I know that we hear a lot of horror stories about children who die from heat exhaustion, or are kidnapped while left in a car. There was recently an episode of What Would You Do? where they set up the scenario of a baby left in a car with the windows up on a hot day. The “baby” was a decoy, of course, but it was programmed to cry so people would hear it. I watched the episode in outrage at how many people walked by without interfering. Some ignored it, but there were plenty of people who noticed and were disturbed, but still did nothing.
I am a concerned citizen, and I believe we should all look out for children, whether we know them or not, but here’s my question: Where do we draw the line? When are we doing our part, and when are we meddling or overreacting?
I was hesitant to share this publicly for fear of being judged or attacked, but now I’ve decided that I want to speak up about it. I left my kids in the car the other day, as I regularly do (or should I say did), so that I could run into the grocery store for a few things. We were on our way home from a day of swimming at the lake, and Oliver (my almost 4 yr old) was sound asleep in his car seat. Max (my 10.5 yr old) was shirtless and exhausted, and had no interest in going in.
I was gone only 10 minutes, and on my way to the check out when I was called over the loud speaker to the parking lot. To make a long story short, a woman had gone to her car, saw my kids, waited 5 minutes (or possibly less), and called the police. The police had us out there in the parking lot for an hour or so while they decided if I should go to jail or not. They had me wake Oliver up so a medic could look him over to make sure he wasn’t injured or on drugs (like if I had given him something to make him sleep). That part really sucked, ’cause he was so exhausted. He would have slept through the night, and he needed every bit of it. Instead, he ended up staying awake until nearly 2 am after his little car nap. That, more than anything else, made me feel violated.
I knew it was illegal to leave a helpless child in the car alone, but I didn’t know it was illegal to leave my 4 yr old with my 10.5 yr old for 10 minutes. It’s legal in the state of Kansas (where I was investigated) to leave my 10 yr old home alone, or allow him to babysit, so why could I have been arrested for leaving them in the car? Why was I treated like a negligent parent? I’m not sure the law makes sense.
My son is responsible for his age. He knows not to touch the emergency brake (though I’m not sure he could disengage it if he tried), and that if he did touch it the car would roll and crash. He doesn’t want that to happen. He knows not to mess with the keys. The car was running with the air conditioner on. He knows that if the car were to die, he would need to roll the windows down, or open the doors so that he and his brother would not get overheated. We have discussed many possible scenarios, and I know him. I know he can handle it for 10 minutes. I’ve never left them in the car longer than that.
I felt like I was making an educated parenting decision, not simply neglecting my children. I do not consider the car a babysitter. We’re talking 10 minutes in the grocery store with my 10 yr old in the car. I wasn’t shopping at the mall. And you know, I would call the police if I saw kids locked in a car on a hot day with the windows up, especially if they were little. Their lives would be in immediate danger, and that would be the right thing to do. I understand this woman’s concern, but I don’t feel my kid’s lives were in danger. I understand it’s illegal, and I won’t do it again for that reason, but that’s where I’m coming from.
I’m taking a deep breath, and preparing myself for whatever judgment may come. I want to hear your opinions either way. Do you think you would have reacted the way this woman did? Do you think she did the right thing or that she should have handled it differently? Do you think you should have a right, within reason, to make the decision about whether or not to leave your kids in the car for brief periods of time? Did you know that in England, it is illegal to leave a child under the age of 15 home alone or allow them to babysit? What is the law in your state? Do you support the law as is? Where do you think the line should be drawn in the eyes of the law? Do you feel like your rights are violated because of the law?
A friend shared the website www.SafeKids.org where you can look up the laws in your area.
I’d love to hear your thoughts.