Your Insights about the “Danger” of Letting Kids Wait in Cars

Readers ynibfyzidf
— Here are some facts and ideas I drew from your comments on the story of the mom who let her kid wait in the car and, after a “Good Samaritan” videotaped the (happy, safe) child, was  criminally charged.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some other info that might be interesting:

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

Of course the vast majority of the kids were under 2 years old.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Lenore here: Great points that look at this issue rationally. Thanks, readers!

Yes, we're still thinking about the kids in cars issue.

Yes, we’re still thinking about the kids in cars issue.

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64 Responses to Your Insights about the “Danger” of Letting Kids Wait in Cars

  1. Reziac June 5, 2014 at 12:12 pm #

    When I was a kid, long before the era of carseats, when we were left in the car alone (and the youngest I can remember that, I was 5 years old — I know because my baby sister was in her bassinet on the seat) — I knew where the window crank was and how to use it, and I could adjust them up or down all by myself. Too hot? too cold? yonder is the window crank. (And a towel to hang over the glass if the sun became an issue.)

    Today, I’d have been strapped in a kidproof carseat, unable to so much as reach the window to adjust my ventilation… IF there even was a crank that works when the car is totally turned off.

    So… I think you are right — the problem isn’t kids left in cars, so much as it is this paranoid kidproofing the world — which also prevents kids from mitigating or escaping environmental hazards. As with most solutions in search of a problem, THE ‘SOLUTION’ CREATES THE PROBLEM.

    I wonder how many adults have died from accidentally locking themselves inside a “kidproof” vehicle? I’ll bet the numbers are about equal.

  2. BL June 5, 2014 at 12:26 pm #

    “Can we talk about how UNSAFE it is to leave kids in a car that is running to keep the A/C going?”

    Rolling windows down used to BE air conditioning (does anyone actually remember that’s what A/C is supposed to stand for? Probably not …)

  3. anonymous mom June 5, 2014 at 12:33 pm #

    How many kids have ever been abducted out of parked cars? Like, I’m sure it’s happened, but I don’t actually ever remember hearing of a story of it happening in my lifetime, so I’m imagining it’s extremely, extremely rare.

  4. C. S. P. Schofield June 5, 2014 at 12:55 pm #

    If, at 14, I had been locked in a car, I would have kicked the goddamned window until it broke. Maybe I couldn’t have managed it, but I wasn’t all that muscular at 14 and I really think I could have managed.

    So I have two questions; was the girl too weak to break a window, or was she too passive to think of it?

  5. EricS June 5, 2014 at 12:58 pm #

    Yet again, it all boils down to people paying attention, and using common sense. One idiotic parents true neglect shouldn’t transfer to parents who actually know what they are doing, and have carefully thought out what they are going to do, as well as teaching their children proper, to know what to do when they are left alone.

    That’s what my parents taught me, as did every other parent back in the day. “Stay in the car till I get back! Don’t leave, and don’t let anyone in.” And at 6-10 years old, we listened. We also talked to people passing by waving hello. No one tried to abduct us, no one tried to get us out of the car. In fact, many “strangers” were second eyes to our parents. I don’t ever recall any one of them snitching on our parents for leaving us. Because THAT would have been so abnormal back then. Unless people saw children being abused, they either paid no mind, or kept an eye out for us while our parents ducked into the store for a few minutes.

  6. EricS June 5, 2014 at 1:01 pm #

    @CSP. I think it would be more the latter. Most kids I come across these days, have almost no clue how to fend for themselves. And some of these kids are over the age of 14. That’s what happens when parents coddle, and shelter their children. They make them inadequate in day to day situations. And all for what? Just so the parents feel better about themselves for making decisions based on their own paranoia and fears.

  7. EricS June 5, 2014 at 1:08 pm #

    @anonymous mom: I’ve read a couple of news stories in the last 5 years about car jackers stealing cars, and not realizing there was a baby in the backseat. And both stories ended with the thief leaving the car somewhere it can be found, with the baby still in the backseat.

    Yes, this stuff does happen, on rare occasions. Even less than people being diagnosed with cancer, and dying from it. Less than children getting injured or killed in auto collisions. And less than relatives abusing and/or abducting their children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews.

    Point being, I’ve never heard or read any news about some one intentionally stealing a car, so that they can abduct the child sitting in it.

  8. J.T. Wenting June 5, 2014 at 1:19 pm #

    If we weren’t left in the car alone for more than a short while it was because we’d tear the thing apart. It was then for the safety of the car our parents would take us out and with them into stores, not for our safety 🙂

  9. anonymous mom June 5, 2014 at 2:40 pm #

    I looked up the story about the 14yo, and apparently there was evidence that she did try to break the windows and doors, but she was unable to do so. Her brother had left her in the car because she was napping, so it’s possible that by the time she woke up, she was already so weak/dehydrated that she didn’t have the strength to break a car window.

  10. J- June 5, 2014 at 3:20 pm #

    I was first introduced to Lenore through the Showtime TV show Penn & Teller’s Bullshit! In the episode “Stranger Danger.” As part of the episode, they did some Bullshit! experiments, in which they had a kid eat a burger then threw him in the pool, stand in a freezer in a t-shirt, and had him eat a sandwich off an overpass. They were trying to myth bust some old wives tails. What they really needed to do was lock that kid in a car in a Las Vegas parking lot for 15 minutes and walk away.

  11. Vicki Bradley June 5, 2014 at 3:24 pm #

    Many years ago, my husband inadvertently left our 6-week old daughter in our van. It so happened that he was meeting up with me, so when he strolled up without her and I asked him where she was, the look that came over his face was one of unbelievable surprise/shock – he had totally forgotten about her, as she peacefully slept in the back seat. I’ve never seen him run so fast, even though we knew she was fine, as only a few minutes had lapsed since he left her. The scary part is thinking about what would have happened if he hadn’t been meeting up with me (I like to think that he would have remembered before the situation became dangerous). Now, whenever I hear about a parent forgetting about a child in the car, usually due to a change in routine, especially if there is a tragic outcome, I feel so sorry for the parent, as I know how easily it can happen.

  12. Bob Cavanaugh June 5, 2014 at 3:30 pm #

    I’ve never understood the cars without physical locks, and I don’t think I would ever want a car that didn’t have one. That being said, I’ve only even seen one car without those. In response to why we don’t roll the windows down anymore, air conditioning does a better job of keeping the car cool on a hot day than the windows. Even here in Seattle we use it quite a bit in the summer.

  13. Beth June 5, 2014 at 3:35 pm #

    I’ve never understood not allowing the windows to be rolled down either, along with “I left my child in the car, but I could see the car the entire time.”

    What does seeing the car gain? I *think* it’s so that you can “see” the abductor sneak up, but if we don’t fear abductions, I can’t think why one would have to stare at one’s car the whole time while picking up the dry cleaning or a gallon of milk, or paying for gas.

  14. CA June 5, 2014 at 3:40 pm #

    I once had a boss who was pregnant and informed me that she was going to have to buy a new car before the baby was born. She was under the impression that it was illegal to drive around with an infant in the car in the summer without AC and that she would get arrested for child abuse. I was pretty sure that it was only illegal to leave a baby inside a car on a hot day, however after reading this story, I wouldn’t be surprised if a parent somewhere got busted for driving their infant around in a hot car. I wonder how people managed before AC was a common feature in vehicles…

  15. BL June 5, 2014 at 3:47 pm #

    “I wonder how people managed before AC was a common feature in vehicles”

    I don’t remember it being a problem unless you lived in a pretty warm climate. When I moved to Texas I discovered keeping the windows down wasn’t going to cut it, so I got a car with air conditioning. By the time I moved back north, every car had it.

    Somehow people have gotten used to being refrigerated all the time.

  16. UK mum June 5, 2014 at 4:14 pm #

    Really interested in this topic, my husband grew up in Northern Ireland in the 70’s and 80’s and in his home town it was forbidden to leave a car parked in the High St WITHOUT someone in it (because of the terrorist threat) – unsurprisingly children where the passengers left in the car and as the youngest of 5 he spend a LOT of time in a parked car whilst his mum shopped! I often leave mine in the car for a few mins whilst I go to local shops and not had any bad experiences as yet!

  17. Havva June 5, 2014 at 4:16 pm #

    @Beth asked “What does seeing the car gain?”

    Well when I was little I suppose it was a good way to test if the kid would break the cardinal “stay in the car” rule.

    It also addresses some of the other non-kidnapping related emergencies that people on here use as a reason for why a kid who can’t get out on their own shouldn’t be left alone (car thief, car spontaneously catching fire).

  18. danielle June 5, 2014 at 4:27 pm #

    It’s humorous to me how differently this conversation goes when not held with a bunch of free range parents. Somebody asked about this very thing in a fb group of mine and I was the ONLY one who said I would leave them if I felt the situation were safe. The only one. Every single other person said no because they might get abducted. And I consider these to be generally rational people.

  19. Jenny Islander June 5, 2014 at 4:36 pm #

    I once heard a woman say cheerfully that it was totes OK to leave her preschooler in the car with her twin infants while she did some business in an office out of sight around the corner, because the preschooler would “look after” the babies! Now that is pure marinated stupid. But leaving a preschooler alone in a car with ventilation and something to play with, if he/she isn’t apt to get scared, shouldn’t be a problem except in conditions of extreme heat or cold.

  20. AntZ June 5, 2014 at 4:38 pm #

    Sadly it happened this time in Herkimer a small town set in the middle of NY. It was not minutes but seven hours after a parent returned from work.
    As well yesterday, I heard of a Long Island ice cream man accused of abuse yet how many parents send their young screaming into the streets money in hand at the sound of a musical jingle to a “presumably” safe person. I heard a few times before sometimes those “safe” people are ones often accused

  21. anonymous mom June 5, 2014 at 5:00 pm #

    @Jenny, that’s the crazy thing, that so many parents think the danger is child abduction. I mean, I can understand parents being extremely nervous about temperatures; at least deaths from kids in cars due to extreme heat do sometimes happen, so it’s not totally irrational. But it is insane to worry about a child being abducted from a locked, parked car. As far as I can tell–and I’ve seen the same stories as EricS–it’s more common for kids to be accidentally abducted during a carjacking while their parent is in the car with them than to be snatched out of a car while their parent runs an errand.

    Why do so many people think their kids are so freaking precious that millions of strangers are just waiting for the chance to snatch them? My oldest will sometimes say, “But what if I’m kidnapped?” if he’s worried about doing something. I’m just like, “Dude, nobody wants some smart-ass ten-year-old kid, okay? You’re stuck with us.” Because that’s pretty much the truth.

  22. Allison June 5, 2014 at 5:24 pm #

    Why didn’t the 14 year old girl honk the horn?

  23. SKL June 5, 2014 at 5:33 pm #

    Why is it important to be able to “see” the car your kid is in? Mainly so you will notice if there is a busybody hanging around thinking about calling 911. So you can run out and say “I’m right here!”

  24. SKL June 5, 2014 at 5:41 pm #

    Not only do people think abduction is a big risk, they are extremely creative regarding the lengths to which they think an abductor will go to get their little precious (or mine). I’ve been told my kids were in danger of abduction for being in a locked car for 2.5 minutes (in a place that is not a kid hangout, hence probably not a pedophile hangout). I pointed out all the reasons they probably were NOT at risk, one being that it isn’t easy to open a locked car, right there in front of Starbucks where people were outside sipping their lattes. People then came up with all sorts of scenarios for how a pedophile could do just that. I mean, I’m supposed to believe there are people (“around every corner”) who are so hell-bent on stealing a couple of second-graders that they would do just about anything to make it happen. AND that these people hang out in quiet, low-crime suburban strip mall parking lots with people watching. Right.

    Why on earth do we put our minds to such effort trying to imagine deviant behavior every which way?

  25. Donna June 5, 2014 at 6:41 pm #

    “I’m supposed to believe there are people (“around every corner”) who are so hell-bent on stealing a couple of second-graders that they would do just about anything to make it happen.”

    The entire population needs to come spend a day with me at work so they can realize just how lacking in ingenuity and drive the average criminal really is. My 8 year old is a far better problem solver than the vast majority of my clients who can’t figure out how to get to probation when the car breaks down two blocks away.

  26. SteveS June 5, 2014 at 6:45 pm #

    I have never seen a car that could only be unlocked from the inside with the keys. What kind of car does this?

  27. SteveS June 5, 2014 at 6:48 pm #

    LOL, I just read what Donna wrote. I agree, the average criminal is pretty stupid. Even the “smart” ones seems to find ways to be dumb or otherwise lack problem solving skills.

  28. Kore June 5, 2014 at 7:07 pm #

    Most cars don’t have child locks on the driver’s side door. You can crawl up to the front seat and get out. I know this because I’ve done it, and I’m 5’8 and my car was a compact sedan. So to be brief, no adult is going to die by being locked in a modern car.

  29. Bee June 5, 2014 at 7:36 pm #

    Found this in the comments on the Salon article and hadn’t seen it before. References some interesting neuroscience that explain how this could happen. There was also an article on a faith-based mommy blog site whose tips to prevent car heating deaths, which included “call 911 immediately if you see a child in the car” and “never leave a child unattended, even with the windows partially down.” I don’t have the energy to get into a comment war by pointing out how to apply common sense to those two “tips”….

  30. compassion June 5, 2014 at 7:47 pm #

    I want evidence that any child has ever died from hyperthermia while sitting in a car with all the windows rolled completely down. And I want evidence that any child has ever been abducted from an unlocked car parked in a lot with the windows rolled completely down. And even if there are a handful of cases that have occurred since the days of Henry Ford, I still don’t want to build my life around “preventing” this, anymore than I want to stop driving because thousands of people a year die in car accidents.


  31. Elizabeth June 5, 2014 at 10:11 pm #

    The Salon article was interesting and I feel bad for the author for having to go through that ordeal. I don’t think she did anything criminal (though according to the law, she did). Parenting has changed so much…Not only can we not leave our kids in the car for a few minutes while we run into a store to grab something; but some parents also have trouble just saying a simple NO nowadays; for example: upon realizing how annoying/inconvenient it would be to have your kid tag along for the ride on such an errand, given the tight/stressful time constraints: “No, you’re not coming. You’re staying here with Grandma while I go out. End of discussion.” Or, upon hearing your kid whine from the backseat, “I changed my mind: I don’t want to come in the store after all!” What about responding: “Too damn bad. Get your butt up now or you’ll never touch an iPad again.” Still, whoever videotaped this and turned it into the police really sucks.

  32. compassion June 5, 2014 at 10:22 pm #

    Ah, but “You’ll never touch an iPad again” is really punishing parents more than kids, as the devices are like soma, and placate the kid in pretty much any situation. I don’t care that she allowed her son to sit in the car when it was what he wanted to do. I don’t think it was bad parenting, I don’t think it was a mistake, I don’t think it was a poor choice, and I sure as hell don’t think it merits criminal prosecution.

  33. SKL June 5, 2014 at 11:38 pm #

    A few days ago, I was in the car waiting for my kids to be done with their piano lesson. I turned off the car (and A/C) to save gas, and it started heating up really fast. At first I thought, “hmm, maybe it’s true what they say about cars heating up so fast that kids could die in a short time period.” I turned on the car for some more A/C. Then I thought, this is BS. I rolled down a couple of windows on both sides of the car for a cross breeze. Then I worked on my laptop for over an hour. Not only did I not expire, but I didn’t even sweat profusely.

  34. lihtox June 6, 2014 at 12:31 am #

    Being able to see the car maybe isn’t as important as being able to hear the kids, if they start crying or calling out: if your kids need you, you want to be able to tell. Depends on the age of course: a 6-year-old might know to honk the horn or even get out of the car to get me in case of an emergency, but a 3-year-old is going to cry.

  35. J.T. Wenting June 6, 2014 at 12:55 am #

    “Why didn’t the 14 year old girl honk the horn?”

    2 possible reasons:
    1) being told that if she does she’ll get punished (even arrested) because it’s not allowed
    2) there’s now cars where the horn doesn’t work with the motor turned off because they’re electric…

  36. Donna June 6, 2014 at 6:44 am #

    People – kids and adults – waited in cars all the time in A. Samoa. At stores. At the government office. Even at court. Sometimes for long periods of time. Nobody batted and eye. And nobody died despite weather about as miserably hot and humid as it comes (think August in the south year round). It may not be the most comfortable that you will ever be to sit in a car with the windows rolled down on a hot summer day, but you won’t die either.

  37. anonymous mom June 6, 2014 at 7:15 am #

    I see so much judging of the mom for not saying “No” to her son, and conclusions that, because she didn’t say no this one time, she and all parents everywhere never know how to say no to their kids.

    I generally do not give in to demanding and brattiness. But, sometimes I do. Sometimes my kids wear me down, and I give in. And, any parent who says they NEVER give in when their kids are being demanding brats is, IMO, lying. And the situation she describes–a stressful day where she’s got two hours to get her family ready for a plane ride with two small children–is exactly the kind of situation in which I think many parents, myself included, would decide that standing firm on the child not getting their way is not a hill to die on because stuff has to get done and it’s not time for a battle.

    And then I’ve also seen the “headphones are not a necessity” argument, that she was somehow wrong for getting the kid headphones. Well, maybe, but they were getting ready for a flight. I have a feeling that the very same Salon commenters who think she was a bad mom for getting the headphones would have thought that the mom of a child who either 1) whined/cried through a flight or 2) played games on their iPad with the volume on during a flight was also a bad mom. You cannot win. You try to take steps to keep your child quiet and entertained during a flight, by making sure they are set up with electronic devices to occupy them, and you’re a bad parent. You decide to forgo the electronic devices and your kids get antsy or whiny or loud, and you’re a bad parent.

    Anyway, I think it’s easy to say, “She just should have told him he couldn’t come or he had to come in or he wasn’t getting new headphones,” when you aren’t the one dealing with packing up after a vacation, a whiny child, another small child at home, and a flight coming up in two hours. It’s easy to say what the ideal course of action would be. But when you are in the thick of it, you just do the best you can with the knowledge and patience you have.

  38. tdr June 6, 2014 at 8:07 am #

    this was a really interesting post! I’m curious why was preventing kids from getting out of locked cars considered a safety measure?

    Here is why I would leave the windows up when leaving my kids in the car: so I wouldn’t get in trouble. I hated shlepping my kids along when they didn’t want to go/weather was horrid/they were sleeping/whatever. My rear windows are tinted. Leave the windows up and the chance of being “found out” go way down because noone can see you left them in the car.

  39. Mike June 6, 2014 at 8:45 am #

    I always assumed child safety locks were to prevent kids from opening the car door while the car was in motion. Nowadays we can probably have an automatic system that prevents that but allows kids to open the door when the car was stopped. We don’t use the child locks in our cars because we want the kids to be able to get out on their own. They have never even thought about opening the car doors while the car is moving because they know it’s a really bad idea and they’d be in real trouble if they ever did.

  40. Havva June 6, 2014 at 9:36 am #

    To answer the questions about how the 14 year old died. The family had bought a used 1997 BMW 328i. I has a ‘feature’ the “double-locking mechanism.” Once the doors are locked from the outside, they can’t be opened from the inside.

    Furthermore, also supposedly to prevent theft, the whole electrical system shuts down if the key is not present. No horns, no door locks, no window operation, no emergency flashers, nothing.

    The double locking mechanism is supposed to prevent car theft by making it so a thief can’t smash a window and then unlock the door (but as many point out a thief could just climb in the window he just smashed). BMW did this feature knowing that it was a danger to people in the car, thus the warning in the manual (which was missing when the family bought this car) not to lock the car from the outside if there are people still inside. If you look through comments on some of the stories about this, you will see adults tell stories about the times they have become trapped in their BMWs. Usually something like they were a little slow getting out and a spouse clicked the lock before they opened the door. And spouse came back before they overheated or a passerby noticed them banging frantically.

    This case is the stuff of nightmares. I thought locking exits went away after the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.

    Here is an article on the lawsuit about the double-locking mechanism:

  41. Knitted in the Womb June 6, 2014 at 10:13 am #

    What kind of car can’t be opened from the inside without keys? I know about child locks on the back doors (which I’ve never used, despite having 6 kids)…but the FRONT doors? That seems like a REALLY bad feature.

  42. SOA June 6, 2014 at 10:15 am #

    I have a son with autism and parking lots are dangerous for us. He does not get the danger no matter how many times I tell him to be careful. I have to really watch him and hold his hand and he is 7 so should know better by now, but he doesn’t.

    He has almost been hit by cars multiple times. So sometimes in busy parking lots he is WAY more safe in the car than walking with me. Just saying. I have them go ahead and get in the car and buckle in while I load the groceries in the trunk and return the cart. They are safer there then outside the car where he will dance out in front of a car which he has done multiple times.

    One day I got confronted by a woman when the kids were sitting in the car waiting on me to return the cart a lane or two over from where we were parked. I posted about it here on this site. Little did that “helpful citizen” know that if I dragged my son over with me to return the cart he would have been probably in way more danger than just sitting in the car waiting on me. Because not once has he gotten out of the car when I tell him to get in and buckle and wait. However at least 15 times he has gotten almost hit by a car while walking in the parking lot. So again I ask you, which one is safer?

  43. anonymous mom June 6, 2014 at 10:26 am #

    The BMW story is a great example of “safety” and “security” measures gone awry and creating a truly dangerous situation.

  44. Donna June 6, 2014 at 10:35 am #

    anonymous mom –

    Standing firm for no reason other than to win is just an exhibition of power and not a stamp of good parenting. To judge this mother as “giving in to brattiness,” necessitates a belief that the child staying in the car was improper or dangerous. If you believe, as many here do, that there is no reason not to leave a 4 year old in a car playing with an ipad for a few minutes while you run an errand, then there is absolutely nothing wrong or “giving in” about allowing it happen when the child wants to stay.

    Many times I take a step back to consider whether I am fighting just to win or fighting for a good reason when dealing with my child. If I determine that I am fighting with my child just to win and not for any good reason, I usually change my stance. I don’t consider that “giving in to brattiness” at all. I consider it treating my child like a human being with her own opinions and desires.

    Good god, nobody would think it a positive marriage strategy if you never backed down from a fight with your spouse, despite only really being in the fight to prove that you can win. Why do some insist on treating children that way?

  45. SKL June 6, 2014 at 11:19 am #

    The reason the mother left the kid in the car is not my business. Children are not machines, and neither are mothers. Growing up is a messy process. What is the point of kicking a harried mom when she’s down?

    When my kid went on a stealing spree at school at age 6, needless to say I was beside myself. I asked for suggestions and I got some compassionate suggestions. I also got some cold “advice” to the effect that my kid is rotten and I am at fault. Sometimes I wonder how these self-proclaimed parenting experts managed to grow up so … unhelpful, themselves.

  46. Brian June 6, 2014 at 11:45 am #


    I always wonder about people who lack empathy for parents who can’t predict what unpredictable kids too. Reminds me of one of my younger sister’s best moments. Right after my parents’ divorce, my mom worried about money a lot. We were at the state scholastic chess championship, where I (in 8th grade) was playing and my sister (in Kindergarten) wasn’t. My mom, as she normally did at these tournaments, let my sister go off to play with the other younger siblings. An hour later, one of the other chess moms comes over to her and says, “You should see what your daughter’s doing.”

    Between my mom’s worrying about money and my sister’s noticing collection drives at school, she got the bright idea to beg the other parents for money saying, “My daddy left us and we don’t have any money.” She had collected about $50! Needless to say, my mom was humiliated. We didn’t know who to give it back to, so we ended up giving it to some charity.

    Young kids’ brains just don’t work the same way adults’ brains do 🙂

  47. Jenny Islander June 6, 2014 at 11:53 am #

    @anonymous mom, and also @Donna:

    Many so-called parenting (usually they call it “child training”) experts start from the assumption that children are defiant, rebellious, domineering, selfish, etc., etc., etc., from a very early age. How early? Some allow a grace period of as little as three weeks before the “training” must begin. These experts warn that if a child is not taught early and often that their place is conditional on their obedience, their needs inconvenient, and their standard of behavior much higher than any adult is expected to meet outside special circumstances such as boot camp or prison–why, then, that child is going to Go Wrong In Spectacular And Embarrassing And Permanent Ways And You Will Be A Bad Parent FOREVERRRRRRR.

    Codswallop. At best, a parent who treats a child like this will get a child who sneaks and cozens in order to avoid parental wrath, and moves as far away as possible as an adult. At worst–well, Google “Michael Pearl Lydia Schatz.”

    This is one piece of advice that I give to all parents-to-be: If a book tells you that there is only One Way To Parent Or Your Child Will Be Ruined Forever And You Will Be Known As That Bad Parent Everywhere, throw that book hard and far. Those books always treat children as enemy combatants who must be broken to their place. Again, Lydia Schatz. And she was not the only one.

  48. anonymous mom June 6, 2014 at 12:09 pm #

    I do tend to think children are selfish and defiant pretty much from birth, honestly. But, I also don’t think it’s something you need to “train” out of them in any specific way. They’ll learn social norms eventually, and realize that, as the recent viral YouTube video taught, you can’t punch people because you want pancakes and find more socially-acceptable ways to express themselves and hopefully learn to care a little bit more about other people.

    I just think that, again, we overestimate the power of parenting. In general, I don’t see any evidence that kids stop having tantrums because their parents never give to a tantrum; kids stop having tantrums because they outgrow them. You might be able to shorten the duration of the tantrum-having stage by handling every tantrum perfectly, I suppose, but you may not be able to, and nearly all typical kids will grow out of them no matter what. Whether or not this mom took her kid for a ride or bought him headphones or made him go into the store with her was, in the long run, going to have no impact on the person he turns out to be.

  49. Jenny Islander June 6, 2014 at 12:15 pm #

    @anonymous mom:

    You have insight that these books teach parents to ignore. Every little incident is a hill to die on, every disagreement is a battle for the future of the child (and the parent’s reputation).

    But the kid is four. His legs, attention span, reservoir of patience, and tolerance for noise and bustle are all short. Parking him in the car with something to do isn’t giving in, it’s being practical.

  50. Ian June 6, 2014 at 12:21 pm #

    I totally would have done the same thing as the mom in the original article — it was a “pick your battles” situation, especially considering they were preparing to leave for a vacation.

    Anyone who’s ever traveled with a child under 5 knows it’s a stressful affair. She was likely saving some energy for some expected conflicts later that day.

  51. Paul June 6, 2014 at 1:21 pm #

    In the middle of the night this past January (in Maryland) I heard the door to the house open and shut. My wife and I both heard it, and we were concerned. I checked the house, found the door still open, but the dogs asleep right by it, unphased. I found nobody in the house, so I decided to look at the cars to see if they were being broken into. I see all the doors shut, but through the glare of the front window, I look again. My 4 yo son is in the van screaming to be let out. He had slept walked out to the van, gotten in, but the secondary latch wouldn’t let him out. Not sure what would have happened if he had spent the next 7 winter hours in the van. That might have been the last place for us to look when he didn’t awake in his bed. The moral, sh!t happens sometimes. I couldn’t have predicted that would happen, it would have been horrible if he had been hurt or killed, but it wouldn’t have been anybodies fault. The thought of putting an out of reach latch was an option, but not being able to exit an unsafe situation (fire or smoke) seems more dangerous than him doing that again.

    What did we do, teach him to use his tools. We taught him to push on the horn as loud as he can to get attention. Somebody will come at 2AM to help him.

    Nice website, I like the message. Cheers

  52. Beth June 6, 2014 at 2:14 pm #

    Well, I guess I’m in the running for Meanest Mom Ever, but if my kid “needs” me during the two minutes it takes to pay for gas, he can jolly well wait til I’m done.

  53. J.T. Wenting June 6, 2014 at 2:36 pm #

    And this happens…
    Someone sees a child alone in a car, calls emergency services. They arrive in force, break open the vehicle, child is ok.
    Parents had stepped out to buy something, come back about 10 minutes later to find their car with serious damage nobody is going to pay for, their child asleep in an ambulance as hot as their car had been or worse, and police standing around muttering apologies…

  54. no rest for the weary June 7, 2014 at 2:33 am #

    My partner went nuts on some lady in a parking lot yesterday because she’d left her Jack Russell dog in her car on a sunny, warm day with the windows cracked about a finger’s width. My partner says the dog was panting heavily, as if it had been running vigorously, and he was alarmed for the dog’s wellbeing. He ran into the market and told the lady at the till about the situation and she agreed it was alarming. When the woman came to her car, 15 minutes had gone by, my partner was getting ready to break the windows and had already called the police and the pound.

    I honestly don’t know what to think about this. I’m not a big fan of dogs anyway, but the first thought I had was, “It’s her dog, it wasn’t dead, and even if it were, leave it up to her to decide what to do with it.” But I know that’s not a popular sentiment.

    I guess because I had this issue on my mind, the one of kids (not in any real danger) in cars and people calling cops and threatening to break windows, I found the angst over the dog kind of over the top. My partner said, “It’s never okay to leave a dog in the car.” I asked for clarification, since I was doubting that this person’s own dog had never been in a car on its own, and I’d seen this person walk by many a car with a dog in it and not pay much notice. “When it’s a summer day! The dog was panting!! A car heats up in a few minutes!!”

    I asked again about the windows. I got the pinch-finger gesture to show how little they’d been cracked. “But the dog was conscious,” I said. “But it was panting. If it had been lying on the floor, I would have broken the windows.”

    I thought about these people who insist they’re protecting children when they call the police about kids in cars. I thought my partner overreacted, but I didn’t say so, lest I be labeled a callous and unfeeling sort. Still, it left a strange flavour in my soul. We’ve gotten pretty hysterical about everything, pets included.

  55. Amanda Matthews June 7, 2014 at 1:26 pm #

    What exactly is the danger of leaving a kid in the car with the ac going?

    I do it not to prevent abduction, but because the ac takes a few minutes to get cool again. So if I already have the ac on and I’m stopping somewhere for a couple of minutes, it’s much more efficient to leave the car running.

    Also, depending on where we are, the sound of the cars outside can be painful. I know that when I go to pick up my husband from work, if I have to wait a few minutes, rolling down the windows is very unpleasant because there is a very busy, high-speed road next to the parking lot (with a chain fence between them). Semis, trucks and cars are whizzing by and it hurts my ears so I would assume it hurts the kids’ ears too.

    @no rest for the weary
    IMO leaving dogs in the car is different from leaving kids in the car because pets can’t open the door nor ask for help. (Even a toddler too young to open the doors can cry out for help.) I have been confronted with that situation several times (a dog in a car on a day that seems too hot to do so) and I didn’t call the police – I waited a few minutes. The owner came back, and the dog was fine. If after say 15 minutes no one came back and it was obviously too hot for the dog to stay in the car any longer, I would go into the store and have them announce over the intercom that the person that left their dog really needs to come out there. If no one came after that or if the dog started showing any signs of distress (just panting isn’t enough) I would THEN call the police because the dog can’t say “Yes I’m getting too hot in here now and I can’t roll down the windows any more, please get my mom.” Which is to say, if it were a kid in the car and I were concerned I would simply ASK them if they were okay.

  56. Andy June 7, 2014 at 2:03 pm #

    Someone wrote another article about the same event:

    Spoiler: he seems to agree with Lenore Skenazy

  57. pentamom June 7, 2014 at 6:50 pm #

    “The car could not be unlocked from the inside without the car keys.”

    Whose IDIOTIC design idea was THAT? Unless you’re talking about a transport car for people in some kind of custody, cars should never EVER be designed so that a 14 year old can’t unlock them manually. Somebody thought this was a SAFETY feature?

  58. Tiny Tim June 8, 2014 at 12:53 pm #

    I think some parents do believe everybody wants to take their kids. Years ago, thinking I was doing a good deed (and repaying a favor), I bought some friends a dinner out and provided free babysitting for their 4(?) year old. They came back after dinner and told us about how they had a fantasy/fear that this was our grand plan to kidnap their kid. It was a joke, but not a joke, if that makes sense. This really occurred to them.

    Except perhaps when they have been with their extended family, this was the only time their child has had a babysitter (obviously there’s school etc.) The kid is now 10.

  59. katie June 8, 2014 at 3:43 pm #

    Here’s another interesting case of this. An accidental heat death of a child locked in a car occurred in the general area where I live. Of no surprise the mom who it occurred to was a helicopter mom who drove around a giant SUV. What happened? Well she forgot to drop the kid off at daycare and in the giant tank of hers the kid was so far back she just forgot about the child.

  60. Will June 9, 2014 at 1:11 am #

    So, I’m just going to leave this here, because it happened so long ago that the internet wasn’t a thing yet, and the information comes to me second hand from my wife.

    Back in the late 80s/early 90s, my wife worked as a babysitter. One summer, she was hired by a neighbor family to watch a son and daughter. Mother was extremely overbearing, and scheduled the children’s lives down to the minute, even going so far as to make the son balance the checkbook because it “builds life skills”, but then making my wife check his work and make him do it over and over until it’s correct. She hated working for this family, because the mother was basically what we now recognize as an extreme helicopter parent and tiger mom all rolled into one.

    Fast forward a couple years. My wife, heading to college, is reading a story about these kids in the paper. Apparently, they killed their mother. And then put her dead body in the garbage bin. I guess all those life skills and strict upbringing and constant watchfulness engendered lying (to their father and the police – they said she just abandoned them at first, though the daughter came clean under questioning), enough skill to plan to murder an adult, and the wherewithal to figure out how to hide a body (it was recovered at a dump a couple weeks later).

    This is a woman who would never leave her children in a parked car for a moment, I’m sure.

    So, please, for the love of your lives, let your children win an argument once in a while and leave them in a parked car. The life you save may be your own.

  61. Will June 9, 2014 at 1:23 am #

    Oh look! A follow up 10 years after the event . . . I had some details wrong. Sorry, internet!

    It was the son, not the daughter, and he merely confessed to finding her dead. They’re still suspects because they never found the body.

    I also followed up with my wife, but I’m not going to repeat what she had to say about what this woman would regularly tell her children.

  62. Mama Bear June 9, 2014 at 11:36 am #


    Leave your vehicle running so the A/C will also be running and your kid won’t overheat and die.

    Don’t your vehicle running because some thief could break in and steal it with your kid inside.

    Leave the windows down so your kid won’t overheat and die.

    Don’t leave the windows down because some opportunistic pedophile could happen by and suddenly decide to kidnap your kid.

    Conveniently leave your sleeping kid buckled in the car seat while you dash inside for a minute or two and risk some busybody calling the cops on you.

    Drag your kid inside with you and then when the meltdown occurs, people give you dirty looks and possibly snarky remarks for the noise being made. Surely if you were just a better parent the kid wouldn’t be throwing a tantrum.

    Being a parent today, is a case of you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

  63. Birch June 9, 2014 at 9:45 pm #

    I tell my kid not to talk to people when she’s in the car alone so that nobody will notice her and freak out.

  64. eli June 17, 2014 at 7:00 pm #

    I leave the windows up and car running because I fear someone will notice them and call 911.