Free-Range Kids

Thief Steals Woman's Car, Drives Off with Her Kids in Backseat. Cops Charge Woman with Abuse.

Punish the criminal and only the criminal



A New Jersey mom is facing child neglect charges for leaving her kids, ages 8 and 10, in the car while she ran an errand.

While she was shopping, a man hopped into the SUV, which was still running, and drove off with the kids. After realizing there were kids in the vehicle, he crashed the thing. Everyone ended up bruised but okay. The carjacker was subsequently arrested and charged.

Mom was, too.

The nature of her errand might have had something to do with that: She left her kids in the car, while she stopped in a liquor store, at night.

But there's no evidence she was going to drink and drive. Even good parents (some of the best) buy liquor. And there's no reason to think that eight and 10-year-olds can't handle themselves, except in the rarest of rare situations. Granted, a carjacking is one of those rare situations. But we are allowed to consult real-world odds when making our parenting decisions.

Just because this errand ended up crazy—a car heist, a crash—doesn't mean parents should be expected to dream up this kind of worst-case scenario before they make the safe but never perfectly safe decision to leave their kids unsupervised for a short time. We get the idea that kids are never safe unsupervised precisely because this is the kind of story that makes the news. We never see the boring stories of millions of kids waiting in millions of cars until mom comes back and life goes on, unremarkably.

Punishing the mom is wrong. Punish the actual criminal!