Very interesting article if you have time


The topic of leaving kids in cars unattended has come up here many times before. This article is about how our moral attitudes toward parenting (e.g. "it is wrong to leave a child unattended in a car") will make us think that something is dangerous even if it is not.

Quote from the article to get you interested in case you're on the fence about whether or not to read it:

For example, eight times more children are killed in parking lots than in parked cars. But when a parent with a child in tow runs into the grocery store for a few minutes, he or she has to choose between allowing the child to wait in the car, which is safer but might get her arrested or jailed and/or her child taken away — and the more dangerous option of bringing the child with her because this is socially approved.


Ambassador - CPS Technician
I just read it, fascinating and not at all shocking! Thanks for sharing!

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New member
My neighbor's kids are often outside alone, riding their bikes around the block or just playing in their yard. At first I was shocked that their parents let them out of their sight, but then I remembered being their age and riding my bike farther than they go. Now it makes me smile to see them out by themselves!

Nedra Ambassador
I found this a very interesting article! I struggle with it, though, because I don't really know how to adjust my attitudes towards safety. I honestly have no idea how to judge relative danger/risk aside from intuition/paranoia. We all know that horrible things (like internal decapitation in a 2-year-old, for example) can be rare and yet preventable enough that "why would you risk it?" And we also know that some of the most rare events have the most horrible, life-ruining consequences. So I don't really feel comfortable judging the risk based on the frequency of occurrence....but I don't know how else to know whether my worries are legit.

I think it is interesting to consider the comparison to one's own upbringing. Without going into too many details, most of my "left alone" stories (or at least the memorable ones) have bad endings. I was groped by a stranger at the public library, chased by a guy when my sister and I were walking our dog...and overall I just never felt like I was safe in my own neighborhood.

I was listening to a David Sedaris story in which he described each of his sisters being approached by a pervert in a car masturbating. He said that all of them experienced this -- at different times and by different men. This was considered practically normal when they were growing up -- like a right of passage. I think this illustrates (1) that yes, criminal behavior is nothing new, and (2) that our attitudes about what is okay for a child to experience have changed dramatically -- and not necessarily in a way that is just paranoid. Do I think young girls shouldn't have to encounter a strange man asking for directions and then see him masturbating? Yes. I don't consider it a growing experience, it doesn't build character, it's just traumatizing. Having encountered these kinds of "minor" experiences and been profoundly affected by them, I wish my parents had been a little more "helicopter" -- it a not just being kidnapped and imprisoned in someone's basement for 10 years that we want to protect our kids from.

Okay, at the risk of totally rambling, I think part of it may also be due to shows like "law and order." I remember when my freshman year roommate didn't come home one night. I totally freaked out, thinking that something horrible had happened to her and imagining the scornful detectives saying, "she didn't come home and you, what, just didn't care to alert anyone?" In hindsight I feel ridiculous -- she just spent the night in her boyfriend's dorm -- but at the time I felt like I was supposed to be in charge of her safety. I think the prevalence of violent crime on TV makes those "rare" crimes seem even more threatening.

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New member
Excellent article, thanks for sharing!

There are times I would like to allow my 9 yr old to wait in the van (when it's not hot) if I were just going to be 10 minutes or less but don't because I could get arrested.


Those are valid points, Nedra, particularly that one's own experiences inevitably color our perception of what is safe. I didn't have any bad experiences where I wished for more "helecoptering," nor do I personally know of any, so that of course gives the two of us different perspectives.

Also agree that the prevalance of violent crime tv shows (and also more awareness of horrific but rare crimes/accidents on the internet/social media/etc) probably makes us think bad things are more likely than they really are.

I thought the "when taken to extremes" point about carting our kids around in wheelchairs to avoid injury was thought-provoking because it illustrates the fact that at some point, safety precautions can be more detrimental than beneficial. The tricky part is figuring out when that happens.

Recently I traveled with my baby but no other family and made the decision to leave her in a pack n play in the locked hotel room while I spent ~5 minutes taking my luggage to the car and grabbing breakfast (which I ate in the room) from the hotel lobby. I considered the options and determined that she was safer in the locked room by herself rather than being carried around while I hauled luggage through a hotel and across a parking lot, then got breakfast in a somewhat crowded lobby where people were walking around with hot food and coffee. But it was definitely one of those things where I hoped that no one found out because what if they thought I was being a terrible mother?

One more thing about the article - the stats about how dangerous people perceived a situation to be depending on the cause of the situation were just fascinating to me. Kids who have been left alone by dads who need to go to work being safer than the same kids left alone by moms who go to the gym... So crazy, the way we people think!

Oh, and one mre thing - the story of the teen soccer players not being permitted to arrive early and using the buddy system for bathroom trips was just crazy. Not because it is unusual, but because it is "normal"!

Anyway, I'm glad that some of you have enjoyed it. :)


Excellent article, thanks for sharing!

There are times I would like to allow my 9 yr old to wait in the van (when it's not hot) if I were just going to be 10 minutes or less but don't because I could get arrested.

Yes, I thought the part about criminalizing safe behavior was very interesting! As far as I have been able to find out, my state doesn't have specific laws regarding leaving kids alone in vehicles, but still I am hesitant to do so even when I feel like it is a very safe (sometimes safer than the alternative) decision.

Nedra Ambassador
It reminds me of this situation that happened last summer. I was driving down my own block and I saw a child -- maybe 4 or 5 years old -- standing on top of the roof of a Honda Odyssey that was parked on-street. It totally freaked me out and I veered over to the other side of the street as much as possible and slowed way down -- I was pretty scared this kid was going to fall off the van and right in front of my car.

Anyway, I kind of think that standing atop a van that is parked on street is pretty dangerous -- objectively. But when I think back on it now, there are a lot of details that I keep in my memory that might indicate some moral judgement of the situation.

1. The mother was in the front yard, but wasn't watching the situation at all.

2. The mother was 8-9 months pregnant and mowing the lawn on a hot day. (Somehow this sticks out in my memory and I wonder if it's similar to the moral judgements that the folks in that study made about women who were working as doing something "unnecessary." I am not the lawn-mower in my family -- and I tend to avoid the heat when I am pregnant because I tend to faint ...does this mean that I implicitly judge this mom's behavior as irresponsible when I evaluate the safety of her daughter atop the van?)

3. On a separate occasion, the dad of this same family had told me that the (very) expired car seats he was getting rid of were "perfectly good" when I asked if I could take them to the BRU trade-in.

Anyway, I keep replaying that incident of seeing the girl on top of the van in my head and every time I do, I recall those other details -- the ones that add additional moral judgement to the situation. I just thought it was interesting in light of this article.

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Well-known member
Thanks for posting this!

I generally think that choices driven by fear tend to be misguided, which is what much of helicopter-parenting is. That said, I have (just like everyone else) irrational fears and worries for my kids that I have a hard time reconciling. I try really, really hard to give my kids space to fall and fail on a regular basis despite my fears. My mom was a helicopter parent so I'm trying to give my kids a bit more breathing room. So far, my oldest isn't big on being left alone so we don't have to test my anxiety on that front very often.

I also find it's a matter of perspective. I know far too many moms who regularly joke about driving drunk. I hope they are kidding but I think there lies a grain of truth in their jokes. I know many folks who drive around medicated in a way that would likely get them arrested or charged with DUI. I find that behavior to statistically be far riskier than leaving a 9 year old home alone for an hour or playing in the park with minimal or no parental supervision.


New member
When I'm taking risks with my kids' safety I try to weigh the risk against the benefit of the experience for the child.

Is waiting in the car for 10 minutes on a cool day while I go into the bank going to benefit my child? No, probably not. I can't think of any benefit that experience would give my child, except maybe a lesson in patience.

Is allowing my child to use the men's public bathroom at the mall alone going to benefit him? Yes, it will (hopefully) teach him some independence and give him confidence. In that instance I am willing to take a perceived risk because I judge the benefit to my child to be greater than the risk.

As a law enforcement family, this is a really hard area for us. We've seen some terrible, terrible things happen. We know first hand how many bad guys are out there and what they are capable of. It's hard not to be paranoid. But I really, really try not to let that paranoia get in the way of my kids' experiencing things.


Allie, did you read the article? One of the main points is that sometimes what we think is dangerous (e.g. leaving a kid in a car for a few minutes) is less dangerous than the alternative. So it's more like, we need to do a risk-risk analysis without knowing how risky the alternatives really are. Risks to taking the kid into the bank include him running into the road or parking lot and getting hit by a car, the bank being held up and him being shot or held hostage, a neighborhood dog escaping his yard and attacking, etc. All of these things are rare, but it is also rare for a child to come to any harm when locked in a car for a few minutes when weather/heat is not a factor.

Suza, interesting to hear from someone who was helecoptered, so to speak, whereas most in our generation don't have that perspective. And the "drunk driving" jokes are just scary!


Well-known member
Suza, interesting to hear from someone who was helecoptered, so to speak, whereas most in our generation don't have that perspective. And the "drunk driving" jokes are just scary!

I am adopted and an only child (my mom wanted a large family), which I think made my mom exceptionally protective of me. On the flip side, both my parents were extremely career driven and I was virtually raised by nannies from 3-12 years old. I've almost gone in the opposite direction with my kids because I think it created a lot of perceived instability in my childhood, despite my understanding as a parent now that it wasn't the intent. Don't get me wrong - my parents did a lot of things right, but sheltering/helicoptering me wasn't one of them!

The drunk driving thing makes me crazy. Some of these women are very close friends of mine and yet I won't allow them to drive my children anywhere due to these comments. And while DH and I like a drink, I hate either of us drunk. It's just not fun and so it's never an option no matter whether we're home or out. We have recently begun offering to be DDs for these friends so that they don't end up killing someone. It's still a little awkward, though :(


Just saw this article today - completely relevant to the original! Yikes!

baby left unattended 4 minutes
This is what resonates with me:
"Honestly, my decision has little to do with being afraid for their safety, because I don’t really believe the risk is real in that situation. I choose not to step away from children in most public places because I am afraid that some random vigilante will call the police on me or take matters into their own hands."

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Well-known member
From a safety perspective I'd be more concerned with the car seat falling. But I certainly would not be videoing, questioning, calling CPS or anything like that. Sheesh.


Active member
A few years ago I faced a decision of this type. Dd was in public school not far from our house, and I had offered to pick up her two friends from school one day per week to drive them to dance class with my dd. This involved walking a few houses down the street and then crossing a street with all of the parent pick up car traffic and then walking back. My options were to take my dd with me, dragging her along in traffic and then having three kids to watch/hold onto coming back or leave my dd in my locked house that I could see the entire time and only have two kids to get through the cars. After a while I started leaving my dd at home, but was concerned that the teachers who knew my dd was now being homeschooled would question where she was and why she wasn't with me, and could possibly cause trouble for me. Luckily nothing bad came of it.


New member
I don't think there was anything really wrong with leaving the baby in the booth. Not knowing the size of the buffet or whatever it's hard to say for sure but we go to the buffet at a nearby casino and I wouldn't leave my purse in the booth to go get food let alone my baby. It's kind of big so where you're sitting won't be in full sight all the time. Why they couldn't just take turns going up is beyond me.
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Nedra Ambassador
I don't think there was anything really wrong with leaving the baby in the booth. Not know the size of the buffet or whatever it's hard to say for sure but we go to the buffet at a nearby casino and I wouldn't leave my purse in the booth to go get food let alone my baby. It's kind of big so where you're sitting won't be in full sight all the time. Why they couldn't just take turns going up is beyond me.

While I would take turns as well, I don't see why they should have to. If it had just been one parent they certainly wouldn't have a choice. I have been on my own to plenty of small buffets (usually in small, nearly-empty Indian restaurants at lunch time) where I would feel perfectly fine leaving my baby to go fill my plate. But instead I push the stroller ahead of me, stopping every foot to dish up. It's ridiculous, but it's stuff like this that makes me feel like I would be a bad parent if I left her alone.

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