Free-Range Kids

Mother Shamed for Leaving Kid in Car, 10 Feet Away, in Front of Store Window

Paranoia vs. parenting.

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Kids
Dreamstime

This video was shot by a young man named Carl Paz who went into a Sprint store in Torrance, California, to confront the woman who let a baby wait in a car parked right outside the store's plate glass window.

As Paz wrote on his Facebook page:

Walk by a Sprint Retail store and spot a baby, alone in a car, while its 82 degrees outside. No shade, no A/C…nothing. And the mother has the nerve to have this attitude. No concern for her child's well being until attention is called towards it. I wanna make this somewhat viral, to spread awareness. If you see something, say something. This ISNT right. Share this if youd like. P.S. sorry for the shitty angle, im six foot five lol#badparenting #stupid

Paz barged into the store and demanded to know which customer had left a baby in the car. A mom admitted right away that the baby was hers. In response, Paz told her, "As a good parent, I would go out and look on my baby."

The mother replied that this was precisely why she had parked right outside the front window, where she could see the baby. "There's nothing wrong with my kid being right there," she said.

"In your sense, maybe there's nothing wrong," Paz responded.

We've all been trained to judge parents mercilessly and assume the worst. But the mom is right. There is nothing wrong with a child waiting a few minutes in a car.

Yes, I know we have been exhorted to believe every child in every parked car, even 10 feet from a parent, is in immediate danger of heat stroke or kidnapping. But in fact, the most dangerous thing the mom did that day was drive her child at all. Kids are in more danger in moving cars than parked ones, and yet we don't make viral videos every time a mom takes her kid to the mall.

We go crazy when we've been told to go crazy, and lately we've been told to go crazy when a kid is waiting in a car, no matter what the circumstances are. Paz even parrots the line, "If you see something, say something"—a mantra that implies we are in such constant danger, we must be on the lookout at all times.

Fact: Of the 30-40 children who die in parked cars each year, 80 percent were either forgotten and left by mistake or got in without anyone knowing and could not get out. They are found too late. That leaves about 10 children a year who die in cars under circumstances we can't quite explain.

As for the odds of this child being in true danger, here's the math I did for an essay at Cato Unbound, discussing a year in which 31 children died in cars (and for this I included all 31):

So, if there are 40,000,000 children under age 10 in America (and there are), and if they take an average of, let's say, 10 car rides a week, we are talking about 20,800,000,000—that's more than 20 trillion billion—kid car rides a year. And 1 in every 670,967,742 of those errands could prove fatal—that's 0.000000149% of them. Should we really be regulating parental choice based on percentages like these?

No. And by the way: more kids die in parking lots than in parked cars. (See this piece.)

What I appreciate about Paz is that he did not call the cops, because he knew that this could easily bring on a Child Protective Services investigation, and the family could be traumatized.

On the other hand, he posted the video and included the licence plate. Now the police are indeed looking into the matter. Meanwhile, on Facebook, strangers are calling the mom a "bitch" and "crackhead"—which would make most of our own moms bitches and crackheads, too, because most of us waited out some errands in the car.

Here are two things that would actually make all kids safer:

  • When you put your child in the backseat, put your phone there, too. That way you won't forget your child—you will notice that you don't have your phone with you. You may not notice you don't have your child with you if you get to work, the child has fallen asleep in the back, and you go about your day. Especially if normally you are not in charge of dropping off the child. The missing phone helps avoid this mistake.
  • When you're running an errand and it's hot, roll down the windows. Our parents did that back when the crime rate was higher than it is today.

Unfortunately, the law in California is draconian. (As many laws are, when they are named after a child who died.) Larry Altman at The Daily Breeze reports:

Kaitlyn's Law, signed by Gov. Gray Davis in 2001, makes it illegal to leave a child unattended in a motor vehicle. The law was named for Kaitlyn Russell, a 6-month-old who died in Riverside County in 2000 after a caregiver left her alone in a car for more than two hours on a 100-degree day.

Two hours in 100 degrees? That's very different from the situation at a Sprint store on Monday.

I wish the mom well, even as she is raked over the coals for doing something so innocuous.