Posted: 2:28 am Friday, June 20th, 2014

Is it ever OK to choose to leave kids in a car? 

By Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

Yesterday we talked about the terrible tragedy of the father charged with murder because he allegedly accidentally left his 22-month-old in the car all day while he was work and the child died. But the question for today is: Is it ever OK to knowingly choose to leave your kids in a car?

After the story about the 22-month-old dying broke, a friend posted a story on Facebook about a mom who was arrested for leaving by choice her 4- year-old in the car to run into a store. The story is very long because her ensuing legal battles took years so click and read the link for the full story. I can only pull a few paragraphs.

From Salon.com

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

“He didn’t die. He wasn’t kidnapped or assaulted or forgotten or dragged across state lines by a carjacker. When I returned to the car, he was still playing his game, smiling, or more likely smirking at having gotten what he wanted from his spineless mama. I tossed the headphones onto the passenger seat and put the keys in the ignition….

“I’d never been charged with a crime before, so the weeks that followed were pure improvisation. I hired a lawyer to talk to the police on my behalf. I sought advice and support from those I loved and trusted. I tried to stay calm. My lawyer told me he’d had a productive conversation with the officer involved, that he’d explained I was a loving and responsible mother who’d had a “lapse in judgment,” and that it seemed quite possible charges would not be pressed. For a while, it looked like he was right. But nine months later, a few minutes after dropping my kids off at school, I was walking to a coffee shop when my cellphone rang. Another officer asked if I was Kim Brooks and if I was aware there was a warrant out for my arrest….”

In this case a bystander videotaped the child being left alone and called the police.

“I picture this concerned someone standing beside my car, inches from my child, holding a phone to the window, recording him as he played his game on the iPad. I imagined the person backing away as I came out of the store, watching me return to the car, recording it all, not stopping me, not saying anything, but standing there and dialing 911 as I drove away. Bye now. At this point, almost a year had passed since it happened. I could hear my lawyer shuffling papers. I looked down and saw that my hands were shaking. My hands were shaking, but unlike before, I wasn’t afraid. I was enraged.”

So in this case the state didn’t pass a law that essentially would have made leaving the child in the car a ticket – a fine of $100. Instead they left it as a gray area called “contributing to the delinquency of a minor.”

I have no idea what the specific law is in Atlanta or here in Phoenix? Can it differ from county to county or city to city? Does Decatur have a different standard than Atlanta or Alpharetta? Does it involve an age qualification?

If temperature isn’t a factor, can I as a parent make the choice that I think it’s safe for my 11-year-old and 13-year-old to sit in a car while I run into a store? Can I choose to say that it’s safe for 13-year top watch my 7-year-old in the car while I run in? (If I can let her watch her at home, why not in a car?) (These are all hypothetical.)

Is it OK to leave a kid in the car to drop off your movie in the Red Box when it is outside of the Circle K or the Walgreens? Is it OK to run the movie in? Is it OK to grab pizza from a Little Ceasars where it’s a glass front and you can see the vehicle?

Where is the line that it’s not OK – it it’s deep into a grocery store where you don’t have a visual on the car? If you’re inside the store, is that not OK?

How does age and ability to get out of the car affect your decision making and defense as a parent? Is it OK to choose to leave your child, if they are physically able (meaning not locked in carseat) and know how to open the door?

Where is the line in your ability as a parent to make a choice that they are safe to walk to the park, to a store, to wait for you out front of a store, to wait for you by the car or in the car?

When did all this change? The author of the Salon piece talks about our parents letting us run around unsupervised, wait in cars, walk to stores? When did it become not OK and in fact could get you arrested?

31 comments
WasDenise
WasDenise

There are a lot of thoughtful comments on this thread and they have really made me think.  As most know I am not married nor do I have children of my own but I do have nieces and nephews, age 6 to 19.  I wouldn't be concerned about leaving the 16 year old in the car if I had to run in the store; probably not the 13 year old, if it was definitely just a quick run in run out.  The 10 year old and the 6 year old are definitely coming in to the store/building.  As for dropping something in the redbox outside the store, I would probably not make anyone get out of the car; if it was inside, get out of the car.  I guess my concern would be if there was a door between me and them.  If I couldn't put my eyes on them immediately then I would be concerned and probably would not leave them in the car.


I'm a little concerned with the fact that people automatically assume neglect and call the cops.  What happened to being neighborly and waiting on the parent/guardian to get out of the store or back to the car to say something rather than call the cops and walk off?  My thought is that if you feel so strongly as to call the cops, you should be able to face the person you are accusing.  I'm not talking about the baby you see in the hot car; I'm talking about the kid in the car front of Walgreens.  Of course the baby in the hot car scenario requires the quickest 911 call and maybe even a broken window to see if you can get the kid out (if the kid is obviously alive).  I don't know.  I just feel like we pass judgment so much but aren't willing to be helpful (i.e. stand by the car until the parent comes back).

BrowningGlory
BrowningGlory

First of all, Salon dot com is a sensationalized tabloid website. Everyone has a story to tell, and most of the time it is either over exaggerated or the devil is in the details that are left out. Most of what is out on the web for public consumption is highly inaccurate information.

I am of the belief that no child under the legal driving age should be left in a car alone. Automobiles are not safety zones for children. They are used for transporting people from place to place. People freak out if their overly distracting smart phone is not attached to their body, so why is a human being not as important to safeguard?

There are instances where people are falsely charged, just as there are examples where crimes are committed and no one is held accountable. The police and DA are doing their JOB. Will these same openly vigilant supporters of the father be willing to admit they were wrong for their stance against law enforcement if overwhelming evidence of his gross negligence is discovered? I highly doubt it. Most people have emotion based, knee jerk reactions that are not based on facts. If the court of public opinion is so out of whack, why do we act surprised when a real jury doesn't give us the so called justice we want?

iRun
iRun

 Young enough to be in a car seat?  No.  Maybe if it's hopping out of an engine-off car to drop a movie in the slot (they still had that when my son was in a car seat), or something similar.


Old enough to be out of a car seat but can't be trusted to cross a street by themselves?  Same as above.


Old enough to cross the street by themselves/walk to school?  Yes, with a reminder that they should not open the door for anyone but mom/dad and if they get hot they should come into the store and sit on the bench by the door.


Around age 10? Sure.  By 10 they should be able to get out the car and find their way home, if need be.


My son was somewhere around 7 or 8 when I felt comfortable leaving him in the car.  That's also the age he started walking to school (half mile).  By 10 he was biking to friends houses in other neighborhoods.  Now that he's 13 he pretty much navigates himself around town by bike and can find his way home from nearly anywhere in the city.


I'm sure some of you will be shocked but each kid is different and he was definitely able to handle these situations.  Perhaps living in the city has made it easier for us to allow him to grow that independence.  It's hard to walk to school if the road between your house and school is a highway.  It's easy when it's a tree-lined residential city street with a posted speed limit of 25mph, sidewalks and crosswalks, and a crossing guard on the busiest street.


We made a decision not to worry about stranger danger, since the statistics show it's extremely rare, that most kids are hurt by their parents/guardians.  The biggest dangers to him was/is himself and not being aware of the environment.  But age/maturity and constant reminding from us got us past that.


I dunno.  I think hard and fast rules for raising children are a bad idea.  You know your kid, hopefully.

PrimeMinisterIV
PrimeMinisterIV

My history:  I did not leave my children in the car before they were tweens, i.e. 12yo, and even then it was extremely rare.  IMO, it is never acceptable to leave a child (under 12) in a car.  It's best to err on the side of caution.  The time it takes to get a small child/baby out of the car or the time it takes an older child to walk is  nothing compared to the lifetime of living with a tragedy should something happen to the child.  I'm never in that big of a hurry or that inconvenienced to make my child's safety a priority.


Given my history...


Is it OK to leave a kid in the car to drop off your movie in the Red Box when it is outside of the Circle K or the Walgreens?  NO


Is it OK to run the movie in? NO


Is it OK to grab pizza from a Little Ceasars where it’s a glass front and you can see the vehicle?  NO

anothercomment
anothercomment

Six years ago, my stupid ex husband decided to drop my 8 year old daughter off 1 hour early from her Saturday visit. At 4:00 instead of 5:00. He did not bother to call me or anything. Merely leaves an 8 year old girl locked out of a very partially built out subdivision ( less than 8 occupied houses at the time). My front house was at that time visible from a major cut through road. It was a very hot summer day. I arrived home about ten minutes before the drop off time. She is standing in the front yard all wet with the hose on water the yard. I ask where is your father, oh he decided he had something else to do and he dropped me off about an hour ago. I got bored so I started water the yard. I could tell by the amount of water on the yard she had been their awhile. I called the Cobb county police. When the officer came, he said their was nothing he could do. I said what. I have a custody agreement that says she is his responsibility until 5:00 on Saturday' s, she is 8, she is locked out of the house and he dropped her off about an hour ago. He tells me that their was no specific age on unsupervised minor. I told him that when I worked a children's clothing sale another Cobb officer was telling us mothers it was 12. We had had a debate on 11-12 year olds because many of us now in our 40s and 50s had babysat at 11. He said well at like 3 it is clear they can't take care of themselves. The officer said she turned on the water,,she got herself a drink when she was hot. I said she had no bathroom, she had no food, and someone could have stolen an 8 year old girl. I found it unbelievable.

I simply told my idiot ex husband that move was showing along with his lack of paying child support that he was selfish he was. He didn't deserve to have our daughter after that stunt, he could take me to court, a judge might see differently than a young cop on an eight year old being left alone.

rotagilla
rotagilla

Definitely not, if they are young enough to be in a car seat. They are helpless and cannot do anything to escape if anything happens. While I feel for the father and what he must live with, he was a serious lapse that caused a death of his child. Maybe not murder, but at least manslaughter should be charged. That was a mistake that should never happen and if it does, there are no excuses.

karmabottle
karmabottle

I'll say this: if they are too young to express that they are in distress and why, then they are too young to leave in the car. I don't just mean yelling or crying if they are scared, I mean actually being able to communicate distress in circumstances ranging from an unwanted stranger approaching the car to being hot, cold, scared, sick, or seeing something disturbing. If they can't do those actions, they are too young to leave unsupervised. 


Geez, you only get one shot in this lifetime. You can't replace them if something preventable happens to them. You can't make it up or apologize to them enough if you've put them in a bad or dangerous situation. I can't think of anything a person needs to do badly enough to take that risk. 


That mom in the story who related her reason for leaving her 4 year-old in the car (Headphones? Really?) doesn't earn my sympathy. On no planet, at no time, does a quiet shopping experience trump a 4 year-old's safety. A child throwing a tantrum? That's a child management issue that mom needs to deal with; it's not an acceptable excuse. 

K's Mom
K's Mom

I have little boys who are still in car seats.  We live in a small town in Alabama.  I occasionally will leave them in the car to go pick up take out, if I can stand in the door way of the restaurant and see both of them.  It is always a judgement call.  I always leave the car running and lock the doors.  To me it is generally safer to do that than to juggle to hands and food in a parking lot.  Neither of my kids bolt and my 4yo gets that parking lots can be dangerous, but I can still see a million ways that they can get run over if my hands are full.  All of that said, it is AMAZING how many restaurant owners will bring food to your car, run in with your credit card, and come back out for a signature if you explain the situation.  My husband travels and I work from home and some days take out is our best option for a meal!

Annoyme
Annoyme

Case by case call depending on circumstances. Age, location, weather, amount of time would play a part in decision. Logic and gut feeling helps. Parent or caretaker has to live with decision.

mom2alex@max
mom2alex@max

I am not prepared to make any hard and fast "rules" regarding this. I think every situation is a judgement call.


Vanilla212
Vanilla212

If your child is not old enough and responsible enough to be left at home alone for a short time, it's probably not a good idea to leave the child unattended in the car.

Back in the old days when I was a kid, my parents often left my sister and me in the car on quick shopping trips. Nothing bad ever happened to us, thankfully, and no one who walked past the car seemed concerned that two elementary-age girls were left alone. That's just how it was then.

Now, though, I can't imagine leaving my children alone in a parking lot like that. They are good kids -- much more responsible than my sister and I were at that age -- so it's not that I don't trust them to behave for five minutes out of my sight. The reason I won't leave them alone is because I don't trust other people. There are too many crazies out there who are looking for opportunities to harm kids. Even if I felt reasonably sure they would be safe, I still wouldn't leave them alone because some well-meaning person would likely notice them and call the police to report it.

RichardKPE
RichardKPE

Based on how our society passes some of our laws to maintain "safety" it's a wonder I didn't die by the time I was 5-years-old.

April-01
April-01

When my oldest was 12 I began leaving my kids in the car for short periods of time - weather permitting. Of course I gave instructions about staying in the car unless there was an emergency and not opening the door for anyone but me. This is the same talk I gave before leaving them home alone. My oldest also had a cell phone and instructions to call immediately if anything made her nervous.


Leaving a toddler alone in the car is never ok. I won't say I never considered it, but I always concluded that the risks outweighed the benefits.


I was once shopping and parked in a very busy parking lot - several stores and a movie theater shared the lot. I came out to find a child of perhaps five wandering the parking lot. He said his baby brother had dropped his sippy cup out of the truck window and it had rolled away. He found it and got back in the truck. There were three children, a small toddler, the five year old, and a child of about seven, in the truck with the windows rolled down. I watched them for several minutes from my car and then called the police. After the police came, I watched for another 15 minutes, and the parents had still not appeared. I have always wondered what happened in that case. Those kids could have been run over or harmed in many other ways. And those parents were not gone for a "few minutes" and there was not way they could see the kids from any of the stores surrounding the lot.

TheOldMan
TheOldMan

It depends on the age of the child and what you mean by "leave".  I would say you are probably safe from a legal standpoint if the oldest child in the car is 12.


When and why this changed is interesting.  Being an old man, I grew up in a time when children over about age 8 were basically unsupervised.  We rode bikes all over town, went to stores and the movies, played in parks, the neighborhood, the schoolyard and so forth.  Over time, the perception that bad things could happen to children increased.  It became socially acceptable to be "entertained" by subjects such as child molestation, psychotic killers, and other criminal activity and they moved into the mass media.  In the 1960s the establishment became fearful of the "hippie" movement, recreational drugs and other intergenerational conflict, and again that played out in the mass media.  This and other things such as class and race warfare, again played out in the media, led to the perception that our society was not safe.  Politicians pander to this fear, laws are passed, and we get to the current state.  Are we any safer?  Are there hidden consequences to raising generations of children who can't simply go out and play with their friends without adult supervision and organization?  I'll let the sociologists figure that out, but I think we have lost something.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Pretty much, no.  Never.  Unless you are standing with some part of your body touching the car.


Now, I don't count as "kid" the 16 year old.  But, under that, no.

RealKat
RealKat

The answer is that "It depends. Always." Madeline McCann's parents left her in a hotel room at the age of four with even younger siblings. Stupid in any circumstance. I've seen parents leave kids of all ages in cars. I never said anything if the kid seemed fine. The woman who left her kid in the car to go to a job interview got funding for her legal fees online. Who's to say? When something tragic happens, then everyone has an opinion.

thekimmer
thekimmer

I think there are times when it is indeed OK to leave kids in the car.   The particulars of which certainly depend on their age and the circumstances.  I also think that common sense should be used by both parents and by law enforcement.  When I grew up in the 60s and 70s it was common to leave kids in the car while the parent ran into a store or whatever.  There wasn't any chance of leaving a baby in a car seat because there wasn't any such thing.  I am sure accidents happened even back then but you just didn't hear about them with a newspaper and 30 minutes of news on one of the 2 or 3 TV channels.  Today we have the internet, 300 channels on TV and news bombarding us 24/7. 


Regarding the case in cobb county, I think the DA should be ashamed of himself for what he is doing to that family.  This was a tragic accident.  The man would not be getting away with anything.  He accidentally caused the death of his child and will have to live with that anguish for the rest of his life.  At the very least the DA should have waited for some period of time before filing charges so this family could deal with this and bury their child without his father in shackles and a jumpsuit.  Shame on you Vic Reynolds! Shame on you!

ReallyTired
ReallyTired

I think it depends on the age. I think it is perfectly fine to leave teenagers (13yo) in the car by themselves to run into the store. I think kids 8 and above can be left in the car for short amounts of time (depending on how hot it is) by themselves. What I don't believe should happen, is someone leaving a child that can't get out if it gets to hot in a car by themselves or one that isn't old enough to make the decision to get out because it gets too hot. THAT is where it goes all wrong. ANY kid left in a car should know how to get out by themselves. On extremely hot days, NO ONE should be left in the car even if you leave it running cause then you're just asking for thieves to take it.

Rory_Bellows
Rory_Bellows

I think it is fine to leave your kids in the car so I don't have to deal with them in the store or restaurant.

motherjanegoose1
motherjanegoose1

1987 Corpus Christi Texas:  I was heading to pick my husband up at the airport since he was returning from a Naval Reserve Weekend.  There were no cell phones back then, no GPS and we did not even have keys with a clicker.  It was pouring down rain, a springtime shower,  and I was lost.  I pulled into a little gas station off of of the road I was on and left my son ( who was asleep) in the car. No other cars in site.   I looked at him every 30 seconds.  He never woke up, as the kind man told me where I needed to go.  I was back in the car in 5 minutes.  


I am guilty of leaving my child in the car.  That was over 25 years ago.  He came over for dinner last night and we talked about what recently happened.  


My Father left us in the car in downtown Chicago, in the 1960's.  He had to go up into a building with an elevator ( that is all I remember).  We were so scared that we layed on the floorboard.  He was gone for about 15 minutes.  


I also remember being left ( with my younger sister) at a campground with my parents friend's kids.  I was 13 or 14. They had 4 kids under 10.  The adults wanted to go to dinner.  I look back on that and think REALLY?  We had NO way to communicate with them and we did not know the neighbors around us.  Just two RVs with kids.  


BTW...I was told that someone in our neighborhood left their 3 kids in a hotel room while they went out for a few drinks and dinner, after a baseball tournament.  That was more than ten minutes and about 8 years ago when the kids were all under 10.  I know I would never to that.  

TheOldMan
TheOldMan

@karmabottle  I just read the Slate article.  Its eye-rolling.  "Come in the store or you don't get headphones.  Throw a tantrum and you don't get headphones.  No headphones equals no electronic entertainment on the airplane.  You can have a coloring book.  Choose wisely."

RealKat
RealKat

@K's Mom Or you could remember that children eat food every day and plan better?

karmabottle
karmabottle

@April-01 My boyfriend and I once called the cops to come to a parking lot where a parent had left a 1 year old in a carseat, at night, in the winter inside a car. We waited until the cop came and then left. I felt so sorry for that kid. 

Rory_Bellows
Rory_Bellows

@April-01 I tell you what happened, I enjoyed a movie and dinner without the annoyance of noisy children!

DawgNole
DawgNole

@thekimmer

Authorities are dropping dark hints that there may be more to this case than meets the eye, but they're not providing details at this point.

rotagilla
rotagilla

Definitely not, if they are young enough to be in a car seat. They are helpless and cannot do anything to escape if anything happens. While I feel for the father and what he must live with, he was a serious lapse that caused a death of his child. Maybe not murder, but at least manslaughter should be charged. That was a mistake that should never happen and if it does, there are no excuses.

K's Mom
K's Mom

@RealKat , really?  Have you ever worked from home with a 2yo and a 4yo under foot? Sometimes we need to escape the house for a few minutes or I have a phone call that runs long and dinner prep gets delayed.  My kids eat more home cooked meals than most and your attitude is ridiculous.

RealKat
RealKat

@K's Mom @RealKat Yes, I have. But, with THREE kids. And, I and my kids eat every day. Your attitude (boohoo - I just find it easier to do things my own way - waaah) is what is ridiculous. Escape the house, phone call runs long - poor excuses all of them.