think dads are child molesters! YEAH!


  118. gramomster August 26, 2010 at 12:18 am #

    And about cars and gearshifts…

    The automatics I’ve had in the last several years definitely need to be running in order for the gearshift lever to be moved. And you also can’t turn it off until it is in ‘Park’.

    With my stick shift (and I still prefer a stick to an automatic, but I take what I can get at a decent price, i.e. no car payment price), the stick itself can’t be moved out of gear unless the clutch is fully disengaged. No way could a small child fully depress the clutch pedal while simultaneously moving the shifter. They’re just not tall enough, no way, no how. The biggest concern on that vehicle is no child safety locks. Pull the door handle, the door opens. Eeeeep!!!

  119. pentamom August 26, 2010 at 12:22 am #

    Diana — your protests are only valid if leaving your child in the car is more dangerous than taking him out — a matter we’ve been discussing from various angles for dozens of posts. It’s far from clear that the greater danger, in most circumstances, is leaving him in the car. What “feels scary” isn’t always the most dangerous thing.

  120. pentamom August 26, 2010 at 12:28 am #

    Heather, I like my children, too, believe it or not, and having had five of them, yes, my life became structured more around theirs (and will continue to be so for a few more years until the youngest ones are more self-sufficient.) However, there were times when they were young when it would have been absolutely ridiculous to have all five of them trailing after me, including wrestling a baby and toddler out of and back into carseats, and having no free hands to do the business I was there to do, just so they could enjoy the pleasure (sarcastic laugh) of my presence for two extra minutes in the drycleaners’ shop.

    That people choose to use common sense and efficiency in a situation, based on accurate risk assessment rather than fear, is no indication that we do not like our children’s company, or that we aren’t willing to sacrifice our own convenience for their sakes.

  121. Laura August 26, 2010 at 12:28 am #

    Unbelievable. Simply unbelievable. I scanned the comments following the PD piece, and this popped out at me:

    “very safe!!??!!” Are your children also very safe when left alone at home for a short time? how about around a swimming pool for a short time? Playing with a gun for a short time?”

    This woman is actually equating leaving your child home alone for a few minutes with PLAYING WITH A LOADED GUN.


  122. pentamom August 26, 2010 at 12:34 am #

    E, I get you 1000%. I have an irrational fear of heights. I know it’s irrational. I know my kids are not going to hurtle themselves over the gallery rail at the museum or crawl under the railing or somehow, find the only possible way to fall off of something that’s really quite safe.

    So, very often the kids will do the things that involve such situations with Dad, or if we’re all together, I’ll turn my back and walk away so I can’t see. (I also freak over other people’s small children in such situations. I just can’t bear to watch.) I’d like to “suck it up” and not put a damper on things, but I know that me standing around panicking just makes it worse for everybody, so I try to play it cool SOMEWHERE ELSE.

    But, as you point out, what I DON’T do is concoct ridiculous explanations for why it’s really dangerous to do things that no one has ever been hurt doing.

  123. pentamom August 26, 2010 at 12:38 am #

    Even hotwiring a car is getting harder. Most newer model cars (not just luxury models) require the internal computer to sense the activation chip inside the key fob in order for the starter to engage at all.

  124. Dee August 26, 2010 at 12:55 am #

    @Heather: Even kids get sick of being hauled in and out of a car for lots of little errands.

    We have a PO Box at our local post office. Our local post office has no parking in the front, so you need to park on the side street, walk around the front of the building, into the lobby, open your PO Box, get your mail, and then back to the car. It takes about 45 seconds.

    I do this on the way to doing my other, longer errands at 10am every Saturday morning. My kid loves to grocery shop, hates the post office stop. He’s 4 and he’s been whining at me to leave him in the car for months.

    But the post office parking lot is shared with the police station and I’m in the state where the woman was charged for leaving her baby sleeping in the carseat, parked in a parking lot, while her other kid put money in the Salvation Army bucket by the door. Sorry, kid, we are going to add the amount of time to unstrap and restrap you to those 45 seconds.

  125. EricS August 26, 2010 at 1:05 am #

    A simple solution to parents, TEACH your kids how to behave when they are left in the car alone. And if need be, implement disciplinary actions if they break the rules. You not only educate your child, but you also teach them about consequence of their actions. I’m sure a lot of us here have learned because we were punished for breaking rules.

    People (adults and kids alike), do what they do because they know they can. eg. Some people are a-holes because they know they can get away with it, because no one has ever told them otherwise. Same with kids, if they don’t know what they are doing is wrong, and are not corrected or disciplined, they get in their heads that it’s ok to do. Which is most likely the reason why some adults grow up to be a-holes. Because they learned it at a young age.

    COMMON SENSE. That’s all you need. It’s ridiculous how people and authorities make things so much more difficult than things ought to be.

  126. mel August 26, 2010 at 1:11 am #

    This is exactly why I always carry a copy of the law in my car, which states that it is legal for a child over 6 to be left in the car unattended. Under 6 years old, they need a person over 12 to be int eh car with them. The law also says that you can’t leave the car running or leave the keys in the car. This is, of course, California, and your laws may differ in your state.

    I was severely harassed by a mall cop and a police officer because I left my 8 year old son in the far for literally 3 minutes while I ran into the shoe repair place to get my shoes. He was in my line of vision the whole time and he had water and the windows were down. The officer insisted that what I had done was illegal and he could call child protection services and take my child away from me. I was horrified and angry and scared and a lot more angry. At one point, I told him that my mother had always left us in the car while she went in to do her grocery shopping, etc. and he informed me that then my mother was a bad mother and she should have been arrested. I just looked at him and left. It was the early 70’s for god’s sake! Everyone wasn’t as paranoid as they are now back then.

    Know your rights, know the law. And don’t let them bully you around!

  127. Uly August 26, 2010 at 1:12 am #

    “very safe!!??!!” Are your children also very safe when left alone at home for a short time? how about around a swimming pool for a short time? Playing with a gun for a short time?”

    This woman is actually equating leaving your child home alone for a few minutes with PLAYING WITH A LOADED GUN.

    What really gets me is that here I am, a big fan of gun control laws and not knowing anybody IRL who has a gun (and we’re not starting that discussion, I’m just giving the context) and I’m going “But you can teach a child basic gun safety, and if your family, say, hunts you’d damn well BETTER so your kid can go with you….”

    Why take a chance with your child? What if? What’s wrong with people today? Who takes a chance with their childs safety? This is not the 1940′s. There are really bad people out there. How stupid. There are much safer ways to foster independence in a child.

    There were bad people out there in the 1940s. Gang wars much? (Okay, so that’s more the 30s, but whatever.)

    We’re actually at a 30 year LOW POINT in crimes. All crimes. Knowingly leaving your child in the car for a few minutes (far different from FORGETTING your child in the car!) isn’t “taking a chance with their safety”.

    And inasmuch as it is, that has nothing to do with “bad people”, who most likely, as pointed out, won’t steal a car with a child in it because that’s just more trouble they don’t need, but a lot with hyperthermia. But people who leave their children in cars rarely have this problem. The big danger (relatively speaking, I don’t think less than 50 deaths a year is epidemic) is from people who forget their children are in the car in the first place.

  128. sonya August 26, 2010 at 1:15 am #

    EricS: Yes, apparently the cops believe that the law (NJ) states that no child under age 12 (?) may be left in a car unattended for any length of time. I haven’t checked it myself, but I have heard in the media about various laws in different states to similar effect.

  129. DMT August 26, 2010 at 1:17 am #

    A couple of years ago, I went to the gas station. The card reader wasn’t working, forcing me to go in and make sure the station got my payment. It was 10 degrees outside, and it seemed ridiculous to wake my then-fourteen-month-old child just to spend less than sixty-seconds making sure the station got paid.

    Guess what happened to him in that sixty seconds I was gone. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. In fact, he was still sleeping peacefully when I got back in.

    However, I would not leave my now-nearly three year old alone in the car. Why? Because he can get out of his car seat by himself (a skill he likes to practice quite often, even while I’m driving). And his unbridled curiousity about everything he can get his hands on makes it impossible to leave him alone most times.

    Another time I left him in the car when I walked less than 20 feet to get a grocery cart. (He was just an infant then.) When I turned around, there was an older woman circling my car, watching him inside. I got to the car, and she gave me the diritiest look. Sigh.

  130. sonya August 26, 2010 at 1:41 am #

    So, after a quick bit of research I found out that NJ does not have a specific law about children left unattended in cars, but that parents can still be charged under general child endangerment laws. The NJ state dept of children and families has a campaign that children should not be left in vehicles for “even a minute”. http://www.state.nj.us/dcf/safety/campaigns/car.html. So presumably our local cops feel they would be backed up by the state on this. Safekids USA (www.safekids.org) allows you to see all the laws from different states on children left unattended in cars.

  131. Lily Shahar Kunning August 26, 2010 at 2:13 am #

    Thank you thank you thank you!

    I am in the process of trying to organize co-op childcare (parents get and give childcare in equal measure, no one is paid, no caregivers aren’t parents getting the care themselves at some point) for a conference I attend at a hotel this spring. 2500 or so people attend, and more and more parents are attending with kids in tow, and there have been no services for them.

    Parents are already on board and excited. What I would like is support from my community (non-profits and businesses) in making the co-op happen, so that we can offer the service for free (have the suite paid for, snack for the kids, donated toys and games, etc.).

    No one will step up, although everyone admits the service is badly needed. Why? Liability. everyone is afraid of the “what ifs” and what that could mean for them in a legal sense if it happens.

    “Are you prepared for someone coming in with a gun and kidnapping a child?” I was asked yesterday. Sheesh. People are so afraid these days, I wonder of we will ever trust one another enough to build a decent community.

    Lily, aka Witch Mom

  132. RobC August 26, 2010 at 2:45 am #

    “Why take a chance with your child? What if? What’s wrong with people today? Who takes a chance with their child’s safety? Rant rant froth…”

    She’s right. It’s so dangerous out there, why take chances? In fact, it’s probably best to not have children at all, that way you can guarantee that nothing bad can happen to them.

  133. RobC August 26, 2010 at 2:49 am #

    “Are you prepared for someone coming in with a gun and kidnapping a child?”

    I’ve worked in a few proper, licensed childcare centres, and I can tell you we certainly weren’t prepared for something like that. Of course, this is Australia, where we don’t have crazed gunmen roaming the streets looking for innocent children to steal like the US apparently does.

    Further to that, I would like to know how exactly would one prepare for something like that? Bulletproof shields that drop down from the ceiling at the touch of a button, like they have in banks? Armed guards at the door? A hotline to Commissioner Gordon’s office so he can call Batman to come and help?

  134. Carrie August 26, 2010 at 4:21 am #

    What I hate about the ‘never ever do this…’ rules is the that they remove every bit of common sense people may have and demand full compliance or something awful WILL happen.

    How does it even make any sense that something terrible will happen if I do the following?

    On a cool fall overcast rainy morning, I need to get gas. My two year old is strapped into his rear-facing car seat (I DO take safety seriously). I need to pay for my gas and the card swipe thing is broken. I crack the windows, turn off the engine, take my keys, lock the car and RUN into the gas station. All the while, my car and child is in my view. In about 3 minutes (or less) I RUN back to my car. My child is safe and content.

    It’s ridiculous that people are now afraid to do something so harmless.

    Why can’t we think for ourselves? Clearly it’s a bad idea to leave a child in the car for long periods or for any length of time when it’s warm outside. If your child can unbuckle him or herself, then leaving the child alone isn’t smart. Leaving the car unlocked (child or no child) isn’t smart, particularly in high crime areas. There are times when it’s safe. Like when you forget something and have to run back into the house for a minute.

    Most kids that die in hot cars are from being forgotten or because they climb into unlocked cars and can’t get back out (which happened to two toddlers in my neighborhood a few weeks ago). Lock your cars! Even in your driveway. It takes a milisecond and it can prevent theft as well as accidents (like the above).

  135. BrianJ August 26, 2010 at 7:29 am #

    @granmonster – you’re not exactly correct about stick shift cars and when the stick can be moved into neutral. (I used to own a repair shop, and only drive manual trans cars).

    The stick can be moved without pressing the clutch when the engine is off, regardless of where the key is (unless it’s a Saab, but they’re weird). Depending on a bunch of things, it might or might not be harder to move by pushing the clutch.

    I have always explained to my children that if they move the stick when they are in the car without me, the car could move and they could cause an accident. They have never moved the stick (as far as I know) without me being in the car with them.

  136. Margaret August 26, 2010 at 7:56 am #

    Not a car story, but similar idea — when my kids were about 1, 3 and 5, I was at a mall where you could rent little carts for kids to ride around in. I was visiting my cousin 7 hours from my home, and I didn’t have my stroller with me (I hadn’t thought we were going anywhere). So I rented two of those for the little ones and the big one walked. Come lunch time, we went to the incredibly jam packed food court where people were lined up at every booth right across the passage. After much difficulty getting my kids to a table all the way in by the windows with the other families, I left my 3 and 5 year old (both watching the little TV in the cart) at the table and took my 1 year old in his cart to get food. It was tricky driving him through the lines, but I managed. As I was picking up the tray of food, some busybody came up to me and said, “You shouldn’t leave your kids alone. Wouldn’t you feel bad if someone stole them?” I was kind of floored. First of all, in order to steal them, someone would have had to bring them past me. Second, the kids were in an area surrounded by other families. Third, if I had brought them with me, I would have had to leave them in their carts and done a back and forth relay of bringing food and a cart, finding a spot to set it down and get the other cart and kid, and then bringing them a little further etc etc. I mean, it was OBVIOUS that there was no way to push two carts and carry a tray of food (I will assume that the 5 year old would have stuck close). Seems to me it would have been more risky walking away from one of them by the entrance. Anyway, I didn’t even know what to say, because it was a pretty stupid question — chances are that no matter how bad of a parent I am, I would feel bad if they were stolen. However, the lady disappeared without another word when one of my cousins came up to me (we had split up to get food and the table) and I asked her if she and my other cousin could see where the kids were, and she said yes, they could, so obviously there were at least two other adults keeping an eye on them. Stupid busybody. I wish I had yelled really loudly, “ARE YOU THREATENING MY CHILDREN?”

  137. Adriana August 26, 2010 at 8:08 am #

    Oops, didn’t know CA had a law on that… Guess I can’t leave my 10, 9, and 2 yr old in the car with the radio on anymore.

    My question… does this apply at the gas station if I leave my 10, 9 and 2 yr old in the car so I can go pay cash?? Stop at the ATM?? At the school curb to drop off a form??

    And what’s considered significant risk? Besides windows closed on a warm day, etc. Windows down with no keys in the car ok? How does one find this out- besides doing it and getting fined the $100?

  138. pentamom August 26, 2010 at 10:47 am #

    “I have always explained to my children that if they move the stick when they are in the car without me, the car could move and they could cause an accident. They have never moved the stick (as far as I know) without me being in the car with them.”

    Wow. Imagine that. You explain the danger to kids old enough to understand, and they don’t do it.

    I realize there are kids who just don’t take advice like that well, but I always find it fascinating that some people base their conception of safety entirely on the idea that even older kids simply (every last one of them) can’t be trusted not to do things when they’re told not to. It’s another “know your kids” thing, but it almost seems like some people deny that kids who listen to warnings even exist.

  139. pentamom August 26, 2010 at 10:50 am #

    “Are you prepared for someone coming in with a gun and kidnapping a child?”

    Um, no. No one really is. Some people have the knowledge and means to respond quickly and appropriately, but no one is ever really “prepared” for that, except maybe on-duty law officers and soldiers. What does the person asking that question, think she’s asking?

  140. Stacey JW August 26, 2010 at 11:06 am #

    People freak out when I leave my DOG in the car, can’t wait to see what happens when I leave the kid! I would never leave a kid or animal in a hot car, but where I live its rarely too hot or too cold (San Diego/Mexico coastal area). Just in case I leave a note in the car, on the dash, with my # and location. in some areas its considered animal cruelty, even when the temp is the same as the dog would be in at home, outdoors. I can hear CPS now……

    (And Im sure CA has a law about this, they have laws about everything, which is one reason I live in Mexico instead of SD.)

  141. Nicole Down Under August 26, 2010 at 11:39 am #

    In Australia, or NSW where I live anyway, leaving a child in a car unattended is illegal, punishable by a fine of up to $22,000. The law is designed to deter people from leaving kids in hot cars or while they play poker machines (sad, isnt it…) but so far only seems to have been used against mothers who left their kids while paying for petrol or a coffee. Seriously, is it not MORE dangerous to wrangle children in front of distracted drivers at a petrol station than just to leave them safely and happily strapped in for a couple of minutes??!!!

  142. knutty knitter August 26, 2010 at 12:24 pm #

    There was a particularly nasty accident in a petrol station where an out of control car squashed a little girl and her dad into a wall.

    I’d leave them in the car any day!

    viv in nz

  143. Stacie August 26, 2010 at 9:10 pm #

    In CT, where I live, leaving your child in the car is an immediate finding of neglect if you are reported (and people will report you). Common sense plays no part in it.

  144. Priscilla August 26, 2010 at 10:09 pm #

    Thank you for creating this blog. For years now I have been thinking the same thought that you are trying to get people to think. I have not been the hovering parent that some of my contemporaries have been. Many of them see me as careless and foolish.

  145. Gail August 26, 2010 at 10:19 pm #

    @Nicole Down Under – I’m starting to wonder if there’s any way we can band together to fight these laws. They are so patently illogical and irrational in their application that I feel it would be best if we just got rid of them. I, personally, will continue to do what I think best with my children regardless of what the law states. Just because my assessment of where dangers lie does not mesh with others in society is not going to make me do or allow something I consider unsafe.

  146. gramomster August 26, 2010 at 10:32 pm #

    @ Brian… I think I stated ‘my’ car. Don’t know about others. My old Volvos, yeah, you could move the stick. This particular vehicle (which is actually my son’s, but I’m using it), you can’t. My grandson has tried, believe me. It’s a little truck, so he’s in the front (no passenger side airbags, I promise!) in his booster. We park, he’s all over the shifter. Goes nowhere unless I push in the clutch. I used to do that with my kids once they got to be about 9 and were sitting in the front. I’d do the clutch, they’d (with my help usually) move the shifter. Gotta know how to drive a manual. Absolutely must. Like swimming. A skill one might really need in a pinch, or just a wider range of vehicle choices available. Gotta know how…

  147. Elicia August 26, 2010 at 11:34 pm #

    Thank you so much! I left my kids in the car for a seven minute run into whole foods (parked in the front row) and when I got back a man was waiting for me. Told me he was calling the police if I didn’t agree to never do such a thing again. I was caught off guard. My daughter was completely traumatized thinking the police were going to show up and she was pissed that someone would question her mother’s parenting decision. In the moment I second guessed myself and told the man I would never do it again. Looking back, I realized I should have called the police myself and told them I was being harrassed by a man in a parking lot. My daughter is a very mature and responsible ten year old and I believe she should have opportunities to experience independence. She had my phone while I was in the store, the weather was mild and she knows how to call 911 if something happens. My kids know their are scary people in the world and that crazy things happen but this man with his talk about random badness totally freaked them out.

  148. Jennifer August 27, 2010 at 12:04 am #

    When I was wbout 9 years old, my parents left my brother(7) and I in the car while they went into the store. I got the idea to play a “trick” on them. We hid behind the backseats under our coats (of a two-door T-bird). Our intention was to jump out and yell “Boo!”
    Let’s just say my parents came out and were terrified that we’d been kidnapped. There was much yelling and frantic sounds.
    To me, I was aggravated because they ruined the joke. Open the damn doors and look for me!
    In their defense, this was in Chicago (or some suburb of) and we had just moved there from a very small town in South Louisiana.

  149. DMT August 27, 2010 at 1:04 am #

    Years ago, one of my college roommates told me the story of when she traveled to the Badlands with her parents in their RV. She was nine, and they stopped at a gas station. Her parents were in the station; she went into the public bathroom (she still doesn’t remember why considering their RV had one inside). When she got out, her parents were GONE.

    This was of course way before cell phones, and she was convinced her parents abandoned her. A couple fo hours later, her parents realized she wasn’t with them and immediately turned around to get her. I have no idea why it took them two hours to realize their daughter wasn’t with them, but all turned out well in the end, and her family still jokes about leaving her at a gas station.

    Kind of beats being left in a car for a few minutes, doesn’t it?

  150. Arianne August 27, 2010 at 1:56 am #

    I don’t know if I’m repeating something mentioned above as there are so so many comments, but I would be willing to bet that accidents happen to people who got *out* of the car at gas stations just as often as accidents happen to children left *in* the car (both very rare–but hey, one would be YOUR FAULT, parents! Isn’t that how we’re supposed to think?)

    I have a friend who was running errands with her three small children one day. She left them in the car while she ran into the post office to grab a change of address form. The post office is nearly all windows in the front, and I’ll bet her feet literally never stopped moving as she dashed in. But when she came out, she was given a mouthful by some (ahem) caring individual about what could have happened and how she had taken down her license plates and WOULD be calling CPS. Luckily my friend is feisty and confident and acted accordingly. She says she got home and told her hubby, “We may have visitors soon.” She is so much braver than me…not for leaving her kids for a microsecond, but for telling that crazy woman what was up! (Oh, and CPS never showed up.)

  151. abbie August 27, 2010 at 3:06 am #

    Thanks for the reminder that all the awful things in life probably WON’T happen to my little girls. Every mom worries but this is a great reminder that there are some things we need to start training ourselves are just RIDICULOUS to worry about all the time!

  152. DirtyHooker August 27, 2010 at 3:53 am #

    More and more, it seems obvious that none of this freakish concern for safety has anything to do with protecting children. It’s about emotional CYA on the part of parents.

    If kids are safer in the car than they are walking through the parking lot, then parents are actually putting their kids in greater danger in order to give themselves a false sense of security, which is pretty damn selfish.

  153. Amie August 27, 2010 at 3:58 am #

    Unfortunately, it is illegal in my area (in IA) to leave the kids (under 13 years) in the car to go in and pay for gas.

  154. Kersty August 27, 2010 at 4:31 pm #

    Fair enough to leave your kids in a car for a few minutes, each to their own I suppose. But what if it’s illegal in your state to do it ? Would you still do it? What if in the past 3 weeks at your local petrol station and shopping centre a car with a child in the back seat had been stolen, and 2 attempted kidnapping had occured. Would you still trust the people in your community? Just curiouse as these have happened in my local area recently, should I still trust everyone?

  155. Meg August 27, 2010 at 4:41 pm #

    I mentioned this over on FB, but this seems like a situation no parent can win. I very clearly remember my mother wanting me as a kid to stay in the car at the gas station. She was worried about me inhaling the fumes. (OH NOES!)
    I remember wondering why it was ok for her to breathe them but not for me? And that when I grew up I’d have to breathe them anyway when I was pumping gas for myself, so what was the big deal? Yeah, those questions never really got answered.

    This is the same woman who let me walk 2 miles round trip to the 7-11 before age 10 but yelled at me for standing in front of the microwave. *shrug* She was more the OMG, you could get CANCER & less the OMG you could be ABDUCTED type, for sure.

  156. Uly August 27, 2010 at 9:39 pm #

    Kersty, part of being a responsible adult is making choices based upon local conditions.

    These posts made by Lenore assume normal conditions, which are fairly safe.

    If you’ve had a string of attempted stranger abductions lately, if you’ve had a rash of carjackings, your personal equation of safety is going to be different than if that stuff never happens where you are. And it should be! The only thing is that once the current crime wave in your area dies down, you need to be flexible enough to reconsider what’s appropriate.

  157. DirtyHooker August 27, 2010 at 9:39 pm #

    Kersty, I think parents should be free to use common sense and judgment. If you believe your neighborhood is unsafe, or that you have the kind of kid who would get in trouble if left alone in a car, then by all means, take the child with you. I don’t think parents who choose otherwise should be demonized for their choices or have to worry about CPS taking their kids away.

    I don’t know what I would do if it were illegal in my state. I like to think I would do it anyway, as a form of protest, but I’m not sure.

  158. Lihtox August 27, 2010 at 10:32 pm #

    @DH : Leaving your kids in the car illegally wouldn’t be a very effective protest, I’m thinking; if you were caught, people would think your political stand was an afterthought to gloss over your “crime”. Better to actually protest: letters to papers and politicians, organizing, whatever. It’d be an uphill battle, though.

  159. DirtyHooker August 28, 2010 at 12:05 am #

    Lihtox: Yeah, definitely, it would have to be in conjunction with letters to politicians and such. I can see why parents follow the law on this even if they disagree. No one wants the hassle of dealing with the cops and CPS.

  160. Tuppence August 28, 2010 at 12:20 am #

    I’m not sure if anyone is still reading this thread, but I’ll comment again anyway.

    It occurred to me that these “good citizens” who wait around to scold a parent who has stepped away from a car with a child sitting in it, and especially those who call the police on those parents, are the same “good citizens” that one used to find in East Germany, informing the Stasi (secret police) that a particular neighbor’s commitment to communism may leave something to be desired, and those during the Red Scare in the US, informing the authorities to the contrary. Blithely wrecking havoc on the lives of ordinary people, eager participants in the practice of criminalizing the banal.

    I live in Germany now. I have a friend here who grew up in east Germany when it was the GDR (communist East Germany). Who more appropriate to ask if she agreed with the analogy? When I brought the subject up — guess what? — a few months ago she had the pleasure of having the police called on her for leaving her sleeping baby in the car.

    She and her family were invited to a birthday brunch of a friend. The brunch was in a restaurant where the whole front and side of the building are windows, so she could she out the whole time, it’s located in a very safe residential neighborhood. They parked their car a few doors down on from the restaurant. She breast fed the baby when they arrived, and the baby fell asleep. She knew her baby would sleep soundly for at least the next hour. My friend and her husband decided to go with the other children into the restaurant, leave the baby to sleep and come out periodically to check up on her. The weather was fine (never really an issue in this part of the world anyway). She had just checked on the baby one last time (sleeping peacefully) and stepped back into the restaurant to finish her last sips of coffee and say her goodbyes, when a furiously enraged woman entered, demanding to know who owned the red caravan. My friend said she did and the woman told her to get out to the car now, the police are waiting there for you. Her 7 year old son, not realizing what the fuss was about, said oh the police! Can I come too Mommy? So she calmly got up and, without rushing, walked with her son to the car. She was greeted by a two female police officers waiting at her car, one of whom was about to bust an artery, screaming and yelling at her. Your baby was out here alone crying for one hour straight!! My friend responded once, said calmly, that’s not true but she refused to defend herself e.g., I was just here a few secs before and she was not crying, my daughter’s face always gets red when she even cries for a minute and it’s not red now, I could see outside the whole time, etc. Nope. Not a word. She didn’t say anything further, controlled her facial features, and just let the cop scream at her. The cop demanded to see her proof of identification. Friend calmly told her they’d have to go back to rest. to get it. After the cop had taken all the info, my friend said – Okay, you have the information you need. Now I would like to have your name please. Cop wasn’t happy, tried to refuse but of course she eventually had to give her badge number. I couldn’t believe my friend had stayed so calm, cool and collected! She said of course her heart was beating outside her chest, but she remained outwardly calm. And she said, now you mentioned it, the way I behaved I learned from growing up in the GDR. Always being on their guard that “good citizens” might turn them in for something seemingly harmlessness they’d be doing in their everyday lives, the had to have a default mode in place for such a scenario. Keep their eyes and ears open and their mouths shut in such a situation. Don’t say a word more than you have to, and, above all, don’t defend yourself.

    The second cop there was “good cop”. Before my friend could call to make a complaint (she wanted to sleep on it first, so she could do so as calmly as possible), “good cop” called her at HOME to, well, she fell just short of an apology, but to explain that her colleague’s behavior wasn’t really appropriate, but that the situation had upset her (my friend’s un-rushed approach to the car, in part) and she hadn’t handled it as she should have, and that would be in the report as well.

    And did my friend think the analogy was apt? Yes she did.

  161. Sam August 28, 2010 at 2:08 am #

    I have three children– one who is four and the other two who are about a year and a half. It would be IMPOSSIBLE for me to get anything done if I had to take my children out of the car for every two minute errand. I have left them in view in the car for a few minutes in order to get cash from an ATM machine, buy stamps and mail a letter, pick up a loaf of bread, and return a library book. I leave the windows open, take my keys, and my oldest knows not to open the door for anyone.

    I think part of the reason parents get so stressed out all the time is because they don’t feel like they have an option to leave their kids. We live in a safe area and I’ve never worried about it and to be honest, it is FAR LESS stressful than repeatedly buckling and unbuckling carseats and stroller harnesses.

  162. Emiky August 29, 2010 at 11:33 pm #

    When my little twin brothers were toddlers, they were escape artists. Nothing could keep them in a place they did not want to be–and I mean nothing. My parents tried everything. All the bolts, all the childproof locks, you name it. My brothers were smart. The most famous incident was an escape where they made it to our neighbor’s car, took his keys which he had put in the visor, started the car, and drove it into a lamp post. Cost the city thousands. They were uninjured–and they were two yo. I still can’t think of a way to prevent that. My dad turned around for three minutes. Dumb of him? Probably. But what do you do? The twins are 16 and it’s still a story we love to tell.

    As you might expect, CPS did stop in–and left declaring my parents ran a safe home and were doing the best they could and we were all healthy and happy. No complaints from them.

    The thing is, freak things happen. No one is perfect, and kids will be kids. Otherwise life is boring.

    I often think of a line from an episode of The Gilmore Girls when I see these “what if” statements: “you mean “what if” our baby rolled off the kitchen counter and right into the open second drawer where the knives were kept? It wouldn’t be good!”

    no, that admittedly wouldn’t be good. That doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.

    Another line from the episode was “our child is just going to have to be smart enough not to rip out the hose to the ice maker and shove it up his or her nose.”

  163. tory August 30, 2010 at 12:16 am #

    I haven’t read ALL of the responses above, so forgive me if this has already been covered, but just the other day my 7yo asked me how old she would have to be to wait in the car by herself while I went to the grocery store. She’s an avid reader and would much rather read her book in the car than be dragged into the store where she doesn’t fit into a shopping cart with her 4yo sister and the groceries.
    My reply to her was that in my opinion, she’s old enough NOW, but the last thing I want is someone else to notice and call the police or create some other kind of ruckus about it. It made me very sad to say that, but it’s true that my biggest fear is someone else noticing, not what she might do if left to her own devices.

    So my question is this: are there any legal ramifications for leaving kids of a certain age in the car? We live in Washington state and are frequently in Oregon also.

  164. LauraL August 30, 2010 at 12:19 am #

    tory, here’s what I found when I was looking info up on the For or Against page:



    “At what age can a child be left home alone?

    Legally at 10 years of age; however, you may want to consider ORS 163.545.
    163.545 Child neglect in the second degree.

    (1) A person having custody or control of a child under 10 years of age commits the crime of child neglect in the second degree if, with criminal negligence, the person leaves the child unattended in or at any place for such period of time as maybe likely to endanger the health or welfare of such child

    (2) Child neglect in the second degree is a Class A misdemeanor.” City of Albany, Oregon Police FAQ

    There are very few states in the U.S. with legal minimum ages for children home alone, but many state agencies have published guidelines. Georgia, Illiniois, Maryland and Oregon are a few of the states with specific ages specified in their laws.

    12 years of age appears to be the most common recommendation. http://www.latchkey-kids.com/latchkey-kids-age-limits.htm provides a state by state comparison with references. This site also provides one guideline from a California agency representative who suggests that 8 year olds and over can be left at home for up to several hours (usually after school before a parent gets home from work).

    Read more: When can a child stay home alone according to Oregon state law? | Answerbag http://www.answerbag.com/q_view/135125#ixzz0xqhBkI1j

  165. Emiky August 30, 2010 at 12:29 am #

    I remember being a kid and growing bored with shopping and getting permission to just go wait in the car, by my lonesome or with a sibling or two.

    In fact, at smaller stores if we were separated from our parents and couldn’t find them–we would go wait in the car. And yes, we did at a certain age feel confident enough not to tag around with the cart but to go look at another fun section on our own. I’m in my mid-twenties, so this wasn’t that long ago. We were also aware that the store employees could call our parents over the loudspeaker if need be. We also walked out to the parking lot on our own.

  166. Shannon August 31, 2010 at 3:11 am #

    We live in a small town, and I often leave my kids in the car for a few minutes during quick errands. At least, I used to do so – my 8 year old suddenly decided he was too scared to stay in the car with his little sister. I discovered this the day he got out of the car, unbuckled his year old sibling, and carried her across the parking lot, then tracked me down in the grocery store. I tried very hard to explain to him that what he had just done was MUCH more dangerous than staying inside a locked car for 5 minutes while I got milk and bread. He’s still not buying it – so now I have to take them both out of the car for EVERY errand, and it is a time-consuming pain in the rear.
    On the other hand, I do have to say that one of my cousins wrecked a car by putting it into reverse while his mom was in a store. So it can happen. He was one of those kids who had a way higher average number of freak accidents.

  167. Lihtox August 31, 2010 at 10:05 pm #

    @LauraL: Of course, the Oregon statute is rather vague, since none of us are going to willingly leave our children in a place which “may be likely to endanger the health or welfare of such child”. What “likely” means is the big question. I was certainly roaming my neighborhood long before I was 10, and I was walking to school since kindergarten: is that really *much* different than leaving a child home alone? (Granted, houses have stoves and knives and bleach and other dangerous things.)

    Maybe we should have a Free-Range Legal Defense Fund to push against irrational laws as well as the abuse of the rational ones. It’s about time we see a political force in the world to counter the “won’t-somebody-think-of-the-children!” faction which tries to censor and control.

  168. Shanna September 1, 2010 at 4:46 pm #

    In Australia it is illegal to leave children (or pets) in a car unattended, even for a short time (toavoid heat stroke).

  169. Chris September 4, 2010 at 7:53 am #

    I heard this morning on radio WHYY about legislation being introduced to make it a felony to live a child under age 13 in a vehicle. Zero Tolerance.

    I’m about to be a father (less than 2 weeks until “D” day) and my wife and I have been out looking at different products- we’re a kind of essentialist couple. I could not believe all the so called “essentials” there are. Both of us being from underprivileged families managed without most the child safety gear and we definitely waited in the car when mom (a very busy single mom with lots of appointments) left us in the vehicle for short stints to grab milk and bread or pay for gas. Once i was old enough to voice my opinion I nearly always asked to wait in the car during grocery shopping (it did not always happen because there was a bit of common sense on my mother’s part) and perhaps 3 people, to my recollection, ever realized I was there. Two of them were seniors and one of those had the same vehicle as my mother.
    I can understand the legislation if it’s to cut back on parents neglecting their children while they spend extended time in a casino during 100 degree weather, but during “normal” parenting circumstances I think there’s no reason for such legislation.

  170. Chris September 4, 2010 at 7:57 am #

    “live” line 2: replace with “leave”

  171. Sam September 17, 2010 at 3:41 am #

    I won “Worst Mother of the Year” at the Post Office this morning. We weren’t home when the postman came to deliver a package, so I had to take the slip down to the Post Office to pick it up. It’s turning to fall out here in Utah, and it was a pretty pleasant day, so I didn’t worry about leaving my 4-year-old and toddler in the car for the two minutes it was going to take me to run in and pick up the package. I parked in front of the Post Office windows, where I could see the car, made sure they were comfortable, and locked the doors.

    There were just two people in line, and I got to the counter right away. I was feeling sympathetic for the lady next to me, who’s toddler was throwing a rolling-on-the-floor tantrum. The man at the counter brought me my package after a minute or two. Halfway through signing for it, I hear “Does anyone here own a Toyota?” I flush and say, “That’s mine,” as I turn around to see the imperious mother of the (rotten) two-year-old. “Well,” she says totally outraged, “I’m calling the cops on you right now. You can’t leave your kids in the car – someone could take them!”

    I apologize, ask her to please not call the police, and run out to the car. She follows me out of the parking lot, taking town my license plate number as I drive home before I get hauled off to the holding cell in the basement of the Pleasant Grove police station. I’m totally stressed-out – I’ve never had a speeding ticket – I never even had detention in all my years of school! After I calm down and realize the police aren’t going to break down my front door, I get online and reserach Utah State Law and our local municipal code. Turns out, there’s no state or local law against leaving children unattended in a vehicle. The nearest city that even has a law on the books gives you a 10 minute time limit on leaving your children unattended. Now I wish I had stayed and stood up for myself, instead of feeling like the worst law-breaking mom in the world.

    So far, the chickens in my backyard are more free-range than my kids – but I’m working on it.

  172. Jessica October 28, 2010 at 9:50 pm #

    I just ran into this article while fuming after my husband left my son in the car for 2 minutes with the car door wide open. I think he is an idiot… but now that I read this string of messages and Lenore’s article I realized that he is not the only idiot.

  173. Lihtox October 28, 2010 at 10:35 pm #

    @Jessica: I’m glad you learned something about yourself, but I wouldn’t say you’re an idiot. 🙂

    All depends on context of course: how old is your son? 1? 3? 10? 18? Was your in a blizzard, or a high-crime area? Does your son have a history of self-injury?

    Or are you perhaps suffering from a phobia? I despise heights and think roofers are crazy to do what they do, but I recognize that this is my problem not theirs.

    What are you afraid of?
    • Kidnapping? Here’s a good test: would you have panicked if your husband had left the car door open without the child? Because there are a *lot* more car thieves out there than kidnappers. Most humans are wired to want to protect children, or at least recognize that stealing someone’s child is a lot more dangerous to them than stealing their car, and less lucrative as well.
    • Accident (like a car hitting yours) or exposure to the elements? A good test: would you have freaked out if your husband had been standing outside next to the car in the same scenario, even if he wasn’t in a position to stop that careening car coming at him?
    • Child getting into trouble? That entirely depends on your child. Certainly some children need to be watched because they have a tendency to do things that are not safe, like putting the car in reverse or running out into the street. Only you and your husband can determine how much you trust your child, and/or trust the seatbelt that’s holding him in. I won’t answer that question for you, but children *can* be trustworthy; and in fact the only way children grow up to be trustworthy adults is for adults to trust them (with limits) when they are children.

  174. Anne February 13, 2011 at 1:28 pm #

    My friend and mother of my two godsons had the cops called on her when she left her two sons – ages 7 and 12 months in the car while she ran in to return an item at the local hardware superstore. The car was parked within sight of the return center where she was. The windows were down since it was a summer afternoon and she’d parked in the shade. The 7 year old was playing his Nintendo DS and the baby was asleep in his carseat (which was why she left them in the car in the first place).

    After a few minutes, she noticed that an older woman had approached the car and was talking with the 7 year old. My friend figured she was just a concerned citizen and didn’t think much of it until she returned to the car where the woman scolded her for leaving the boys in the car *gasp* alone. The woman called the police and had given them the tag number to my friend’s car so there was no use in just leaving. Then my friend got chastised by the police officer. Apparently, in Maryland, a child isn’t responsible enough to be left alone even for a few minutes unless they’re 8 years old. And they’re not responsible enough to stay with a younger child until they’re 12 or 13. She was threatened with the possibility of CPS taking the boys away.

    Really, people. God forbid a parent walks out of eyesight of well-meaning strangers.

  175. Annoyed dad June 11, 2012 at 6:57 am #

    Today while I was taking my kids the park forget to bring some water so I put into the nearest quicky mart . I ran in grab a bottle and some snack went to counter pay and ran back outside only to be met with some zealot self important lady who start berating me on how it illegal to leave two kids alone in the car. Pulled out my stopwatch since I read the Texas penal two years ago and I use it anytime I need to make quick trip in with my two kids in tow. The timer was at 3mins 48seconds I told her if my clock had said 5 mins I had been in violations of he law . Then proceeded to get my while she was still ranting , flipped her off ( seem justified at the time ) and drove off to great day at the park . I believe parents should have the choice when comes to our kids. We need less of people butting In , I understand worry but sometimes reality should be our basis of judgement. my kid were secured in car seats ,the sunroof was open automatic locks with remote ac control. texas it is only illegal to leave a child alone in a car for MORE than 5 minutes . So back off


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