Free-Range Kids

Good Morning America Shouldn't Encourage Parents to Worry All the Time

When we overestimate danger, we treat everyone like they are fragile and in need of supervision.


ABC News

Good Morning America did a follow-up story on The New York Times piece about Kim Brooks, who was arrested for letting her son wait in the car for five minutes.

In her piece, Brooks explored why we seem so determined to harass parents for leaving their kids in a statistically very safe situation. (How safe? Far safer than the kids were while getting driven to the store.)

Unfortunately, Good Morning America may have encouraged people to reach for their pitchforks. For the final word on this story, it turned to its expert, ABC News Senior Legal Correspondent and former Federal Prosecutor Sunny Hostin.

Hostin recalled a time she had accidentally left her child in the car for two minutes and felt terrible, which is understandable. She meant to take the kid but forgot. (Which is one reason a "never leave your kids in the car" law is pointless: the forgetters don't realize they have left their kids in the car). But from this she concludes:

Listen, I don't think you can be too nosy when it comes to little kids. I think we are a village…. Err on the side of protecting your child.

To which the host replies:

Correct, because that's the intention of anyone who's getting involved typically is to protect your child.

But of course, forgetting your kid in the car isn't the topic of debate here. Making an informed judgment is.

We should not err on the side of protecting the child in cases where the children don't need protecting—like when a parent knows they're running a short errand and deliberately decides to let the kid wait briefly in a car. If you're worried the parent isn't coming back, wait a little bit and see. Don't reflexively call 911. And when the parent does come back, don't treat them like an outlaw for doing something statistically very safe.

Defaulting to an absolutist position of safety first means we would have to keep our kids in bed in bubblewrap all day. It's ridiculous to remove good judgment from the equation, and yet that is what Good Morning America recommends: always assume a child is in danger and that the parents are bad.

When we overestimate danger, we treat everyone like they are fragile and in need of supervision. This is neither prudent nor kind.