Contributing to the delinquency of a minor
June 5, 2014 6:02 AM   Subscribe

 
i thought it was a good essay, but i don't share her opinion that the person taking the video was in the wrong to do so and to call the cops. she had no way of knowing what kind of mother kim brooks is. a 4 year old left alone in a car, no matter what the conditions, is something that would raise my alarm bells as well. i don't know that charges should have been filed, but that's not up to the video taker to decide.
posted by nadawi at 6:19 AM on June 5, 2014 [11 favorites]


That was a whole lot of effort to elicit sympathy for suffering the consequences of a poor decision.

I lost heart when the lawyer told her "It wasn’t neglectful.".... I can't agree with that. She left a young child, unsupervised, alone, in a mall parking lot. I'm not seeing that as responsible behavior. It only takes an instant to break a window to steal the car, the kid, the iPad, or all of the above.

I'm glad nothing happened, but that article felt like a long winded attempt to excuse the behavior.

And, the bit at the end about how scared the child is now... honestly, the child wasn't confronted by the bystander or the police at the time of the incident. Every.single.piece of information that child had about the event came from family members.
posted by HuronBob at 6:21 AM on June 5, 2014 [17 favorites]


I have two six year olds and a deep sympathy for anyone who doesn't want to have to unbuckle a child and drag them into a store or their house from the car for a two second run. Let's face it: sometimes they don't want to go and can be a pain in the ass. I admit, every once in a while this happens and I think, "I'm just going in for a moment. They'll be okay here. I'll lock the doors. They'll be fine."

But then I remember this article. Which has interviews from parents who lost their children to hyperthermia, from accidentally leaving them in cars. (MeFi Post. Weingarten won a Pulitzer for it. His blog post about leaving his own daughter in his car is here.) Is it likely to happen to my kids? No. Should I take the risk? I also think, "no." Other parents' mileage may vary on that one.

I can see why she feels the case was overblown. Why it wasn't neglectful on her part. And why she went to Lenore Skenazy to confirm what she already believed, since Lenore is the queen of 'your kids should experience the world themselves without a safety bubble.'

But losing a child is a horrible experience. To have it happen and be both your fault and entirely preventable? Completely devastating.
posted by zarq at 6:22 AM on June 5, 2014 [23 favorites]


This could be me, so easily, not because I frequently do anything like this but because it isn't possible to be a model parent all the time. Kids get fussy and they add 2x time to everything you try to do. I've had a kid fall asleep in the car and I've ran a quick errand with doors locked or arrived at some place and needed to make frequent check-ins on a napping kid in a car. The whole time I felt sheepish about it and explained to friends nearby that my son was napping in the car and I was popping in and out. It isn't an ideal situation and I'm keenly aware that some horrific things have happened in the wrong circumstances.

I have to wonder about the person who called the police though. It gets under my skin because I've actually had a (fortunately) minor incident with a well meaning person passing through the neighborhood who called protective services because a kid ran out the front door without nary a stitch of clothes on. Kids do stupid stuff and it is easy to think that there must be stupid or neglectful parent involved.

I'm glad we have child protective services and that there is a means for reporting abuse and neglect. It probably needs to be stronger but it is absolutely chilling how you can get into the cross hairs of the legal system for pretty benign situations.
posted by dgran at 6:22 AM on June 5, 2014 [5 favorites]


I think that if I saw a little kid alone in a car, I would probably stick around nearby until the parent came back and keep an eye out to make sure that the kid was ok, rather than filming and calling the cops. But yeah, I don't want to live in a world where people see kids in potentially dangerous situations and decide that it's not their problem.

At any rate, I don't think the prosecutor should have pressed charges against the author. I'm not entirely sure what good that was supposed to do.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:24 AM on June 5, 2014 [12 favorites]


HuronBob: She left a young child, unsupervised, alone, in a mall parking lot. I'm not seeing that as responsible behavior. It only takes an instant to break a window to steal the car, the kid, the iPad, or all of the above.

As Lenore Skenazy mentions in the article, statistically speaking, the kid is muuuuch more likely do die in a car accident on the way home then they are do die in some misadventure in the parking lot. How is leaving the child in the car for a few minutes any less responsible than driving to the mall with them in the first place?
posted by Rock Steady at 6:25 AM on June 5, 2014 [92 favorites]


I would absolutely be the one calling the cops because I've read the article that zarq linked, and I'm still haunted by it years later. To this day, every time I see a parked car with a child seat, I look in the windows to see if there's a child in it.
posted by desjardins at 6:25 AM on June 5, 2014 [19 favorites]


It only takes an instant to break a window to steal the car, the kid, the iPad, or all of the above.

Somebody could also run up with a gun and shoot the kid for no reason while he toddles into the store. But the US isn't generally as scary as all that.
posted by ftm at 6:25 AM on June 5, 2014 [39 favorites]


(Although actually, it sounds like it did do some good: she benefited from the parenting lessons. Maybe we should just make parenting support more available to parents without making them go through the criminal justice system....)
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:25 AM on June 5, 2014 [4 favorites]


i don't share her opinion that the person taking the video was in the wrong to do so and to call the cops.
I think that's part of the problem -- calling the cops as a go-to solution, instead of waiting by the car for a few minutes to see if someone comes back right away. People don't want to get personally involved, but they do want to see some rather arbitrary rules about child safety enforced, and make sure that parents they feel are neglectful are punished, so they call the cops.

There's a world of difference between the child left in the car for five minutes on a cool day and the child forgotten in the car for hours. I'm dismayed that people seem so incapable of discerning a difference here.
posted by daisystomper at 6:29 AM on June 5, 2014 [100 favorites]


So why do we worry so much about our children? The author quotes Lenore Skenazy (founder of the Free Range Children movement):

“There’s been this huge cultural shift. We now live in a society where most people believe a child can not be out of your sight for one second, where people think children need constant, total adult supervision. This shift is not rooted in fact. It’s not rooted in any true change. It’s imaginary. It’s rooted in irrational fear.”

And there's a rather shocking statistical analysis (again by Skenazy) that it would likely take 750,000 years for a child left alone in a public space to be snatched by a stranger. And yet we still obsess over not only the safety of our own children but the children of others. Partly it's because of the rare but frightening stories of devastating tragedies; the ones that I always carry in the back of my mind are the ones in Gene Weingarten's story Fatal Distraction (which won the Pulitzer, nicely illustrating our national obsession with this theme).

There's a nice quote (I think by Barbara Ehrenreich, but I can't find it now) about how we obsess so much over our children because they are the ultimate middle class vanity project; that is both bitter and true, I think. Or maybe we obsess because of our new national culture of shaming (as mentioned by others, above, this article is half apology, half justification).

On preview: I'm glad to see that I'm not the only one to quote Gene Weingarten. If you haven't read that article, do it now. Or perhaps don't, because once you do it'll haunt you always and you'll find yourself becoming the kind of neurotic obsessive parent we've all become.
posted by math at 6:31 AM on June 5, 2014 [15 favorites]




I wish the author had been a little more forthright in acknowledging the reason that someone would have taken a picture and called the cops: to the outside observer, there's no way to tell if a kid sitting in a parked car has been there for five minutes or 40.

Sort of like how, when it comes to legislation, there's no good way to pin down the exact atmospheric and temperature conditions under which leaving a kid in a car is unsafe.

Where I live, it is illegal for me to walk down the street with an unsheathed butcher's knife in order to get that knife sharpened. That's not because letting me walk down the street with a butcher's knife is inherently unsafe, but because it's better for everyone involved if passers-by and police don't have to make ad hoc decisions about my intent and behavior in the moment of.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 6:33 AM on June 5, 2014 [36 favorites]


I always wanted to stay in the car when my parents took me on errands. They would leave me with a window rolled down for fresh air if needed, and I would be happier sitting alone waiting for them to come back than I would be dragged down the aisles of some random store. Most child abductions are done by relatives of the child, prioritizing stranger danger as a concern to be addressed just isn't rational.
posted by idiopath at 6:33 AM on June 5, 2014 [21 favorites]


There's a world of difference between the child left in the car for five minutes on a cool day and the child forgotten in the car for hours. I'm dismayed that people seem so incapable of discerning a difference here.

I think the difficulty is determining where to draw the line... how "hot" is ok? how "long" is ok? And, yes, there is danger in taking your kid out of the house and driving down the road, but that's pretty difficult to avoid.

Taking the 2 minutes necessary to unbuckle and buckle the kid into the car IS avoidable. Or, simply saying... "OK, johnny, if you don't want to help to get headphones, we'll just go home".
posted by HuronBob at 6:34 AM on June 5, 2014 [5 favorites]


How is leaving the child in the car for a few minutes any less responsible than driving to the mall with them in the first place?

Because it's not a question of choosing one risk over another. The first one is an avoidable, unnecessary risk that you've chosen to ADD to the risk of the car ride. So it's less responsible by exactly the amount of that added risk.
posted by Flexagon at 6:34 AM on June 5, 2014 [5 favorites]


Rock Steady: "How is leaving the child in the car for a few minutes any less responsible than driving to the mall with them in the first place?"

Passivity.

Leaving a small child child alone, unsupervised and not within your sight in public is neglectful. The issue isn't necessarily the statistical possibility of danger, per se. It's your ability to react to things that may happen which are not under your direct control.

Car accidents do happen, sure. When you're behind the wheel you actively do your best as a responsible driver and parent to minimize that risk. Deliberately leaving your child in a car where you are not present to monitor their well-being and act if they are in distress is irresponsible.

daisystomper: " There's a world of difference between the child left in the car for five minutes on a cool day and the child forgotten in the car for hours. I'm dismayed that people seem so incapable of discerning a difference here."
Even outside temperatures in the 60s can cause a car temperature to rise well above 110° F
posted by zarq at 6:35 AM on June 5, 2014 [12 favorites]


I'm glad I don't have kids for anyone to 'protect' in this way.

Is there a place where all the people with rational risk assessment can go to raise children, or does that faculty get wiped out immediately after your first child is born?
posted by helicomatic at 6:36 AM on June 5, 2014 [47 favorites]


"You're not wrong, but the probability of that occurring is vanishingly small. "....

In the neighborhood where I work, the possibility of that happening is NOT "vanishingly small", it would be very likely that, someone seeing a 4 year old in an unattended car with a $500 piece of easily sold electronics would NOT pass up the opportunity to make a quick buck.
posted by HuronBob at 6:36 AM on June 5, 2014 [9 favorites]


What bugs me is the zero-tolerance attitude of the complete stranger who happened by while the kid was in the car alone. Sure, take an interest and show concern. But taking pictures and calling cops as a first course of action seems just a bit much.
posted by Longtime Listener at 6:37 AM on June 5, 2014 [6 favorites]


I wonder if, had she had a video baby monitor handy, taking the receiver into the store with her would have been seen as a valid defense against the charge. But then, we'll just end up in a dystopia where not owning a sufficiently-sophisticated baby monitor or turning it off will be prosecutable, the way televisions weren't allowed to have off switches in Max Headroom.
posted by XMLicious at 6:38 AM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


I think that if I saw a little kid alone in a car, I would probably stick around nearby until the parent came back and keep an eye out to make sure that the kid was ok, rather than filming and calling the cops. But yeah, I don't want to live in a world where people see kids in potentially dangerous situations and decide that it's not their problem.

Of course, then someone else sees you loitering around a car with a small child in it, takes a video of you, and calls the cops, and we get a different story to discuss on the Blue....
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:38 AM on June 5, 2014 [29 favorites]


Err uh, someone after car electronics is not likely also someone who assaults children.

I'm really shocked how paranoid so many people are.
posted by R343L at 6:39 AM on June 5, 2014 [29 favorites]


I'm really shocked how paranoid so many people are.

It comes with the territory of having small children (it might even be partially hormonal). You get crazed. STRANGERS ARE GOING TO COME AND STEAL MY CHILD RIGHT OUT FROM UNDER ME. I keep reminding myself that unlike an iPhone, a car stereo, etc, a criminal can probably manufacture his own child that he will like much better than mine.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:42 AM on June 5, 2014 [19 favorites]


My first child was just born so I am allowed to have an opinion now.

That opinion is that people have not the slightest clue when it comes to calculating risk.
I don't know if it is a cultural thing or a local climate issue or what, but I doubt anyone I know (parent or not) would consider what she did to be a crime, or neglectful, or even noteworthy.

(of course, in saying this I will now get angry comments proving me wrong)
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 6:42 AM on June 5, 2014 [10 favorites]


Wait, you mean this wasn't an episode of Portlandia?
posted by a power-tie-wearing she-capitalist at 6:43 AM on June 5, 2014 [5 favorites]


Leaving a small child child alone, unsupervised and not within your sight in public is neglectful.

I think this mentality is exactly the thing that Lenore Skenazy has been talking about for years. The idea that our children should be in our sight at all times is a recent one and a damaging one to parents and children, based on the vast statistical evidence to the contrary.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:43 AM on June 5, 2014 [59 favorites]


I left my kids in the car a lot back in the 1970s, just as my parents did with me and my sisters in the 1950s. In fact, my kids went through a period where they liked to "camp" in the car at night- we lived in the country.

How much of this is part of the backlash against feminism? Or is it because we're so media-saturated that we are more aware of all the many things that can possibly go wrong and that very very very occasionally do?
posted by mareli at 6:43 AM on June 5, 2014 [22 favorites]


The danger to the child was baking to death in a hot car. The temperature of the interior of a car can rise 35 degrees F in no time at all. A hyperthermic death of a trapped child is a truly preventable tragedy.
posted by Renoroc at 6:43 AM on June 5, 2014 [6 favorites]


Every.single.piece of information that child had about the event came from family members.

It's frightening to be charged with a crime, all the more so if you sincerely believe yourself innocent. The author mentions her fear and anxiety several times in the piece (when she isn't using the word "dreamted," which is my new favorite typo). No surprise the kid would pick that up, but it's also not something you can fairly fault.
posted by cribcage at 6:43 AM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


Stranger? Meh. The kid doing something painfully foolish? I'd worry about it. Mine has no sense of danger and would do something crazy like put it into neutral and roll into the street. But if the car has safety mechanisms to prevent it, meh.
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:46 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


People don't want to get personally involved, but they do want to see some rather arbitrary rules about child safety enforced, and make sure that parents they feel are neglectful are punished, so they call the cops.

Back when I did criminal defense, I had a number of these cases. The county had a standing diversion program if you qualified (no injuries to the kid, no priors), where you took a parenting class,* and the case was dismissed. It was good that we had the program, because I have seldom seen a class of witness who was so mad about a crime they merely witnessed. We'd show up for court, I'd chat with the witness briefly and I'd get an earful about how children die in locked cars and how my client should have their kids taken away and how awful the whole thing was. I regularly had actual crime victims who were less angry about the event in question than these people. Getting mugged? Happens. Leaving your kid in the car? Inexcusable. The only real competitor was unattended car hit and runs, which were invariably witnessed by people who were outraged about the event and ecstatic to have caught the evil doer in question.

All that said, when I saw a kid in an unattended car last summer, and there were police around? I told them. I'd love to see these things handled in ways that don't punish parents for behavior that isn't risky or isn't risky enough to be criminal, but I'd also like not to see that kid die in a locked car. The solution is probably to (at a minimum) punish leaving kids in places that genuinely are dangerous (closed, locked car) and not punish parents merely for letting their kids be unattended.

*Oddly, it was any sort of parenting class, so I had clients who left their young children in the car and got diversion because they took a class on how to talk to their teenagers.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:47 AM on June 5, 2014 [21 favorites]


"Broke your headphones? Maybe you should have been more careful with them. Unless you want to cause momma another one of those writing gigs. When I was your age, a piece of precision engineering like that we would have taken care of etc etc".
posted by davemee at 6:47 AM on June 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


Well, there's two things here. On the one hand, we are pretty willing to make criminals out of people who make momentary and minor bad decisions with their kids, and that's not good. On the other hand, no, it is not paranoid to believe that a child that small shouldn't be left alone and restrained. I mean I don't want someone to strap ME into something I can't get out of and then walk away for fifteen minutes, either.
posted by gerstle at 6:49 AM on June 5, 2014 [4 favorites]


I was speaking to my Mother this weekend and she was a bit shaken up over a similar incident. A five year old boy left in a car with the windows cracked on a 25-ish degree (Celsius) day. She was going back and forth between "I don't want to pry" and "This child is in danger" and finally called the police.

She stayed at the car and chatted with the boy to make sure he was okay (he said he was warm) and by the time the mother came back, the police had arrived, smashed the window and taken the boy out to an ambulance. It was over twenty minutes.

When the mother finally came out of the store she told the police she was gone for less than five minutes. I don't know if she was just outright lying or simply didn't realize how much time had passed, but there is one thing I do know: That's why you call the police.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 6:49 AM on June 5, 2014 [51 favorites]


> In the neighborhood where I work, the possibility of that happening is NOT "vanishingly small", it would be very likely that, someone seeing a 4 year old in an unattended car with a $500 piece of easily sold electronics would NOT pass up the opportunity to make a quick buck.
posted by HuronBob at 6:36 AM on June 5 [+] [!]


Do you see a meaningful difference between that context - your dangerous neighborhood - and the one explained by the author of the original piece? I do.

I think its also worth noting the difference between a five minute jaunt into a store knowing the child was outside and the horrific stories about people forgetting their infants all day.

The legal process in the original case also caused harm to the child, who according to the author, is terrified of being abducted at home if his mom isn't within sightlines.
posted by ben242 at 6:51 AM on June 5, 2014 [8 favorites]


Apropos of nothing else, this bit:
I know that on a 75-degree day, a closed car can become an oven. I know that a home with an unfenced swimming pool is as dangerous as one with a loaded gun. I know how important it is to install car seats correctly, to adjust and fasten the straps regularly. When my kids were babies I always put them to sleep on their backs, though they hated it. I treated small, chokeable objects like arsenic, put up gates on all our stairways (not the tension-rod kind that can be pushed over, but the kind you bolt into the wall). I immunized them against everything immunizable, sliced their hotdogs lengthwise and removed the casing, made sure their plates and cups were BPA free, limited their screen time, slathered them in sunscreen on sunny days. When my more carefree friends say things like, “What’s the worst that could happen?” I usually have an answer.
is pretty much exactly my experience of the joys of parenthood in the information age.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:51 AM on June 5, 2014 [25 favorites]


I have no children, so I'm not sure I am allowed to have an opinion on this one, apparently. But, I have parents. And I found this article, and some of the reactions to it, pretty chilling. It's clear they would both be doing seventy year sentences based on my childhood and today's standards.

Thing is, my mother is crazy paranoid. I mean, off the charts paranoid, particularly when it came to me. She worried about stuff a good one to two decades earlier than almost everyone else we knew - child abduction, organic food, eating food out of plastic, any sugar or sugar replacements whatsoever, the list of things that concern her has no actual end. But still, she looked at the risk involved, and regularly left me in the car by myself when I was growing up, so she could do the things she had to as part of her job and her life. She also drilled me relentlessly on what to do in emergencies, (and tested me) but then was smart enough to look around at her environment, see if the risks were real given our locations, the amount of time involved, her faith in me, etc -- she was perfectly capable of weighing the risks and this was not neglect or endangerment. It was a careful choice.
posted by instead of three wishes at 6:54 AM on June 5, 2014 [28 favorites]


Leaving a small child child alone, unsupervised and not within your sight in public is neglectful

But we leave kids alone all the time at home, of course. The child sleeps in their own bed, maybe in their own bedroom, despite the non-zero chance that someone will creep in a window and snatch them. We leave them to play a videogame while we cook dinner despite the non-zero chance that they will somehow be killed by a malfunctioning electric device. They toddle into the kitchen with it's myriad dangers to get a cookie. I don't see briefly alone in a suburban parking lot as being much different.

Mind you, I don't think she's parent of the year. Just that I don't think there's some bright line she's crossing where she's now irresponsible. Making "zero tolerance" rules almost never makes any sense.
posted by tyllwin at 6:54 AM on June 5, 2014 [15 favorites]


I think that if I saw a little kid alone in a car, I would probably stick around nearby until the parent came back and keep an eye out to make sure that the kid was ok, rather than filming and calling the cops.

Quite so; the risk of traumatizing systemic abuse once law enforcement gets involved is high.

If you care so little about the actual welfare of an unsupervised but otherwise apparently unthreatened child that you'd go straight to the cops instead of spending ten minutes keeping a discreet watch on the car, I suggest that re-evaluating your priorities is probably in order.

The temperature of the interior of a car can rise 35 degrees F in no time at all.

On an overcast 50°F day with the windows cracked open? No it can't. Might get as warm as 70°F in half an hour, which is about where the heater would have left it anyway.
posted by flabdablet at 6:54 AM on June 5, 2014 [31 favorites]


I've actually had a (fortunately) minor incident with a well meaning person passing through the neighborhood who called protective services because a kid ran out the front door without nary a stitch of clothes on.

Jesus, my parents would STILL be in jail if this shit was happening in the late 70s/early 80s. I was Not A Fan of Clothing. And yet here I am, alive and nearly 40.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 6:54 AM on June 5, 2014 [14 favorites]


Having been left in the car regularly with my siblings as a child back when it was acceptable, I must say that a parent's five minutes were never actually five minutes. It was always far longer even when they were just heading in and out of somewhere quickly. It always makes me suspicious of the 'I just nipped in and out! It was 5 minutes!' comments people make. And I think that's part of the issue - I'm not sure people, even v concerned parents, are actually that good at keeping track of time, especially the under 20 minute category.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 6:57 AM on June 5, 2014 [10 favorites]


Then again we also used to sit on the road in the summer and pop tar bubbles for "fun" so maybe the overexcitable "toxic waste! everywhere!" hippies would have ratted them out first.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 6:57 AM on June 5, 2014


Rock Steady: "The idea that our children should be in our sight at all times is a recent one and a damaging one to parents and children, based on the vast statistical evidence to the contrary."

And she's free to lock her own kids in cars to roast wherever she pleases. But telling people that in the good ol' days kids went wild and free and nothing bad ever happened to them is, I'm sorry, a misguided reactionary crock of shit. It's the same mentality shown by people who say, "well, we never used seatbelts or airbags or infant car seats when I was young and no one ever died." Sure they did. They got into accidents and died all the time. Which is why we now mandate car seats and airbags and seatbelts. Mandated because on their own, people do not judge risk well.

At least 610 kids have died of hyperthermia in cars since 1998 in the US. Entirely avoidable tragedies.

Part of being a parent is taking responsibility for your child's well-being. We don't have to be paranoid and wrap them in bubble wrap, for heaven's sake. But when there are literally hundreds of actual, documented cases of kids having died over a decade and a half from hyperthermia then yes, I think it behooves any parent to think twice about whether they're doing the right thing.
posted by zarq at 6:57 AM on June 5, 2014 [24 favorites]


Sure, take an interest and show concern. But taking pictures and calling cops as a first course of action seems just a bit much.

I have zero interest in having some parent start yelling at me that I'm an asshole for daring to question their love and caring for their child. The local police get paid to deal with that, and they have the training and experience to know what to do (break the car window immediately? hang out and wait for the parent? shrug and move on?) that I do not have at all.

I've never seen a child left like that in recent years (when I was a kid we were always left in the car, though the windows were down because that was pre-kidnap hysteria) but if I did I'd call the police and hang out until the cops arrived.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:57 AM on June 5, 2014 [5 favorites]


I think this mentality is exactly the thing that Lenore Skenazy has been talking about for years. The idea that our children should be in our sight at all times is a recent one and a damaging one to parents and children, based on the vast statistical evidence to the contrary.

I agree that helicopter parenting probably goes too far these days, but you can go too far the other way too. And there's a huuuuuuuuge difference between a 4 year old and a 9 year old.

And in terms of "it was only five minutes", how often do you go into a store for what you think will be a 5 minute grab and go and it turns into something longer for a myriad of reasons?
posted by kmz at 6:58 AM on June 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


And yet here I am, alive and nearly 40.

..and probably wearing clothes. Although, this being MetaFilter, I am not taking any bets, at least not about pants, which seem to be a thing.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:59 AM on June 5, 2014 [9 favorites]


I've had a parent, newly single with two kids (4 and 7), come into the library at night and admit to one of my staff that she left her kids home alone, asleep. The staff person who spoke with her was aghast, but never actually said anything to the woman that that sort of the Just Wasn't Done Here. After the mom left, another staffer wanted to call the cops. Others fell into 'What If-ing' for awhile - what if the kids wake up and are sad? What if they wander out of the house looking for Mommy? What if there's a fire?

I opted to not call the cops, but we did spread the word that if the Mom comes back to the library at night to do everything in our power to speed her transaction along so she can get out the door. This made things slightly awkward on her next visit as nobody was willing to chat with her, which for a newly divorced mom in a foreign country must make that feeling of loneliness that much more acute.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:59 AM on June 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


I certainly can sympathize with her situation. I can't count how many times, long ago when our kids were small, that I left them in the car in our driveway while I had to rush back in the house for a second to get something I needed for whatever errand we were running.

Leaving your child in the car in a public parking lot is a bit of a different matter, of course. Saying that, I do think our culture has strayed too far over into the territory of "possibility enforcement", expecting parents to act in accordance with perfected absolute behavior or else they go to jail. Yeah, she made a mistake, but I really don't see it as something that requires arrest. Believe me, coming back to your car with a cop waiting for you is a huge reality check in-and-of-itself.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:59 AM on June 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


Canadian here. Is it possible there's a cultural difference between southern places and northern places, when it comes to "children will be boiled alive if left alone in an unattended car"?

In the middle of the summer on a hot sunny day, sure, you don't leave a child (or pet!) in a parked car. Maybe if you can leave it turned on with the air-conditioning running. Same difference on cold winter days. But I was definitely always the kid who wanted to stay in the car and read, at least by the age of 8 or so, and certainly never suffered for it.
posted by Nutri-Matic Drinks Synthesizer at 7:01 AM on June 5, 2014 [6 favorites]


the zero-tolerance attitude of the complete stranger

Yes, this: The rise of pervasive parenting policing. You are doing it wrong, all the time, despite your good intentions, and I feel virtuous when I remind you about your deficiencies, because after all, the world is a bad and scary place, and leaving your children unsurveilled for a nanosecond is dangerous!

As an older parent, and one who remembers what it was like before the revolution, and as one who has had a parking lot confrontation because of someone else's incorrect assumptions, I'll say it: Parenting is fucking hard enough already, and I am trying to assess the risks*, and the fact that I sometimes come to different conclusions about them than others do should not be automatically criminalized** and made an acceptable social target.

* My kids are vaccinated, always wear seat belts, and put their bike helmets on without coaching.
** Yes, there are laws on the books about kids and cars.
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:03 AM on June 5, 2014 [20 favorites]


I remember being left in the car while my mother shopped in stores. I remember rolling around in the back of our crappy Chevelle hatchback, unbuckled, while we sped down the interstate on long road trips. I remember lots of incredibly unsafe, and often unsupervised activities I participated in as a child growing up in the 80's. I didn't die, I didn't get kidnapped, and miraculously, I was never even seriously injured.

But as a first time parent of an amazing, wonderful 16-month old boy, I can't even for a second imagine letting my son do some of those things I did. I won't even offer a rational explanation for why that is, except to say he is my son and I feel like it is my responsibility to do everything within my power to ensure no harm comes to him.

That said, I also have no interest in smothering him with my anxiety and (in all likelihood, irrational) need to protect him. Falling off a skateboard, crashing a bike, skinned knees, bruises, all of that stuff is part of being a kid. He needs to experience danger in a way that doesn't kill him or seriously traumatize him.

Leaving him alone in a car in a parking lot -- not the right kind of danger, not the right kind of risk. I don't care how statistically unlikely it is something bad could happen -- it's an avoidable scenario.
posted by tehjoel at 7:03 AM on June 5, 2014 [4 favorites]


But telling people that in the good ol' days kids went wild and free and nothing bad ever happened to them is, I'm sorry, a misguided reactionary crock of shit.

I'm not sure who's saying that, though. I don't see anyone saying that _nothing_ happened. I do see a number of people saying that some of the bad things are statistically unlikely to happen (though they do happen nonetheless). I also see a lot of people saying that they were wild and free and survived, but that's, well, survivor's bias, I suppose. But it also points out that there were overwhelmingly more incidents where things worked out fine than where they ended in pain or tragedy.

I think it behooves any parent to think twice about whether they're doing the right thing.

I cut off the context because I think this is true in all cases. I'd modify it to add something about calculating the risks at hand, honestly, as well.
posted by aureliobuendia at 7:04 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


I cannot count the number of times I or my siblings were left alone in a public parking lot with the windows cracked.

You know who I would blame if I or my siblings had been kidnapped? All the bystanders who did nothing as four kids were taken screaming from a car. We weren't watched constantly, we were instead taught to try and help ourselves if the worst case came to pass when the parents weren't around. Mostly that involved running, going limp, and screaming (and with the advent of cell-phones for everyone years down the road, using that).

There is always a worst case scenario and that scenario likely doesn't involve you as the parent being present and conscious.
posted by Slackermagee at 7:05 AM on June 5, 2014 [4 favorites]


Leaving a small child alone, unsupervised and not within your sight in public is neglectful.

For how long? In all circumstances? Have none of you ever left a napping kid in the car when you arrived home, so she could keep sleeping while you went inside, checking on her from time to time? Or walked the dog around the yard while the kid slept in her crib? What's the difference between that and what the author did? That it was at the mall?

The fact that the city where this happened had considered legislation making it a misdemeanor "to leave a child under six alone in a vehicle if the conditions within the vehicle or in the immediate vicinity of the vehicle presented a risk to the health or safety of the child" tells me that some people recognized that there are circumstances when it is perfectly fine to do what the author did.
posted by schoolgirl report at 7:06 AM on June 5, 2014 [10 favorites]


The solution is probably to (at a minimum) punish leaving kids in places that genuinely are dangerous (closed, locked car) and not punish parents merely for letting their kids be unattended.

Probably wise. But as you and I both know professionally, the better solution is for police and prosecutors to exercise thought and discretion about doing their jobs. I don't mean to condemn either police or prosecutors, and I understand especially there are limited-resource problems at lower court levels, but there's a systemic problem where each level defers its discretion to the next. And then you contrast with other types of crimes like domestic violence, where the "discretion" evidences itself as hands-off eye-rolling and people go free who oughtn't. It's a problem. In some very real ways, police and prosecutors are far better positioned to help people than are defense counsel.

And there's a huuuuuuuuge difference between a 4 year old and a 9 year old.

That was a stumbling block for me reading the article, too. I don't know the parking lot where Brooks left her son, so I can't really judge. But when she gets to that implied comparison between her decision and Skenazy's, she lost me a little. There's a common element to the outside examination, sure, but those are remarkably different situations.
posted by cribcage at 7:08 AM on June 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


Leaving a small child child alone, unsupervised and not within your sight in public is neglectful.

I don't really have a dog in this fight, but... I'm pretty sure my mother used to leave me in my stroller outside the grocery store when she went in, as did the other mothers. In fact, someone insisting on bringing their stroller into the shop would probably have been looked askance at for blocking the aisles...
posted by running order squabble fest at 7:08 AM on June 5, 2014


schoolgirl report: " For how long? In all circumstances? Have none of you ever left a napping kid in the car when you arrived home, so she could keep sleeping while you went inside, checking on her from time to time? Or walked the dog around the yard while the kid slept in her crib? What's the difference between that and what the author did? That it was at the mall?"

In case it wasn't clear, I was specifically referring to leaving a child in a car unattended. Did not mean to say that it would be wrong to let them out of your sight under any and all circumstances.
posted by zarq at 7:08 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


Once our toddler was sufficiently mobile, it was amazing how quickly she ended up in precarious situations inside our own home. Turn your back for an instant, and she had somehow gotten ahold of the knife from the countertop that I would have sworn was out of her reach. Go to the bathroom and come back to find her standing, wobbly, on the kitchen table. Am I a bad parent for diverting my attention from her for periods of time as short as a minute?
posted by Slothrup at 7:09 AM on June 5, 2014


How much of this is part of the backlash against feminism?

I think this is a really important piece that gets missed a lot. I mean, you're telling me that just as women began entering the workforce in greater numbers and had a lot more freedom, suddenly the standards of parenting began to increase? It kind of reminds me of that great book "More Work For Mother", about how as household appliances reduced the work that women would have to do, the standards got higher.
posted by corb at 7:10 AM on June 5, 2014 [44 favorites]


Some statistics on the numbers of children in America who succumb to heat stroke in cars (overwhelmingly white, if these pictures are to be believed). Basically, in the thirties. I was not able to find how many parents are charged each year. Anyone?

How much of this is part of the backlash against feminism?

Are only women charged?
posted by IndigoJones at 7:11 AM on June 5, 2014 [4 favorites]


The danger to the child was baking to death in a hot car. The temperature of the interior of a car can rise 35 degrees F in no time at all. A hyperthermic death of a trapped child is a truly preventable tragedy.

If you read about hyperthermic deaths, they're almost always (horrendous) mistakes where the parent didn't even realize what they were doing and thought they dropped their babies off to daycare. If you read about them, you realize that the only way that they're really "preventable" is by increasing social support (and sleep!) for new parents. Which, ha.

This woman had a conversation with her child and said goodbye--a conversation that the observer saw. And she returned within minutes. Completely different situation than those that lead to hyperthermic deaths.

Interesting, that hyperthermic deaths rose with the invention of rear-facing carseats kept in the back seat. Anyway, I ended up reading this article the other day, and then re-reading the Weingarten article, and bought myself a car seat mirror, finally. I have no idea if it will really help or it's just manufacturers preying on parents' fears in an era of increased safety regulations which sometimes have unseen consequences. Kind of like the pillow I got to keep my baby's head round in her rock and play. Being a new parent is weird.

(She says, on the day she's taking her whole family to an infant CPR class.)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:14 AM on June 5, 2014 [29 favorites]


I was in Vienna a couple of weeks ago. Basically kids there get to school on their own, whether walking or taking the streetcar or what have you. My friend, who has lived in several other places in Europe and America before moving to Vienna a few years ago, admitted that he still took his kids to school; he couldn't shake the feeling that letting kids navigate a city on their own was a little too dangerous. But he acknowledged that his kids gave him grief for this -- because all their classmates think he's a paranoid parent -- and would probably let them go on their own once they got a little older and he got a little more used to the culture.

Is Vienna a pretty safe city? Sure. Could this happen in an equivalently safe city in the U.S.? I highly doubt it.

So, in response to helicomatic's question "is there somewhere rational people can go?": perhaps Vienna?
posted by sedna17 at 7:14 AM on June 5, 2014 [6 favorites]


PhoBWanKenobi: " If you read about hyperthermic deaths, they're almost always (horrendous) mistakes where the parent didn't even realize what they were doing and thought they dropped their babies off to daycare."

Not according to the statistics linked to by IndigoJones above:
"Circumstances
An examination of media reports about the 606 child vehicular heatstroke deaths for an fourteen year period (1998 through 2013) shows the following circumstances:

52% - child "forgotten" by caregiver (316 Children)

29% - child playing in unattended vehicle (175)

18% - child intentionally left in vehicle by adult (108)

1% - circumstances unknown (6)"
posted by zarq at 7:16 AM on June 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


I left my kids in the car a lot back in the 1970s, just as my parents did with me and my sisters in the 1950s.

Yeah, I think your perception of this may come down to how you were raised. My dad left me in the car all the time when I was little while he ran in to places to do errands. He called it "car sitting" and the hope was that the little kid in the car (and the hazards on) would be some kind of totem against the parking ticket. Remember that, as I've noted before, in New York at that time you could not leave your car unattended for more than a few hours without someone literally stealing the gas out of it -- New York was a total war zone at the time. But nothing ever happened to us in the car. I was mugged about six times growing up -- mostly on the upper east side -- but never in the car. That colors the way I raise my two small New Yorkers now. I just can't bring myself to treat them like fragile little flowers. It's not my experience.
posted by The Bellman at 7:19 AM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


But when there are literally hundreds of actual, documented cases of kids having died over a decade and a half from hyperthermia of which you are clearly aware, then as a responsible parent you never would leave your kid in your car except on a cool overcast day. One of these things is not like the other one, and the kneejerk application of hard and fast rules can easily, as in this case, do far more harm than good.

By all means have the rules, to be applied in cases where a kid actually is in danger - but exercise a little practical wisdom as well.

As a foster parent, I am all too aware of the damage that inviting the relentless machinery of government into parenting can do. It's just not something that ought to be done except when there is clearly no better alternative.

And of course there are, sadly, plenty of circumstances in which there is no better alternative. But a kid alone in a car with the windows cracked open on a cool overcast day in a suburban mall parking lot that isn't in a notorious high-crime area? Totally not one of them.
posted by flabdablet at 7:20 AM on June 5, 2014 [6 favorites]


At least 610 kids have died of hyperthermia in cars since 1998 in the US. Entirely avoidable tragedies.

But that's a vanishingly small rate compared to other causes of death for a country with upwards of a quarter of a billion people in it over 14 years. Over the same time period, how many people died "entirely avoidable" deaths from tripping on the edge of a carpet?

Sure, straighten or fasten down a carpet when you come across one that needs it, but this is like calling the police when you see a disarrayed carpet and the police prosecuting someone for it - except I'd bet this has a much smaller mortality rate comparatively.
posted by XMLicious at 7:24 AM on June 5, 2014 [18 favorites]


i wonder if reactions to the samaritan are related to whether or not those of us commenting grew up in neglectful homes. there were a million little things that should have raised the eyebrows of strangers or family friends about my home situation, but child services or police were never involved. the stranger who comes upon this situation has no way of knowing how long the child was in the car and also doesn't know if this indicates a pattern of neglect. just waiting until the mom comes out doesn't answer that second question. our judicial and child services systems needs a complete overhaul, but i still can't fault the onlooker for wanting someone in a professional capacity to make sure that child was safe after coming upon him in a neglectful situation.
posted by nadawi at 7:25 AM on June 5, 2014 [5 favorites]


we are pretty willing to make criminals out of people who make momentary and minor bad decisions with their kids

I think there are two different issues here: first, whether it's valuable to have a law about leaving kids in cars, and second, how that law is enforced. It does seem that the author could have been let off with a warning, given the lack of prior offenses, rather than having to pay for a lawyer and go before a judge.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 7:25 AM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


A very special Metafilter thread where we discover who are parents and those who theorize about parenthood.
posted by vapidave at 7:26 AM on June 5, 2014 [16 favorites]


I think Europe in general is pretty rational about this stuff. However the UK can get whipped up into a frenzy by the press and become slightly hysterical about it too. A conditioned response.

There is a massive difference between tragic hypothermic deaths which are the fault of unfortunately absentminded parents and some busy parent hopping into the store for a few mins to get some groceries while their kid chills out in the car. The two often get confused by holier-than-thou busybodies that still have sensationalist headlines imprinted on their brains.
posted by guy72277 at 7:26 AM on June 5, 2014 [4 favorites]


aureliobuendia: "I'm not sure who's saying that, though. "

This is a common theme in Skenazy's work. One of the suggestions she makes to parents in her "Free Range Kids" book, and that she gives in her talks and lectures (at least in the two I've attended) is to take your oldest relative with you when you go to baby superstores, so you can hear and learn from their perspectives about how parenting used to be.
posted by zarq at 7:27 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


Have none of you ever left a napping kid in the car when you arrived home, so she could keep sleeping while you went inside, checking on her from time to time?

Never

Or walked the dog around the yard while the kid slept in her crib?

My own yard? Sure.

What's the difference between that and what the author did?

The author was in public, as was the unattended child, but not together.

That it was at the mall?

See above.
posted by ersatzkat at 7:28 AM on June 5, 2014 [4 favorites]


zarq: Not according to the statistics linked to by IndigoJones above:

PhoB said that almost all of them were accidents. The statistics you quote suggest that a maximum of 19% (114 deaths in 14 years) were from parents intentionally leaving kids in the car. I think 81% can be considered almost all.

vapidave: A very special Metafilter thread where we discover who are parents and those who theorize about parenthood.

There's no need to do that thing where we claim that the perspective of non-parents are invalid in discussions of child-rearing.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:28 AM on June 5, 2014 [27 favorites]


Whenever I had to drop off my daughter on my way to work, I always put my briefcase in the backseat (a technique I saw here on the blue in another Car-baby-oven thread long ago) in the off chance my internal autopilot kicked in, forgetting the tot in the backseat.

I couldn't imagine leaving her there on purpose, regardless of the circumstance.
posted by dr_dank at 7:29 AM on June 5, 2014 [4 favorites]


"The legal process in the original case also caused harm to the child..." Because the "legal process" forced the parent to leave the kid in the car...?

We're pretty good about shifting blame and making excuses around here...
posted by HuronBob at 7:29 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


i don't have kids largely because of my home life as a child. if you want to discuss things only with other parents, find a parenting board.
posted by nadawi at 7:30 AM on June 5, 2014 [34 favorites]


Rock Steady: " PhoB said that almost all of them were accidents. The statistics you quote suggest that a maximum of 19% (114 deaths in 14 years) were from parents intentionally leaving kids in the car. I think 81% can be considered almost all."

No, that's not what she said. She said they were accidents caused by parents forgetting their kids in the car. To be exact: "they're almost always (horrendous) mistakes where the parent didn't even realize what they were doing and thought they dropped their babies off to daycare." Which happened 52% of the time. The rest of the statistics were:
29% - child playing in unattended vehicle (175)
18% - child intentionally left in vehicle by adult (108)
1% - circumstances unknown (6)"

Which adds up to 48%. Eliminate the "circumstances unknown" and it's 47%. Either way, it's not "almost always."
posted by zarq at 7:31 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


Rock Steady: " There's no need to do that thing where we claim that the perspective of non-parents are invalid in discussions of child-rearing."

Seconding this.
posted by zarq at 7:33 AM on June 5, 2014 [7 favorites]


That article zarq linked to changed my life back in the day. There's nary a week that goes by that I don't think about it, because I have three little girls, and I tend to be absent minded. I think about it all the time when I'm driving around. I hated reading it because it was horrible yet I am very glad I did at the same time.

I thought about this issue again last night, too, as we are looking at the features on the Toyota Priuses. They can come with solar panels on the roof that power a fan to circulate air in the car when it is parked in direct sunlight, to keep the temperature down. Part of me thought that would be awesome because I hate coming back to hot cars. Part of me thought that it could save some little children somewhere if there were more cars that came with these.
posted by SpacemanStix at 7:34 AM on June 5, 2014 [5 favorites]


For an eye-opening essay on tragic hypothermic deaths caused by absent-minded parents, try this Pulitzer Prize-winning article entitled Fatal Distraction.
posted by guy72277 at 7:34 AM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


Is Vienna a pretty safe city? Sure. Could this happen in an equivalently safe city in the U.S.? I highly doubt it.

For starters, most US cities don't have adequate public transportation, let alone sidewalks everywhere.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:35 AM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


A very special Metafilter thread where we discover who are parents and those who theorize about parenthood.

However, I'm pretty sure we were all children at one point, so we're not actually theorizing childhood.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 7:39 AM on June 5, 2014 [11 favorites]


I have to say: a person who sits and videotapes a child left in a car, when they believe the child is in danger, and does absolutely nothing to help that child, is a terrible person who ought to be charged with a crime.
posted by koeselitz at 7:39 AM on June 5, 2014 [23 favorites]


the stranger who comes upon this situation has no way of knowing how long the child was in the car

except that in this case "a bystander had noticed me leaving my son in the car, had recorded the incident using a phone’s camera, and had then contacted the police."

Because the "legal process" forced the parent to leave the kid in the car...?

No, because the kid's time in the car did him no harm at all, but the legal process he watched his family get enmeshed in and must have felt partially responsible for gave him a completely justifiable fear of being taken away from her.

There's no need to do that thing where we claim that the perspective of non-parents are invalid in discussions of child-rearing.

In discussions? Not at all. In coming to judgements about what they would have done in similar circumstances, though?

Before you judge a parent, walk a mile with a kid on your back because they lost their shoes.

power a fan to circulate air in the car when it is parked in direct sunlight

I'm the guy who tagged this story batshitinsane, but I would never, never, never, never leave a kid in a car that's parked in direct sunshine, and would break windows if I found that somebody else had done it. Solar ovens work.
posted by flabdablet at 7:40 AM on June 5, 2014 [8 favorites]


The idea that parents were OMG GREAT! in the 60s or whatever is so stupid and rose-colored. It's like the whole "don't eat it if your grandmother wouldn't recognize it as food" thing. My grandmothers would have gone one of two ways:

1) Forcing the oldest child or a cousin (a girl, of course) to be responsible for the others from a very early age, and whipping the crap out of her if any of them came to harm/made her miss work or interfered with the farm

2) Hiring a poor woman to live in her home and be responsible, screaming at her or firing her if her son came to any harm/bothered her

Note that in no case are men involved, because parenting was Not Their Job in any way (except maybe screaming at/beating mom if the kids came to any harm)

This false nostalgia is dumb.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:40 AM on June 5, 2014 [14 favorites]


What bullshit. You call the police if you notice that the child is not okay. Everything about this incident -- the rush to call the police, the apparent failure to even approach the child or remain by the vehicle, and especially the taking of the cell phone video -- suggests that this "samaritan" was a malicious and vindictive agent who didn't give two shits about the actual welfare of the child.
posted by Behemoth at 7:40 AM on June 5, 2014 [38 favorites]


Because the "legal process" forced the parent to leave the kid in the car...?

No, the legal process assigned a wildly disproportionate danger to what the kid experienced and enforced a completely pointless and ineffective remedy, like campaigns to spend class time teaching schoolchildren to shelter under their desks when the nuclear attack—which could happen at any time!!1!—comes.
posted by XMLicious at 7:42 AM on June 5, 2014 [5 favorites]


I mourn the less risk-averse years of the past, when small people were allowed to roam freely, oblivious to dangers and all laissez-faire and such. In fact I got into an argument with my partner who wanted to call the cops on two kids sitting alone in the backseat of a car at a strip mall. I thought the right thing to do was to wait until the adult got back. Do I feel shame that one of the kids had a black eye and a broken arm? Yeah, I do. When the parent got back, they were wearing a shirt that said "Rehab is for quitters". This story of my nonchalance in the face of possible neglect and abuse made my mother-in-law, who works for CPS, give me the side-eye for years. But if we'd called the cops, what then? (And if the mother had been wearing a nice Ann Taylor suit, how does that change the story?)

I still don't know how far I would intervene. And I'm ashamed but troubled by the bringing-authorities-into-it option. Personally, I would not leave my kid in the car in most situations. But then I am a hovering mother who is haunted by flashes of future death and dismemberment.

That being said, I see this kind of risk-aversion creeping up about dogs, too. My coworkers were shocked that we didn't have a seat belt for our giant dog. And we've gotten called out of Ikea on a pleasant 60-degree day because someone saw said dog alone in a car (with the windows down).
posted by theefixedstars at 7:43 AM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


As an aside... we bought something like this when my kids were young. Possibly in response to the Weingarten article. Ours was a lot less expensive though. It worked.
posted by zarq at 7:43 AM on June 5, 2014


I'm just struggling with the justification arguments I'm reading. A lot of people here are saying that leaving the child for five minutes is probably safe. Sure, let's argue that it's 99.9% safe.

Why take that chance? Why accept the risk when you don't have to? She left her kid in the car because it was more convenient than dealing with the unruly preschooler in the store. Let's be blunt here, parenting is rarely convenient and if she hasn't figured that out in the first four or five years I don't know what to tell her.

There is inherent risk in any daily activity, sure, but why not mitigate those risks when you can?
posted by WinnipegDragon at 7:44 AM on June 5, 2014 [4 favorites]


Canadian here. Is it possible there's a cultural difference between southern places and northern places, when it comes to "children will be boiled alive if left alone in an unattended car"?

I think the only difference is the temperature difference between southern places and northern places. But, that difference can be huge.
posted by ymgve at 7:44 AM on June 5, 2014


I strongly agree that the person taking the video, the cop, the prosecutor, and the judge were all in the wrong. And I'd agree this constitutes part of the backlash against feminism too. Just ridiculous.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:45 AM on June 5, 2014 [8 favorites]


Duck and cover
posted by flabdablet at 7:45 AM on June 5, 2014


After 10 years of lurking, I finally paid my $5 and signed up just so I can comment on this story.

The question here shouldn't be whether children should NEVER be left alone. Lots of people here are presenting anecdotes that are completely factually dissimilar from TFA. To me, the more important distinction in this story is not that it's negligent (which it is), but that it is lazy parenting.

I count at least three different points in the story when this problem could have been avoided by actually standing up to your children:
  • Four-year-old demands to go to the store: "No, you're staying here with grandma."
  • Four-year-old refuses to go into the store: "Too bad - you wanted to come, now we're going in."
  • Four-year-old absolutely refuses to go into the store: "OK, no headphones for you."
So we have a story here where a mom ends up leaving her four-year-old in the car not out of necessity (any of us can imagine a story where leaving the child in the car is the only option), but out of simply not wanting to fight with a four-year-old after already acquiescing several times. That's lazy parenting, and I have no sympathy for the consequences she suffered afterwards.

YES, the chances of something happening were very very small. YES, for those of us who grew up in the 70s, our parents disregarded our safety all the time and we turned out ok. BUT, the amount of effort it would have taken to prevent the situation was far less than even the miniscule risk of leaving the kid in the car.

I have two kids. Both of them were four for a full year, so I know what a pain in the ass four-year-olds can be. Yes, sometimes you want to just throw up your hands and say "fine, have it your way." Maybe you let them have ice cream or a toy because you just don't feel like fighting. But that's really different from this situation. Parenting is not always fun. Sometimes you have to say no to the four-year-olds for their own good. Putting your child in danger (even a tiny amount of danger) because you don't feel like fighting with your four-year-old is not acceptable.

[Note: Ordinarily, I would not judge someone else's parenting. But if you write a story in Salon and expect us to feel bad for you, that's fair game.]

[On preview: what WinnipegDragon said.]
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 7:45 AM on June 5, 2014 [64 favorites]


Seems the Big Brother we have feared is actually other people with camera phones.

No longer are we free to make judgement calls about whether a law-bending action is acceptable, given the circumstances. Someone will be there to record it, out of context, and pass it along to law enforcement where a one-size-fits-all punishment can be applied.
posted by mantecol at 7:45 AM on June 5, 2014 [6 favorites]


I'm not bringing the kid into the liquor store or the gas station when I need to pay in cash or buy snacks and drinks. I've also got the interior handles of the rear doors deactivated, and in hot weather, the windows and sunroof cracked.

I'd be uneasy leaving her in a mall parking lot, or in the grocery store lot, even for quick in-and-out errands. Too much ground to cover getting back to the car to make me feel good about it - but, that's just me. Really, anything less than 10-15 minutes should be fine.

This is totalitarian snitch-on-your-neighbor baloney.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:45 AM on June 5, 2014 [15 favorites]


Leaving a child alone for 5 minutes should not warrant an arrest. One shouldn't fear losing their kids to child protective services over something that small. This situation arose because there were no adequate/proportional laws that addressed the indiscretion.

Having worked with emotionally and sexually abused children, I can think of no greater absurdity than almost destroying an otherwise good parent's life over such a small thing. I know children who go home to real fear and uncertainty everyday. Nobody gets arrested, but then again, there rarely are cell phone vigilantes when they truly are needed.
posted by pleem at 7:46 AM on June 5, 2014 [34 favorites]


I am so confused by the tone of this thread.

This person watched her get out of the car, watched her crack the windows and lock it up, watched her go into the store, watched her kid playing, watched her come back out of the store a very short time later, watched her drive away, and THEN called the cops.

This is completely crazy to me.

It's one thing when we see an out-of-context snapshot of someone else's life, but this person had plenty of context. This person knew EXACTLY what had happened, beginning to end. And they called the police anyway.

I was not expecting this thread to turn into a sort of...competition, almost, as to who can shake their finger the hardest at this woman's lack of vigilance.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 7:47 AM on June 5, 2014 [74 favorites]


Why take that chance? Why accept the risk when you don't have to? She left her kid in the car because it was more convenient than dealing with the unruly preschooler in the store.

She made a risk assessment, and decided that the risks associated with a meltdown in a shop were worse than those associated with five minutes in the car. I don't see how anybody else was in a better position to make that assessment.
posted by flabdablet at 7:47 AM on June 5, 2014 [13 favorites]


I don't think the 'sides' in this thread are defined by parents and non-parents -- clearly parents have different standards of [insert proper principle here] when it comes to raising kids, as do non-parents when it comes to judging parents.

However, I do think one's experience of law enforcement is going to make a huge difference about how one responds to this situation, and I can only think if very few situations in which I would call the police in a situation such as this.

If I really thought the parent were neglectful, it would be eminently more satisfying to bust out a window. Take that, jerk.
posted by allthinky at 7:47 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


Lazy parenting = it's cool to call the cops on someone?

BRB, I think I see a TV in someone's house! SCREEN TIME DANGER! LAZY PARENTING! 911!
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:47 AM on June 5, 2014 [16 favorites]


Interesting, that hyperthermic deaths rose with the invention of rear-facing carseats kept in the back seat.

Yes! There is no airflow for those kids in rear facing carseats! It is cramped and stuffy. Air vents in the backseats of vehicles aren't aimed at rear facing children. They are usually *under* the front seat so the airflow gets blocked by the back of the carseat. The top vents in the dash board can be aimed toward the windows and the sides of the car, but that still doesn't get the babies' faces very well, especially with carseats that have extra padding around the sides of the kid's head.
posted by jillithd at 7:48 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


After 10 years of lurking, I finally paid my $5 and signed up just so I can comment on this story.

My work is finished here.
posted by flabdablet at 7:49 AM on June 5, 2014 [18 favorites]


She made a risk assessment, and decided that the risks associated with a meltdown in a shop were worse than those associated with five minutes in the car. I don't see how anybody else was in a better position to make that assessment.

If she honestly thinks that taking a tantrum 4 year old into a store is riskier than leaving them unattended in a car with an expensive electronic device out of her sight, then this woman seriously needs to have her risk assessor recalibrated.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 7:49 AM on June 5, 2014 [5 favorites]


So it's vengeful to call the police if you see a small child left in the car alone (did I miss the part where the video showed her returning to the car? I saw the part where she imagined that is what happened). I assume the next time we hear about someone who left a kid in the car and the kid died, we will blame bystanders for not calling the cops, and the cycle will continue.

I don't believe the "it was just 5 minutes", because people always screw up timing like that especially in a mall, and I'm not entirely sure I believe the weather report -- I don't think she's a reliable narrator of the story. I do think that the justice system went too far on this (though I strongly suspect part of it was the out of state aspect), and I feel really sorry for her son.
posted by jeather at 7:50 AM on June 5, 2014 [8 favorites]


No, that's not what she said. She said they were accidents caused by parents forgetting their kids in the car. To be exact: "they're almost always (horrendous) mistakes where the parent didn't even realize what they were doing and thought they dropped their babies off to daycare." Which happened 52% of the time. The rest of the statistics were:
29% - child playing in unattended vehicle (175)
18% - child intentionally left in vehicle by adult (108)
1% - circumstances unknown (6)"

Which adds up to 48%. Eliminate the "circumstances unknown" and it's 47%. Either way, it's not "almost always."


The language is unclear. "childplaying in unattended vehicle" but NOT intentionally left there by adults suggest to me that the kid climbs into a car without the car's owner knowing. Anyway, 52% of those deaths are from parents "forgetting." And I'm not sure if those deaths are preventable the way people are suggesting they are preventable. The common thread in the Weingarten piece is that it could (and does) happen to even very attentive parents who thinks they would never leave a baby unattended in a car.

Why take that chance? Why accept the risk when you don't have to? She left her kid in the car because it was more convenient than dealing with the unruly preschooler in the store. Let's be blunt here, parenting is rarely convenient and if she hasn't figured that out in the first four or five years I don't know what to tell her.

I feel like we had this same conversation in the pregnant-women-should-never-have-a-glass-of-wine-or-eat-cheese thread. "Why take that chance?" when we're talking about statistically incredibly unlikely things is no way to go about the calculus of life in general. Anyway, I don't think this woman is a monster, even though I wouldn't make the same choice--simply because I'd be afraid of CPS being called on me. Which seems more likely that a hyperthermic death happening in 10 minutes or a stranger danger molester stealing the kid.

(Stranger danger molester stealing the kid seems more likely inside a store than in a locked car, to me.)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:52 AM on June 5, 2014 [9 favorites]


This person watched her get out of the car, watched her crack the windows and lock it up, watched her go into the store, watched her kid playing, watched her come back out of the store a very short time later, watched her drive away, and THEN called the cops.

We are, however, only getting one side of the story. I'm fairly sure if the bystander were given a Salon column their take would be somewhat different.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 7:52 AM on June 5, 2014 [10 favorites]


Oh, and I never drive with my child which makes me the LEAST lazy parent. I don't care if you don't want to walk or take the bus, putting your child in ANY additional risk is UNACCEPTABLE. It's called PARENTING. I plan to call the cops on anyone who is so LAZY as to take the risk of DRIVING with their PRECIOUS little one. NO SYMPATHY! If you didn't want to be arrested you should have lived CLOSER to public transit instead of TAKING THE RISK!

I mean really. We can all get sanctimonious here or we can step back and realize that parents have needs, wants, and preferences and that expecting them to constantly subordinate those in order to avoid extremely minor risks lest they be subject to police action is overly oppressive.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:52 AM on June 5, 2014 [57 favorites]


Everything about this incident -- the rush to call the police, the apparent failure to even approach the child or remain by the vehicle

Maybe she didn't have the time to wait around for God knows how many minutes before the situation started to become non-OK. Better to just report it in so the authorities can deal with it.

The problem, to me, isn't that someone reacted. The problem is that she got charged at all when everything else turned out fine.
posted by ymgve at 7:53 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


This person watched her get out of the car, watched her crack the windows and lock it up, watched her go into the store, watched her kid playing, watched her come back out of the store a very short time later, watched her drive away, and THEN called the cops.

I reread the story. This is not what happened. The stranger called the cops while she was in the mall; she had left by the time the cops arrived.
posted by jeather at 7:54 AM on June 5, 2014 [9 favorites]


Answering the question of whether or not it was wrong for the bystander to call the police is probably impossible based on just this article. I'm not saying the author was lying or holding back details, but the reality is we just don't know.
posted by tehjoel at 7:55 AM on June 5, 2014


Before you judge a parent, walk a mile with a kid on your back because they lost their shoes.

I'm not a parent, but I do work in regulation and this is a clear case of perverse incentives.

It does seem that the author could have been let off with a warning

Not really, a warning wasn't necessary as once the facts of the case were established this should never have been considered an issue for law enforcement.
posted by biffa at 7:55 AM on June 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


How is leaving the child in the car for a few minutes any less responsible than driving to the mall with them in the first place?

Because you can easily eliminate the risk of something happening to them in the parking lot by not leaving them locked in the car. Eliminating the risk of the car accident on the way home is harder. Although one way you can do that is by buckling your kid into a car seat which, unsurprisingly, is also frequently mandatory.

It's not so much about the risk in an absolute sense, it's about the necessity of the risk and not taking reasonable precautions to minimize the risk.

Yes! There is no airflow for those kids in rear facing carseats! It is cramped and stuffy.

I can't quite tell if you're joking... but the reason that carseats in the back seats of cars lead to more hyperthermic deaths doesn't have anything to do with AC vents. It's because by having the kid in the back seat, people are more likely to forget that the kid is there (presumably said kid is asleep) and leave them in the car while they go on an extended errand. It'd be hard to do that with the kid in the front passenger seat next to you.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:55 AM on June 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


the young rope-rider: Lazy parenting = it's cool to call the cops on someone?

No - seeing a child potentially in danger = it's cool to call the cops on someone.

Lazy parenting = why it makes no sense to try to defend her actions as somehow reasonable.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 7:56 AM on June 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


If she honestly thinks that taking a tantrum 4 year old into a store is riskier than leaving them unattended in a car with an expensive electronic device out of her sight, then this woman seriously needs to have her risk assessor recalibrated.

Man, have you ever had kids? Look, maybe I had a particularly stubborn 4 year old, but I remember tantrums where if I wanted her to go anywhere, I would have to physically pick her up and force her to go. She would not put her foot down and walk. She would not calm down while the terrible injustice was being perpetrated.

If I had been in that situation, it would have been a choice between not going shopping, leaving the child alone for ten minutes, or hauling a screaming, wiggling, kicking child over my shoulder in a fireman's carry, because that's the only way I could have lifted her, into the store.

If you think nobody with their videophones would have been taping that, you have another think coming.

Now, me, I would have pulled out a book and waited, because all my options are shitty. But it doesn't mean this woman's risk assessor was broken.
posted by corb at 7:56 AM on June 5, 2014 [19 favorites]


If she honestly thinks that taking a tantrum 4 year old into a store is riskier than leaving them unattended in a car with an expensive electronic device out of her sight, then this woman seriously needs to have her risk assessor recalibrated.

Dragging a kid who is upset and doesn't want to be there--and therefore is likely to do stupid crap like bolting in front of a car--through a busy parking lot is crazy, IMO. Good thing we don't share kids so our opinions of each other's risk assessment skill is irrelevant.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:57 AM on June 5, 2014 [6 favorites]


So, a device, which mounts to the inside of the window with suction cups. One display is a timer, the other a thermometer. If the timer reaches 20 minutes or the interior of the car reaches X degrees (maybe an equation to take humidity into consideration) or the glass-break sensor is triggered, the device sounds a high-decibel alarm out the open gap of the window. A smartphone app monitors all three metrics on the adult's phone.

This solves "who knows how long she's been in there!" and "who knows how hot is is in there!" and "somebody's going to steal that baby!"

I'm going to remain unconvinced that this particular threat is worth prolonged legal action until all moving violation tickets are doubled if there is a child in the car. I hear people talk about the precious things their children say while they're getting tickets for speed or failure to stop, no shits given for driving like an asshole with their kids in the car. So it's clearly just this particular bugaboo we care about, so that we can shame the parent, and not actual child safety in general.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:57 AM on June 5, 2014 [27 favorites]


We are, however, only getting one side of the story. I'm fairly sure if the bystander were given a Salon column their take would be somewhat different.

There are so many conversations, here and elsewhere, about the completely insane standards that parents are held to, particularly in public; about the ways in which total strangers are often all-too-happy to swoop in while you're at the supermarket and lecture you about how your child shouldn't be using an iphone or eating a candy or whatever else. It seems to be accepted as common knowledge that being a parent means that you're vulnerable to the arbitrary and unfair judgements of random passers-by at all times.

So I guess I'm surprised that so many people here are rushing to assume that this bystander was just a kind-hearted good Samaritan that we would all sympathize with, as opposed to yet another busybody who wants punish parents of young children for not behaving in the manner they feel is acceptable
posted by Narrative Priorities at 7:58 AM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'm sure she's a nice lady and probably didn't deserve what happened to her, but that was a poor parenting decision for any number of reasons. A four-year-old alone in a car? That's pushing it.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:58 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


I mean really. We can all get sanctimonious here or we can step back and realize that parents have needs, wants, and preferences and that expecting them to constantly suborn those in order to avoid extremely minor risks lest they be subject to police action is overly oppressive.

I just can't agree with this. No one here is saying she should never expose her child to risk, they are saying some risks are known, easily preventable, and that a parent's basic responsibility is to avoid them within reason.

It's like putting kids to sleep on their back. SIDS is a known risk if not fully preventable, so why not do the little things to reduce the risk?
posted by WinnipegDragon at 7:58 AM on June 5, 2014


flabdablet - I would never, never, never, never leave a kid in a car that's parked in direct sunshine, and would break windows if I found that somebody else had done it.

Aaaand you'd be either be charged as a pedophile trying to abduct a kid based on the evidence caught on camera by the lady filming behind you who called the cops. Or the mom comes out just as you're smashing the window, screams "he's stealing my BABY!!!!" and the gathering crowd turns ugly on you and beats you to a pulp. Or maybe you'd be hailed as a the "sunny saviour"!
posted by guy72277 at 7:59 AM on June 5, 2014


Lyn Never: "So it's clearly just this particular bugaboo we care about, so that we can shame the parent, and not actual child safety in general."

Lots of people in this thread are talking about potential and actual risks to children being left in cars for specific periods of time. Shaming a parent certainly isn't the entire story. If it's even the story at all.

There's not a damned thing wrong with acting to protect a child from actual harm, who perhaps can't necessarily act to protect themselves. The question here is whether there's risk of actual harm, what that risk is, and to what degree action should or should not be taken.
posted by zarq at 7:59 AM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


So I guess I'm surprised that so many people here are rushing to assume that this bystander was just a kind-hearted good Samaritan that we would all sympathize with, as opposed to yet another busybody who wants punish parents of young children for not behaving in the manner they feel is acceptable

I'm sure s/he went right home after and put another big checkmark on their "BAD PARENTS CAUGHT" scoreboard.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 8:00 AM on June 5, 2014 [6 favorites]


It's like putting kids to sleep on their back. SIDS is a known risk if not fully preventable, so why not do the little things to reduce the risk?

Maybe good samaritans with cellphones should be allowed to videotape other people's sleeping babies, so that the parents can be hauled off to jail if the little guy flips over.
posted by Behemoth at 8:00 AM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


If she honestly thinks that taking a tantrum 4 year old into a store is riskier than leaving them unattended in a car with an expensive electronic device out of her sight, then this woman seriously needs to have her risk assessor recalibrated.
OK, that's it, I officially don't want to live on this planet any more.

First of all, both risks are microscopic. If you're even thinking about those risks, and you're not absolutely freaking out about dozens of things people do every day, including driving to the store in the first place, then there's a "calibration problem" all right...

... and don't give me that "necessity" BS. The purpose of that trip was to buy headphones. Hardly a life-threatening issue. If anybody were thinking about actual risk, then we'd be hearing "Of course it's irresponsible, lazy parenting to drag a child on a CAR RIDE just to get headphones to shut him up on the plane! How dare you endanger the child like that just to keep him quiet".

... but we don't get that, because what passes for "risk assessment" seems to be "pattern matching". Not just "it's automatically always the same amount of bad if a kid is alone in a car", but crazy assumptions like "criminals are criminals, so the average thief is going to assault a four year old over an iPad in front of witnesses". And everybody knows that "taking the kid somewhere in the car" is a not-bad pattern. At least if you take the right set of ritual precautions in the course of it, anyway.

Not only that, but, although it is indeed a miniscule risk, dragging a kid having a tantrum through a parking lot is, in fact, probably more dangerous than leaving that kid in a not-overheated car for a couple of minutes. You could be distracted by that tantrum and get both of you hit by a car.
posted by Hizonner at 8:01 AM on June 5, 2014 [22 favorites]


Aaaand you'd be either be charged as a pedophile trying to abduct a kid based on the evidence caught on camera by the lady filming behind you who called the cops.

In service of preventing a kid turning into a pot roast? Worth the risk.
posted by flabdablet at 8:01 AM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


jeather: “So it's vengeful to call the police if you see a small child left in the car alone (did I miss the part where the video showed her returning to the car? I saw the part where she imagined that is what happened). I assume the next time we hear about someone who left a kid in the car and the kid died, we will blame bystanders for not calling the cops, and the cycle will continue.”

As a parallel example: if someone passes out on the street, and is in the way of oncoming traffic, and could be run over by a car at any moment, what do you do?

If your response is: "videotape them being run over, and then call the police later" – then I would suggest that your humanity is severely lacking, and I would expect a judge to tell you so, perhaps while charging you with a crime.

Able-bodied bystanders who truly believe that there is an imminent threat have a moral responsibility to try to stave off that threat. They do not have a moral responsibility to videotape it happening; they have a moral responsibility to do something.
posted by koeselitz at 8:02 AM on June 5, 2014 [4 favorites]


Maybe good samaritans with cellphones should be allowed to videotape other people's sleeping babies, so that the parents can be hauled off to jail if the little guy flips over.

Great straw man.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 8:03 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]




We actually have the numbers thanks to other posters.
Fatalities where the child was knowingly left in the car are 7.7 per year.

They're more likely to be struck by lightning.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 8:04 AM on June 5, 2014 [13 favorites]


In service of preventing a kid turning into a pot roast? Worth the risk.

Yep, I suppose so, but YANAD and all that.
posted by guy72277 at 8:05 AM on June 5, 2014


Once I came out of the grocery store with my baby and found a stranger nosing around my car, concerned that the blanket covering the baby seat to keep it cool might also be covering a now-dead baby. It wasn't and I'd say it obviously wasn't, but safe, comfortable people love to inject a little drama into their safe, comfortable lives.

I can imagine how, if chance had turned out just slightly differently, that very incident could have escalated (like the article's incident) into years of legal threat and ridiculous punishments even when no harm was done, and it makes me furious and afraid. This sort of thing frightens me a lot more than the vanishingly small threat of a stranger seeking to do my family harm does.

I think arguments about how hot parked cars get or how many kids die this way are missing the real point of the story. The author wasn't charged with "leaving a kid in a hot car," or "child endangerment," she was charged with "contributing to the delinquency of a minor." A morals charge, more or less, one which could mean virtually anything.

Any one of a thousand parenting habits that a stranger sees in isolation could be the basis for such a charge. And a stranger with a video recorder is always going to see everything you do in isolation. Maybe you yelled at your kids in public. Maybe you actually spanked them in public. Maybe your kid dropped some food at the picnic ground but then ate it anyway. Maybe (gasp!) your kid climbed the jungle gym without a helmet on. "Well," a bystander may say, "This could be abuse, and I don't know that this parent isn't generally abusive, do I?"

Some of you folks are defending the notion of calling the cops at the drop of a hat on those very grounds. "Well I don't know the whole story therefore it makes sense to use my nuclear option and the fallout isn't my problem." The cops look for a way to match a complaint with a charge - that's their job, more or less. The fallout isn't their problem, either.

When they said "It takes a village to raise a child" I'm pretty sure they didn't mean "It takes random attempts by strangers to break up families and get kids put in foster care even when no actual harm has been done, to raise a child."
posted by Western Infidels at 8:05 AM on June 5, 2014 [40 favorites]


Not only that, but, although it is indeed a miniscule risk, dragging a kid having a tantrum through a parking lot is, in fact, probably more dangerous than leaving that kid in a not-overheated car for a couple of minutes. You could be distracted by that tantrum and get both of you hit by a car.

Or, you take the kid home and he doesn't get his Headphones.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 8:05 AM on June 5, 2014 [12 favorites]


Maybe I am misunderstanding the concept of risk assessment, but it seems like there are two parts: how likely X is to happen, and how terrible the outcome if X does happen. Even if the first part is miniscule, if the second part is particularly catastrophic (like losing a child), to me the risk is still too great.
posted by tehjoel at 8:06 AM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


guy72277: “Aaaand you'd be either be charged as a pedophile trying to abduct a kid based on the evidence caught on camera by the lady filming behind you who called the cops.”

flabdablet: “In service of preventing a kid turning into a pot roast? Worth the risk.”

I look at it this way:

The bystander who witnesses this has a choice, and that choice can be answered by answering a question: is the child in imminent danger?

If the answer is "yes," then videotaping them dying in a car is not even an option. The windows are cracked; you break into the car, as people do when keys are locked inside. Or if that's beyond your capabilities, you enlist someone to help you. You run into the store and grab the first person you see and ask them to help you. You maybe even call the police right away and say you need help.

If the answer is "no" – if the child is not actually in imminent danger – then there is nothing to be done.
posted by koeselitz at 8:06 AM on June 5, 2014 [10 favorites]


(There is no case where videotaping and reporting later is the right option.)
posted by koeselitz at 8:07 AM on June 5, 2014 [9 favorites]


I can't quite tell if you're joking... but the reason that carseats in the back seats of cars lead to more hyperthermic deaths doesn't have anything to do with AC vents.

No, not joking. Just complaining. Cars need to be designed better for airflow in rear-facing child seats.
posted by jillithd at 8:07 AM on June 5, 2014


koeselitz, if the answer is, "I'm not sure." Then what?
posted by zarq at 8:07 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


So it's clearly just this particular bugaboo we care about, so that we can shame the parent, and not actual child safety in general.

I agree with the first part of your statement -- there's definitely particular attention being directed towards hyperthermic deaths of children locked in cars -- but I'm not convinced that it's driven out of a desire to shame parents.

Being baked alive in a hot car is a particularly grisly and torturous way to die; in terms of assessing risk, not all deaths are equal. Particularly horrific ways to die often get weighted more heavily in terms of risk mitigation, and this is doubly true with children. For whatever reason, dying secondary to trauma from a collision just doesn't wrench people's guts in the same way that slow-roasting in that same car, while it's parked, does.

There are also outsized efforts to prevent children from being burned alive in fires which are probably not justified by a cold cost-benefit analysis versus other measures that might be taken to decrease child mortality. But imagining a kid being burned alive is pretty fucking terrible, and so we have dumb requirements like fire retardants in children's clothing even though it doesn't work well (or at all, depending on who you ask).
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:08 AM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


When they said "It takes a village to raise a child" I'm pretty sure they didn't mean "It takes random attempts by strangers to break up families and get kids put in foster care even when no actual harm has been done, to raise a child."

You really, honestly think the person who called the cops was thinking "Yay, I get to break up a family today!"

How does that person know? She watched a mother leave a kid in a car with an iPad and walk away. What happens if Mom doesn't come back in five minutes? What if she's not back in an hour? How does that person feel if she reads about a tragedy in the paper the next morning?
posted by WinnipegDragon at 8:08 AM on June 5, 2014 [5 favorites]


if the answer is, "I'm not sure." Then what?

Wait. Assess.
posted by flabdablet at 8:08 AM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


Maybe (gasp!) your kid climbed the jungle gym without a helmet on.

Do kids really wear helmets when they use jungle gyms now?
posted by grumpybear69 at 8:09 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


zarq: “koeselitz, if the answer is, ‘I'm not sure.’ Then what?”

That would be a good time to find out. Generally by asking someone.
posted by koeselitz at 8:09 AM on June 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


Able-bodied bystanders who truly believe that there is an imminent threat have a moral responsibility to try to stave off that threat. They do not have a moral responsibility to videotape it happening; they have a moral responsibility to do something.

Sure, but the Doing Something depends on what the threat is. If I see people beating someone up, the appropriate response for me is to call the cops not to jump into the fray. If I see a kid in the car alone, I might think that what's appropriate is for the cops to talk to the parent (scaring them off from doing it again), and not to break down the windows, especially if it is in fact a mild day. I don't see why this story is passed off as videotaping and reporting later, since it seems to be videotaping and reporting immediately, sending the videotape as proof. Again, hard to tell from this story.
posted by jeather at 8:10 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's funny. Parenting is hard to do right I guess. I just wonder if sometimes parents worry about the wrong things.

Because I think about all the things my parents were worried about (me overhearing "bad language"), all the things they forbade me from doing because they didn't think they were safe (don't go to your best friend's 9-year-old birthday party because she's black and lives in a "bad neighborhood"), all the things that they said kept them up at night (the thought that I might not finish college)... and then I compare them with the things that really caused me severe, lasting damage.

And sadly, the things that harmed me most were the things that they intentionally, purposefully did in the name of "discipline" (spanking me until the age of 15, including hitting me in the face) or because it "didn't fit with their values" (grounding me at home and keeping me from seeing my friends for a month because they suspected I was having teenage sex with my high school boyfriend) or because they were just plain angry at me (cutting off all financial support in college when I told them I dropped a class because I was suffering from depression).
posted by ladybird at 8:10 AM on June 5, 2014 [14 favorites]


How does that person feel if she reads about a tragedy in the paper the next morning?

This is a kid left in a ventilated car on a cool overcast day, not an inflammable straw baby.
posted by flabdablet at 8:10 AM on June 5, 2014 [13 favorites]


koeselitz, I'm digging the rationality in your responses.
posted by guy72277 at 8:11 AM on June 5, 2014


So, here's the part I don't get. How small is the airport that won't sell you a pair of headphones? I mean, maybe it's a private airfield, or maybe this was a precautionary measure, but...
posted by running order squabble fest at 8:13 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


Re: the repeated references to how the author's child could have suffered hyperthermia.

From TFA: "it was a mild, overcast, 50-degree day."

And she was inside for a couple of minutes?

Y'all know she means 50 Fahrenheit, right?
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:14 AM on June 5, 2014 [9 favorites]


At least 610 kids have died of hyperthermia in cars since 1998 in the US. Entirely avoidable tragedies.
This is a bit of a drum for me, but I have to say...

So, 40 Children a year die in cars unattended. There are 23 Million Children between 0 and 5 in the United States. This doesn't warrant a law — it's barely a statistic.
posted by pan at 8:14 AM on June 5, 2014 [13 favorites]


Or, you take the kid home and he doesn't get his Headphones.

Yeah, I agree with this. In principle, anyway, although parenting is never easy (or made easy) so I would hate to judge (too much).

It's a frantic time getting ready for a flight overseas. You get wired, tired, stressed, and sometimes loose perspective. There isn't enough time to get everything done if you work and have kids and have to pack.

Personally, though, I would have invested in a pair of cheap, marked up earbubs at the airport souvenir shop. More expensive, but having that extra time to get packed and not drag a four-year-old out to the store is... priceless!

But leaving a kid in a car in the sunshine? No way, Jose.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:14 AM on June 5, 2014


Car accidents do happen, sure. When you're behind the wheel you actively do your best as a responsible driver and parent to minimize that risk. Deliberately leaving your child in a car where you are not present to monitor their well-being and act if they are in distress is irresponsible.

Ever been in a car accident? It's not like The Matrix, there's no "bullet-time". 99.999%* of the time it's beyond your control. The comet** was not going to hit the Earth in that five-minute span.

It's the parent's job to make decisions for the child, not the nebby passerby with the iPhone. Given what she said about the weather conditions and the amount of time that passed, there's no reason that she should even have had to do the community service.

*I have no data to support this figure.
** Bogeyman, whatever.
posted by GrapeApiary at 8:15 AM on June 5, 2014


Maybe I am misunderstanding the concept of risk assessment, but it seems like there are two parts: how likely X is to happen, and how terrible the outcome if X does happen. Even if the first part is miniscule, if the second part is particularly catastrophic (like losing a child), to me the risk is still too great.
In professional risk assessment, nothing gets an infinite value.

The reason for that is that if you do it the way you suggest, you end up accumulating enough risk avoidance costs to make your life not worth living. That's not an exaggeration. If you actually follow that path in a systematic and rational way, you end up doing nothing but the thing that has the lowest risk of whatever's been declared "catastrophic" at any moment, and that is not a way to live, even if it were possible, which it isn't because you can't assess the risks of DOING it.

You can deal with that in two ways (which can be hybridized and usually are).

You can turn off your brain and decide that you're just not going to think about certain risks. Or, equivalently, that you're going to treat them as zero probabilities whenever you've done some conventionally decided version of "enough" about them, regardless of the actual residual probability.

... or you can realize that you really do take catastrophic risks every day, that that's necessary, and that you're going to do the hard mental work to actually try to handle that quantitatively.
posted by Hizonner at 8:15 AM on June 5, 2014 [8 favorites]


DirtyOldTown: "And she was inside for a couple of minutes? "

According to her, yes. We actually have no objective confirmation for how long she was in the store, and she has a vested interest in making it seem as if there was no possible endangerment.
posted by zarq at 8:15 AM on June 5, 2014 [3 favorites]




This doesn't warrant a law — it's barely a statistic.

I agree, although if you are a parent and you hear of a kid dying of heatstroke in a car, it is pretty heartbreaking. It's bad enough when my kids get a fever.

Maybe it's something you can only understand if you have kids.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:16 AM on June 5, 2014


I see a difference between the parenting goal of embracing more risk so that our children can experience more freedom, and just the general "well we lived through the '70s so all these rules are nonsense" mindset. I let my six year old ride his bike around without me because it's a really important part of his growing up to have that opportunity. I don't let my three year old sit alone in a car because it has no value whatsoever beyond my convenience.

We treat parents like crap in this country in a whole variety of ways, but we can work on that without discarding basic safety standards.
posted by gerstle at 8:16 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


Cars need to be designed better for airflow in rear-facing child seats.

I wish this thing existed when I was a kid relegated to the back seat on road trips.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:16 AM on June 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


Even if the number of children who die each year from being left unattended in a car is barely a statistic, it's still preventable. (Maybe an uncompromising law is too much, but maybe not.)
posted by tehjoel at 8:17 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's the parent's job to make decisions for the child, not the nebby passerby with the iPhone. Given what she said about the weather conditions and the amount of time that passed, there's no reason that she should even have had to do the community service.


And the passerby had no idea how much time would pass before Mom came back. Should she wait until the kid is in distress? Park out by the car for ten minutes first?
posted by WinnipegDragon at 8:19 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


Headphones? Has everything became that absent of delayed gratification?
posted by buzzman at 8:21 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


When the cops showed up and the car was already gone, that could have been the end of it.
posted by mantecol at 8:21 AM on June 5, 2014 [20 favorites]


Maybe I am misunderstanding the concept of risk assessment, but it seems like there are two parts: how likely X is to happen, and how terrible the outcome if X does happen. Even if the first part is miniscule, if the second part is particularly catastrophic (like losing a child), to me the risk is still too great.

For better or worse, this is exactly the kind of thinking that all but ended the kind of Halloweens we grew up having.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:22 AM on June 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


pan: " This doesn't warrant a law — it's barely a statistic."

The idea that we should only pass laws that affect a large number of people seems irrational to me. This isn't a zero sum game.
posted by zarq at 8:22 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's my understanding that the child was a human child and could potentially respond to an attempt at communication. Are you okay? How long have you been here?

Not, OMG, I better film this infant and send it to the cops.

If he or she is that concerned, yeah, maybe he or she could have waited a few more minutes.
posted by GrapeApiary at 8:22 AM on June 5, 2014 [4 favorites]


Even if the number of children who die each year from being left unattended in a car is barely a statistic, it's still preventable. (Maybe an uncompromising law is too much, but maybe not.)
Almost everything is preventable if enough effort is expended, but I feel working to prevent things on this scale twists us.

I swear the effort would be better spent educating about concussions or handing out free sunscreen.
posted by pan at 8:23 AM on June 5, 2014 [11 favorites]


I left my kids in the car a lot back in the 1970s, just as my parents did with me and my sisters in the 1950s. In fact, my kids went through a period where they liked to "camp" in the car at night- we lived in the country.

How much of this is part of the backlash against feminism? Or is it because we're so media-saturated that we are more aware of all the many things that can possibly go wrong and that very very very occasionally do?
posted by mareli at 9:43 AM on June


I sincerely doubt it's a backlash against feminism. But I think you're onto something with the media saturation. I've always believed it was a response to the intense media coverage of a handful of child disappearances that happened in the 1970s and 1980s, especially the cases of Etan Patz and Adam Walsh.

I grew up in the '70s, and just like you said, being left in the car while a parent went in to a shop for twenty or thirty minutes was never an issue. 'Course, I think we were probably 8 or 9 years old before that happened on anything like a regular basis. But everyone did it, and it was no big deal.

Then again, this was a rural small town, and people were still leaving the doors to their houses unlocked, too. As time went on, we had to start locking our doors, and my parents started holding us a little bit closer.


...When the mother finally came out of the store she told the police she was gone for less than five minutes. I don't know if she was just outright lying or simply didn't realize how much time had passed, but there is one thing I do know: That's why you call the police.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 9:49 AM on June 5


If she's anything like the American adults I know, it's because she didn't realize how quickly time had passed. I'm regularly stunned at how I can assume that something's only taken five minutes, and it's turned out that fifteen or more minutes have actually passed. And I don't even have kids!
posted by magstheaxe at 8:23 AM on June 5, 2014


jeather: “If I see a kid in the car alone, I might think that what's appropriate is for the cops to talk to the parent (scaring them off from doing it again), and not to break down the windows, especially if it is in fact a mild day. I don't see why this story is passed off as videotaping and reporting later, since it seems to be videotaping and reporting immediately, sending the videotape as proof. Again, hard to tell from this story.”

Well – it could not have happened even remotely the way it's described if it wasn't reported later... I'd like to think. I want to believe that if you called the police and told them that there's a child that you think might die who's been left in a car, then they'd reroute you to 911 and get someone out there.

Maybe not. Maybe the police said "yeah, kid in danger of death, whatever. We'll talk to the parents tomorrow." That is possible, and – I wish I were being sarcastic – there are some jurisdictions where that would happen.

But the key here is what you said about "scaring them off from doing it again." Because that's the key to this whole thing, I think. The videotaper knew the kid wasn't in imminent danger, but thought the whole thing stank of neglect, so they videotaped it in the hopes of getting the parents examined and making sure the kid was okay.

I know some people believe that there are secret signs you can catch to tell you if a parent is abusing their kids. I think that's a bad idea. I have known a lot of parents, so I know that what we see isn't always indicative of what goes on in a home. If I see a parent yelling at a child in public, I keep in mind that sometimes that's just how parenting works, and I remember that the kid may need that kind of thing to keep them in line at that moment. I don't know; I'm not the parent.

For me, a parent has to actually put a kid in danger – by leaving them in a situation in which there is an imminent threat, or by physically harming them, or emotionally harming them on a clearly permanent level – before I'll step in.

If I see something like this, where the kid isn't really in danger – I weigh it against the freedom involved, and generally I move on and remember that people have to parent their own kids. If it seems a bit extreme, but the kid isn't actually in imminent danger, I might give the parent a dirty look. But that's as far as I go.
posted by koeselitz at 8:24 AM on June 5, 2014 [8 favorites]


I have extremely mixed feelings about the idea of having children. In part because of a fear of losing myself in the role of parent; of having all of my needs and agency and independence completely subsumed not only by the responsibility of a child, but by society's opinions on what being a parent (a Mom) is supposed to entail.

This thread has certainly added more fuel to that particular concern.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 8:26 AM on June 5, 2014 [22 favorites]


The videotaper knew the kid wasn't in imminent danger

How exactly? Because the Mom said five minutes?
posted by WinnipegDragon at 8:27 AM on June 5, 2014


Headphones? Has everything became that absent of delayed gratification?

(Well, to be fair, she was about to get on a flight with two small kids. Headphones were probably more important to her that day than, like, food or water.)
posted by gerstle at 8:27 AM on June 5, 2014 [7 favorites]


leaving a kid in a car in the sunshine? No way, Jose.

Key words from TFA: cool, overcast.

Light pouring through the windows of the car stays within the car and raises its temperature.

Key words from TFA: cool, overcast.

Yes the temperature inside the car will still rise. The question is: will it rise enough to be in any way dangerous? On an overcast 50°F day, it would be flat-out rising enough to be comfy.

And you don't need to go Full Science to know that this is so, either. All you need to do is park your car outdoors a lot, in a range of weather conditions, and pay attention to how it feels when you get in it.
posted by flabdablet at 8:28 AM on June 5, 2014 [6 favorites]


Yeah, if Metafilter, which I normally consider a sane and rational place, should have such frankly crazy opinions about parental responsibilities, I really don't where I can hide. Fact of the matter is, you take risks every single day of your life. You can't avoid all of them, nor should you even try. That way lies paranoia. Cut this mother a break, for God's sake. It's already ridiculous that this perfectly ordinary act is being criminalized in this manner.
posted by peacheater at 8:29 AM on June 5, 2014 [36 favorites]


I grew up in the '70s, and just like you said, being left in the car while a parent went in to a shop for twenty or thirty minutes was never an issue. 'Course, I think we were probably 8 or 9 years old before that happened on anything like a regular basis. But everyone did it, and it was no big deal.

The other thing was that the windows were hand-cranked and if things got hot you could do something about it. But it does raise the question about what age should be the cut-off?
posted by cardboard at 8:29 AM on June 5, 2014


me: “The videotaper knew the kid wasn't in imminent danger”

WinnipegDragon: “How exactly? Because the Mom said five minutes?”

My presumption, perhaps unwarranted, is that a human being didn't actually say to themselves, "that child is going to die, so I'd like to catch the whole thing on video."
posted by koeselitz at 8:30 AM on June 5, 2014 [6 favorites]


I have extremely mixed feelings about the idea of having children. In part because of a fear of losing myself in the role of parent; of having all of my needs and agency and independence completely subsumed not only by the responsibility of a child, but by society's opinions on what being a parent (a Mom) is supposed to entail.

That may be true to a certain extent, but on the grand scheme of things, saying "No, you're going to stay here with grandma" in order to avoid a fight at the store is a relatively small inconvenience.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 8:30 AM on June 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


Where is this magical land she lives in where walking to and from the store, finding Thing at the store, and checking out at the store takes only five minutes?

At a strip mall where you can park right in front of your intended store? We're not talking about the Boston Marathon here. It's 10 feet.
posted by ftm at 8:30 AM on June 5, 2014 [4 favorites]


Y'all know she means 50 Fahrenheit, right?

But what if the car had been Canadian? What then, genius?
posted by running order squabble fest at 8:31 AM on June 5, 2014 [16 favorites]


My presumption, perhaps unwarranted, is that a human being didn't actually say to themselves, "that child is going to die, so I'd like to catch the whole thing on video."

So she should stay there and monitor the situation until the danger is imminent?

Like the story I posted above with my Mother, I'm sure this human being thought that a four year old child should not be left unattended in a car regardless of the weather conditions, had an internal debate about the right thing to do regarding the welfare of the child, and decided that a young child should probably not be left in a situation of neglect by their mother, and erred on the side of caution.

I think that's a reasonable decision to make.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 8:32 AM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


My presumption, perhaps unwarranted, is that a human being didn't actually say to themselves, "that child is going to die, so I'd like to catch the whole thing on video."

I think you're failing to give humanity's eagerness to embrace Google Glass the recognition it deserves.
posted by flabdablet at 8:33 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


The thing that I genuinely don't understand is her complete confidence that her son would stay put.

At 4 years old, my son could unbuckle himself, climb into the front seat, and unlock the car. And he almost certainly would have, shiny video games to play with, or no. I can't see myself making the decision she made. I sort of get it, but I never would have done the same. I'd have returned to the car with my son having let the air out of the tires and removed everything in our trunk and dumped it in the parking lot. It's a toss up whether he'd be playing with the gas can, the oil dipstick, or his (removed and disassembled) car seat.

But all kids are different, I suppose.
posted by rbellon at 8:33 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


To me, this is actually less about the decision (good, bad or indifferent) to leave a 4-year-old in a car for five or ten minutes than it is about the fact that a person can destroy your life with a phone call and a camera, whether their intentions were good or not.

I'm sure it's mostly a perception on my part, but it seems more and more often situations are judged based on what could happen as opposed to what does happen, and I don't think the pendulum's finished it's swing.
posted by Mooski at 8:33 AM on June 5, 2014 [21 favorites]


For better or worse, this is exactly the kind of thinking that all but ended the kind of Halloweens we grew up having.

I have been researching early Halloween, and wrote something about it here. It sometimes read as a war between little children and police, and the children could be so destructive that people actually fired on them, as in this instance:

a man named Haywood decided to take the law into his own hand when his house was accosted by children, firing a shotgun out his window at the boys. Among the injured: E.C. Childs, Jr, hand mangled; Frank Anderson, scalp and face filled with shot; Bill Kennedy, shot in abdomen.

The more you read of history, the more it seems like every advance in parenting is seen as excessive, and children aren't really in the much danger, but then you discover, left to their own devices, children kill themselves or others, or put themselves in situations where they might be grievously injured, with great frequency.

I want parents watching their kids, in part because of the real possibility of the kids hurting themselves, but also because of the real possibility of that kid hurting me. They're like gremlins.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 8:36 AM on June 5, 2014 [5 favorites]


An average of 38 children die this way every year and for every child who dies, hundreds more are rescued.

The population of the United States under the age of 5 is roughly 20 million.

For a rough comparison:

According to the NOAA, over the last 20 years, the United States averaged 51 annual lightning strike fatalities, placing it in the second position, just behind floods for deadly weather.
posted by gimonca at 8:36 AM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


That may be true to a certain extent, but on the grand scheme of things, saying "No, you're going to stay here with grandma" in order to avoid a fight at the store is a relatively small inconvenience.

Yes, but see, you're saying that after her whole day has been laid out for you to judge in hindsight. She was a human person making a series of decisions in succession, without the benefit of knowing how circumstances would change. We can say, "Oh, well she should have known her kid would throw a tantrum once they actually got to the store, she should have just left him at the house!" But that's...really easy for us to say now, isn't it?

The whole attitude of "Well it's your fault because you didn't make the correct series of decisions that I think you should have made" rubs me the wrong way in any circumstance, and seems particularly cold hearted in this one.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 8:37 AM on June 5, 2014 [19 favorites]


Well – it could not have happened even remotely the way it's described if it wasn't reported later.

I don't see where you're getting that. The bystander could have called the police either immediately upon seeing the author go into the store, leaving the kid in the car, or any time thereafter if they just happened to find the kid in the car, but then the police showed up after the author had returned and left.

Nothing suggested to me that the police weren't dispatched immediately and didn't get there promptly. And in fact, if they were, it lends some credence to the author's claim that she wasn't in the store for very long.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:38 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


It does not have to be hot outside for the car to heat up to a dangerous level.

Is that really true? How often do you come out to your car and find it dangerously hot, when the outside temperature is not hot?
posted by smackfu at 8:39 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


decided that a young child should probably not be left in a situation of neglect by their mother, and erred on the side of caution.
Engaging a legal system that's notorious for ham-handedly making things worse, and almost as notorious for having a lot of trouble making things better, is itself taking a large risk. That risk only justified if its expected value is less than the expected value of the portion of some other risk that you expect it to avert.

Calling the cops is not "erring on the side of caution". Often it's more like "abdicating responsibility".
posted by Hizonner at 8:41 AM on June 5, 2014 [4 favorites]


I don't see why the bystander is to blame. The cops should be trained to use their discretion wisely before filing a case. They are the professionals.
posted by asra at 8:42 AM on June 5, 2014 [6 favorites]


Frankly I'm surprised the cops didn't just start tazing random passersby when they arrived at the scene.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:43 AM on June 5, 2014 [18 favorites]


To me, this is actually less about the decision (good, bad or indifferent) to leave a 4-year-old in a car for five or ten minutes than it is about the fact that a person can destroy your life with a phone call and a camera, whether their intentions were good or not.

I won't disagree with this at all. My argument is that the welfare of the child should be the primary concern, and I don't blame the bystander for considering it at all.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 8:43 AM on June 5, 2014


I don't see why the bystander is to blame. The cops should be trained to use their discretion wisely before filing a case. They are the professionals.

My guess would be that once the bystander rang the child endangerment bell, the cop had little choice but to follow up. Discretion or no, they can't unring that bell.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:45 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


Sometimes, when standing in line, I see a frustrated parent with her (and it's usually a her) misbehaving/crying child, and the best way I have ever found to step in is to make faces at the kid. Or play peek-a-boo --something to distract the child for a moment and give the parent a few seconds to compose herself. I usually say something like, "Yup. Been there. Hope your day gets easier" because I really do believe that in some cases, at some times, being on the receiving end of empathy and a momentary break in a stress factor can be a bigger help than it seems. It's a micro-intervention, because there are options -- not just the nuclear option -- in responding, even in a kid-in-car situation.

Like going into a store and asking them to page the owner of car with plate so-and-so.

Like pulling aside another bystander and asking them to witness as you try to open the door, or go into the store to page the parent.

Like standing there and opening a door, and calmly saying to the returning parent, "I'm sorry, but I was worried about him overheating. Have a good day!"

Like playing peek-a-boo through the window of a locked door to assure yourself that a child is remaining responsive.

There are options. There are usually things that concerned members of the village can do, on their own initiative, before immediately calling on municipal resources to intervene.
posted by MonkeyToes at 8:45 AM on June 5, 2014 [45 favorites]


Calling the cops is not "erring on the side of caution". Often it's more like "abdicating responsibility".

So this childs welfare is now the bystanders responsibility? How is that reasonable?

If you see a child, and you believe that this child is either being neglected or placed in potential harm, what should you do? Walk away and hope for the best?
posted by WinnipegDragon at 8:47 AM on June 5, 2014


My argument is that the welfare of the child should be the primary concern

If the welfare of the child is the primary concern, then this person should have waited to see if there was actually a problem. Because involving the police when there isn't a problem will often create one, as it did in this case.

If they saw her leave the child in the car (which it sounds like they did) they could have just walked up to her. They could have said, "If you leave that child in your car I'm going to call the police." If they didn't see her leave, they could have gone into the closest one or two stores and asked the clerk to make an announcement that a child was in a car of X description. They could have done a LOT of things.

They didn't do ANY of those things that would have ACTUALLY been in the best interest of the child. They did a shitty, pointless thing that had a negative impact on this kid and his family.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 8:48 AM on June 5, 2014 [9 favorites]


MonkeyToes has thoughtfully provided a short list.
posted by Mooski at 8:48 AM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


Like going into a store and asking them to page the owner of car with plate so-and-so.

Like pulling aside another bystander and asking them to witness as you try to open the door, or go into the store to page the parent.


Funny you mentioned this. In my story above where my Mother did call the police, she originally asked a cart clerk in the parking lot to take the plate number inside and have the parent(s) paged. The guy told her 'not my problem' and walked away.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 8:49 AM on June 5, 2014


If this thread shows one thing, it's that everyone has an opinion about good and bad parenting.

Now just imagine that everyone who thinks you're a bad parent will secretly record your decisions and send the video to the police. And that this could create a credible threat to take your kids away.

I'm not even a parent and I find this possibility both absurd and terrifying.
posted by cotterpin at 8:49 AM on June 5, 2014 [20 favorites]


I don't think she did anything wrong. I don't even think she made a poor decision. Apparently this makes me unfit for parenthood in the United States, which, well, I'm fine with, as I have no desire to be a parent, especially not in this weird, sad country.

But: this story flatly horrifies me. I'm not quite sure how we as a culture have gotten from the observation that on vanishingly rare occasions small children die when left alone in a car for long periods on hot days to the conclusion that therefore anyone who leaves their children in cars for any amount of time deserves to be entangled in our bizarre legal system. Are we misprogrammed robots? Because it seems like a conclusion a misprogrammed robot would make.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 8:50 AM on June 5, 2014 [28 favorites]


"The legal process in the original case also caused harm to the child..." Because the "legal process" forced the parent to leave the kid in the car...?

We're pretty good about shifting blame and making excuses around here...
posted by HuronBob at 7:29 AM on June 5 [+] [!]


Not very polite, Bob. Lets keep it civil. Try to remember that I'm not a troll, just another person interested in having a discussion about this.

The point I was making was that the intent of the law and the child protective legal structures and procedures is to minimize and, if possible, prevent harm to children. In this case, the prosecution of the mother did more harm to the child than the five minutes alone in the car. Do we agree on that?

I'm not asking you to agree about the potential for harm either in the car alone or in the legal system. Of the actual, non-theoretical events that occurred, the legal process clearly caused more harm to the child than did the alone time in the car.

The conclusion I drew was that perhaps a serious discussion with the mother and NOT a formal prosecution that could end with her child being taken away, would have achieved two important things:

1) Help the mother understood why leaving the child alone was the wrong thing to do.
2) Prevent (further? debatable) harm from coming to the child.
posted by ben242 at 8:51 AM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


Yes, but see, you're saying that after her whole day has been laid out for you to judge in hindsight. She was a human person making a series of decisions in succession, without the benefit of knowing how circumstances would change. We can say, "Oh, well she should have known her kid would throw a tantrum once they actually got to the store, she should have just left him at the house!" But that's...really easy for us to say now, isn't it?

The whole attitude of "Well it's your fault because you didn't make the correct series of decisions that I think you should have made" rubs me the wrong way in any circumstance, and seems particularly cold hearted in this one.

First off, yes, you're correct that I'm judging her in retrospect. Had this been a third-party article describing her actions rather than a first-person AW account in Salon, I would be right there saying that we can't be quick to judgment. But she's opened herself up to it here.

On to the substance - she does say "you hate the store", showing that she knew on some level that she was likely to have trouble if she brought him. But at any rate, like I said earlier, she had plenty of opportunity to make a different choice before ultimately leaving the kid in the car. Even assuming she couldn't predict that there would be trouble, once there was trouble, she could either (a) make the kid come into the store, or (b) bag the whole thing and go home without headphones. It's not as if leaving her kid in the car was the only feasible option, or that the alternatives were all that terrible.

I have plenty of sympathy for parents - we are forced to make difficult choices all the time, and we never know how those decisions are going to turn out. I get things wrong all the time. But here, to make a series of poor decisions, and THEN write a story about it in Salon from the point of view of how wronged she's been? You can bet I'm cold hearted.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 8:51 AM on June 5, 2014


There are options. There are usually things that concerned members of the village can do, on their own initiative, before immediately calling on municipal resources to intervene.

We don't have the whole story, we don't know what the bystander did. Further, the police are trained to handle this sort of scenario, this person is (likely) not. You are ascribing malice to the actions taken without any reason.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 8:51 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


Frankly, I wouldn't judge her if she did everything exactly the way she did, and then did NOT write a Salon article about it. Or even if she wrote a Salon article saying, "Boy, I really fucked up here, and I won't do it again." We all make mistakes. It's the way she paints herself as the victim that sticks in my craw.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 8:54 AM on June 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


The thing that got me was that the kid wanted to stay in the car to play on the computer/ tablet And the mother let him! Scandal!

Otherwise I didn't get any of this shit. If it's too warm in the car, can't the kid climb out? If I don't think it's cool and my kid wants to stay in the car I just tell him sorry but I don't want you to get hurt and I don't want to get arrested so, maybe next time.

If he has a fit, he has a fit. By five he knew that throwing a fit was not a way to getting what he wanted. Didn't always stop the tantrum but still.
posted by From Bklyn at 8:54 AM on June 5, 2014


So this childs welfare is now the bystanders responsibility? How is that reasonable?
You make it just as much the bystander's responsibility if you ask the bystander to call the police. Apparently the bystander felt responsible enough to do that. When we arrive on the scene, the bystander has already assumed responsbility, one way or another. But once having assumed it, it is still possible to try to ditch it on somebody else.

As for "reasonable", the world seems to be pretty steadfast about refusing to be a reasonable place.
If you see a child, and you believe that this child is either being neglected or placed in potential harm, what should you do? Walk away and hope for the best?
The answer to that question in general is that I should make a real assessment of the actual risk, and do what I think will best mitigate it (considering the costs, which include the cost of taking on other risks in the course of it). Oh, and I should also take a long hard look at my belief about potential harm and see if it's justified by the evidence, or just a reflexive reaction.

In the particular case at hand, I don't have enough information to say exactly what I would do. We're seeing people here squabbling about particulars that aren't in the article (not to mention pointing out that the article isn't necessarily perfectly accurate). Those particulars matter to the correct reaction. So do other factors, like for instance what else the bystander had to do at the moment.

MOST of the time, in a situation like that, I personally would be in the "hang around and see what developed" or maybe "track down the mother and see what she's doing" or "check with the kid" camp. My further actions would depend on the results of those assessment steps. Had I done those things in this case, I very much doubt I'd have arrived at the decision to call the police.
posted by Hizonner at 8:55 AM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


How often do you come out to your car and find it dangerously hot, when the outside temperature is not hot?

This chart gives an idea, although it only goes down to an outside temperature of 70F. But even at 70, which I wouldn't think of as being particularly hot, in 20 minutes you can hit ~100F, and 104 (which seems like the threshold for actual danger) after 30.

But if you were to just come upon a child in a car, not knowing how long they've been in there or what the starting temperature of the car was, and it being difficult to tell what the interior temperature is from the outside, I don't think that calling the police and getting the emergency-response system started is the wrong decision. It may be likely that either the parent returns before the police/fire department show up (which is what I think happened in the case in question), or that the police and fire department do show up, and the car is not that hot inside (in which case I don't think there should be charges filed against anyone, but I don't write the law).

At any rate, speculating about the motives of the bystander doesn't seem especially productive. The "bystander" could just as easily have been a police officer patrolling the parking lot, and then there wouldn't have been any question over should-they-shouldn't-they. Or a mall cop might have seen the kid, and been required by policy to call. There are lots of ways that it could have come to the attention of the police. There's a legitimate argument over what the correct police response should have been, once called, but the fault wasn't on the bystander for calling in what they thought was a bad situation.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:56 AM on June 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


To help with the risk calculus, here is a list of nontraffic vehicle related fatalities.

Somebody mentioned that the risk of a tantrumming child in a parking lot is probably higher than one knowingly left in a car.
I will leave it to you to decide if that might be the case from these numbers.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 8:56 AM on June 5, 2014


From Bklyn: " If it's too warm in the car, can't the kid climb out?"

Not necessarily.

My four year olds could unbuckle themselves at that age. But would have had difficulty with the door unlock mechanism and opening the doors. They'd be more likely to sit in the car and cry if they were uncomfortable. This assumes of course that they were aware that they were uncomfortably hot, or remained conscious. Hyperthermia in a child that age can result in seizures and/or unconsciousness. The condition typically results in low blood pressure which can cause a person to faint or become dizzy.
posted by zarq at 9:00 AM on June 5, 2014


Somebody mentioned that the risk of a tantrumming child in a parking lot is probably higher than one knowingly left in a car.
I will leave it to you to decide if that might be the case from these numbers.


Not reading your numbers because there's math involved, so I don't know which side the statistics come out on.

For me, however, I know that I can control my child if I am with him in a parking lot, even if he is having a tantrum - I can throw him over my shoulder kicking and screaming if need be. To the contrary, I have zero control over him if he is alone in a car in the parking lot and I am in a store where I can't see him.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 9:01 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


cotterpin: Now just imagine that everyone who thinks you're a bad parent will secretly record your decisions and send the video to the police. And that this could create a credible threat to take your kids away.

Yes, exactly, and don't forget that, especially as a parent of a young child, you are almost constantly being confronted by other parents who disagree with your standards of parenting. Breastfeeding/Formula, Cloth/Disposeable, Organic Quinoa/Lucky Charms, SAHP/Day Care, Public School/Private, etc.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:01 AM on June 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


Actually, now that I think of it, at early 4 years old, my kids could unlock the top latch on their car seats (plastic latch) but had trouble with the bottom latch (two metal prongs into a standard-looking belt buckle receptacle.) They got better at it during their 4th year.
posted by zarq at 9:02 AM on June 5, 2014


If it's too warm in the car, can't the kid climb out?

No. I mean, we all wish our kids could be resourceful and show initiative, but at the same time a four-year-old is not going to be able to do this. They also may be unaware they are in a dangerously hot environment.

While I don't have an opinion on whether the Mommy with the iPad taking flights to France or wherever and writing for Salon (typically someone MetaFilter would call "privileged" who is shocked and surprised that there is some accountability in this world) deserved community service, it's really surprising to me that the consensus here is that it's okay to leave four year olds alone in a car on a sunny day.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:04 AM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


I count at least three different points in the story when this problem could have been avoided by actually standing up to your children:

* Four-year-old demands to go to the store: "No, you're staying here with grandma."
* Four-year-old refuses to go into the store: "Too bad - you wanted to come, now we're going in."
* Four-year-old absolutely refuses to go into the store: "OK, no headphones for you."

So we have a story here where a mom ends up leaving her four-year-old in the car not out of necessity (any of us can imagine a story where leaving the child in the car is the only option), but out of simply not wanting to fight with a four-year-old after already acquiescing several times.


I'm not a parent, so I didn't want to be the point the above out. But...yeah. I had a similar reaction. As I was reading the author's story, all I could think was:

* This is where my mom would've said 'You broke your headphones, and we don't have the money to buy new ones. Sorry, but that's how it goes'.
* And this is where (if we'd had the money for new headphones) Ma would've said 'I'll go get them when it's convenient for me, and not a minute sooner'.
* And this is where Ma would've said, 'It's now convenient for me to go to the store, and I'll pick up headphones for you while I'm there, but you're keeping your black fanny here'.
* And this is where Ma would've said 'You wanted to go to the store, you're going to the store. You don't get to change your mind now that I've driven your fanny across town'...."

I couldn't help but think that the whole incident has its roots in a perfect storm of too much disposable income being spent on the child, the resulting sense of entitlement from said child, and a parent who prefers to be a child's friend instead of laying down some discipline.

Man, have you ever had kids? Look, maybe I had a particularly stubborn 4 year old, but I remember tantrums where if I wanted her to go anywhere, I would have to physically pick her up and force her to go. She would not put her foot down and walk. She would not calm down while the terrible injustice was being perpetrated...Now, me, I would have pulled out a book and waited, because all my options are shitty. But it doesn't mean this woman's risk assessor was broken.
posted by corb at 10:56 AM on June 5


Maybe my mom was unbelievably patient, because she certainly could out-wait a tantrum (and books did play a role). Then again, since it was the '70s she also had spanking at her disposal, so on those occasions when she had neither the time or inclination to wait, she deployed the paddle. We learned rapidly as children that there was nothing to be gained with a tantrum.

To me, this is actually less about the decision (good, bad or indifferent) to leave a 4-year-old in a car for five or ten minutes than it is about the fact that a person can destroy your life with a phone call and a camera, whether their intentions were good or not.
posted by Mooski at 11:33 AM on June 5


Agreed. Perhaps the person with the cell phone and camera thought the police would check the kid, give the mom a warning or perhaps a small fine, and leave it at that? That certainly would've been my assumption.
posted by magstheaxe at 9:04 AM on June 5, 2014 [11 favorites]


The obvious solution is for the mom to stay in the car and have the kid go get his own headphones.

i bet that lazy baby doesn't even have a job yet
posted by elizardbits at 9:05 AM on June 5, 2014 [27 favorites]


even at 70, which I wouldn't think of as being particularly hot, in 20 minutes you can hit ~100F, and 104 (which seems like the threshold for actual danger) after 30.

My experience of getting into my own car, which is always parked outside, is consistent with that chart if it's been parked in full sunshine.

Kim Brooks's car was not parked in full sunshine, because the day was overcast, and the outside air temperature was 50°F, not 70°.

There was zero danger that her child would cook, even if she'd been held up for an hour. Not minimal danger; zero danger.
posted by flabdablet at 9:05 AM on June 5, 2014 [9 favorites]


With all of the talk of risk calculus and accident percentages, no one seems to want to bring up the obvious one: By giving birth you have doomed that child to a 100% likelihood of death (within, say, 70 or 90 years) regardless of WHAT precautions you take.
posted by TDavis at 9:05 AM on June 5, 2014 [8 favorites]


Leaving a small child child alone, unsupervised and not within your sight in public is neglectful.

This makes me think of Scandinavian countries where it's still common for parents to leave infants outside alone in their strollers for naps. I don't want kids, but if I did, I think I'd rather raise them in a place with an attitude like that rather than in a culture of fear.
posted by three_red_balloons at 9:10 AM on June 5, 2014 [16 favorites]


If it's too warm in the car, can't the kid climb out?
I think the article mentions that the child safety locks were on, so in this case, no.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 9:10 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


I just wish there were a City Social Workers number I could call if I'm concerned about something like this. If I saw a small child unattended in a car, I would more concerned than alarmed - and I would love to be able to call a non-threatening public service agency to check out the situation. I would feel like calling the police would be excessive, but I don't know who else I could call. (And waiting there myself raises its own set of concerns, and wouldn't give relief to an overheated child anyway.)
posted by kristi at 9:11 AM on June 5, 2014


This just came out on AP a few minutes ago:

Baby found dead inside car parked at New York home

DOLGEVILLE, N.Y. (AP) -- State police are investigating the death of a 15-month-old girl left inside a vehicle for about seven hours while it was parked at her grandfather's central New York home.
posted by Auden at 9:12 AM on June 5, 2014


What if the kid had a medical event while she was in the store? What if he unbuckled and went after her, or decided to walk somewhere? What if the MOM had a medical event in the store? Anyone attending to her would not know she had a kid waiting in her car. I always think this way when leaving the house - I wouldn't leave something cooking in the oven, for example - I could die and the house could burn down. Its not about being paranoid, its about knowing that life in unpredictable. Also, I understand her impulse - but a kid that young does NOT get to decide that he'd rather stay in the car. It's law that children that young have supervision - she left him with none. I don't think she should be in prison, but she seems upset that any fuss was made about this at all.
posted by agregoli at 9:12 AM on June 5, 2014 [7 favorites]


three_red_balloons: "This makes me think of"

Remind me to beg the mods for a longer edit window.
posted by zarq at 9:13 AM on June 5, 2014


I find the whole thing dreadful, and I particularly dislike all the assumption and partially-informed judgment that floods discussions about these kinds of things. Assumptions and good intentions are plenty enough to create real suffering.

Being a parent has always been a challenging thing, but it is particularly difficult to do in a panopticon, which is what our society is today. Parenting is a 20-year-long project that starts with a bootcamp phase, and gradually levels out to a helpless-chronic-stress phase near the end, but the one consistent element is that parents can never really know for sure that any single decision is the right one. It's seat-of-the-pants the whole fucking way.

Sure, you can take the advice of others, and read books and take classes, but all that noise cancels itself out. Nobody knows anything, really, and as your pediatrician probably has said to you "nobody knows your child better than you do." Which is terrifying to hear because you yourself know so little with any certainty. The knowledge comes in a slow drip, and you always feel like you really don't know much at all up until they're nearly tweens or even teenagers, and by that time your ability to directly effect change on them is waning rapidly; you either got it right or you didn't, but it's late and very hard to turn the ship by the time you can see the shore.

Parenting involves constant rapid decisionmaking with less-than-complete information, and sometimes the outcomes will be fine and sometimes they will be tragic.

The best thing onlookers can do is help the family and only if its needed.

In most cases one encounters, this does not mean calling CSS because a single bad choice was made; it means doing the little, practical, human things that MonkeyToes describes above.

Because if you blinker your thinking to be "child welfare above all," then you stand a good chance of punishing a decent but flawed parent for a moment's lapse, which will ultimately punish the whole family, in ways this story describes pretty well.

In my experience, parents who truly threaten the health and welfare of their children are much less common than parents who are simply struggling to hold their shit together day-to-day.

Mistaking the latter for the former and acting on that mistake inflicts an injury to that family, and is nothing to be proud of. The road to hell is paved with just these kinds of good intentions. What takes real courage is reaching out to that parent as a fellow human being to see what is actually the case, and if you can help their family.
posted by Pliskie at 9:13 AM on June 5, 2014 [16 favorites]


Given the data, the only reason I would ever claim that it is a poor decision to leave a child alone in a car for a short period of time on an overcast day is if I were compelled to do so by a judge. In that situation, I would lie and claim that it's just terrible, terrible to do such a thing to a child.

But in reality? The only person who endangered a child here was the person who called the police and got that particularly dangerous and untrustworthy organization involved.

Yes, of course the author of this piece is privileged. If she weren't, it could very easily be an article about how she got her kid taken away from her.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:13 AM on June 5, 2014 [18 favorites]


I personally would be in the "hang around and see what developed" or maybe "track down the mother and see what she's doing" or "check with the kid" camp.

All of those things seem like the sort of things that the police are trained to do, and I'm not, and amateur-hour law enforcement rarely goes well.

At the very least I'd probably want to call the police before doing any of them, because I'd rather not have the first call to the cops be "hey there's this dude hanging around a car with a kid in it I think he's a perv" or perhaps "this woman just started screaming at this guy, something about her kid, I dunno maybe he assaulted her, come quick" both of which I could see happening from the other courses of action. And then I, the bystander, end up face-down on the pavement for a while for my trouble.

There was zero danger that her child would cook, even if she'd been held up for an hour.

That is, of course, if you take her side of the story at face value; there is presumably another side, which is that of the bystander who called the police, that we don't know. Maybe the day was not as cool and overcast as described. Maybe a cloud moved out of the way and it suddenly got sunny. We don't know.

The problem isn't that the police were called, the problem is that the legal situation escalated from there, which is a separate problem. The police, not random bystanders, should be the ones making the decision 'was this really a legitimate risk to the child?' with additional levels of review as it moves through the system. If the situation really was as benign as the author describes it (which I am neither believing nor disbelieving, there's just not enough information either way) then the problem occurred with the police's decision, not the bystander's.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:14 AM on June 5, 2014 [5 favorites]


The only person who endangered a child here was the person who called the police and got that particularly dangerous and untrustworthy organization involved.

Yeah, I'm imagining a different scenario in certain parts of the us with certain races and ethnicities where the police are called because someone is allegedly recklessly endangering a child and mom gets shot coming out of the store.
posted by elizardbits at 9:16 AM on June 5, 2014 [12 favorites]


There's a world of difference between the child left in the car for five minutes on a cool day and the child forgotten in the car for hours. I'm dismayed that people seem so incapable of discerning a difference here.

the undercurrent in this thread of raw fear pitched to irrationality is palpable. It scares me far more than what might happen to a child left in a car for a few minutes (even on a hot day) ... as I was no doubt hundred of times through my childhood. We also didn't have seatbelts in the backseat until I was at least ten. Never saw a car seat. And we walked ten miles to school across a wilderness known for tiger attacks.

(sorry, but sarcasm is often the first defense against somebody else's FEAR)

At least 610 kids have died of hyperthermia in cars since 1998 in the US. Entirely avoidable tragedies.

Worth repeating (and no sarcasm here). That's a shockingly high number until you actually think ... okay, total population of 300 million people of which maybe seven percent are under five years of age. That's 610 dead out of 21 million ... and that's just factoring for a single year. That 610 stat covers fifteen years. Somebody said "vanishingly small danger" a while back. This seems to back it up.

Yes, I'm not a parent. Yes, I don't begin to grasp the pressures parents face. But that doesn't deny me of the right, nay the responsibility, to call bullshit on irrational fear as it's one of the deadliest forces on the planet.
posted by philip-random at 9:16 AM on June 5, 2014 [14 favorites]


Baby found dead inside car parked at New York home

I think we can all agree that leaving a 15 month old alone is a bad idea.
posted by smackfu at 9:17 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


My grandmother, got her PhD in 1957 with four children at home. When I tell people this, they are virtually always awed at how determined she must have been. And she was! But one of the ways she managed to do it was by bringing her 4 and 2 year old to grad school with her and leaving them in the car with the windows rolled down for the duration of her 3-hour lectures.

I've read the article about children dying of hyperthermia in locked cars and it still, to this day, gives me literal nightmares. I've never left my kids in the car while I ran inside, though I have occasionally strongly considered it. I have, however, left my sleeping infant in the carseat in the car with all the windows rolled down while I sat on the lawn 15 feet away and read a book, and I once left my 7 year old (awake) and my 3 year old (asleep) in the house alone while I ran to the store to get ingredients for dinner. The store is a quarter mile away, and before I left I called my cell phone from the house phone, left the house phone off the hook, and did the whole shopping trip with my bluetooth in, so that if my daughter needed me to come home Right Now she could just pick up the phone and talk. But on the other hand, I just gave said 7 year old daughter permission to walk to school with one of the other neighborhood kids, the 10 year old she plays with all the time -- that involves crossing a (suburban, neighborhood) street where there's no crosswalk, which is probably objectively more dangerous than what this mom did.

Parenting is a rough gig, and I do agree that there's some backlash against feminism -- against the idea that "what makes life easier for Mom" is even remotely worth considering. (Somehow, "what makes life easier for Dad" gets a lot more weight; when I was researching cloth diapers for my children, for example, the kind that had velcro tabs and a sewn-in absorbent layer were described as "Daddy-Friendly," for example. Or when I took my daughter to the store wearing a tutu over footie pajamas, I got a lot of "Ah, did Dad dress her today?" and when I said "No, I just pick my battles" the smiles faded to frowns.) Sometimes, yes, it is OK to trade an infinitesimal increase in an already-infinitesimal risk for something that will make my life easier in that moment. Because I am a person too.
posted by KathrynT at 9:17 AM on June 5, 2014 [36 favorites]


Which, while it sounds ridiculous and overblown, is probably just as statistically likely in the US as any of the other catastrophic scenarios postulated in this thread.
posted by elizardbits at 9:17 AM on June 5, 2014




If it's too warm in the car, can't the kid climb out?
I think I tend to fall on the free-range side of things, but I don't think you want a four-year-old hanging around a parking lot unattended. Four-year-olds are really short, and it's hard for drivers to see them. Cars in parking lots behave in unpredictable ways, even for grownups who are good at judging risk and understand how driving works. There's a lot of potential for accidents. I was left in cars as a kid (although I don't know that I was ever left alone when I was as young as four, and it was usually with my siblings), and it was always with explicit instructions that we were not to get out for any reason, because my laid-back, '70s-style parents actually were worried about us getting hit by a car.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 9:18 AM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


There was zero danger that her child would cook, even if she'd been held up for an hour. Not minimal danger; zero danger.

Here in Omaha, it went from mildly overcast to window shattering, golf-ball hail in 15 minutes yesterday. You just can't depend on the weather to be perfectly balmy for however long you're in the store. And you can't actually know how long you'll be in the store.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 9:19 AM on June 5, 2014


I mean, what if the car got hit by a meteorite while the mom was in the store, being lazy? What if the car turned out to be Bumblebee from Transformers and had to go save some civilians but couldn't because of the four-year old inside? What if the mom got amnesia while inside the store and wandered off into the woods and began a new life with a woodsman in an enchanted cabin instead of returning to the kid?
posted by shakespeherian at 9:22 AM on June 5, 2014 [41 favorites]


I'm playing out the scenarios in my mind where the author isn't privileged, and they're all horrifying.

If the mother and child are here without documentation, the bystander has just gotten a family deported.

If the mother doesn't have money or connections for legal representation, the bystander could likely have gotten a child taken away from their family.

I think possibly a reason I get so het up about this case is that it seems connected to the general criminalization of poverty in the US. If you're not privileged, any bystander can find legal ways to totally ruin your life and the lives of your children, even if you've done nothing remotely wrong.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:23 AM on June 5, 2014 [39 favorites]


Actually the more I think about it the more I think I would be really concerned if I saw a kid alone in a car on a 50 degree overcast day, because that's bordering on overcoat weather, and the kid might get really cold.
posted by elizardbits at 9:25 AM on June 5, 2014 [6 favorites]


In NYC there is a help line like this:
http://www.nyc.gov/html/acs/html/contact/contact_acs.shtml


Speaking as someone whose family had to interact with ACS: please only call the agency if you suspect serious abuse or neglect. Such a phone call is going to trigger home visits from (in my experience, not the greatest) social workers, and the opening of a case file.

If you see a kid in a parked car and feel obliged to intervene, maybe just call 311.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 9:25 AM on June 5, 2014 [5 favorites]


Baby found dead inside car parked at New York home

Well, this death is statistically insignificant, you see...


yes. it is. Even as the particular situation is deeply significant to those involved. It behooves us to discern the difference between these two positions.
posted by philip-random at 9:25 AM on June 5, 2014 [10 favorites]


The only person who endangered a child here was the person who called the police and got that particularly dangerous and untrustworthy organization involved.

Yep, should have called the library.
posted by HuronBob at 9:25 AM on June 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


I think possibly a reason I get so het up about this case is that it seems connected to the general criminalization of poverty in the US. If you're not privileged, any bystander can find legal ways to totally ruin your life and the lives of your children, even if you've done nothing remotely wrong.
Yeah, and I think it's important to note that this story might have had a way less happy ending if the mother hadn't been able to afford a good attorney, do 100 hours of community service with minimal disruption to her life, or afford parenting lessons from a social worker who sounds genuinely competent and helpful. (And I bet that she had to pay for those lessons herself.) A poor or even middle-class person in this situation would have been a lot more likely to get a worse deal, have trouble complying with the terms of her sentence, and end up losing her kids.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 9:26 AM on June 5, 2014 [13 favorites]


I mean really 50 degrees outside is the temperature at which NYC landlords must provide heating to apartments or face legal action.
posted by elizardbits at 9:27 AM on June 5, 2014 [7 favorites]


All of those things seem like the sort of things that the police are trained to do, and I'm not, and amateur-hour law enforcement rarely goes well.
First of all, this isn't law enforcement. Not until somebody makes it into law enforcement. But anyway...

One very major thing the police are trained to do in that kind of case is to cover their own and their departments' behinds. In a more violence-prone situation, it would be more like "establish control over the situation and assure officer safety"... then cover their behinds.

They don't want to be blamed for anything any more than you do, and they, too, can spin a lot of worst case scenarios... except that they do this stuff all the time and are more likely to eventually hit a real worst case.

So they, too, will often "err on the side of caution". And before you know it you have arrest warrants and stories in Salon.

Not to mention all the other situation handling training they have, and all the experiences they have, that tend to misfit them for the sort of case we're talking about here.

Pulling the trigger on the cops is not a safe thing to do.

If you're going to call the cops to bring training into play, you have to be aware of what kind of training is actually going to be in play.
posted by Hizonner at 9:27 AM on June 5, 2014 [4 favorites]


There can be a difference between what police are trained to do (or what we hope they might be trained to do) and what actually occurs when police are called, and this dichotomy can continue on with social services, DA offices and the courts. "Tough on crime" has, in my opinion, made it difficult to talk about crafting complex social support structures without derailing into oversimplifications of crime and punishment.

As a parent, all I can say for certain is that I wish for and support where I can improving the kinds of helpful social support PhoBWanKenobi mentions above.
posted by audi alteram partem at 9:28 AM on June 5, 2014


It's unfortunate, but I think you have to err on the side of caution and always call the cops in this situation. This was not a mother who left her children in a car to go on a job interview. This was someone who couldn't be bothered with the aggravated state of her child,
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:28 AM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


Why are we focusing so much on baking the kid inside the car? Regardless of whether or not that was a possibility, there are a dozen other things that could have happened in those (alleged) five minutes:
  • Someone comes by and says "hey, free iPad!"
  • Someone comes by and says "hey, free toddler!"
  • Four-year-old climbs out of car seat and releases the parking brake for fun
  • Four-year-old drops iPad (this happens all the goddamn time) and proceeds to scream bloody murder until a crowd gathers and then you really look like a bad parent
  • Four-year-old finds leftover snacks in the back seat (this also happens frequently) and chokes
And so on. Sure, those things might not happen, but they could all be easily avoided by just taking the damn kid into the store whether he wants to go or not. I mean, I don't even leave my iPad (sans child) unattended in my car. Yeah, it's pretty unlikely that someone is going to come by in those five minutes, break a window, and steal the iPad, but it's such a minor thing to just pick it up and take it with me, why would I take the risk?
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 9:28 AM on June 5, 2014 [7 favorites]


It was far more likely the kid would die in a car crash that day. Should DCFS take the kid away for putting him in the car at all? Argh, people's idiotic innumeracy makes me insane.
posted by miyabo at 9:29 AM on June 5, 2014 [4 favorites]


the undercurrent in this thread of raw fear pitched to irrationality is palpable.

Look, I know you think people who disagree with you are frightened and irrational, but let's face it: leaving a four-year-old alone in a car in a parking is not noble, enlightened "free range parenting." Maybe a seven-year-old, but not a four-year-old.

I think the fact that the Salon columnist was forced to do community service is symptomatic of a hardening of a "law and order" mentality in the US, but the parent here made a mistake.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:31 AM on June 5, 2014 [10 favorites]


Well, my kids are runners... So the second I unbuckle them from the car seats and they break free and run out into the lot, I'd suggest stopping your car and putting the keys on the dash lest you be charged with driving to endanger or attempted manslaughter. And woe unto you if you are speeding, or illegally idling as these things should now be misconstrued as attempted assault with a deadly weapon. My kids sit in my car all the time - with me in it mind you, but depending on how touch and go the day is, it can be way safer to keep kids like mine out of parking lots and stores. (Note: my wife goes into the store, the kids watch a DVD, and the AC goes on when needed.

Also: the most dangerous drivers in Massachusetts are likely those circling the Whole Foods parking lot in Natick. I highly doubt they would think twice about bouncing someone's child off the hood of their car if it meant they could get their organic bok choy that much sooner.
posted by Nanukthedog at 9:31 AM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


Not to derail but those who site statistics saying it is far more likely to be killed in a car accident -- do those statistics take into account mitigating factors, like standard safety equipment, a history of safe driving, minimal distractions while driving, etc? I mean, I get that in the aggregate, the risk of being injured or killed in a car accident is fairly high relative to other things, but I feel like you can help to mitigate that risk by driving defensively in a safe vehicle. Likewise, you can not leave your four year-old with your iPad in a car in a public parking lot to mitigate the risk of something happening when you're not there to help.
posted by tehjoel at 9:34 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm really disappointed to see my post mocked here. I don't think its irrational to wonder what would happen to your unattended child if you were waylaid by any number of possibilities while you were in the store. Life is unpredictable.
posted by agregoli at 9:34 AM on June 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


I've parked next to a car with a small child in it alone. I observed the kid: not in distress. I observed the temperature: not high, but potentially could get warm in the car. Considered calling the cops, decided that the appropriate thing to do would be to wait a few minutes and monitor the situation. I waited, the mother come out of the store within a short time, they drove off. If she hadn't appeared within 5 or 10 minutes I would have then called the cops. If I didn't have the time to wait 5 or 10 minutes, then I would have walked into the store we were in front of and asked after the parent. It's really not a complicated or difficult situation to assess and come up with a solution that doesn't shit on the parent who may be dealing with a difficult situation while protecting the child.

I mean, I personally would be very wary of leaving a 4 year old in a car, but less because of heat than the fact that they are escape artists and also really interested in pushing, pulling and poking at things. But I don't think it's a *crime* if it isn't in actively dangerous situations (ie, hot day.)
posted by tavella at 9:34 AM on June 5, 2014 [7 favorites]


It was far more likely the kid would die in a car crash that day. Should DCFS take the kid away for putting him in the car at all? Argh, people's idiotic innumeracy makes me insane.

No one is saying mitigate every risk, we are saying mitigate the obvious, easily avoidable ones when you can. It would have been very easy to mitigate this particular set of risks.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 9:35 AM on June 5, 2014


More from the statistics link provided by IndigoJones above.
MEDICAL

Heatstroke occurs when a person's temperature exceeds 104 degrees F and their thermoregulatory mechanism is overwhelmed
- Symptoms include : dizziness, disorientation, agitation, confusion, sluggishness, seizure, hot dry skin that is flushed but not sweaty, loss of consciousness, rapid heart beat, hallucinations
A core body temperature of 107 degrees F or greater can be lethal as cells are damaged and internal organs begin to shut down.
Children's thermoregulatory systems are not as efficient as an adult's and their body temperatures warm at a rate 3 to 5 times faster than an adult’s.

VEHICLE HEATING DYNAMICS

The atmosphere and the windows of a car are relatively “transparent” to the sun’s shortwave radiation (yellow in figure below) and are warmed little. However this shortwave energy does heat objects that it strikes. For example, a dark dashboard or seat can easily reach temperatures in the range of 180 to over 200 degrees F.

These objects (e.g., dashboard, steering wheel, childseat) heat the adjacent air by conduction and convection and also give off longwave radiation (red) which is very efficient at warming the air trapped inside a vehicle.

posted by zarq at 9:35 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


This article also reminded me a bit of this case.

US Air Force veteran Shanesha Taylor was offered an interview for an office job that might have been her chance to get out of homelessness and back on her feet. Without anyone available to watch her children, she made a desperate decision—to leave them napping in the car, with the doors locked and the windows cracked.

Instead of getting a job that day, Ms. Taylor's situation spiraled into a nightmare. When she returned to her car, she was arrested. She spent 11 days in jail, and her children were taken from her care and put into child protective services. She now faces felony counts of child abuse.

Fortunately, Ms. Taylor's story got circulated, and someone started a fundraiser for her (which I am linking to only because it ended a month ago, so I hope this violates no rules, mods). Last I heard, she'd been granted supervised visits with her children.

To be fair, Ms. Taylor's children were very young (6 months and 2 years). And this happened Arizona. A cold day there is still considered hotter than Methodist hell by the rest of the country.

But the level of desperation, I think, in Ms. Taylor's story sparked a very different reaction in a lot of people than Ms. Brooks' article. Ms. Taylor did it for a job interview. She was trying to lift her family out of poverty and homelessness, and finally had a shot at it. She gambled, and she lost, but it seems most people--especially single parents--understood why she had to take that shot.

Word is that Arizona is looking at revising a bunch of their CPS policies, and potentially even a few laws on the books, in light of the incident with Ms. Taylor. Hopefully Ms. Brooks' article will spark a genuine discussion about public policy overreaction to potential risks to children.
posted by magstheaxe at 9:36 AM on June 5, 2014 [4 favorites]


With respect to the question of internal car temperature, research suggests a rate of warming of less than four degrees F per five minutes in a car. If you start with a car at 75 degrees, you have a bit more than 20 minutes before the temperature reaches 90 degrees. If you start with a car at 50 degrees (as in the case we're talking about), you have more than 50 minutes before the temperature reaches 90 degrees. Maybe Brooks took more than 5 minutes in the store. But more than an hour?

By my count from a probably-incomplete Wiki list, 200 children under the age of 10 were killed in dog attacks since 1999. One might think, then, that because exposure to dogs is an avoidable risk, any parent that exposes his or her children to a dog is doing something wrong. Maybe exposing a child to a dog should be criminalized. But to really get an evaluation of the risk, we need a measure of the mortality rate conditional on exposure to the risk. So, we need to know how often it happens that when a child is exposed to a dog, the child dies. That number is going to be very, very low.

We need a similar evaluation in the case of hyperthermia. The number of deaths due to children being locked in cars is very, very small. (Negligibly small if you ask me.) But in order to evaluate whether it is something we should make policy about, we need to know how often children who are exposed to the risk -- being locked in a car in such and so conditions -- die as a result. It is that statistic, not the total fatalities, that matters, and I will be very surprised if anyone has actual data that bears on the relevant question.

In terms of policy implementation, we also need to worry about the costs and benefits. What is the cost involved in preventing the exposure or reducing the risk after exposure? Does enforcement of laws like the contribution to delinquency charge here actually change people's behavior? Are there better interventions for the same cost? zarq says that it isn't a zero sum game, but it definitely is if you intend to enforce the laws you put on the books. The police could be doing something else. The attorneys could be doing something else. The judges could be doing something else. And by extension, our tax dollars could be doing something else.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 9:37 AM on June 5, 2014 [12 favorites]


A good rule of thumb is that unless you see blood, you're increasing danger to the child by interfering. That's because you increase the chance the children will spend time in the care of non-parents and this increases the chance of abuse quite a bit.

Additionally, by involving police and child services in frivolous cases you reduce the amount of legitimate work they can do, and this also results in additional harm to people.
posted by michaelh at 9:39 AM on June 5, 2014


By my count from a probably-incomplete Wiki list, 200 children under the age of 10 were killed in dog attacks since 1999.

Children should definitely not be left unattended inside a dog.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:39 AM on June 5, 2014 [21 favorites]


research suggests a rate of warming of less than four degrees F per five minutes in a car

... on sunny, clear days within the range between 72F and 96F. This is important - it's highly implausible that you'd see the same rate of warming in, just for example, 50F overcast weather.
posted by dialetheia at 9:41 AM on June 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


A good rule of thumb is that unless you see blood, you're increasing danger to the child by interfering. That's because you increase the chance the children will spend time in the care of non-parents and this increases the chance of abuse quite a bit.

That sounds like an absolutely horrible rule to use. Children can come to a lot of harm with no blood spilled.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 9:41 AM on June 5, 2014 [6 favorites]


I call the cops on unattended dogs. I know it irritates my neighbors, but, Jesus Christ, leash that mutt. This is not a yunkyard.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 9:41 AM on June 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


She just did so many things not as I would have that I have a hard time getting beyond "Why did she write this even?" But hey, all's well that ends well.

(And I guess, four years
posted by From Bklyn at 9:41 AM on June 5, 2014


I mean, what if the car got hit by a meteorite while the mom was in the store, being lazy? What if the car turned out to be Bumblebee from Transformers and had to go save some civilians but couldn't because of the four-year old inside?

But on the other hand, what if the store is full of babyivorous dingoes? What if a hellmouth opens in the store? What if a Batman villain abducts the entire store, like with a zeppelin? What if Ron Paul is in there?

Then you'd be glad your kid was in the car.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:42 AM on June 5, 2014 [8 favorites]


Yunkyard is the proper Minnesota spelling, by the way.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 9:42 AM on June 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


... on sunny, clear days within the range between 72F and 96F. This is important - it's highly implausible that you'd see the same rate of warming in, just for example, 50F overcast weather.

All bystanders must now consult a weather station before becoming concerned about a child left alone in a car. Got it.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 9:42 AM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


(Crap, commenting on Mobil). I wouldn't have left my four year old alone in the car in any case - but that's indicative of my own shortcomings...
posted by From Bklyn at 9:45 AM on June 5, 2014


All bystanders must now consult a weather station before becoming concerned about a child left alone in a car. Got it.

You're being weirdly defensive and fighty in this thread and I'm not sure it's helping. Do you honestly think that the weather conditions have nothing to do with the risk assessment?
posted by dialetheia at 9:45 AM on June 5, 2014 [11 favorites]


no kids here...

i don't fault the stranger who called the police at all. they're out there...

i wonder how the mother/author manages to tie her own shoes in the morning. some people ARE potted plants. one bad thing after another, from not leaving the kid with grandma, to not dragging the kid into the store, to not going to trial, and then there was the gem about not being able to keep secrets, and...

"my husband asked me if i had ever kept anything from anyone"

i was agog. the ability to keep secrets is a life-or-death attribute.

i also have a negative opinion about how the lawyer handled the case. NO VOLUNTEERING INFORMATION TO THE COPS! the lawyer said that juvenile court was notoriously activist in protecting kids, to the point of taking them away, but the constitution affords her a right to jury trial, which would have happened in regular court, where the prosecution would have had to get a jury verdict of guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, and there would have been no case left if i had been the one cross-examining the only witness.
posted by bruce at 9:46 AM on June 5, 2014


It would have been very easy to mitigate this particular set of risks.

somewhere around 40 kids per year die in hot cars. Somewhere around 200 kids per year die in parking lots. Is dragging a screaming, tantrumming child through the parking lot really the safer option?

Anecdata: the one time in her life my child came the closest to dying, it was when she slipped my hand in a parking lot, ran off to try and step on her shadow, and came within INCHES of being hit by a car. Thank god the driver was paying attention to the road in front of her and not just where there might be an open space; as it was, it was a brakes screeching time slowing moment.
posted by KathrynT at 9:47 AM on June 5, 2014 [4 favorites]


From the article: "...the reality that terrible things happen to good, well-meaning people every second of every day... I’d been lulled by nostalgia into a false sense of security."

Paranoia, yeah, but I'd be certain the one time I left my (seemingly permanently hypothetical) kid in a car would be the time I had a heart attack/suffered an aneurysm/walked into a robbery in the store. Or the kid had a seizure. Or the parked car got hit by a bad driver.

What happened to the author of this essay is upsetting, what with the lengthy legal fallout, sure, but what is up in this thread with demonizing the good Samaritan? Strangers shouldn't "pass judgment" on others' parenting choices, but if they can't help themselves, they should hope for the best and move along? Or interrupt their day, enter the store or stores, to try to track the parent down? Or just hang out, awaiting the parent's return? Because a strange adult hanging about someone else's child, possibly engaging in conversation while trying to assess risk, won't cause a problem for said stranger or discomfort for the child. Also, they'll have the exact right thing to say upon the parent's return to convey honest concern and "we're all in this together" camaraderie, and any response won't involve yelling/arguing/the cops being summoned anyhow...

Listen, if you're fortunate enough to have children, don't leave them unattended in public and put passersby in the position of guessing where you are, how long you've been gone, or what your intentions are. You know people disappoint you all the time, and these stakes are too high.
posted by Iris Gambol at 9:48 AM on June 5, 2014 [5 favorites]


I have extremely mixed feelings about the idea of having children. In part because of a fear of losing myself in the role of parent; of having all of my needs and agency and independence completely subsumed not only by the responsibility of a child, but by society's opinions on what being a parent (a Mom) is supposed to entail.

This thread has certainly added more fuel to that particular concern.


Meh. It's not all that bad. Don't get me wrong, misogyny sucks, but the general fear of "losing yourself" is due to misogynistic stereotypes about mothers and not really based in reality. Like, law school is a huge expensive pain in the ass and takes up all of your time, too, but no one worries about losing their identity. It is a lot of work, sure, but a lot of things are.

(I personally would argue against having a child, but not for this particular reason).
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:48 AM on June 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


Is dragging a screaming, tantrumming child through the parking lot really the safer option?

The other option was turning the car around and bringing the child home.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:49 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


You're being weirdly defensive and fighty in this thread and I'm not sure it's helping. Do you honestly think that the weather conditions have nothing to do with the risk assessment?

Sure they do, I'm saying that a person walking by a car with a child left alone in it is not going to know within what specific band the temperature is, how fast a car will warm, whether the clouds are clearing or anything similar when making a judgement call on the extent of the risk.

Apologies if I seem fighty, but I find it ludicrous that people are assessing blame on someone who thought that leaving a four year child alone in a parking lot was a bad idea. The reaction of the police seems excessive, and I do think they could have handled it better but the Good Samaritan was seemingly just trying to be a Good Samaritan.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 9:51 AM on June 5, 2014


I'm really disappointed to see my post mocked here. I don't think its irrational to wonder what would happen to your unattended child if you were waylaid by any number of possibilities while you were in the store. Life is unpredictable.


Life is unpredictable, but on the other hand life is unpredictable. What if you carried your child into the store, and straight into an armed robbery? Or the building collapsed, leaving the car outside totally undamaged?

Ultimately, we're all performing risk calculus all the time. Privileging one set of risks over another is about math to an extent, but often it's about feelings. Things that scare us feel like bigger risks, and we often take unnecessary precautions to deal with that, or fail to exert the same level of caution against other risks. qv KathrynT's point about car lots, above.

Kim Brooks made a risk calculation - one one side, the risk of missing the flight, on the other the risk of the child being left in the car. Based on factors - her understanding of how her child behaves in a car, site lines, proximity, time of visit, ambient air temperature, cloud cover - she made a particular choice. Ironically, the risk factor that actually got her - that someone would report her to the po-po - is one she did not anticipate or calculate for. She clearly felt that the very, very bad outcome (damage to he child) was so unlikely that it did not make sense to risk the less bad but far more likely outcome (missing the flight).

All bystanders must now consult a weather station before becoming concerned about a child left alone in a car. Got it.

We generally, as humans, have nature's thermometer - human skin. If it's a cold day, most people can comprehend that without mechanical assistance, and use that to inform their calculations. I don't think a weather station is required.

(It's possible that Brooks is misstating the temperature, of course, but that could be checked relatively easily.)
posted by running order squabble fest at 9:51 AM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


The other option was turning the car around and bringing the child home.

In this case, sure. (cue angry article about parents who bring their kids on flights without anything to distract them, THE MONSTERS.) But sometimes that's not a zero-cost option. Sometimes you are out of formula, or diapers, or tampons. Sometimes you're at the store because you actually need to go to the store. Life doesn't stop lifing just because a kid throws a fit.
posted by KathrynT at 9:52 AM on June 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


Shitty parent writes an article about how she really isn't a shitty parent. The woman who filmed the kid and called the cops very well could've saved the kids life if the situation was only slightly different. Then she would've been a hero.
posted by ReeMonster at 9:52 AM on June 5, 2014


somewhere around 40 kids per year die in hot cars. Somewhere around 200 kids per year die in parking lots. Is dragging a screaming, tantrumming child through the parking lot really the safer option?

If you only compare those two things, maybe not.

But if you take into account that (a) I have more potential control over my child when I am present with him than when I am not, and (b) other bad things besides dying in a hot car could happen to a child left alone in a car, then yes, taking the kid into the store (or, as roomthreeseventeen says, just going home) is the safer option.

Put another way, while I don't feel the need to have my kids within my sight at all times, I will always choose the option where I can see and influence my kids over the option where I can't.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 9:52 AM on June 5, 2014


somewhere around 40 kids per year die in hot cars. Somewhere around 200 kids per year die in parking lots. Is dragging a screaming, tantrumming child through the parking lot really the safer option?

You can't assess that without knowing how many kids were left in cars versus walked through parking lots. I'd bet leaving them in cars is more dangerous.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 9:53 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


Sure they do, I'm saying that a person walking by a car with a child left alone in it is not going to know within what specific band the temperature is, how fast a car will warm, whether the clouds are clearing or anything similar when making a judgement call on the extent of the risk.

First, I was responding to someone linking a study claiming a certain rate of temperature increase but without noting the domain of inference for that study. It's highly misleading to even imply that temperatures would rise at that rate in this situation (again, 50F and cloudy).

Second, I think most people are perfectly capable of discerning whether it's 50F and overcast or 70F and sunny without consulting weather stations.
posted by dialetheia at 9:54 AM on June 5, 2014


... on sunny, clear days within the range between 72F and 96F. This is important - it's highly implausible that you'd see the same rate of warming in, just for example, 50F overcast weather.

Yeah, that's right. I suppose my comment wasn't clear enough. Even in unfavorable cases, children left in cars for five or ten minutes are not in serious danger unless the car starts off at a pretty high temperature (like 80 or 90 degrees). In the case being considered, there is no evidence that the child was in any danger of overheating, even if the rate of warming was worst-case and even if Brooks exaggerated the brevity of her shopping trip by an order of magnitude.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 9:54 AM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


Something interesting that hadn't occurred to me. A 2009 study (paper here) notes:
Two factors make children more prone to hyperthermia than adults -- children have a greater surface area to body mass ratio than adults. In warm environments healthy infants have been shown to have temperatures +38.3ºC. In areas of high humidity, the body's cooling method (perspiration/evaporation) is less effective. When considering infants usually remain clothed below window level in cushioned seats when being transported in a vehicle, one can observe their significant disadvantage in reduced total surface area available for the body's natural cooling method to be most effective. Therefore, children are especially prone to develop hyperthermia when inside a closed, hot vehicle.
External temperature, internal temperature and child's core temperature are all factors on whether they develop hyperthermia inside a motor vehicle. Of course, this was a four year old child, so their ability to manage their own internal temperature is better than an infant but not as efficient as an adult.
posted by zarq at 9:57 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


The idea that we should only pass laws that affect a large number of people seems irrational to me. This isn't a zero sum game.

Enacting and enforcing a law has a number of costs associated with it. As demonstrated in this article, one of those costs is an increased number of people coming under "warranted" police scrutiny. The police are often terrible, and even if they aren't they can make mistakes in judgment that lead to horrible consequences for the people whom they are scrutinizing. Imagine this woman had a teenage son who left a joint in her car door. Imagine she lost her job because she was cited for possession. I could go on and on about the costs of police scrutiny, but if you're familiar with the drug war you probably can brainstorm dozens of them on your own.

That's not even getting to the monetary costs associated with a law. There are real financial costs to educating the police and DAs about the law, fighting any challenges of the law, bringing cases to court related to the enforcement of the law, and punishing those who are found in violation of the law.

Even if a given law is never enforced, it needs to be printed, skipped over, and otherwise maintained.

These are costs that must be paid by someone by an increase in revenue (often generated by an increase in scrutiny and an increase in $$$ tickets), or a shift in resources from something else.

Any law needs to have a reasonable chance of making a significant positive impact to outweigh the costs associated with it.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:58 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


Apologies if I seem fighty, but I find it ludicrous that people are assessing blame on someone who thought that leaving a four year child alone in a parking lot was a bad idea
The thing that I hate most on Metafilter is the constant emphasis on blame. In almost every discussion of something going wrong, it seems like somebody has to be blamed, and usually we hear a lot about what horrible punishments the blamee should get.

So I agree with you. I don't want that person strung up or whatever. People make mistakes. That's life. And we don't have the information to be absolutely sure it was a mistake, although I know how I'd bet.

But I haven't actually heard anybody call for that person to be strung up. I've heard a few people hint that the mother should be, but not the bystander. I will admit there have been some pretty snide comments, and you're right that they shouldn't have happened.

... but what I see here is really a discussion about the right thing to do, and about how to assess risks. Which is useful for future people making future decisions. Which are a lot more important than blame for some past decision.

Recognizing mistakes, and talking about the right actions, is not the same thing as attacking people. Especially people not present, when nobody's really suggested any consequences for them, let alone having any ability to actually create such consequences.
posted by Hizonner at 9:58 AM on June 5, 2014 [11 favorites]


Second, I think most people are perfectly capable of discerning whether it's 50F and overcast or 70F and sunny without consulting weather stations.

Fair enough, I agree. My point is that asking a passerby to determine whether or not a situation is potentially dangerous based on specific rates of warming is unreasonable. Besides there are many other risks besides overheating.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 9:58 AM on June 5, 2014


The thing that I hate most on Metafilter is the constant emphasis on blame. In almost every discussion of something going wrong, it seems like somebody has to be blamed, and usually we hear a lot about what horrible punishments the blamee should get.
This isn't just Metafilter, this is the entire United States.
posted by cotterpin at 10:00 AM on June 5, 2014 [14 favorites]


You know, it's just one more nail in the coffin of common sense.

Clearly the by-stander should have called authorities, especially if she was concerned that the kid had been too long in the car. Once explained to the cops, someone should have said to the mother, "Lady, don't do that again." And that should have been that.

Everything is so political these days. The DA had to decide to press those charges, but at any time, once they understood the situation, they could have decided not to. Ditto the judge. One of the first things a defender does is say, "based on the merits of the case, this should be dismissed," and it should have been. But heaven forbid anyone was caught actually thinking about the consequences of this, rather than they themselves weighing the risks of a citizens group who might picket the courthouse.

Did the punishment fit the crime? I don't think so. Was she wrong? I'm going to say yes. (Although having been one of those kids left in the car for a couple of minutes, and lived to tell the tale, I'm not going to be militant about it.) But at the end of the day, the child wasn't really in danger to the point of all of this hullaballoo.

Also, there ARE kids who are in real trouble, and DFACs or CPS claim that they're understaffed to really do the job well, if we're talking triage here, this was a real blown call.

As for the bystander, it wasn't her call to make, she saw what she thought was neglect and reported it. After that, things snowballed. I would hope she continues to do what she thinks is right.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:00 AM on June 5, 2014 [17 favorites]


As for the bystander, it wasn't her call to make, she saw what she thought was neglect and reported it. After that, things snowballed. I would hope she continues to do what she thinks is right.

I couldn't agree with this more.

This is just hitting me close to home since my own Mother lived this scenario a week ago. I would have been very upset with her if she hadn't called the authorities, and in her case a potentially serious problem was avoided. I also happen to have a very tantrumy four year old boy so I know what the Mother was dealing with.

All the discussion about weather conditions and what the bystander knew/didn't know is just noise. To me the heart of the matter is don't leave a four year old in a car alone. You just don't.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 10:04 AM on June 5, 2014 [8 favorites]


The thing that I hate most on Metafilter is the constant emphasis on blame. In almost every discussion of something going wrong, it seems like somebody has to be blamed, and usually we hear a lot about what horrible punishments the blamee should get.

Cite, please? I tried to be politically correct (to your way of thinking) when commenting (and I do think the American "if you can't do the time, don't do the crime" mentality is moronic), and I certainly didn't notice anyone in this thread saying the Salon columnist saying she got what she deserved.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:06 AM on June 5, 2014


I read the comments here before I read the article. One thing stood out to me - why didn't the bystander say something to her? I mean, yeah, don't want to get all up in someone else's business, I get it, but calling the cops is way more up in her business that talking to her. If it were me (and, yeah, I would have called the cops too), I would have talked to her first, horrifyingly uncomfortable though it would have been. I would have told her straight out that I would call the cops if she left that kid in the car, and then would have let her make the decision as to what she was going to do.
posted by vignettist at 10:10 AM on June 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


The thing that I hate most on Metafilter is the constant emphasis on blame. In almost every discussion of something going wrong, it seems like somebody has to be blamed, and usually we hear a lot about what horrible punishments the blamee should get.

I would absolutely agree with you if not for the fact that she wrote an article in Salon about it.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 10:11 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


Children should definitely not be left unattended inside a dog.

Too dark to read in there anyway, though I guess the backlit screen on the iPad probably helps a bit.
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:14 AM on June 5, 2014 [7 favorites]


the young rope-rider: " Any law needs to have a reasonable chance of making a significant positive impact to outweigh the costs associated with it."

In situations like this, where it is quite literally impossible to assess exact risk in every specific case, laws are supposed to be made as general as possible in order to (hopefully reasonably) prevent the most amount of harm. If a case goes to trial, a judge and jury decide what happens. The Weingarten article shows that in court cases where parents accidentally leave their children in cars and tragedy occurs, judges and juries may cite mitigating circumstances, knowing that the grieving parent will punish themselves far worse than the legal system ever could.

I said it wasn't a zero sum game because it seems offensive and unreasonable to try and determine a threshold number, after which we can officially give a shit that kids are dying.
posted by zarq at 10:15 AM on June 5, 2014


why didn't the bystander say something to her?

The short answer is: People be Crazy.

Where was that conversation going to go?

Bystander: You shouldn't leave your kid in the car alone.

Parent: Mind your own business asshole, it's my kid, I'll do what I want.

I remember a time when a little kid said something pretty disrespectful to me at Target. So I said something back to him like, "That's not very nice." And his mother, father, and grandfather went ape-shit on me. "How DARE you!" "WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?"

The correct thing to do is to call authorities, they know how to deal with people, diffuse tense situations and make the call.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:16 AM on June 5, 2014 [4 favorites]


This also seems pretty far afield of what happened in Kim Brooks' case. Where no child was hurt, much less killed.
posted by zarq at 10:17 AM on June 5, 2014


The thing that I hate most on Metafilter is the constant emphasis on blame.
Cite, please?
I was speaking about metafilter in general, and trying to agree with WinnipegDragon that throwing blame at the bystander was a bad idea.

I haven't seen anybody baying for anybody's head in this discussion. That's usually reserved for after blame has been firmly placed, and there's too much disagreement here. And either infraction really is minor.

There are, however, still a lot of comments in this thread with a fairly blamey tone... seriously, just read from the top. I'd say comment number two was the first blamey one.

Personally I think the mother is getting blamed more than the bystander, but that may be bias on my part. As I admitted, there were some pretty nasty things said about the bystander, too.

If you really want to see blame, find a thread about somebody who accidentally left a toddler in the car all day in the heat, resulting in death. Or a sexual harrassment thread... those are good for finding huge ratios of outrage to practical suggestions about how to make the behavior not happen in the future.
posted by Hizonner at 10:17 AM on June 5, 2014


I would absolutely agree with you if not for the fact that she wrote an article in Salon about it.

I fundamentally do not agree that writing an article about your own life as part of your job means that you deserve every awful thing that anyone can think to say about you. As a culture, Americans spend a lot of time shaming and silencing each other. I mean, I can't stop you from saying and thinking whatever you want, but I'm not sure what good it's supposed to do. To make sure that, next time a parent has a scary and complicated experience that they think might be helpful for other people to read about, they keep it to themselves?
posted by Narrative Priorities at 10:18 AM on June 5, 2014 [12 favorites]


The correct thing to do is to call authorities, they know how to deal with people, diffuse tense situations and make the call.

Wait, what?
posted by running order squabble fest at 10:19 AM on June 5, 2014 [7 favorites]


The mom did not put her child in danger. The Good Samaritan, despite their good intent, put the child in quite a bit of danger indeed. One person -- the Good Samaritan -- made a bad decision and put a child in danger. I don't think they should go to jail for it or anything, but I do think that it's worthwhile to point out that they did a very, very dangerous thing when they called the cops in this situation. Because if we don't, other people might think it's acceptable to endanger a child in this way.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:19 AM on June 5, 2014 [9 favorites]


One thing I've decided after reading all this: I am never leaving my kid alone in a car in Winnipeg or Michigan, not for one second.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 10:23 AM on June 5, 2014 [7 favorites]


if you write a story in Salon and expect us to feel bad for you, that's fair game

In other words, most of the lifestyle type articles Salon.com publishes are fair fame.
posted by orange swan at 10:24 AM on June 5, 2014


anything anybody publishes is fair game. a papal encyclical is fair game.
posted by bruce at 10:27 AM on June 5, 2014


'How can I make this situation better? Perhaps by ensuring there are firearms at the scene?'
posted by shakespeherian at 10:28 AM on June 5, 2014 [17 favorites]


Segue to gun control conversation in 3...2...1...
posted by running order squabble fest at 10:30 AM on June 5, 2014


You Can't Tip a Buick: " Because if we don't, other people might think it's acceptable to endanger a child in this way."

You can't know that it's wrong in all cases, though. Circumstances differ. Sometimes, it's actually the right thing to do to call the cops. If you don't know how long a kid has been sitting in a car, if it's a hot day, and you really have no idea how to track down the parent(s), it's probably a responsible thing to call 911. Just to make sure the kid's okay. Break into the car and you'll be responsible for property damage. If the car is parked at a mall lot, you could lose a ton of time trying to get a parent paged. Which might be dangerous to the kid.
posted by zarq at 10:33 AM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


I said it wasn't a zero sum game because it seems offensive and unreasonable to try and determine a threshold number, after which we can officially give a shit that kids are dying.

Giving a shit about something and making a behavior associated with that thing illegal are two very, very different things. If you're willing to invite more police scrutiny upon yourself, go ahead and invite them around, but doing it for other people requires a serious analysis of whether the risk is worth the cost. You were specifically responding to a comment that was talking about making a law specifically for this scenario, not whether or not the police should enforce existing laws to protect children from danger.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:34 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


It wouldn't have occurred to me before joining metafilter that calling 911 to get an assessment on whether a child was in danger could result in increased danger to the child. I can't really blame the bystander for this, especially if she didn't know if the child had been in the car for several hours or just minutes. We also don't know if she made an effort to find the Mom before calling 911.

Personally I can't blame the Mom either. Sure she exposed the kid to a bit of risk. However, I think the risk was reasonable.

The cops/DA may have gone overboard. I don't know what their side of the story looks like.

We have general laws about negligence/endangerment that seem more than adequate to cover things like this.

The big thing I think is to have some compassion for parents who overall don't expose their kids to more risk than average even if they do something on a bad day that you wouldn't. I guarantee that we all have made bad decisions involving risk that we are blind to, you can't live this life without doing so. Every anecdote prejudices our perceptions one way or another, and I suspect even the most actuarial mentalities get exhausted sometimes.

We should maybe pay a lot more attention to how aggressive our DAs get with filing charges in edge cases. Not everyone can afford a good lawyer or has a Salon soapbox.
posted by BrotherCaine at 10:39 AM on June 5, 2014 [7 favorites]


I'm kind of curious about what kind of a horrible monster I am for leaving my 22 month old in the car the other day at a gas station while I ran in to pay and grab a soda for the road. I'm not fond of the idea that I am not allowed to make any risk assessments on my own for how I handle life with my child.
posted by MrBobaFett at 10:39 AM on June 5, 2014 [10 favorites]


Recognizing mistakes, and talking about the right actions, is not the same thing as attacking people.

Yep. A lot of things in the scenario described could have gone differently, each of which might have helped to make the situation less crappy.

-Given that the mom was pressed for time and stressed about travel, she could have left the kid at home with grandparents. She could also have taken the kid in the store, or not gone to or into the store. In each of these scenarios, she avoids creating an ambiguous situation that might cause people to worry or intervene.

-The bystander, who, we're told, recorded video of the mom walking away from the car and going into the store, could have waited considerably longer to assess what was happening before calling the cops. They may also have been able to intervene in a non-confrontational way that didn't involve the police, such as having the store page the mom based on a description of her car.

-Police and the judicial system could have let the mom off with a warning, rather than deciding to escalate the situation and bring the mom to trial, an option that's pretty expensive in terms of time, and stress, and plain ol' money.

Given that leaving kids locked in a car can be a dangerous in certain circumstances, it's important that police have a way to find out about the danger and intervene. But it's also important that all the adults involved exercise their best judgment, from parents, to bystanders, to cops and district attorneys.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 10:43 AM on June 5, 2014 [5 favorites]


I'm not fond of the idea that I am not allowed to make any risk assessments on my own for how I handle life with my child.
posted by MrBobaFett at 1:39 PM on June 5 [+] [!]

You're more than allowed, just be aware other people are making risk assessments as well and your respective findings might not coincide.
posted by Iris Gambol at 10:47 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


the young rope-rider: "You were specifically responding to a comment that was talking about making a law specifically for this scenario, not whether or not the police should enforce existing laws to protect children from danger."

What? No?

This was the comment I responded to:

pan: " So, 40 Children a year die in cars unattended. There are 23 Million Children between 0 and 5 in the United States. This doesn't warrant a law — it's barely a statistic."

I wasn't saying we should pass another law about this. There are existing laws that govern both child endangerment accusations and involuntary manslaughter.
posted by zarq at 10:49 AM on June 5, 2014


What else don't you just do? I want to know, so I can inform the authorities ASAP.

Give them poison? Hand them box cutters?

Clearly we all learned different rules when we were raised and I was told you never leave a child in car unattended. I'm obviously speaking from my personal perspective and like everyone else here, that's the perspective from which this situation is being judged. I mean, I feel guilty if I go to the front door to lock it and already have my children buckled into the car in the driveway.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 10:55 AM on June 5, 2014


I mean, I feel guilty if I go to the front door to lock it and already have my children buckled into the car in the driveway.

That seems like a kind of extreme standard to hold other people to.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 10:58 AM on June 5, 2014 [12 favorites]


Yes, life is unpredictable, but here's something that is very predictable. If you leave your kids alone in the car, someone is going to notice and they will probably do something about it, even if that thing is to yell at you when you get back to your car. (Guess how I know that?)
posted by Lynsey at 10:59 AM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


Give them poison? Hand them box cutters?
But what do you do when you have a ton of cardboard boxes that need to be both broken down and poisoned?

I mean, not that I need to know or anything. I'm asking for a friend.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 10:59 AM on June 5, 2014 [4 favorites]


"What else don't you just do? I want to know, so I can inform the authorities ASAP."
Give them poison? Hand them box cutters?


Actually, opinions are mixed about the sharp knives thing.
posted by Pliskie at 11:01 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


You're more than allowed

Actually, no. Not where there are zero tolerance laws. That is the problem with them, there is no room to make a judgement, that's what makes them zero tolerance laws.
I'm sure many people will have different conclusions from me. I'm fine with that since I doubt most of them have to make safety assessments regularly as part of their job.
posted by MrBobaFett at 11:05 AM on June 5, 2014


That seems like a kind of extreme standard to hold other people to.

Go, go, Catholic guilt.

I wouldn't hold other people to that extreme, but the child neglect laws in the US largely support the argument that leaving a child alone in a car for as little as five minutes is considered an acceptable standard.

I'm not going to pretend all laws are right and fair, but it does give a basis for argument.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 11:06 AM on June 5, 2014


It gets under my skin because I've actually had a (fortunately) minor incident with a well meaning person passing through the neighborhood who called protective services because a kid ran out the front door without nary a stitch of clothes on.

I underwent a 6 month investigation because Elder Monster didn't like to wear socks, and I decided to pick my daily battles. Someone called in a complaint of him not having appropriate clothes for the weather. Because he often didn't wear socks. Thank Dog the old neighbors found it entertaining rather than alarming when he'd run out onto the terrace, throw his clothes overboard, and shriek "I NAKEY!"

I've had CPS called on me because we aren't Christian. I've had them called on me because the Monsters are thin, and I am not (the social worker laughed her ass off when my super-skinny husband answered the door), the complaint was that they weren't being properly fed. (The cupboards and fridge and freezers stuffed to the brim settled that.) I had them called on me when I left Elder Monster napping in his crib to run the trash to the dumpster - down two flights of stairs and about 50 feet across the parking lot. They've been called on me because both Monsters rode the bus to Younger Monster's guitar lesson (Younger Monster was 13, Elder Monster 17!), they've been called on me because Elder Monster rode his bike three miles to school starting when he was 15. CPS has shown up on my doorstep to investigate complaints of "internet addiction" because I am self-employed and work online.

So, begging your pardon, all y'all that are all in favor of running to the police/CPS first, but I don't have a lot of patience for "Good Samaritans". I find most who fancy themselves such to be busybodies with nothing better to do than try to run other people's lives, under the thin veil of "But think of the children!", when they actually don't give a shit about the children at all, they just want to make themselves feel important.

Ask questions and get facts first, for fuck's sake.
posted by MissySedai at 11:07 AM on June 5, 2014 [52 favorites]


But why bother with the police? Why not go straight to the FBI or Homeland Security, or perhaps the National Guard?

Because this isn't an issue of national security? Local law enforcement seems to be the correct resource to enforce local laws.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 11:07 AM on June 5, 2014


I'm a little surprised that there are so many people here who feel this woman did something terribly wrong. I'm amazed that to back up that position, so many people are citing "what-if's".

I tend to agree with Lenore Skenazy. There is risk in any activity you undertake. There should be a threshold above which a parent is clearly negligent. Below that, the risk belongs to the parent alone.

It is risky to let your child sleep without watching him all night - after all, he could have a seizure. As mentioned, it is risky to even take your kid in the car. It is risky to leave him with a spouse - spouses murder children all the time. It is risky to leave him with a babysitter, or in a day care. It is risky to take a child from his parent and place him in foster care.

See where I'm going with this? The level of risk presented here is far below a reasonable standard. You may not want to take the risk of leaving your child in the car for 5 minutes, but I'm OK with the level, and it is not reasonable for you to project your irrational fears on my family. Maybe I think it's risky that you let your kid wear a particular shirt, lest he get picked on, beat up, and then kills himself. But it's wrong of me to impose irrational fear on you.
posted by RalphSlate at 11:08 AM on June 5, 2014 [17 favorites]


And to all the discussion about assessing risk, and particularly those who say "even if the risk is small, since one possible outcome is horrible, you must mitigate it," what is your opinion on allowing your child to climb trees?

Inherently risky. Falls can easily result in broken bones or paralysis or death; these things happen on a regular basis. Completely preventable.

From a risk-mitigation standpoint, there's absolutely no reason to allow children to climb trees. Perhaps it should be added to the "child endangerment" list.
posted by Pliskie at 11:13 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


I've had CPS called on me because we aren't Christian. I've had them called on me because the Monsters are thin, and I am not (the social worker laughed her ass off when my super-skinny husband answered the door), the complaint was that they weren't being properly fed. (The cupboards and fridge and freezers stuffed to the brim settled that.) I had them called on me when I left Elder Monster napping in his crib to run the trash to the dumpster - down two flights of stairs and about 50 feet across the parking lot. They've been called on me because both Monsters rode the bus to Younger Monster's guitar lesson (Younger Monster was 13, Elder Monster 17!), they've been called on me because Elder Monster rode his bike three miles to school starting when he was 15. CPS has shown up on my doorstep to investigate complaints of "internet addiction" because I am self-employed and work online.

This sounds like harassment, were they all called in by the same people?
posted by WinnipegDragon at 11:14 AM on June 5, 2014 [11 favorites]


From a risk-mitigation standpoint, there's absolutely no reason to allow children to climb trees.

Don't forget the risks involved in driving your child to concussion-prone soccer or football.
posted by MonkeyToes at 11:15 AM on June 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


I do think they could have handled it better but the Good Samaritan was seemingly just trying to be a Good Samaritan.

Isn't this what a lot of people are challenging, though? Some people, sometimes, assert superiority under the guise of being helpful. It happens. Surely we've all seen it, and some of us may even have been guilty of it. You say you're being helpful, maybe you even believe in that moment you're being helpful...but really, it's about being superior.

And in this story it's that "helpfulness" narrative that some people are challenging. Was the bystander really being helpful, or was this a gotcha moment? We've deconstructed what alternatives the bystander had. We've discussed what risks the bystander should have considered before reporting a parent to the police for neglect. And it's a small detail, but I think a lot of us are looking at the fact that she videotaped the child, then apparently told police about the video afterward.

I don't know what this bystander was thinking, but it appears to me she had a knee-jerk reaction (child in danger!) and then instead of looking around for more information or applying critical thought, she glued herself to that reaction and took several opportunities to double-down on it. "I'll videotape this. I'll call the police. I'll let the police know I recorded this." Et cetera.

That's neglectful behavior toward a child. Ironically, because the system is so poor at dealing with families and kids, the bystander's behavior potentially exposes the child to some of the same risks as leaving the child unattended in a car. It's worth examining both the validity and the sincerity behind that "Good Samaritan" label.
posted by cribcage at 11:15 AM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


Mod note: Folks, in a tense discussion snark and sarcasm do not help. Please try to read the room. Thanks.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 11:16 AM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


Common sense failed everybody. 50F and overcast - the child was not in danger of hyperthermia. Concerned onlooker notifies police, who investigate, as they must. It should have pretty much ended with the Mom getting a shock and realizing you shouldn't leave your child in the car.

People want to be visibly concerned about kids by judging parenting in public. But how much do they care about parents who need a little bit more help, families who need food stamps, child care, etc. Or parents who need some coaching or support, because parenting is really hard sometimes. All of that Federal support for parents has been slashed repeatedly in budgets since Reagan, and in my own state with our wretched Tea Party governor. There's no Parents Anonymous program in Maine anymore. Child Care voucher funding is rare, Food Stamps just got cut. That do-gooder isn't blame for anything, but would do a lot more good by donating to the local food pantry.
posted by theora55 at 11:18 AM on June 5, 2014 [8 favorites]


Why not go straight to the FBI or Homeland Security, or perhaps the National Guard?

Too many phone numbers to remember.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:18 AM on June 5, 2014


My two cents....as a probably overly cautious parent of a 14 yr old and 7 yr old.... You can make the best risk assessment possible at the moment with regards to weather, temp, child's temperament, etc. but the second you leave that child out of your sight.... It's all out of your hands. Everything is up in the air and you never know what could possibly happen, no matter how small the statistical risks. Those are just meaningless numbers in the actual moment. Hopefully and usually it works out and you are back in the car, heading home with no ill effects but things happen in a heartbeat. It happens, it just does. To the car, to the child, to you in the store.... I personally would never take the chance and I can see why the GS stepped in. They were erring on the side of caution which you have to when a small child's welfare is concerned. A young child alone, with no supervision means possible harm to the child and the parent took that chance of intervention (and we can't pick and choose the best kind of intervention for every different scenario) when she stepped away. Don't bring the child if you think there is the smallest chance that... For whatever reason... you might not have that child in your sight at all times. Just don't do it. Full stop. If you do, no matter how innocent your reasons, be prepared to accept the repercussions.
posted by pearlybob at 11:20 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


Isn't this what a lot of people are challenging, though?

Certainly. However, in ascribing malice to his/her actions without knowing a single thing about their intentions seems disingenuous to me. It's certainly possible that this person relished the opportunity to tout their superiority, but it's a least equally likely that they were worried about the child.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 11:20 AM on June 5, 2014


A few years ago, when my now 9-year-old son was maybe around 5 or so, we went to his older brother's Little League game together. At some point during the game my son told me he needed to go to the bathroom and started to head over to the restrooms which were located about 20-30 feet from the bleachers we were sitting on. I had a plate of food on my lap, so admittedly part of my decision to let him go on his own was motivated by not wanting to be inconvenienced, but I also figured the statistical chances of him being abducted and/or assaulted in the 1-2 minutes he'd be away were miniscule.

I overheard two women whispering behind me, saying, "He's letting him go by himself?", followed by one of them turning to me and saying, in the most condescending way you can imagine, "You're not going to go with him? That seems pretty dangerous". Not wanting to make a scene, I got up and followed him to the bathroom (where shockingly he appeared to be handling things just fine on his own without any worst case scenarios occurring), so I thankfully avoided having the situation escalate as happened with the author of this piece.

I can see why some people might find the defiant attitude of the author off-putting, but I totally understand where she is coming from. It is really frustrating and annoying to have your parenting skills called into question based of someone else's misguided fears over stranger danger and poor risk assessment. I'm sure someone could just as easily come at me with, "I don't care how small the risk is, how hard would it have been to just go with him to the bathroom?", as has been done to the author of this piece, but, really, why should I (or anyone) have to parent my kid in such a way to satisfy somebody else's irrational paranoia?
posted by The Gooch at 11:26 AM on June 5, 2014 [28 favorites]


Disingenuousness is about ignoring known facts. If anything, this is about projection. But that's certainly occurring with both the bystander and the mother in this thread, and I'm not sure the bystander is getting the worst of it.
posted by cribcage at 11:26 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


If I see a parent leave a child in a car and go into a store, how do I know that they're only going to be gone 5 minutes? What if it's an hour? Am I supposed to sit there and wait for them to come out or should I call the cops now?

I was left in the car for an hour when I was about 9 while my mom "just ran in to get something." I stayed in the car because I feared getting into trouble if I went to find her. It's 30 years later and I can still feel how anxious I was that she wasn't coming back.

It's one thing to lock your front door while your car's in the driveway; the kids can see you from the car and you can see them. It's another thing to be out of the line of sight. Little kids don't have a sense of time (and really young kids don't have object permanence). A year later, the kid in the article was still upset by the incident.
posted by desjardins at 11:30 AM on June 5, 2014 [5 favorites]


I've had CPS called on me because we aren't Christian.

And they showed up? Genuinely curious as to how this played out. "Excuse us, ma'am, we have a complaint that you're not Christian"? Details, we want details! (Well, I do, anyway.)

I asked earlier if anyone had any statistics on how many charges are filed each year for leaving the kid in the car. Anyone have any luck? Did I just miss it?
posted by IndigoJones at 11:31 AM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


I feel less and less at home in this culture.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 11:31 AM on June 5, 2014 [4 favorites]


desjardins: A year later, the kid in the article was still upset by the incident.

I guess this is up to interpretation, but it seems to me that the child was upset by the shaming and criminalization of his Mom's perfectly reasonable parenting choices.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:32 AM on June 5, 2014 [8 favorites]


Wait, The Gooch - 9? Seriously? At nine, at the risk of going Four Yorkshiremen, I was walking a mile to and from school every weekday...
posted by running order squabble fest at 11:32 AM on June 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


I guess this is up to interpretation, but it seems to me that the child was upset by the shaming and criminalization of his Mom's perfectly reasonable parenting choices.

Yeah the kid is terrified of the police.

I don't think anyone here is particularly happy about the end result, whether or not you support the actions of the mother or bystander.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 11:37 AM on June 5, 2014


Wait, The Gooch - 9? Seriously? At nine, at the risk of going Four Yorkshiremen, I was walking a mile to and from school every weekday...

He's 9 now, he was ~5 at the time of the incident.
posted by The Gooch at 11:37 AM on June 5, 2014


Ah! Yes, sorry, you said exactly that. Fast thread, slow brain, clearly.

It's one thing to lock your front door while your car's in the driveway; the kids can see you from the car and you can see them. It's another thing to be out of the line of sight. Little kids don't have a sense of time (and really young kids don't have object permanence). A year later, the kid in the article was still upset by the incident.

Yeah, this is a really odd reading. As written, he's pretty clearly upset because he knows the police take people away, and he is worried that they are going to take his mother away, not that he was scared that his mother was not coming back.

At 4, children go to kindergarten. They've mastered object permanence in general terms, and the specific idea that their mothers go away and then come back.
posted by running order squabble fest at 11:39 AM on June 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


Wait, The Gooch - 9? Seriously? At nine, at the risk of going Four Yorkshiremen, I was walking a mile to and from school every weekday...
posted by running order squabble fest at 1:32 PM on June 5 [+] [!]


These rules seem to change dramatically based on location and generation. My Dad walked two miles to school from the age of eight or nine, but I wasn't allowed to walk five blocks by myself until I was something like nine.

Depends on the kid too. My daughter is eight but she has ASD. I can't let her cross a parking lot without holding her hand since she has virtually no situational awareness.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 11:40 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


I guess this is up to interpretation, but it seems to me that the child was upset by the shaming and criminalization of his Mom's perfectly reasonable parenting choices.

Nah, it sounds to me like the kid is genuinely afraid. From the article: "One afternoon after his swim lesson, he came out of the bathroom and for a second didn’t see me — I’d kneeled down to get his shoes from their cubby. When I looked up he was crying. 'Mommy, mommy, I thought someone was going to steal me.'"
posted by desjardins at 11:41 AM on June 5, 2014


Yes, he is now genuinely afraid because a minor incident which he would not otherwise have even remembered was wildly and disproportionately catastrophized.
posted by elizardbits at 11:42 AM on June 5, 2014 [15 favorites]


Yes, he is now genuinely afraid because a minor incident which he would not otherwise have even remembered was wildly and disproportionately catastrophized.

but if we can save the life of just one child, then all the disproportionate catastrophizing is worth it.
posted by philip-random at 11:46 AM on June 5, 2014


Yes, he is now genuinely afraid because a minor incident which he would not otherwise have even remembered was wildly and disproportionately catastrophized.

I was left in the car for an hour when I was about 9 while my mom "just ran in to get something." I stayed in the car because I feared getting into trouble if I went to find her. It's 30 years later and I can still feel how anxious I was that she wasn't coming back.

He may have remembered it in a different way, but there's an arguable chance that he would remember the incident all the same.
posted by vignettist at 11:49 AM on June 5, 2014


Sure, I was an anxious kid and I can't extrapolate my experiences to every kid, but my fear definitely had nothing to do with anyone else's reactions since no one else knows about the incident (until now).
posted by desjardins at 11:51 AM on June 5, 2014


First of all, some comments say that the bystander only called after the car had already left. I may have missed it, but I only read that the police arrived at the scene after the car had already left. Correct me if I'm wrong.

555 heatstroke deaths below 5 over a 16-year period, or about 174 over 5 years. That's about one death every 4 months. under-5 mortality rate is 7/1000 in the US. There's about 4 million people born each year, so over 5 years, that's about 20 million. That means that there will be 140,000 (maybe 120k) under-5 deaths. (There's 4,380 hours in 5 years, so if we lower the estimated death count a bit, that's 3 deaths an hour.) Heatstroke deaths in cars cause ~.124% of under-5 deaths, if we ignore the exponentially increasing population.

Of course, there's a hole in my construction, because I only have deaths in cars from heatstroke. Could a helpful kidnapper or extremely negligent parent please collect statistics on other deaths?

There's some interesting foreign practices to read about.
posted by halifix at 12:00 PM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm curious to ask those that see leaving the kid in the car as okay... How long do you figure is an acceptable time to leave a four year old alone in a car out of sight?
posted by WinnipegDragon at 12:00 PM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


There was a fairly recent time in the past when authority figures had far more power in relation to children than they do now. That's why it was acceptable to leave children in cars, wander around on their own, and people generally didn't get involved even if there was significant risk involved. In some ways it had its advantages, but the downside was more problematic instances where authorities didn't get involved because parental or other authority was more important - the 'it's a family/internal matter' situation. As thinking on this shifted it generally shifted for everything and it's far more acceptable to get involved - and even required for some situations - and you end up with outlier situations where the authorities come down heavy on minor issues that perhaps should be not involve the weight of the law.

I am not sure you can get the good sides of an increased suspicion that maybe authority figures set over a child are not always right and that you should speak up and intervene in situations where the situation is problematic, without the down side - interference where outsiders are overstepping boundaries and interfering in what are minor situations. TLDR: you can't get the good bits of the 70s, etc. re children without all the bad bits regarding their rights.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 12:01 PM on June 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


How long do you figure is an acceptable time to leave a four year old alone in a car out of sight?

oh god until college at least
posted by elizardbits at 12:02 PM on June 5, 2014 [36 favorites]


WinnipegDragon: I'm curious to ask those that see leaving the kid in the car as okay... How long do you figure is an acceptable time to leave a four year old alone in a car out of sight?

Depends 100% on the situation and the kid. There's no number that's always going to be appropriate.
posted by Rock Steady at 12:05 PM on June 5, 2014 [7 favorites]


desjardins, yes; I cited your quote as direct counterpoint to the quote above it.

...

We can argue all day long that the bystander overreacted (and I still think she should have talked to the author, since she was right there), but hindsight is 20/20, and although the child turned out to be unharmed in the immediate moment of this incident, not only did the bystander have no way of knowing that when the incident was occuring, we as outsiders have no way of knowing what the child would have experienced.

It's really not for us to police his anxiety levels (and we hope no one starts getting CPS called on them for a child whose feelings got hurt), but again I say, it's arguable that the child may have had a similar reaction to dejardins', rather than to just make the blanket statement that he wouldn't have remembered it at all.

Bottom line, leaving a 4yo alone in public is not a great idea. All that crap about "we were out by ourselves all day and all night and we turned out fine", and yeah, I was too, but I damn sure would much rather have had my parent's attention than be left alone as much as I was.
posted by vignettist at 12:07 PM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


This sounds like harassment, were they all called in by the same people?

A couple were, but the others were different people entirely. Different neighborhoods, different life stages.

The "internet addiction" one was called in by a neighbor who was pissed that I wouldn't babysit for her. Apparently, work at home moms are obligated to take care of other people's children.

Yeah, it's harassment, but not the kind you think.
posted by MissySedai at 12:07 PM on June 5, 2014 [9 favorites]


my fear definitely had nothing to do with anyone else's reactions

Is that really true, though? I can't extrapolate to you any more than you can extrapolate to young Master Brooks, so I don't mean to overstep here: your experience is your experience. But having your emotions shaped by other people's reactions isn't strictly a post-occurrence dynamic.

When a little kid stumbles, we smile or laugh because we know our reaction will shape his: if we treat it like an OMG CRISIS then so will he, but if we brush it off then he will giggle, stand back up, and keep toddling along. But our reaction isn't his only input. He's also affected by all kinds of other things that aren't immediate. How did bystanders react the last time he stumbled? If you are old enough to process being left alone in a car, you might also be old enough to have overheard innumerable remarks about children being left alone, to have been told innumerable times "always make sure I can see you!", etc. Isn't that likely playing a role in you-as-a-child's reaction?

How long do you figure is an acceptable time to leave a four year old alone in a car out of sight?

Now you're diving headlong down the rabbit hole of projection. You're removing even the few facts we know about Brooks's circumstance and just posing an abstract. I would respectfully submit that if a person believes there is an absolute answer to that question as you've constructed it, then there's a higher likelihood that person is not a great parent.
posted by cribcage at 12:08 PM on June 5, 2014 [4 favorites]


Now you're diving headlong down the rabbit hole of projection. You're removing even the few facts we know about Brooks's circumstance and just posing an abstract. I would respectfully submit that if a person believes there is an absolute answer to that question as you've constructed it, then there's a higher likelihood that person is not a great parent.

But when we decide to have child safety laws, these sorts of absolutes are necessary and important. I could just as easily say, "I don't have to wear my seatbelt - I'm only going down the block to the store and I won't get over 25 mph", which may be technically true but is irrelevant to law enforcement. And yet, I don't generally hear people demanding relativism in seatbelt laws.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 12:13 PM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


That sounds like an absolutely horrible rule to use. Children can come to a lot of harm with no blood spilled.

After I posted I wondered if I'd have to explain blood stands for any obviously (to reasonable people) extreme situation, but hoped nobody would be so deliberately obtuse as to take it literally.
posted by michaelh at 12:16 PM on June 5, 2014


But when we decide to have child safety laws, these sorts of absolutes are necessary and important. I could just as easily say, "I don't have to wear my seatbelt - I'm only going down the block to the store and I won't get over 25 mph", which may be technically true but is irrelevant to law enforcement. And yet, I don't generally hear people demanding relativism in seatbelt laws.

I don't believe the question was about laws?
posted by shakespeherian at 12:18 PM on June 5, 2014


I was in Vienna a couple of weeks ago. Basically kids there get to school on their own, whether walking or taking the streetcar or what have you. My friend, who has lived in several other places in Europe and America before moving to Vienna a few years ago, admitted that he still took his kids to school; he couldn't shake the feeling that letting kids navigate a city on their own was a little too dangerous. But he acknowledged that his kids gave him grief for this -- because all their classmates think he's a paranoid parent -- and would probably let them go on their own once they got a little older and he got a little more used to the culture.

Is Vienna a pretty safe city? Sure. Could this happen in an equivalently safe city in the U.S.? I highly doubt it.


This is way back at the beginning of the thread, but: yes, this happens all the time all over the U.S. Poor families have no choice but to put their children on the bus. I see lots of kids by themselves on AC Transit, BART, and Muni in the morning. Not everyone has the luxury of taking their kid to school.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:19 PM on June 5, 2014 [4 favorites]


I was left in the car for an hour when I was about 9 while my mom "just ran in to get something." I stayed in the car because I feared getting into trouble if I went to find her. It's 30 years later and I can still feel how anxious I was that she wasn't coming back.

damn, when I read this I was like,"Desjardins's mom abandoned her family by leaving 9 yr old Desjardins in a car in the parking lot and pretending she'd be in the grocery store?! That's straight up cold like Dicey's Song by Cynthia Voight!" Like those Dads that went out for cigarettes and never came back.

But I guess she did come back.

Wait, your mom did come back, right?
posted by discopolo at 12:23 PM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


I don't believe the question was about laws?

A fair point, but I think it's important to view these things in context. There are parenting decisions on which reasonable people can differ, and there are parenting decisions on which legislatures have felt strongly enough to step in and create laws. You could even say that a parent who violates child safety laws for her own convenience is probably not that great of a parent.

That said, I do think that WinnipegDragon's question still applies - if you think it's acceptable to leave a four-year-old unattended in a car, how long before that behavior is not acceptable.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 12:25 PM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


Genuinely curious as to how this played out. "Excuse us, ma'am, we have a complaint that you're not Christian"? Details, we want details! (Well, I do, anyway.)

The complaint was that we were conducting "Satanic" rituals in our backyard, and the children were being harmed. CPS has to show up for every complaint, so they did. Social worker was taken aback when she told me why she was there and my response was "We don't believe in Satan, and it's not illegal to refuse to indoctrinate your kids with someone else's religion."

That one was called in by a neighbor who was pissed that I told her friend, who was "witnessing" at people door to door, to read the sign on the door that says I'm not interested, and get the fuck off my porch. (Yes, I am indeed hostile towards solicitors and god-botherers who ignore the sign on the door. Self-employed, don't interrupt my day with your nonsense.)
posted by MissySedai at 12:27 PM on June 5, 2014 [12 favorites]


I see lots of kids by themselves on AC Transit, BART, and Muni in the morning.

Yeah, my parents had an epic fight about letting me take the subway or bus alone (with other kids but no adults) when I was around 10 years old, which went something like:

mom: NO SHE'S ONLY 10 THAT'S TOO YOUNG
dad: when i was 10 i brained a nazi with a rock during the seige of budapest

I got to ride the subway.
posted by elizardbits at 12:28 PM on June 5, 2014 [60 favorites]


This has turned into a horrible mommy blog thread. Many of you commenting sound like you are currently trolling your neighborhood retail parking lots with a cellphone camera in front of your face at the ready, and are looking to be validated by the big blue.

The person videotaping saw the mother come back out and drive away, which validated that the child was unharmed. Instead of putting her cellphone away and saying to her/himself "that could have turned out badly, but it didn't" she/he said "I think when the cops get here, I'll turn this video over and hope that lady learns a lesson." It's vindictive no matter how you slice it. According to what the police told the author, the videographer saw her go INTO the store and started videotaping. That means the videographer either saw the mother RETURN and drive away or called the police and then left without seeing the mother return to the car, which means that person did NOT have the child's best interest at heart, and was only looking to cause trouble. Either way, a shitty thing to do.
posted by Kokopuff at 12:29 PM on June 5, 2014 [25 favorites]


The way people act about this shit, you'd think it was a normal and legally sanctioned practice to slaughter somebody else's unattended child to ensure less competition for your own offspring. We don't live in caves anymore, nobody is rampaging through grocery store parking lots looking for offspring that doesn't bear their DNA.
posted by tehloki at 12:29 PM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


But when we decide to have child safety laws, these sorts of absolutes are necessary and important.

It's a balancing act though, right? In theory, absolutes will ensure both predictability and fairness. In workable theory, we need discretion to effect justice, because we simply can't theorize every possibility. And in practice we need both. We can't allow a judge to treat one defendant differently because of race, but we have to allow him to consider factors that are, in fact, relevant, mitigating or aggravating.

Upthread people were discussing laws and the social cost. This is part of it. Your sentence has a fair amount of truth to it—but those "absolutes" come with all kinds of challenges and costs, which is why the conditional ("when we decide to...") becomes so important. Without derailing this thread too far, I'd simply say: can't we agree that if the question were, "Is it right to have a law that criminalizes leaving a child unattended in an automobile," people would have a lot of different opinions? And probably, can't we further agree that "how long?" would be only one of many, many, many hotly debated variables?
posted by cribcage at 12:30 PM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


But when we decide to have child safety laws, these sorts of absolutes are necessary and important.

Those child safety laws do not put an absolute number on leaving a child unattended, however. Indeed, TFA specifically notes that the author disagrees with the argument that she had "contributed to the delinquency of a minor", ie the charge she was facing. Hence the title of this FPP. Also in TFA, her lawyer explains that there was an attempt to create a proportional charge of leaving a child unaccompanied in a car - something that was punished by a $100 fine - but that this was not passed. In fact, TFA keeps using the phrase "grey area" about the legal questions.

So... yeah.
posted by running order squabble fest at 12:30 PM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


This has turned into a horrible mommy blog thread.

Is the politically correct thing to do here to commiserate with the Salon writer? Be all supportive? Give her a hug or something?
posted by KokuRyu at 12:34 PM on June 5, 2014


I was going to write something about how this isn't a matter of what's "Politically Correct." And then I remembered that, most of the time, the term "Political Correctness" is used in cases where I would say "empathy."

So yes, the thing I am personally tying to do here is to have a little empathy for a woman doing the best that she can, who has written an article about her life that opens herself up to a lot of criticism because she thought the conversation might be useful to other people.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 12:38 PM on June 5, 2014 [10 favorites]


Kokopuff: "Many of you commenting sound like you are currently trolling your neighborhood retail parking lots with a cellphone camera in front of your face at the ready, and are looking to be validated by the big blue. "

Has anyone here actually said they have snapped pictures of children imprisoned in cars and sent them to CPS?

Other than WinnipegDragon's mom, that is.
posted by zarq at 12:40 PM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


Hugs aren't needed. But neither is burning at the stake.
posted by Kokopuff at 12:40 PM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


Other countries think nothing of this.
posted by cherrybounce at 12:52 PM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


Is there a ______phobia that means "pathological fear that the inside of your car will turn into a fiery oven within minutes even on a cool, overcast day"?

If that's really something you worry about, I will at least grant that climbing into a parked car despite this fear represents tremendous bravery on your part.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 12:55 PM on June 5, 2014 [4 favorites]


The person videotaping saw the mother come back out and drive away, which validated that the child was unharmed. Instead of putting her cellphone away and saying to her/himself "that could have turned out badly, but it didn't" she/he said "I think when the cops get here, I'll turn this video over and hope that lady learns a lesson." It's vindictive no matter how you slice it. According to what the police told the author, the videographer saw her go INTO the store and started videotaping. That means the videographer either saw the mother RETURN and drive away or called the police and then left without seeing the mother return to the car, which means that person did NOT have the child's best interest at heart, and was only looking to cause trouble. Either way, a shitty thing to do.

Not necessarily. If she had already called the police and given them the plate number before the mother returned they would be obligated to follow up regardless of whether the bystander stayed or left, and regardless of what she saw.

Those child safety laws do not put an absolute number on leaving a child unattended, however

At least some do, I posted several examples earlier in the thread.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 12:59 PM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


I will at least grant that climbing into a parked car despite this fear represents tremendous bravery on your part.

A four year old does not regulate heat like an adult and can't control the situation like an adult. It's not equivalent.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 1:07 PM on June 5, 2014


We know some things the bystander did, and we know some things the bystander chose not to do. If the true concern was for the child's well-being, the bystander could have done things that were apparently not done. However if the actual motivation was superiority ("This person is not performing as well as I believe she should, so let's punish her") then this was exactly what to do.

So we apply inductive reasoning, and the result is a likelihood.
posted by cribcage at 1:14 PM on June 5, 2014 [6 favorites]


Leaving the child was unnecessary. That's what bugs me about this one.
posted by agregoli at 1:15 PM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


A four year old does not regulate heat like an adult and can't control the situation like an adult. It's not equivalent.

This is true. Different situations represent different risks. Cool, overcast days in the low 50's, for instance, represent minimal, if any risk over very short periods. Not even for four year olds.

But there are people here straight up fretting over the possibility of 40-60 degree swings even in these mild conditions. My point was that they likely do not actually feel the interiors of cars are quite so rapidly, dangerously volatile under even the best of conditions. How could they? They'd be terrified to ever get in one. They're just blustering so they can hand wring about this mom.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:20 PM on June 5, 2014


We know some things the bystander did, and we know some things the bystander chose not to do. If the true concern was for the child's well-being, the bystander could have done things that were apparently not done. However if the actual motivation was superiority ("This person is not performing as well as I believe she should, so let's punish her") then this was exactly what to do.

Is this really so black and white to you? Because the bystander didn't do what you believe they should have done, you can divine motivation?

Sometimes other people see things differently, and react differently for perfectly valid reasons.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 1:20 PM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


But there are people here straight up fretting over the possibility of 40-60 degree swings even in these mild conditions. My point was that they likely do not actually feel the interiors of cars are quite so rapidly, dangerously volatile under even the best of conditions. How could they? They'd be terrified to ever get in one. They're just blustering so they can hand wring about this mom.

This neglects the concern over other risks that have been mentioned upthread. It's not just about the heat.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 1:22 PM on June 5, 2014


I'm still trying to figure out if the person who mentioned the infant who died after seven hours in a hot car legitimately felt that was a fair comparison to a four year old on a cool overcast day alone in a car for a few minutes, or if they were just sayin' ...
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:24 PM on June 5, 2014 [4 favorites]


We've spent a great deal of this page debating the hyperthermia risks of this particular situation. I don't think I imagined that. And I think it bears mention what exaggeration that is.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:25 PM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm still trying to figure out if the person who mentioned the infant who died after seven hours in a hot car legitimately.felt that was a fair comparison to a four year old on a cool overcast day alone in a car for a few minutes, or if they were just sayin' ...

I dunno, I'm just honestly surprised that so many people would just leave their four year old kid in a car and walk out of site for a while. The very concept just seems so wrong to me. A four year old is so defenseless.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 1:27 PM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


I suddenly am curious about why she thought it was a better idea to do a trip to the mall right before a flight -- was she at the one airport that doesn't sell electronics?

Do I think the mother made a mistake? Sure. Not a huge one. Not more than anyone else makes, really. But it was still a mistake. And it's unfortunate that it went so far, but I really don't understand the vitriol for the person who called the cops, who probably doesn't think that the cops and CPS are terrible groups of people hell-bent on destroying families.
posted by jeather at 1:29 PM on June 5, 2014 [5 favorites]


We've spent a great deal of this page debating the hyperthermia risks of this particular situation. I don't think I imagined that. And I think it bears mention what exaggeration that is.

No doubt, people really grabbed on to that. I think it's largely because its the most likely danger to an unattended child in a vehicle. Abduction, injury, engaging the engine, releasing the parking break, etc, are all probably less likely.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 1:30 PM on June 5, 2014


Is this really so black and white to you?

I would gently suggest that you may be projecting a recent personal experience onto this situation in a way that's not constructive to chatting about it on the Internet. You seem to have no problem painting Brooks's actions in black-and-white, even going so far as to abstractly ask, "How long do you figure is an acceptable time to leave a four year old alone in a car out of sight?", yet you are bending over backward to afford the bystander some benefit of doubt (eg, "If she had already called the police and given them the plate number before the mother returned they would be obligated to follow up..."). It's conspicuous and contradictory.

Nobody is "divining" anything. Inductive reasoning isn't about divination or mind-reading. It is about looking at circumstantial evidence—like the fact that something walks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck all at the same time—and drawing a reasonable conclusion. Of course we don't know, for absolute fact, what motivated this bystander. But we have some information. We don't need to hand-wave.
posted by cribcage at 1:31 PM on June 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


Putting aside the hyperthermia thing for a second... I see that another fear is someone forcing their way through the window/door to snatch the kid. So if I live in a first floor walkup, is my kid not allowed to play in the foyer near the front door while I take a shower? It's a similar amount of time to grabbing a single item from a strip mall store (if not more). There'd be a similar (if not smaller) number of people who might notice the intrusion. And in this case, unlike at the store, I wouldn't be able to check in on the tyke by glancing through a window. Safe or not safe?

My thinking is that most of us are probably okay with this and the differentiating factor isn't degree of risk. It's the notion of home as safe place vs. the notion of public spaces as treacherous cesspools of stranger danger.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:35 PM on June 5, 2014 [8 favorites]


The author didn't actually engage in appreciably dangerous risk-taking where her child was concerned. She just inflamed some ugly fears many of us harbor about the danger in public spaces.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:38 PM on June 5, 2014 [7 favorites]


At least some do, I posted several examples earlier in the thread.

Those aren't absolutes, though. The New Jersey example references another case in which a woman who left a sick two-year old unaccompanied in a car while she bought medicine was not found to be negligent.

The Massachusetts example is also an example of an acquittal, which I think is problematic:
That the actions of the defendant were foolish and a lapse of judgment, as DSS observed, is self-evident. To equate abandonment with poor judgment, however, is a leap we are not prepared to take. The defendant left his daughter for an undetermined amount of time, traveling a relatively short distance away. There was no indication that he did not have the intention to return shortly; indeed the evidence was to the contrary. This cannot form the basis for a criminal conviction of abandonment.
The Illinois example references the same code, which retains the rubric of under six and for ten minutes or more as a rebuttable presumption of child neglect - that is, one can leave a child under six in a car for ten minutes or more and still not have committed an offense.

More relevantly however, in this case - the one we are talking about - it seems there is no absolute rule, which is part of the problem.
posted by running order squabble fest at 1:51 PM on June 5, 2014


Yeah, I have zero stranger phobia. Not worried about anybody getting kidnapped. But I don't leave small children completely unattended, out of sight and earshot and with no ability to find me, for fifteen minutes. I think that's pretty typical of me and not psychotic helicopter parenting. (You all are of course free to disagree, as you very clearly do!)
posted by gerstle at 2:11 PM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


I think that what she did was absolutely fine, but my fear of well-meaning people will keep me from doing the same. In this situation, there was little risk from heat, predatory adults, etc, but there was very real risk from overzealous "Good Samaritans" and the police. Really a shame.

I think kids need unsupervised time to develop properly and even if parents subscribe to this belief and take the brave step to allow their kid some risk and reward, some growing independence, we are not allowed this freedom because we might be reported to CPS and the police by our neighbors.
posted by valeries at 2:32 PM on June 5, 2014 [10 favorites]


(You all are of course free to disagree, as you very clearly do!)

One of the peculiar/endearing quirks of internet discussion is how both sides in any argument can be positive most people disagree with them. :)
posted by DirtyOldTown at 2:45 PM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


Is there a ______phobia that means "pathological fear that the inside of your car will turn into a fiery oven within minutes even on a cool, overcast day"?

It is, apparently, our version of Korean fan death.

Everything in this thread has convinced me that my terror of the police / CPS is totally rational, and the terror of kids dying from overheating in a car on a cold day is completely bonkers.

Here's the deal: we are not concerned with the safety of children. No, seriously, we're not. What we're concerned with is the diligent performance of the appearance of concern over the safety of children. This appearance of concern, to be valid, has to fit into carefully defined social norms. One way that we perform the appearance of concern is, apparently, by completely flipping out whenever we see (or hear of) children alone.

This is a brand new norm. It's a youngin'. Younger than, like, Pokemon. Significantly younger than widespread Internet usage. It's only a little bit older than the iMac. It's a thing that has changed over the course of my lifetime, and it's a thing that should change back, thank you very much. It does not contribute to the safety of children. The only real function it has is to make parents' lives harder and to punish not-our-types for being not-our-type.

I grew up in the 80s. I left alone in cars on a regular basis while my (single) mom did errands. I had a wonderful time sitting and reading (I learned to read very young). And I was left alone at home after school and sometimes all day in the summer, because there's no way my mom's pay as a waitress could possibly cover daycare, and, well, even if it could, we had better things to spend money on. My mom, sanely, preferred to spend our little money on necessities rather than on keeping up appearances.

It strikes me that to some of y'all, the way I was raised was criminal — you are people who would have called the cops on my mom and likely had me taken away, because lord knows we couldn't afford a lawyer, and lord knows my mom couldn't get time off from work to go to legal proceedings anyway, and lord knows my mom didn't have time to do a hundred hours of community service.

I am utterly gobsmacked to find support for the call-the-cops sentiment here.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:45 PM on June 5, 2014 [39 favorites]


There is a world of difference between leaving a kid in the car when you go into the store and leaving a kid in the car because you are being neglectful.

Full disclosure: When I was very young, car seat anged, my father left me in a car in Reno while he went into a casino to gamble. This was neglectful. I did not know why I was in the car, why he was going away, if he would ever come back. I cried and screamed until the police came and took me inside the casino to find my father. This was 1984, so there wasn't the sort of uproar that might occur over it today plus I have to imagine that this sort of things is relatively common in gambling towns.

On the other side, my mom would often leave me the in the car when she went into the store, but I knew she was coming back. I knew where she was going and why she was going there. I had no reason to worry about anything. Kidnapping is not nearly as common as people seem to think sometimes, that every time you leave your child out of site they are being preyed on by swarms of kidnapping perverts.

The author was certainly of the latter example. I have no problem with them having done this. If it were like the former example then yes we would have a problem. But seriously, this?
posted by mediocre at 2:58 PM on June 5, 2014 [9 favorites]


I dunno, I'm just honestly surprised that so many people would just leave their four year old kid in a car and walk out of site for a while. The very concept just seems so wrong to me. A four year old is so defenseless.

I think it is worth noting a distinction here between (1) a thing that a speaker is willing to do him- or herself and (2) a thing that a speaker is willing to let others do for themselves. I would not leave my son unattended in a locked car in a public parking lot even for five minutes. However, I don't think it is necessarily unreasonable for a parent to leave a child in a parked car in a public parking lot for a few minutes. Maybe even as many as 20 or 30 minutes depending on context. This doesn't seem like any more of a serious risk than other risks other parents expose their children to that I also don't think are any of my business.

That said, I also don't think there is anything especially blameworthy about the bystander's actions. Really, I'm not sure how I would have handled being a bystander in such a case, but I can at least imagine standing around for a few minutes and then calling someone. That seems like a possible thing that I would do.

No, I think the fault is with the state -- the police, the DA, the judge -- not just dismissing this with a stern warning.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 3:06 PM on June 5, 2014


No, I think the fault is with the state -- the police, the DA, the judge -- not just dismissing this with a stern warning.

... issued to the bystander, for wasting police time and harassing the author of the article.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 3:08 PM on June 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


Kidnapping is not nearly as common as people seem to think sometimes, that every time you leave your child out of site they are being preyed on by swarms of kidnapping perverts.

OMIGOD THOUGH, people totally believe in the swarms of kidnapping perverts.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 3:11 PM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


I don't know much about the siege of Budapest, but now I am always going to imagine that the defending force was composed of ten-year-old elizardbitses. I picture them with waxed moustaches and loyal pugs for sidekicks.
posted by agentofselection at 3:13 PM on June 5, 2014 [4 favorites]


The author didn't actually engage in appreciably dangerous risk-taking where her child was concerned. She just inflamed some ugly fears many of us harbor about the danger in public spaces.

I disagree here.

And let me be clear. When I was 9-10 years old, I would routinely pack a couple sandwiches in my backpack, grab my pup tent and my dog and disappear into the woods for a night or two. As kids we were expected to stay out of the house until the streetlights came on.

I was remarkably cavalier with my son's care compared to the other parents in the neighborhood, and super anal compared to my parents. So you know, I've got some perspective.

Still, leaving a 4 year old unattended is a bad, bad idea. Bad idea. They just aren't that bright and are perfectly able to get themselves into trouble. 5-6 ? Yeah, that's a bit better. But 4 ? No way, man. Leaving a 4 year old unattended is just asking for trouble.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 3:14 PM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


Still, leaving a 4 year old unattended is a bad, bad idea. Bad idea. They just aren't that bright and are perfectly able to get themselves into trouble. 5-6 ? Yeah, that's a bit better. But 4 ? No way, man. Leaving a 4 year old unattended is just asking for trouble.

Surely this depends on the four year old, and the people best-situated to make a judgment call here are the parents of the child, right?
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 3:18 PM on June 5, 2014 [8 favorites]


When I was a kid (about 10), Mom would stay in the car, and I would go into the store to get her Cigarettes... ;-)
posted by MikeWarot at 3:25 PM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


The author was certainly of the latter example. I have no problem with them having done this. If it were like the former example then yes we would have a problem.

Outside observers may not be able to tell the difference. For them, the child in the car is Schrodinger's kid: it's in a superposition of being both a-okay and utterly neglected until it is subject to closer observation.

It might not be a great idea to put strangers in a parking lot in the position of engaging in that observation or making that call.

I don't think the author did the worst thing in the world, and everybody involved could have acted differently. But the author rolled the dice, and she lost.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 3:29 PM on June 5, 2014 [8 favorites]


There is nothing like a Metafilter thread on raising children for helping me grasp how thoroughly the past has become another planet, and that I am an alien now, trying to make my peace with unfamiliar customs as best I can.

When I was four and five, I typically got up, got dressed, and left the house for as much as several hours of unsupervised play before breakfast, while my parents and sister were still asleep. I watched the sun rise scores of and probably more than a hundred times, and have vivid and extremely ecstatic memories of seeing the world go from a dim blue-grey huddle of uncertain shapes to almost skull-cracking color and clarity beneath a vast sky; one of my favorite things in life then was to pedal my bike as hard as I could across a huge graded area next to our house which had been cleared for development that somehow never got farther than pouring some foundation slabs, and gorge myself on the sight of the very first and literally horizontal rays of the sun sparkling from the morning frost on the pebbles and causing them to cast long and eerily dark shadows along the ground. And that's the kind of thing I did for the rest of the day as well, day after day when I wasn't sick and there wasn't too much snow on the ground, coming home mainly to eat and take naps.
posted by jamjam at 3:40 PM on June 5, 2014 [13 favorites]


For them, the child in the car is Schrodinger's kid: it's in a superposition of being both a-okay and utterly neglected until it is subject to closer observation.

Holy fuck, you just put that in EXACTLY the one way that I might have ever been able to understand the uproar over this. Mind. Blown.
posted by mediocre at 3:45 PM on June 5, 2014 [5 favorites]


I mean, I feel guilty if I go to the front door to lock it and already have my children buckled into the car in the driveway.

We have twins. When they were babies, it was literally impossible to take them and their car seats, and all their reams of stuff, all down the stairs and into the the car in one trip. More like several trips, particularly if you are alone, which we as parents were at least 50% of the time.

So you take child #1 down to the car, get her all strapped in (a somewhat lengthy and cumbersome procedure). Then you leave child #1 strapped in the car while you get child #2. This takes a couple of minutes even if all goes well. And with two babies about, all goes well very seldom.

Then you carry a load of stuff out. Then you hop in the car and start it. Then you realize you have forgotten some vital item (their bottles, their wet wipes, their diapers, drivers license, keys, whatever). You run back into the house to find said item and you can't find it right away--maybe it takes 2 or 3 or 5 minutes. Both children are in the car alone during this time. Because we didn't exactly have the means to hire a gaggle of nannies to assist us every time we needed to run to the store or a pediatrician.

You leave and arrive at your destination, where you reverse the process.

Ok. So you read any book or pamphlet on parenting and invariably it says something like, "And never leave your child alone in a vehicle EVEN FOR AN INSTANT."

That is a nice idea, but in real life utterly, utterly impossible.
posted by flug at 3:47 PM on June 5, 2014 [11 favorites]


I've got a big tangle of feelings about the bystander.

On the one hand, if you think a child is in danger, unless that danger is an armed human or a pack of wild dogs or something similar, you should probably take immediate steps to remove them from that danger.

On the other hand, as a minority male, I feel pretty strongly that if I go up to a car that's not mine, and I'm peering in the windows and attempting to open the doors or communicate with a 4 year old kid inside, and another bystander spots me, I'm the innocent person who will end up getting screwed over by the American justice system when the story ends rather than this article's author. ("I'd like to report a black male acting suspiciously near a car. It looks like he's trying to break into it, and I think there might be a child inside.")

So I'd be really torn about what to do were I witnessing something like this incident...under conditions more threatening than an overcast 50 degree day when I can see that the windows of the car have been cracked.

As for the mother? She did absolutely nothing wrong in my book. I would be willing to bet cash money that anyone from the American justice system involved in this incident has done something similar with their kids -- or observed friends/relatives do something similar -- and let it pass without comment. You pretty much can't solo parent without having done this at some point.
posted by lord_wolf at 3:55 PM on June 5, 2014 [8 favorites]


I would gently suggest that you may be projecting a recent personal experience onto this situation in a way that's not constructive to chatting about it on the Internet. You seem to have no problem painting Brooks's actions in black-and-white, even going so far as to abstractly ask, "How long do you figure is an acceptable time to leave a four year old alone in a car out of sight?", yet you are bending over backward to afford the bystander some benefit of doubt

All I'm doing is providing an opposing opinion, and yeah this is something that was on my mind before this post because of recent events in my own family.

What I don't see is that I'm somehow valiantly defending the actions of the bystander, I don't think they need defending at all. I think she did the right thing. I do think that Brooks did the wrong thing. The difference is that we actually have some facts about what Brook did, and nearly everything that is being attributed to the bystander is assumption and inference.

As for it being black and white, well not necessarily. I would not have had a problem with what Brooks did at all if she was in a store where she could see the car, for instance.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 3:58 PM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


When I was four and five, I typically got up, got dressed, and left the house for as much as several hours of unsupervised play before breakfast,

The change away from this has not been to the benefit of children, or of parents, or families, or our society at large. Much to the detriment, rather.

I lost heart when the lawyer told her "It wasn’t neglectful.".... I can't agree with that. She left a young child, unsupervised, alone, in a mall parking lot. I'm not seeing that as responsible behavior. It only takes an instant to break a window to steal the car, the kid, the iPad, or all of the above.

I wouldn't have left my child in the car in that situation for this reason. Not because it is notably dangerous or neglectful (pro tip: children can be snatched from their own front yard or their back yard or from their own bedroom [just an instant to break the window glass and snatch them along with their iPad!] or even straight out of your arms or, really, everywhere or anywhere they may be). But because the attitude exemplified by this comment is near-universal and the consequences of someone SEEING the child are immense.

Even if the child is in fact perfectly, 100% safe.

As the experience of this woman amply demonstrates.

And BTW the anxiety I described in my post just upthread is all related to this. The kids themselves were in fact just as snug, happy, and safe in their carseats in the driveway as they would have been in the same seats in the middle of the front room. Especially with me peaking out the window to check on them every 20 seconds.

But the consequences of someone seeing them in this situation are potentially immense.

posted by flug at 4:02 PM on June 5, 2014 [8 favorites]


Ben Trigmesitstus (sp?) wins the thread. Hands down. I think the woman was in the wrong, but not really for the reasons being said. If you are going to have kids, you have to be a parent. And that means putting your foot down and being kind of an asshole sometimes.
posted by zardoz at 4:40 PM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


If you are going to have kids, you have to be a parent. And that means putting your foot down and being kind of an asshole sometimes.

True. And incomplete. I think it's profoundly unfair to assume "lazy parenting" when most days with kids are freighted with so many imperfect compromises, and with a thousand decisions and pressures, and with the relentless feeling of being ground down not just by the challenges of parenting each child individually, but also by the fears of being judged by family, neighbors, strangers, and, God forbid, the law. You can be a strict parent and *still* have a moment where you think, "Eh, it'll be fine, I'll only be a minute." You can have to leave one child, as stated above, because you have an emergency with the other, or both because you don't have enough arms for them and all of their stuff. You can be a good enough parent a lot of the time, and still have a moment that leaves you exposed to concerned-if-incorrect interpretations from strangers. We cannot be perfect, or meet the current definition of perfect, all the time because it's an impossible, repressive, stupid standard.

If I have to put my foot down, I want to refuse the culture of performative concern for children (mentioned above); of running them ragged with activities and testing; of others assuming that the world is bad and scary and that I am a bad parent; of the compulsive cultural need to enforce this sick panopticon-ish approach to parent-child time; of misjudging risk; of social punishment for people who parent in a way that's perceived as straying from the One True Norm; of mompetition, fear, uncertainty, and doubt; of helicoptering and intensive parenting; of it being more important to look like you're a perfect parent than simply being good enough, most of the time, for your individual kid.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:34 PM on June 5, 2014 [21 favorites]


We, and no doubt the rest of the internet, have surely taught Kim Brooks a thing or two.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 6:08 PM on June 5, 2014


rbellon: "The thing that I genuinely don't understand is her complete confidence that her son would stay put.
[...]
But all kids are different, I suppose.
"

When my daughter was five I took her to the dentist with me. While I had assorted work done for two hours she sat in the reception area drawing/reading. The receptionist was initially skeptical when we first went in and then she was somewhat flabbergasted when I was paying that a five year old could be trusted like that. So ya, kids vary.
posted by Mitheral at 7:05 PM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


WinnipegDragon: “I'm sure this human being thought that a four year old child should not be left unattended in a car regardless of the weather conditions, had an internal debate about the right thing to do regarding the welfare of the child, and decided that a young child should probably not be left in a situation of neglect by their mother, and erred on the side of caution. I think that's a reasonable decision to make.”

Like I said, I agree. So why the hell videotape it? What good does that do? That serves no purpose beyond some imagined vengeance.
posted by koeselitz at 7:26 PM on June 5, 2014


We must arrest Scandinavia immediately! Think of the children!
posted by bitter-girl.com at 7:35 PM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]


Mostly I'm tired of people who watched too much Nightline thinking they know better than me how to raise my own damn kid.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:41 PM on June 5, 2014 [9 favorites]


So, 40 Children a year die in cars unattended. There are 23 Million Children between 0 and 5 in the United States. This doesn't warrant a law — it's barely a statistic.

I'm not trying to take a stand either way, but it's important to note that these numbers (extreme infrequency of children dying of hyperthermia in cars) don't imply that her actions weren't negligent or that she didn't put her child at risk. Statistics don't work that way. It would be like arguing that dropping a kid in the monkey cage at the zoo is safe because extremely few kids are killed by monkey attacks every year. What we would need to know to draw a meaningful conclusion would be the conditional likelihood of a child dying given that the child was left alone in a car for some time, which those numbers don't reveal. It may be that few children were put in that position to begin with and that actually, relatively speaking, the risks were somewhat high.

I mostly doubt that her actions were risky, given the circumstances she described, but it is interesting how much the specifics of the weather and temperature seem to factor in--witness the defenses people have expressed in this thread. (What if instead of 55 and overcast it had been 60 and partly cloudy? What if it was overcast when she left but then the sun came out?) I think the very fact that the risks are so contingent on the weather and on a pretty rare circumstance--leaving the kid alone in the car was unusual, whether risky or not--does seem to indicate something that could reasonably trip someone's riskiness alarms, and the statistics don't necessarily contradict that.
posted by albrecht at 7:59 PM on June 5, 2014 [4 favorites]


nearly everything that is being attributed to the bystander is assumption and inference.

That depends which comments you're referring to. We do know certain facts about the bystander's actions per Brooks's article. We do not, on the other hand, know anything about the bystander's "internal debate." Perhaps you take my point about bending over backward.

But the author rolled the dice, and she lost.

Obviously there's truth to this. At the same time, it's a frustrating formulation because it ignores the agency of all the various individuals whose actions created that "loss"—the bystander, the police officer(s), the prosecutor(s), the judge(s). It's not as if Brooks just pulled some kind of lever and whir-whir-whir, mystical machinery doled out a result. These were individuals who might have acted differently, and better.

But because the attitude exemplified by this comment is near-universal and the consequences of someone SEEING the child are immense.

And that's presumably why Brooks wrote this article. Because you're exactly right: there are consequences to "someone seeing." If we can reach those various someones and provoke them to some deeper thought rather than just entrenching into knee-jerkedness, we can change those consequences.
posted by cribcage at 8:22 PM on June 5, 2014 [4 favorites]


To this child-free (and more happily so after reading this thread) person, it seems like most of the difference between folks who think the bystander did the right thing by calling the cops or not is how much you trust the cops and CPS to do the right thing by parents and children. I'm betting Kim Brooks is white and here she got dealt with without that benefit of the doubt folks like her (and me) are used to getting.

I'm not a parent and I'm white/cis/hetero/generally "easy mode" but I'm definitely in the "fear the cops" demographic. Leaving a four-year-old in the car seems like a not-so-great decision--though I was left alone briefly in the car more than once as a child in the 70s and survived, though I was also not strapped into a car seat--but the question of whether the harm done rises to the level of calling the cops seems a lot more open when you expect the outcome of every dealing with the cops to be bad.
posted by immlass at 8:27 PM on June 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


it ignores the agency of all the various individuals

Oh, absolutely. Like I said, better decisions could have been made all around. However, I also think Brooks could have done a better job of addressing her role.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 9:04 PM on June 5, 2014


No, it was not reasonable to leave a child unattended in a car...too many things can happen. Yes, it makes the rest of us have to watch out for that child in case something might happen. I want you to watch your own kid. I watched mine and drug them into the store when they were tired, jerks, crying, screaming if I absolutely had to and that was that....
but, it's not the worst parenting sin in the world.

As to calling the cops, that probably would have been me...I don't know how long the kid was going to be there...and I have seen cases of kids left for hours and kids who were dead....so if a parent takes the risk it should be one of the understood consequences.

So don't sow the seed, if you don't want to harvest the crop. (or some such metaphor)
posted by OhSusannah at 9:18 PM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


And by calling the cops, you would be unnecessarily endangering a child. We have all read articles about children dying in cars on hot sunny days. These articles are not written because children dying in cars on hot sunny days is common. These articles are written because it is rare. It is not rare because of the new cultural norm of never leaving children unattended in cars regardless of the weather. It was rare before that norm.

Unnecessary, harmful interventions by the police and CPS are, unfortunately, not rare at all.

(I like immlass's post from upthread, though I'd like to alter their scheme to admit a third position, taken by people who both distrust the police and CPS and also think that Brooks did nothing wrong. Or rather, that the only thing she did wrong was failing to take seriously the mayhem that a thoughtless person with a telephone could do to her life..)
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:39 PM on June 5, 2014 [6 favorites]


Basically, it's not that the harm doesn't rise to the level of calling the police, it's that there is no real harm except for harm from someone calling the police
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:03 PM on June 5, 2014 [4 favorites]


All I'm going to say about this is that I once called the police because a dog was unattended in a car.
posted by bq at 10:37 PM on June 5, 2014


I highly doubt they would think twice about bouncing someone's child off the hood of their car if it meant they could get their organic bok choy that much sooner.

Not so much for the cabbage, but maybe for the salt & pepper pistachios at Trader Joe's, because I like kids ok but let's be serious. And only like one or two kids, at most. I'm not some monster.
posted by krinklyfig at 12:35 AM on June 6, 2014 [3 favorites]


So don't sow the seed, if you don't want to harvest the crop. (or some such metaphor)

I'm just realizing that part of what gives me a critical attitude toward this bystander is that they didn't have to suffer any of the consequences here.

I could be right or wrong about this, but I would suspect that if putting someone in peril of losing custody of their child (or deportation, or other consequences as mentioned above in the case of the less privileged) was likely to bear more consequences for the bystander—if, for example, the person who had stepped away from the kid for a moment and whom they were contemplating calling the cops on was the bystander's boss at work, or even their employee, and there was any chance it wouldn't be completely anonymous—he or she would have been much more careful and reasonable in assessing the likelihood of a child being injured as a result of the events they were witnessing.
posted by XMLicious at 2:10 AM on June 6, 2014 [7 favorites]


My mind boggles that anyone honestly thinks Brooks did anything wrong, and my mind especially boggles at this thread on Metafilter. I really expected this site, of all places, to not be filled with stranger danger what if what if what if panic. (I also thought that MeFites knew how cool 50 degrees Fahrenheit is.)

Society really has changed a lot into this whole performative "think of the children" thing, and that change has not been for the better. Meanwhile, plenty of actual children are being actually hurt by our social policies (including our CPS/foster care system), but those children are not the ones that society likes to panic about.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:21 AM on June 6, 2014 [22 favorites]


snickerdoodle: “I can't blame anyone for deciding that this looked hinky and calling the cops.”

That is not what they did. They whipped out their cell phone and took a video as legal evidence, and then called the cops. Is that what you would have done? Is that the best thing to do in the interest of the child? It reads as an obvious presumption of the parent's extreme neglect to me.
posted by koeselitz at 6:24 AM on June 6, 2014 [3 favorites]


You Can't Tip a Buick: " Unnecessary, harmful interventions by the police and CPS are, unfortunately, not rare at all."

So, you as a bystander are expected to use your judgement.

But the possibility of harmful intervention is certainly not a reason to never call the police or CPS. If you see a small child in distress with no parent present, calling the cops can be a reasonable and appropriate act.
posted by zarq at 6:42 AM on June 6, 2014


I have seen cases of kids left for hours and kids who were dead
Really? You've personally seen this? Or are you counting every news item ever as your own personal experience?
posted by MikeWarot at 7:07 AM on June 6, 2014 [5 favorites]


I'm just realizing that part of what gives me a critical attitude toward this bystander is that they didn't have to suffer any of the consequences here.

I'm probably misreading you, but are you saying that bystanders who call things in that they think are dangerous should suffer miserable consequences if they're wrong? That strikes me as a very good way to get people to report nothing at all, which may be your aim. Mainly what I've learned from this thread is that if I ever do think a child is in what I perceive as some sort of risk* in any situation is that I should not report it because a) the parent knows what they're doing and is surely around somewhere or this is probably a healthy learning experience for the child, b) if I do, I'm an officious arsehole who will result in that child being ripped from their parents and traumatized forever, and c) everyone could do this in the 70s.

*i mean the sort of risk where you can't just grab the kid or call out to the parent and thus end the risk, such as you could if it were walking into traffic.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 7:17 AM on June 6, 2014 [6 favorites]


Mainly what I've learned from this thread is that if I ever do think a child is in what I perceive as some sort of risk* in any situation is that I should not report it

No, what you should not do if you think a child is in some sort of risk is video that child and then leave the scene. This was dealt with miles upthread:

If you think the child is in risk, get it out of risk.
If you don't, butt out.
If you're not sure: wait and make sure.

Calling the cops in the way this reporter did is not addressing the risk or helping the child, it's making the reporter feel better.

They might as well have set up shittyparents.tumblr.com and posted the video there. Would have been much less traumatic for the family involved, and they would still have the sweet satisfaction of sitting in judgement over the mother.

(Of course they would not have done that, because the commenters would have crucified them for being shitty and not waiting around to see the kid was OK.)
posted by bonaldi at 7:51 AM on June 6, 2014 [2 favorites]


If you see a small child in distress with no parent present, calling the cops can be a reasonable and appropriate act.

God, what the fuck happened to just helping?

When I was young I learned that if you see small children in distress and no parent is present, that you should go over and pick them up, dry their tears, ask them what's wrong, get them an ice cream cone and a hamburger and try to find their parents.

Consequently, I taught my kid that if she got in trouble or something bad was happening or she got lost, that she should find a nice lady with kids and ask her for help. I'd hate to think that said nice lady, instead of just helping her find me, would indignantly call the cops as her first line of defense.
posted by corb at 7:52 AM on June 6, 2014 [6 favorites]


When I was young I learned never ever to talk to strangers and to be extra-suspicious if they tried to entice me with stuff like ice cream or hamburgers.

(That was in the 70s.)
posted by tel3path at 7:55 AM on June 6, 2014 [1 favorite]


corb: "God, what the fuck happened to just helping?"

Scenario: Kid's locked in a car. Hot day. Car's in the sun. Kid looks sick or passed out. You tap on the window, no response.

I'm not breaking into someone's car. I'm not going to run all over a strip mall looking for a parent to tell them their kid's in distress when I don't know how long the kid's been in there. How long will that take? The delay conceivably endanger the child. I'm not going to gather bystanders who also can do nothing more than stand and look.

You call the cops. If the parent comes back in the meantime, then fine. Let them handle the situation. If they don't return, then the cops show up and do exactly what they're supposed to do: assist people who are in distress.
posted by zarq at 7:58 AM on June 6, 2014 [2 favorites]


And no, I wouldn't have videotaped the car and reported the parent. I think that's shitty. But I can also see why someone might. People get very protective when they think a kid is in danger.

I used to take my kids out at all hours when they were infants. They couldn't sleep, so I thought some fresh air would do them some good. At least a few times, people actually said things to me like, "shouldn't that child be in bed?" I got an earful by a fellow shopper at a supermarket checkout line after midnight once. People who aren't parents don't necessarily know what's best for a child.

Shit happens. The only thing any of us can do is use our own judgement. But yeah, erring on the side of "is that kid okay?" isn't a bad thing.
posted by zarq at 8:06 AM on June 6, 2014


Scenario: Kid's locked in a car. Hot day. Car's in the sun. Kid looks sick or passed out. You tap on the window, no response.

And this scenario has what to do with the article we're discussing?
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 8:10 AM on June 6, 2014 [9 favorites]


I see people saying what they've learned from this thread is to never report anything, ever, and other people saying what they've learned is to never let go of their child's hand, ever. And after 400+ comments I've seen a lot of reasonable and nuanced discussion on both sides; so if you are sincerely reading this whole discussion and seeing only the poles, then I have to wonder what mindset you're bringing to the table.

Consequently, I taught my kid that if she got in trouble or something bad was happening or she got lost, that she should find a nice lady with kids and ask her for help.

Look what you did here. You began by saying, "when I was young I learned that if you see" in an abstract and encompassing sense, but then you switched over to a very specific formulation: "a nice lady with kids." This is key. When you shake your head and wonder what happened to just helping, you have to remember that while it's a simple enough sentiment, it's a more complicated decision for somebody who isn't—and more pointedly, doesn't look like—"a nice lady with kids."
posted by cribcage at 8:10 AM on June 6, 2014 [3 favorites]


Scenario: Kid's locked in a car. Hot day. Car's in the sun. Kid looks sick or passed out. You tap on the window, no response.

Again, that's a completely different scenario to the one that triggered TFA, and bringing it up again is no more than an unnecessarily inflammatory red herring. Kim Brooks's car was not hot. Her kid was in no distress, and was instead visibly and happily playing with an iPad. Nobody whose head I would think of as screwed on straight would have found cause to intervene in any way.

Now, if it should ever happen that I do see a kid shut in a car in the sun and I tap on the window and the kid doesn't respond and the window is warm, then yeah I'll call an ambulance and then the cops, but only so that somebody else is not the one who reports my having broken into the car and got the kid out and into the shade. What do I care about my own convenience and/or reputation when five minutes waiting for a cop could make the difference between an overheated kid dying and living?

But one. more. time: That situation is not the one that the so-called Good Samaritan from the Salon article found themselves in.

This comment sums up perfectly what I think about that person.
posted by flabdablet at 8:13 AM on June 6, 2014 [10 favorites]


I'm probably misreading you, but are you saying that bystanders who call things in that they think are dangerous should suffer miserable consequences if they're wrong?

No. I'm saying that many individuals would be more willing to call the cops or CPS on someone for spurious reasons, or more willing to allow impatience and their desire to chastise someone to override serious consideration of whether what they're seeing is actually dangerous and whether calling in air support is actually a proportionate response, or more willing to abdicate responsibility and simply do whatever is most convenient for them, if the consequences of any obtuseness or hastiness or sloppy thinking on their part are going to exclusively fall on the shoulders of others instead of on their own.

And I'm saying that it seems quite plausible to me that one or more of those things happened in this case.
posted by XMLicious at 8:15 AM on June 6, 2014 [2 favorites]


but are you saying that bystanders who call things in that they think are dangerous should suffer miserable consequences if they're wrong?

nothing to do with children (neglected or otherwise), but I'm currently aware of two friends dealing with situations where the easy anonymous reporting of alleged transgressions has been used to seriously harass them, and in one case (fairly clearly vindictive on the part of the reporter) pretty much destroyed my friend's ability to make a living. At some point, for so-called justice to prevail, we must be able to know who our accusers are.
posted by philip-random at 8:22 AM on June 6, 2014 [2 favorites]


You Can't Tip a Buick: " And this scenario has what to do with the article we're discussing?"

Quite a bit, which is why I brought it up hundreds of comments ago. People (bystanders) react in these situations according to what they think or have been told might happen if a child is left alone in a locked car. People don't necessarily think, "well, if it's not 100 degrees, then the kid will be okay." And no news outlet or safety outlet will ever say that. Most of the studies show that an outside temp of 75º or higher can be dangerous over time. Random bystander isn't necessarily going to know the parameters, or if they do assume that a single differing factor (slightly lower outside temperature) is automatically safer for a kid. They're not experts. They see a kid in a car with no parent around, locked in a car, think the kid may be in danger and react instinctively. They turn to an authority figure for help.
posted by zarq at 8:22 AM on June 6, 2014


flabdablet: " But one. more. time: That situation is not the one that the so-called Good Samaritan from the Salon article found themselves in."

This is not in question. But there are an awful lot of people in this thread who seem to be saying that the cops should never be called, ever. Which is flat out bullshit.
posted by zarq at 8:25 AM on June 6, 2014


Care to link to one such comment? Because I've read the whole thread twice, and the closest I've seen to that is people pointing out that calling the cops really does risk screwing up the kid's life and family, and that the scenario described in the article in no way justified taking that risk.
posted by flabdablet at 8:28 AM on June 6, 2014 [3 favorites]


But there are an awful lot of people in this thread who seem to be saying that the cops should never be called, ever. Which is flat out bullshit.

Nobody that I can see. Is anyone saying "don't call for help when you see a dying kid"?

While I can see very literally people saying "children should ... never ever... be out of your sight ever... for the slightest... second" and that's the real bullshit.

What are these hyper-monitored kids going to turn out like as adults? Empathy-deprived narcissists, I'm imagining, but who knows.
posted by bonaldi at 8:29 AM on June 6, 2014 [3 favorites]


When I was young I learned that if you see small children in distress and no parent is present, that you should go over and pick them up, dry their tears, ask them what's wrong, get them an ice cream cone and a hamburger and try to find their parents.

If you're a femme lady? Maybe. But as people pointed out upthread, if you're a guy, or a minority, or queer, doing what you said suddenly entails far more risk.

It's not necessarily fair to peg that risk or judgment on strangers, and make them responsible for decision making about your kid, if you don't have to. Especially since you then take the risk that said stranger will make an unfortunate choice.

To use your example, and not the scenario in the article, if a kid showed up on my block alone and upset and not knowing what to do, I'd try to help. I would not, however, pick them up or touch them in any way, or buy them food, or set out on a search for their parents. I'd find a second adult, probably in the nearest kid-friendly storefront, and yes, probably call the cops. Not because I want legal repercussions for the parents in any way, or because I trust the police. I'd call because I don't want to face legal repercussions of my own, and because two police officers in a car are more likely to find the parents on the quick than I am on foot.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 8:33 AM on June 6, 2014 [8 favorites]


They see a kid in a car with no parent around, locked in a car, think the kid may be in danger and react instinctively.

I don't disagree. And in a different scenario, for instance if we only knew that someone had called police and nothing more about what the bystander had done or the timing, then I think that would be totally valid speculation. In this case, it isn't.

If you're deliberately veering away from the article and just talking generally, that's different. I think most people agree with the points you've been making: that sometimes it's appropriate to call the police, that sometimes people react instinctively, and that—quite obviously—you should act to rescue an unresponsive child. I don't think these are controversial points, which may or may not make them useful to discuss.
posted by cribcage at 8:35 AM on June 6, 2014 [5 favorites]


To use your example, and not the scenario in the article, if a kid showed up on my block alone and upset and not knowing what to do, I'd try to help. I would not, however, pick them up or touch them in any way, or buy them food, or set out on a search for their parents. I'd find a second adult, probably in the nearest kid-friendly storefront, and yes, probably call the cops. Not because I want legal repercussions for the parents in any way, or because I trust the police. I'd call because I don't want to face legal repercussions of my own, and because two police officers in a car are more likely to find the parents on the quick than I am on foot.

That's your prerogative. But then don't pretend that you're occupying any high moral ground. You're not taking the option that's best for the kid, you're taking the option that's best for you personally, where you don't run any risk of being sued and no one mistakes the situation and asks you what you're doing with the kid. "Help" is not calling the cops, unless there's an actual crime being committed that you want to report. Help is doing something yourself.
posted by corb at 8:49 AM on June 6, 2014 [2 favorites]


flabdablet: "Care to link to one such comment? Because I've read the whole thread twice, and the closest I've seen to that is people pointing out that calling the cops really does risk screwing up the kid's life and family, and that the scenario described in the article in no way justified taking that risk."

Sure. In most of the cases below I tried to quote most or all of a comment to provide complete context.

Hizonner: " Engaging a legal system that's notorious for ham-handedly making things worse, and almost as notorious for having a lot of trouble making things better, is itself taking a large risk. That risk only justified if its expected value is less than the expected value of the portion of some other risk that you expect it to avert.

Calling the cops is not "erring on the side of caution". Often it's more like "abdicating responsibility".
"

--

Hizonner: "First of all, this isn't law enforcement. Not until somebody makes it into law enforcement. But anyway...

One very major thing the police are trained to do in that kind of case is to cover their own and their departments' behinds. In a more violence-prone situation, it would be more like "establish control over the situation and assure officer safety"... then cover their behinds.

They don't want to be blamed for anything any more than you do, and they, too, can spin a lot of worst case scenarios... except that they do this stuff all the time and are more likely to eventually hit a real worst case.

So they, too, will often "err on the side of caution". And before you know it you have arrest warrants and stories in Salon.

Not to mention all the other situation handling training they have, and all the experiences they have, that tend to misfit them for the sort of case we're talking about here.

Pulling the trigger on the cops is not a safe thing to do.

If you're going to call the cops to bring training into play, you have to be aware of what kind of training is actually going to be in play.
"

--

You Can't Tip a Buick: "The mom did not put her child in danger. The Good Samaritan, despite their good intent, put the child in quite a bit of danger indeed. One person -- the Good Samaritan -- made a bad decision and put a child in danger. I don't think they should go to jail for it or anything, but I do think that it's worthwhile to point out that they did a very, very dangerous thing when they called the cops in this situation. Because if we don't, other people might think it's acceptable to endanger a child in this way."

--

You Can't Tip a Buick: "
Everything in this thread has convinced me that my terror of the police / CPS is totally rational, and the terror of kids dying from overheating in a car on a cold day is completely bonkers.

Here's the deal: we are not concerned with the safety of children. No, seriously, we're not. What we're concerned with is the diligent performance of the appearance of concern over the safety of children. This appearance of concern, to be valid, has to fit into carefully defined social norms. One way that we perform the appearance of concern is, apparently, by completely flipping out whenever we see (or hear of) children alone.

This is a brand new norm. It's a youngin'. Younger than, like, Pokemon. Significantly younger than widespread Internet usage. It's only a little bit older than the iMac. It's a thing that has changed over the course of my lifetime, and it's a thing that should change back, thank you very much. It does not contribute to the safety of children. The only real function it has is to make parents' lives harder and to punish not-our-types for being not-our-type.

I grew up in the 80s. I left alone in cars on a regular basis while my (single) mom did errands. I had a wonderful time sitting and reading (I learned to read very young). And I was left alone at home after school and sometimes all day in the summer, because there's no way my mom's pay as a waitress could possibly cover daycare, and, well, even if it could, we had better things to spend money on. My mom, sanely, preferred to spend our little money on necessities rather than on keeping up appearances.

It strikes me that to some of y'all, the way I was raised was criminal — you are people who would have called the cops on my mom and likely had me taken away, because lord knows we couldn't afford a lawyer, and lord knows my mom couldn't get time off from work to go to legal proceedings anyway, and lord knows my mom didn't have time to do a hundred hours of community service.

I am utterly gobsmacked to find support for the call-the-cops sentiment here.
"

--

You Can't Tip a Buick: "And by calling the cops, you would be unnecessarily endangering a child. We have all read articles about children dying in cars on hot sunny days. These articles are not written because children dying in cars on hot sunny days is common. These articles are written because it is rare. It is not rare because of the new cultural norm of never leaving children unattended in cars regardless of the weather. It was rare before that norm.

Unnecessary, harmful interventions by the police and CPS are, unfortunately, not rare at all.
"
posted by zarq at 8:51 AM on June 6, 2014 [3 favorites]


corb: ""Help" is not calling the cops, unless there's an actual crime being committed that you want to report. Help is doing something yourself."

All police officers are trained to deal with lost people, and to help locate missing persons. A child who has lost their parent(s) is exactly that sort of scenario. You don't think that perhaps someone with such training might be better person than you (who presumably doesn't have similar training) to turn to in that situation? Really?
posted by zarq at 8:55 AM on June 6, 2014


I don't think it requires a lot of training to ask the kid what their mom's phone number is and call it, or make an announcement, or just hang out visibly for a little bit, at least. I might eventually call the cops if I was unable to find the parent, but you at least give it the college try first.
posted by corb at 8:58 AM on June 6, 2014 [2 favorites]


Oh, and flabdablet, I totally concede that two people are not "an awful lot of people." I saw all of those comments and thought it was more than two people who were expressing 'em.
posted by zarq at 8:58 AM on June 6, 2014


corb: "I don't think it requires a lot of training to ask the kid what their mom's phone number is and call it, or make an announcement, or just hang out visibly for a little bit, at least. I might eventually call the cops if I was unable to find the parent, but you at least give it the college try first."

This is not the same thing as "Help is not calling the cops." Which is what you said earlier. What you're actually saying is, "The cops might be able to help, eventually."
posted by zarq at 9:03 AM on June 6, 2014


It seems perfectly clear to me, from every single comment you've quoted, that the commenter's intended meaning was that calling the cops is itself a risky business, that people contemplating calling the cops should know that this is so, and that in the case under discussion calling the cops should have been an unacceptable risk.

If you're truly reading any of those comments as "the cops should never be called, ever" then I suggest to you that perhaps it's time to take a step back and give the people you're disagreeing with a little more credit for nuanced thought.
posted by flabdablet at 9:05 AM on June 6, 2014 [7 favorites]


flabdablet: " If you're truly reading any of those comments as "the cops should never be called, ever" then I suggest to you that perhaps it's time to take a step back and give the people you're disagreeing with a little more credit for nuanced thought."

What is obvious to you is not to me. 'You can't tip a buick' basically spent multiple comments saying that cops were dangerous and to be feared, and should never be called lest they endanger a child.

If they meant something different, then they really should be making that "nuance" a hell of a lot more obvious.
posted by zarq at 9:10 AM on June 6, 2014 [1 favorite]


I mean, the comments above yours have corb pretty clearly saying one thing when she apparently meant another. Are we supposed to somehow read her mind to glean what she meant to say? Of course not.

If she's backtracking, then fine. If she's explaining further, then fine. But we can't blame people for responding to what is actually said. All we can do is ask that they clarify and expand upon what they really mean.
posted by zarq at 9:14 AM on June 6, 2014


don't pretend that you're occupying any high moral ground

I don't pretend that at all. But I also don't pretend that the option in which I am the only person involved is in any way optimal for the kid.

Yes, of course, I would try to call the parents if there was a number. And I would probably wait a while (in a storefront, with another adult). But I'm not going to feed that kid anything (allergies? other medical conditions? religious dietary restrictions?), and I am not going to touch the child (obvious reasons), and if it's not possible to directly contact the parent, I am eventually going to call the third-party agency that's tasked with dealing with missing persons, even though I've had pretty terrible interactions with that agency before.

(And, for the record, I'm a cis white female. If I were not, I might not get involved to begin with.)
posted by evidenceofabsence at 9:14 AM on June 6, 2014 [6 favorites]


...saying that cops were dangerous and to be feared, and should never be called lest they endanger a child.

Cops are potentially dangerous and their involvement in disagreements about parenting is reasonably to be feared. Therefore, calling them when there is no danger is not something a rational person should ever do.

That's all I get from You Can't Tip a Buick's and Hizzonner's comments. If you're not getting the same thing, it seems likely to me that this is because (a) you're reading them in the light of your own cooked-kid scenarios rather than the one in the article to which they actually apply and/or (b) you've already decided that both of those people are unreasonable ideologues and are now combing what they say for things to disagree with rather than simply taking it at face value.
posted by flabdablet at 9:22 AM on June 6, 2014 [7 favorites]


Cops are a real threat. Especially to poor people. Especially to people here without documentation. Dying from hyperthermia in a car on a cold overcast day is an imaginary threat. Please consider not introducing children to real threats in order to "save" them from imaginary ones. If you are not certain whether a car on a 50 degree overcast day will heat up and kill a child, consider consulting your common sense. If that has failed you - it's okay, common sense fails everyone sometimes - consider whipping out your phone and using google, bing, duckduckgo, or whatever to look it up, instead of whipping out your phone, recording a video, and calling men with guns. I assure you, the kid in the real scenario who was happily playing with an iPad is not going to turn into the kid in your imaginary scenario while you're busy using search engines.

I am very glad that the "never leave a kid in a car at all ever" norm didn't exist when I was a child, because my mom's life was hard enough at the time without having to worry about thoughtless people with imaginary fears trying to have me taken away.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:32 AM on June 6, 2014 [7 favorites]


zarq: “All police officers are trained to deal with lost people, and to help locate missing persons. A child who has lost their parent(s) is exactly that sort of scenario. You don't think that perhaps someone with such training might be better person than you (who presumably doesn't have similar training) to turn to in that situation? Really?”

This presumes something it probably can't, unfortunately. All police officers are not "trained" on those things. How much you can and should trust the cops depends a lot on who you are and where you are.

For example, I'm moving back to Albuquerque in a few weeks. If I came upon a lost kid there, I would not instinctively trust the cops to help that lost kid, particularly in certain neighborhoods. There are a lot of good cops in New Mexico, and I've known some of them, but an unarmed homeless guy got shot by a cop a few months ago, and the number of police-involved fatal shootings has been rising precipitously in ABQ. So I would probably try to do something else first - call IHS, call a child-care organization where some of my friends work, call a friend who might know what to do, etc.
posted by koeselitz at 9:33 AM on June 6, 2014 [4 favorites]


flabdablet: " If you're not getting the same thing,"

At this point, I'm just going to point to the comment below yours and let this go.
posted by zarq at 9:43 AM on June 6, 2014


And I'll just quote the guts of it:

Cops are a real threat. ... Dying from hyperthermia in a car on a cold overcast day is an imaginary threat. Please consider not introducing children to real threats in order to "save" them from imaginary ones.

and then let it go as well.
posted by flabdablet at 9:46 AM on June 6, 2014 [3 favorites]


koeselitz: "All police officers are not "trained" on those things.

I can't speak for everywhere, but I have lived in Texas, NJ and NY. State police in all three and also the NYPD, have mandatory training they must take regarding missing persons, and I know for a fact (two friends who are NYPD) that New York City police officers are trained to work with lost children.

How much you can and should trust the cops depends a lot on who you are and where you are."

I agree. However, what I have been responding to is a sentiment that cops are dangerous, and calling them is child endangerment. And also corb's initial comment saying that "'Help' is not calling the cops"
posted by zarq at 9:50 AM on June 6, 2014 [2 favorites]


Does the possibility that you might be calling the cops on a kid who might be here without papers, or whose parents might be here without papers, give you the slightest pause?
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:01 AM on June 6, 2014 [1 favorite]


But there are an awful lot of people in this thread who seem to be saying that the cops should never be called, ever. Which is flat out bullshit.

I'm white, male, middle class at worst, privileged all the way to use the current parlance ... yet I still managed to reach maturity with (to my mind) a healthy skepticism toward cops and their motives/effectiveness. That is, I witnessed a bunch of situations in my youth (admittedly wayward at times) where the police showed up and made a benign situation bad, or a bad situation worse. So now, a good three decades into my so-called adulthood, I consider it good judgment to NOT call the police unless I believe a situation truly is out of hand (ie: beyond the ability of myself and/or others to manage).

This particular situation (parked car, 50 degrees, four year old happily mucking around in the backseat with the windows cracked for less than half an hour) was not even close to being out of hand.
posted by philip-random at 10:24 AM on June 6, 2014 [8 favorites]


For what it's worth, I myself just spent half an hour at the local cop shop this very evening, giving them my own account of an unpleasant encounter I'd just had with a bunch of local teenagers while parked outside the local supermarket and eating some of the food I'd just bought there.

This had started with a girl maybe 13-15 years old screaming abuse at me through my closed passenger-side window, apparently having misconstrued my act of twisting round to fetch a container of ice cream from the back seat two minutes earlier as some kind of lewd waving inducement to get in. It peaked with her friend's maybe 15-17 year old boyfriend holding me against the side of the car by my throat, then crushing my hand with my car door, then attempting to break my driver's side window with his fist.

Both she and he appeared to me to be completely off their faces on drink or meth or both, both were absolutely immune to my persistent attempts to present a calm and reasonable explanation of what I had and had not been doing, and both reacted extremely badly to my eventual flat though still polite refusal to get the fuck back into my fucking car and fucking drive afuckingway.

In this case, going to the cops was absolutely the right thing to do. Not because I have any desire to fuck up these poor stupid kids' lives any more than they obviously already are, but because two of their little mates (who had not seen her initial screaming rant but had certainly seen him doing his best superhero impersonation) had arrived at the cop shop minutes before me and given a detailed account of the scary paedo who'd just been trying to molest their friend outside Coles. The cop I spoke to told me that my account of events matched theirs detail for detail, which made him happy because he was then able to take all the factual reportage as factual and work out what had actually gone on. He then told me that he was really glad I'd come in as well, because had I not done so, he'd have needed to take the kids' unsubstantiated paedo story seriously and set a process in train that could not possibly have ended well for anybody.

This is the place where stranger-danger moral panic has lead us, and it's not a good place. If more people spent more time finding out where actual threats to kids' wellbeing come from, and less time habitually freezing in fear at the prospect of worst-imaginable scenarios (regardless of how rare or unlikely) and then inculcating the same formless and irrational fears into their kids, then kids would be safer and healthier and adults would be less unwilling to step up personally and make sure they stay that way.

It's usually not strangers, folks. In the overwhelming majority of cases where adults inflict actual damage on kids, it's a family member or family friend or somebody else who is close to the kids on a regular basis: the call is coming from inside the house.

Statistically speaking, a kid alone in a locked car in a public car park on a cool overcast day is at lower risk of harm than if left at home with Grandma. And if the idea that Grandma might be a child abuser seems ludicrous to you (as it should! the risk is low!) then perhaps it's time to reflect on why the statistical truth about the scenario in the linked article doesn't make the idea of calling the cops on the mother involved even more ludicrous.
posted by flabdablet at 10:29 AM on June 6, 2014 [15 favorites]


You Can't Tip a Buick: "Does the possibility that you might be calling the cops on a kid who might be here without papers, or whose parents might be here without papers, give you the slightest pause?"

Let me backtrack a moment:

First, would I have called the cops on the woman in the article? (Assuming all the details she's given are 100% true?) No. I don't think it justified, because the kid was not in immediate danger. In fact, I have no idea from this story if he was in any danger at all. As I said above, I also wouldn't have videotaped the kid because that's shitty behavior. As I also said above, I think the parent was being neglectful. Didn't say this before, but I might have stayed around and spoken to the parent.

But if the kid seems okay and she's only gone for a couple of minutes then no, I wouldn't call the cops. That's what I meant when I said a bystander must use their judgment.

However, under different circumstances, where I believe a kid is in actual and immediate danger and I also cannot immediately intervene without causing a huge incident? You're damned right I'll call the cops. That's what they're there for. In fact, compared to breaking a car window, calling the cops is actually a much more low-key approach to such a situation. I would hope it would be less traumatic for the kid, too.

Just as it is the responsibility of a bystander to assess what is happening, not overreact and try and determine if a child is in actual danger, it is also the responsibility of any parent not to put their child into danger in the first place.

In such a hypothetical scenario, for the sake of the child, the priority should be getting them out of danger and only then dealing with any aftermath. Given definite short-term harm versus potential long term harm, solve the former first and then try to minimize the latter.

The parents potentially not having papers is a secondary concern to making sure the kid is okay.

I'm not saying you should always call the cops. I've never said that. I've never said that involving CPS can't cause serious problems. But yeah, I do think there are conditions where making those calls would be warranted.
posted by zarq at 10:31 AM on June 6, 2014 [6 favorites]


We appear to have consensus then. Good show.
posted by flabdablet at 10:33 AM on June 6, 2014 [4 favorites]


I am very glad that the "never leave a kid in a car at all ever" norm didn't exist when I was a child, because my mom's life was hard enough at the time without having to worry about thoughtless people with imaginary fears trying to have me taken away.

Same here. My mom was only able to hold onto her job by bringing me and my little sister with her on a lot of her house calls - god knows we couldn't afford child care, much less on the short notice her on-call job would have demanded. The ensuing poverty from losing her income (or paying for childcare) would have been much, much worse for us than any "neglect" from being left in cars while she made respiratory therapy house calls to parents with very sick infants.
posted by dialetheia at 12:09 PM on June 6, 2014 [2 favorites]


Hey! I've been quoted at length. Since zarq didn't feel at liberty to cut those quotes, let me trim 'em a bit:
... That risk only justified if its expected value is less than the expected value of the portion of some other risk that you expect it to avert...
... and ...
One very major thing ... will often ... If you're going to call the cops to bring training into play, you have to be aware ... not a safe thing to do.
Obviously, yes, by suggesting doing actual risk assessment before calling the cops, and stating that there are risks in doing so, I "seem to be saying that the cops should never be called, ever".

And stuff like "often" and "risk is only justified if" just drives that absolutism home. After all, it's really normal to give conditions for justifying something that's never justified.

Oh, wait... that's an obviously ridiculous interpretation that ignores the text. Sorry. My bad.
If they meant something different, then they really should be making that "nuance" a hell of a lot more obvious.
Sorry, I thought I was writing for nuanced readers.

But I think maybe I see the problem here.

I pointed out that calling the cops is risky. So did others.

If one of your internal axioms says that "is risky" equals "should never be done", then I guess I can see how you could get from what I said to "never, ever call the cops". I mean, you'd still have to ignore what I actually said in those and other comments, but you could get there, because otherwise you would perceive an internal contradiction anyway.

I can also see how having that kind of idea running around in one's mind could make it very appealing to come up with rituals that let one think about various things as "unrisky"... and to resist any attempt to challenge that determination. I can see how all that could dispose one to get authority figures to take away any otherwise unavoidable risk assessment decision, too. Especially if it undeniably removes all risk to oneself.

But if somebody thinks that way, I think that's about that person more than it's about me. Not only is zarq's interpretation patently incompatible with what I actually said, but "all risk can and should be avoided" is not how the world actually works.
posted by Hizonner at 1:33 PM on June 6, 2014 [1 favorite]


I stand corrected. I also elaborated on my position here, which is not what you're making it out to be.
posted by zarq at 1:51 PM on June 6, 2014


Gonna break with the attempts at consensus again:

As I also said above, I think the parent was being neglectful. Didn't say this before, but I might have stayed around and spoken to the parent.

I don't think she was being neglectful. It is certainly a current social norm to find her actions neglectful. This norm is wrong, and harmful, and that's why I've been pushing back throughout this thread. If this norm had been in place when I was a child, my life could have easily been ruined by people set on enforcing it.

So to recap (forgive me for all the bolding):
  1. Leaving a child alone in a car on a cool, overcast day while buying headphones for a plane trip is not neglectful.
  2. Unless there is a threat to a child's life that can't be solved by going to anyone at all other than the police, contacting the police tends to make matters worse, sometimes vastly worse.
  3. Calling the police when there is no danger (see point 1) is a terrible, totally irresponsible thing to do.
  4. The new social norm that we've invented in the last decade and a half or so, where we treat a thing that isn't dangerous or neglectful (leaving a child unattended in a car for a short stretch of time) as if it is dangerous or neglectful, is a bad thing.
  5. It is a bad thing because it makes the lives of parents harder to no end. It gives parents legitimate reason to fear that their neighbors might harm their child by calling the police.
  6. When this happens to a parent of privileged status, they have to deal with years of court cases. When this happens to a non-privileged parent, they can easily lose their children.
  7. The criminalization of ordinary, non-dangerous behavior like leaving a child in a car on a cool, overcast day makes life worse for everyone.
  8. One person in Brooks' article was wildly irresponsible. That person is the one who called the police.
  9. I am saddened by the fact that, should I ever by some fluke end up parenting a child, I will have to warn that child to be afraid of dangerous people who might call the police for no good reason.
  10. These people are so afraid of imaginary dangers (like children dying of overheating in a car on a cool, overcast day, or being swiped by the imaginary pedophile swarms we're supposed to think are lurking in every parking lot) that they'll overlook real harms like the ordeal experienced by Kim Brooks and her child — an ordeal which could have been vastly worse had Kim Brooks not been relatively wealthy and privileged.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:22 PM on June 6, 2014 [8 favorites]


It is certainly a current social norm to find her actions neglectful.

To some extent, it is. Some people have mentioned this has changed over time. I think that's only part of the puzzle. Some of it is also culture and class. There are neighborhoods where I can absolutely imagine a bystander making this call, and there are neighborhoods where I'd be very surprised to see it happen.

Without pointing fingers at particular cultures or classes who may be represented in this thread, and without using loaded terms like "sheltered life" or "child neglect," I'll just say that to some degree it's a function of people's general exposure to the big umbrella of child-rearing. Kids grow up all kinds of ways in this country. How many have you seen, and how deeply have you been exposed to them? That's going to affect how you feel about seeing a lone kid playing on an iPad in a car outside a strip mall.
posted by cribcage at 2:39 PM on June 6, 2014 [1 favorite]


zarq: “Sometimes, it's actually the right thing to do to call the cops. If you don't know how long a kid has been sitting in a car, if it's a hot day, and you really have no idea how to track down the parent(s), it's probably a responsible thing to call 911. Just to make sure the kid's okay.”

I get the feeling from this comment that when you say "call the cops" you mean "call 911." But those are very, very different things. I have never heard of any PSAPs that were run by police. They may sometimes dispatch police, but calling 911 is absolutely not the same thing as calling the cops.
posted by koeselitz at 2:41 PM on June 6, 2014


(I say that because I think the difference between "call the cops" and "call 911" may explain some of the disagreements here.)
posted by koeselitz at 2:45 PM on June 6, 2014 [1 favorite]


Yes, call 911. Good point. In NYC if you call about someone trapped in a car, the fire department might show up.
posted by zarq at 2:51 PM on June 6, 2014


You Can't Tip a Buick: "I don't think she was being neglectful."

That's fine. And I'm perfectly happy to disagree with you without debating it further, since I highly doubt we'll ever see eye-to-eye.
posted by zarq at 2:53 PM on June 6, 2014


I hope I've been arguing well enough on this thread to keep people on the fence from agreeing with you, since real things are at stake in this conversation and real harms are done to children by people who follow your advice.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:56 PM on June 6, 2014 [1 favorite]


You Can't Tip a Buick: "real harms are done to children by people who follow your advice."

Oh, give me a fucking break. What an asinine thing to say.
posted by zarq at 3:09 PM on June 6, 2014 [2 favorites]


One person in Brooks' article was wildly irresponsible. That person is the one who called the police.

That's a rather singular take, especially, as I pointed out above, what we have is one side of the story. I suspect the bystander's take might be a little different.

Again, my takeaway from much of this thread is that as a bystander I should never, ever call 911 (which is pretty much what I mean by calling the police) when I think a child might be in risk. I could be wrong, after all, and the parents will always know best. And pretty much anything is better than the authorities becoming involved in any way.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 4:05 PM on June 6, 2014 [1 favorite]


I think most people would call 911. Very few people are going to have the direct-dial number for the local police department or station on speed dial, and even if you do, the first thing most departments do is tell you to call 911 if you think there's any danger to life anyway.

In my area though, calling 911 for a [whatever]-locked-in-a-car is going to get you the fire department and then either the police or animal control. (The latter if it's an animal. Or a really ugly child, I guess.)

The fire department typically doesn't want to bust into a car without the police there, unless it's on fire or wrecked or there's someone inside saying "hey let me out I'm stuck in the car". They don't want to have to deal with complaints that they damaged somebody's car without reason. So hence the police also show up, and they order the fire department to go in. Then FD would open the car, probably first using an inflatable airbag in the door or a slim-jim tool, and only smashing out a window in a last resort.

This is, incidentally, very close to the same procedure as a "welfare check" at a private residence. Someone who hasn't seen their elderly neighbor in a while might call 911 (or the non-emergency number for fire/EMS), but unless the house is on fire, the fire department doesn't make entry on their own, typically. (There are some exceptions and special cases, but that's the general rule.) But if the police show up, determine that there's some reason to think that the person inside isn't OK (mail piling up, whatever—I'm not entirely clear what their standards are), then they can tell FD to make entry. Again, it's mostly because the FD doesn't want to get into breaking open a door and getting an irate letter (or lawsuit) later without having something to fall back on. And most of the time that they do this, they're right; my understanding is that typically there's an over-even chance of finding a corpse inside. When someone decided that kids getting baked in cars was a problem, they seem to have adopted basically the same procedures governing welfare checks and applied them to the new situation (again, at least where I live).

In the case of the hot car, giving more legal protections to fire/EMS—basically, empowering EMS to open up the car, with the understanding that it might damage the car, without having the police show up and start the process of basically ticketing someone first—might allow the whole process to be less adversarial and less likely to lead to a nasty courtroom situation. But I could totally see some fire/EMS departments not wanting to have that responsibility in the first place. There's a legitimate question whether you want pulling children out of locked cars, given that people are going to call 911 for that, to be a police, EMS, or fire department matter. I don't think there's a right answer in all situations.
posted by Kadin2048 at 4:19 PM on June 6, 2014 [2 favorites]


lesbiassparrow: “Again, my takeaway from much of this thread is that as a bystander I should never, ever call 911 (which is pretty much what I mean by calling the police) when I think a child might be in risk. I could be wrong, after all, and the parents will always know best. And pretty much anything is better than the authorities becoming involved in any way.”

Come on, now. Even You Can't Tip A Buick, the most extreme don't-call-the-cops partisan, has said over and over again that it's wrong to call the cops "if there is no danger." If your "takeaway" from "much of this thread" is a more extreme position than anyone's actually advocated here – a position which, as far as I can tell, everyone here has denounced – then that's not really the fault of the commenters here, is it?
posted by koeselitz at 4:21 PM on June 6, 2014 [3 favorites]


It is sort of rare, unless you're right in the middle of the situation, to know 100% that there is a real risk or danger. Most of the time it's a judgment call. Like the time I called the cops when I thought there was a domestic dispute between my neighbors, only to find out that there was rather unusual sexual activity going on instead. But in all seriousness I thought there was a real beating going on.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 4:40 PM on June 6, 2014 [1 favorite]


That's fair. And I think we've sort of had to hash out what to do in situations where it's unclear.

But – do you dispute the point that a lot of us (I think) were trying to make that people are quite paranoid about a lot of such things these days?

I'll be honest: one of the things that informs my point of view on this is my observations of the experiences of parents around me. Some of them can hardly go outside their home with their kids without having strangers judgey judge them on what terrible parents they are: what words they let their kids use, what foods they feed them, where they let them play, etc.

And beyond that, I think there's often an overestimation of danger combined with this judgementalism that really drives up instances of overreporting. A parallel example would be this: several times I've been on the train or the bus and seen a parent sharply reprimand a child: "STOP IT. NOW." Often, when this happens, someone near me will give me a look and roll their eyes, or perhaps even glance around in indignant concern. I've even seen people make comments: "you really shouldn't speak to a child that way." But the thing of it is: we really don't know. Maybe the kid was screaming in the car all the way there. Maybe the kid's been doing that thing all day, even after having been told not to. Kids do that kind of thing, and often.

That's why I try really hard to assess whether there's danger. That's not easy, I know, but I think it's the crux of the matter.

I know what I've taken away from this thread: any potential danger to the kid has to be weighed against the danger that calling in the authorities might have for the kid and the family at large. I can't just say "well, that parent seemed kinda shifty, if you know what I mean, so I'm going to videotape them saying 'SHUT IT' to their kid on the bus and send it in to the police." If I don't see imminent danger or a clear sign of imminent danger, then the most I can do is monitor the situation and try to make sure the kid's okay on my own.

I agree that that's not always easy. But it's something I think we have to do in that situation: assess the risks, keeping in mind the fact that every single good parent on earth does things that make them seem like awful people when those things are taken out of context.
posted by koeselitz at 4:52 PM on June 6, 2014 [4 favorites]


Beanplating, but, I wonder if calling 211 (a magical social service referral hotline that's available in some municipalities) would be a better or worse solution.

Theoretically, by calling 211, you might be connected with someone who's professionally trained to assess whether a situation is safe, and if it warrants further action, and which, if any, agencies should be involved. That sounds a lot better than relying on people's individual judgment.

However, calling 211 might also automatically trigger a social services process, since there's no guarantee that the hotline won't err on the side of ass-covering, and something something hammer nail.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 5:30 PM on June 6, 2014


I have to wonder how much of this is a regional thing. I live in a city where leaving a suction mount for a GPS visible in your car is pretty much guaranteed to get you a broken window and your car thoroughly ransacked. I've been asking around since I clearly have a minority opinion on this and of the dozen or so friends with kids I asked, none of them would leave their four year old kid out of site in a car for ten minutes with an iPad.

Just anecdotes, but I got a lot of raised eyebrows when I mentioned the opinions here.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 8:35 PM on June 6, 2014 [1 favorite]


Certainly. However, in ascribing malice to his/her actions without knowing a single thing about their intentions seems disingenuous to me. It's certainly possible that this person relished the opportunity to tout their superiority, but it's a least equally likely that they were worried about the child.

The videotaping is the thing. If the bystander was in a hurry and couldn't stick around, I can see alerting the police (I wouldn't jump to that but I can understand why someone would). If the cops got there and the car was gone, no harm no foul. The bystander knew when the mother went in the store; she knew the police would be there shortly. The only reason to record the mother leaving the child was to prove that that happened--in case the mom had left before the cops arrived. (If the mother was still in the store when the cops got there, no video documentation would have been required.) And the only reason a person would need/want that kind of proof would have been punitive--to make sure the mother didn't "get away with it."

If she had already called the police and given them the plate number before the mother returned they would be obligated to follow up regardless of whether the bystander stayed or left

Is this really true though? The attorney said it is a gray area. The law prohibiting leaving a child in a car under safe conditions hadn't passed. The police knew what time the mother went in the store, and they knew she was gone when they arrived. Supposing that was maybe... 15 minutes? 20? I doubt they were under obligation to proceed.
posted by torticat at 10:01 PM on June 6, 2014


I live in a city where leaving a suction mount for a GPS visible in your car is pretty much guaranteed to get you a broken window and your car thoroughly ransacked.

That definitely might be part of it. I live in a city where I not only don't lock my truck, I keep a set of spare keys in the ashtray. And a good friend of mine just the other day left her 7 and 8 year old sons in the car while she ran into the grocery store.
posted by KathrynT at 10:07 PM on June 6, 2014


I'm kind of curious about what kind of a horrible monster I am for leaving my 22 month old in the car the other day at a gas station while I ran in to pay and grab a soda for the road. I'm not fond of the idea that I am not allowed to make any risk assessments on my own for how I handle life with my child.

I like MrBobafett's comment here. It makes me curious about all the people in this thread saying you don't leave a young child unattended in a car EVER even for five minutes, do all of you take your kids into the gas station with you every time? And if not, what is the difference?

I've left a sleeping child in a car--at night--countless times for brief periods. The calculation is the miniscule risk of anything happening to him or her versus the certainly that waking the child up will mean he or she won't go back to sleep for a long time and will have a sleep-deprived, horrible day come morning.
posted by torticat at 10:09 PM on June 6, 2014 [1 favorite]


I have to wonder how much of this is a regional thing.

Quite a bit, I'd imagine. Region, culture, class, etc. Just as illustration, I know areas where you can safely leave your car windows rolled down, and I know areas where just parking your car for a couple hours is a risk (vandalism, if not theft)...but I don't think I'm familiar with any areas where a car would be in serious danger of being ransacked and where people are quick to call the police. Those two tend to be mutually exclusive in my experience—which doesn't disprove your experience, it just shows that mine, like everybody's, is limited.
posted by cribcage at 10:11 PM on June 6, 2014


Yeah, when I was a kid in the 70s, growing up in Asheville, my dad would leave his car unlocked, windows rolled down, keys in the ignition.

My mom broke him of that habit. But I have relatives who still today leave their house unlocked all the time, even when they go out of town.
posted by torticat at 10:17 PM on June 6, 2014


do all of you take your kids into the gas station with you every time?

I leave them in the car when I fill at the pump with my debit/credit card. Doors locked except for driver's. But I'm standing next to the car the whole time. I usually talk to or make faces at them through the window while pumping.

If I pay by cash inside the station and no one else is with me, then they come in with me. This is not an inconvenience. However, it happens very rarely.

I live in NYC and we have exceptionally high population density here. I might act differently if I lived in a rural area.

I cannot remember ever paying inside a gas station when my twins were infants. Doubt I would have thought twice about carrying the car seats in with me tho. I used to carry them everywhere, one carrier in each hand, anyway.
posted by zarq at 11:01 PM on June 6, 2014


Goodness... wow! Well, that surprises me. It's never even occurred to me to take a kid of any age into a gas station with me unless they had to pee or needed to pick out a snack or something. And I have four kids, and also live in NYC. And yeah, it's not that often that you're doing more than paying at the pump. Except on road trips, when you're often picking stuff up in the convenience store.
posted by torticat at 11:07 PM on June 6, 2014 [3 favorites]


This thread is really odd to read. I don't usually see this many divergent opinions in a metafilter thread! I think it is a very regional thing, the perception of danger. Also the age of the parents.

More anecdote -- I grew up being left in a car. My parents were born during WWII and were raised legions and poles apart from how children are raised today. They often remark on how afraid parents are compared to when they grew up, and tell tales that sound completely fantastical to me today -- they were allowed to do so much that I never had a chance to, or that anyone I knew had a chance to do.

They worked very long hours and I hated crowded places and I hated strange men and I hated being dragged anywhere and I reacted to being forced into these things very very very badly. I felt so much more secure in the car, and it was just easier to leave me in the backseat with a book or a piece of paper and pens or whatever while they went on errands or shopping or whatever.

There were a few strangers over the years who were concerned, but they always asked me first. They would tap on the window, or wave, and get my attention. I usually smiled, waved, pointed to my book, and kept reading, or I would hold up my scribble for their judgement and keep going. There was this one time that I got really caught up in a novel and I didn't notice the sun shifting until a nice older lady tapped the window and pointed at my arm, stuck around while I changed position so I was in the shade, and smiled at me and walked off.

That's the part about this I don't get. It's not difficult to check if a four year old is awake and responsive -- you just have to get their attention, and they'll tell you how they feel. You smile at them, they smile back, they go back to what they're doing. I mean, the best way to figure out how a child feels is to talk to them. If it's too risky for you as a bystander that's fine, but ... if it's too risky for you as a bystander to talk to a child to confirm how things are going, you go get security. You talk to a manager if you can't get a busy frontline employee to do it. Or you hang around for a few minutes to see how they're doing. Or you leave it be. There's a lot of options before "call emergency".

There was this one other time when I was about ten and it was a hot day so I had all the windows half-down for a breeze, and one man stopped to ask me if my parents were coming back soon -- he'd pulled into the space beside us maybe half an hour before (I'd made it through four chapters of my book, I think, so about that long) and was concerned when he came back and I was still in the car. I told him it shouldn't be much longer. He was a bit worried, though, so he sat in the driver's seat of his car with the door open and talked to me for a few minutes until he was reassured that I was fine. It took about five minutes out of his day to check that I was well. No harm done.

I mean, I imagine the cops coming down on my mother for all the hours I spent in the car with a book and I just blanch, because I was perfectly fine and could have said so if anyone bothered to ask me.

All that said, this was in the age of manual window operation and that handle was one of the first things I learned about being in a car long before I ever was left alone in the backseat. I'd be a bit more leery of being left in a car if I couldn't turn a handle at will to keep cold in/out or heat in/out or wriggle out through the window if there was a problem.
posted by E. Whitehall at 12:06 AM on June 7, 2014 [7 favorites]


Four year old children are exactly wrong for leaving alone in a car. Or anwhere. We ran a day care. They are discovering that they can effect their environment by moving things but they have no idea what might result.

A two year old or a six year old would be safer. The two year old can't work things, the six year old knows there might be trouble.

Metafilter is sometimes embarassing. "Just listen to those with experience", except to people that actually have experience with being parents.
posted by vapidave at 12:30 AM on June 7, 2014 [3 favorites]


I thought some of you might be interested in the headline which is currently top of the Most Read stories in my local paper here in rural-ish SW England.

Two-year-old found at 5am on Falmouth street alone except for pet dog

I would regard this as fairly atypical even here and expected to hear there was maybe a slightly tougher talking to from the local police.
posted by biffa at 4:37 AM on June 7, 2014


I like MrBobafett's comment here. It makes me curious about all the people in this thread saying you don't leave a young child unattended in a car EVER even for five minutes, do all of you take your kids into the gas station with you every time? And if not, what is the difference?


Just my opinion but if I can see the car, the kid is not unattended and I'm okay with it.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 6:05 AM on June 7, 2014


I might act differently if I lived in a rural area.

Agreed, zarq. And that's part of the grey area of discretion that gets eliminated under zero-tolerance laws and under the social surveillance model. It criminalizes/makes suspect the exercise of individual risk assessment and taking local realities into account.
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:12 AM on June 7, 2014 [2 favorites]


vapidave: "A very special Metafilter thread where we discover who are parents and those who theorize about parenthood... Metafilter is sometimes embarassing. 'Just listen to those with experience', except to people that actually have experience with being parents."

That's nonsense. You don't appear to have read the actual thread. Almost everyone actively commenting here is a parent; I get the feeling you don't know that Metafilter has proportionally many more parents commenting actively than almost anywhere else on the Internet. That's one of the things I like most about this place: a diversity of commenters.

The parents - actual parents - in this thread have disagreed vociferously.

That is probably because there are two parenting-specific dynamics at work in this story: the dynamic of the safety of a child, and the dynamic of the respect a parent deserves for the hard work she or he does. People disagree about the balance between these dynamics, so there was a lot to talk about.

To get right down to it: you mocked Metafilter for not "listening to those with experience" - right after you said the mother in this story was wrong for leaving her child in the car. She's a mother. She has experience. So which is it?
posted by koeselitz at 8:56 AM on June 7, 2014 [5 favorites]


It's also a bit silly and dumb to try dichotomizing people into "parents" and "non-parents." Experiences vary more widely than that, even just in that lone data field and ignoring class, region, etc: single parents, mixed families, only children versus an age-ranged brood, etc. Take a dad whose interaction with his daughter is limited to mailing a monthly check (or not), versus a childless woman who de facto "raised" her four younger siblings. The world's a big tapestry and if you're trying to have the conversation on a kids-or-not level, that's pretty facile engagement.
posted by cribcage at 11:21 AM on June 7, 2014 [2 favorites]


Or "vapid," if you prefer that term. ;-)
posted by cribcage at 11:23 AM on June 7, 2014


I got left in cars as a kid, but at my own request, and I was freaking old enough to handle myself. The age differential is what worries me on this kind of situation. And frankly, the really young ones, say under six? That's where I worry.
Sorry, but I keep thinking of the Weingarten article enough to think that I wouldn't want to risk it. (But of course, I don't have kids or ever put any in a car, so I can be a smug asshole about it.)
posted by jenfullmoon at 12:19 PM on June 7, 2014


To get right down to it: you mocked Metafilter for not "listening to those with experience" - right after you said the mother in this story was wrong for leaving her child in the car. She's a mother. She has experience. So which is it?

Giving birth [or impregnating for that matter] doesn't qualify you to be a parent. Experiencing parenthood doesn't make you a good parent. Most people have reproductive organs but that doesn't qualify them to be parents. You are being disingenous.

You don't let a four year old child dictate your actions. Not only because they are four but because they are learrning to work the world around them and also they have no fucking sense. They will gleefully run into traffic. They are four. You leave the little shit at home with nana or you drag the kid into the store and it's fine.

So a kid throws a fit because he has to stay at home with his grandmother, um, so? Lasts about a minute. A kid in the store, yelling till they see something that takes their attention. so? Lasts usually less than a minute.

Four year old kids are almost as nuts at what they make their parents, that doesn't mean the four-year-old should be in charge.
posted by vapidave at 1:15 PM on June 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


disingenuous, sorry, just missed the edit window.
posted by vapidave at 1:23 PM on June 7, 2014


That's a 180 from what you said above. You scolded people for supposedly not being parents and failing to defer to others who "have experience with being parents", and now you're saying "Experiencing parenthood doesn't make you a good parent."
posted by XMLicious at 1:30 PM on June 7, 2014 [2 favorites]


I think vapidave is scolding us for not listening to parents who agree with vapidave.
posted by bonaldi at 3:42 PM on June 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


MonkeyToes: " It criminalizes/makes suspect the exercise of individual risk assessment and taking local realities into account."

I think "makes suspect" is more accurate in most cases than "criminalizes."

Which is why I have repeatedly said that a bystander needs to use their judgement. As do the police, if they're faced with having to determine if child endangerment has happened.
posted by zarq at 4:49 PM on June 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


I think "makes suspect" is more accurate in most cases than "criminalizes."

I agree, for the most part. But eesh, Nebraska: No child under 6 can be left unattended in a car, ever. I worry when there's no room in the interpretation for low-risk and common situations (popping into a rural gas station to pay; running back into the house for something forgotten).

The "makes suspect" encourages the "It takes a village" sentiment on the surface -- surely we all want to make sure kids are safe, right? And we've always watched out for kids that weren't ours? I'm old enough to remember designated neighborhood homes where you could go if your parents weren't home, and there was a storm/snow. I still go over and talk with kids who have fallen down, or who need a toy rescued from a tree. I'd like to think that other people will also watch out for my kids in kind and sensible ways. But I really do think that with the rise of intensive parenting, and the post 9/11 surveillance state, and the general rising background tide of fear/uncertainty, more people than ever are jumping to "BE AFRAID" and "CALL THE POLICE" as *first* and visceral responses, rather than assessing the situation or intervening in a low-key way. And to be seen doing something, and having their concern validated. At the same time, we have the let's-make-a-law response to tragedies, because politicians want to be seen being concerned, and grey areas of discretion begin to shrink. Let's not forget about stranger danger, and the pressures not to step into a situation, and the increasingly complicated proposition of being a bystander. This is all a cultural shift, and I want to make the point that it wasn't always this way, with the fear feedback loop so magnified and with such high legal stakes.

The idea that "a bystander needs to use their judgement" is one that we see in different ways, I guess -- I hope that people will do it more like E. Whitehall describes, but my (limited) experience suggests that there is more and more of a sense of hysterical vengeance/authority-oriented panic about it in practice. And that's worrying.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:41 PM on June 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


vapidave: “Giving birth [or impregnating for that matter] doesn't qualify you to be a parent. Experiencing parenthood doesn't make you a good parent. Most people have reproductive organs but that doesn't qualify them to be parents. You are being disingenous. ¶ You don't let a four year old child dictate your actions. Not only because they are four but because they are learrning to work the world around them and also they have no fucking sense. They will gleefully run into traffic. They are four. You leave the little shit at home with nana or you drag the kid into the store and it's fine... ¶ Four year old kids are almost as nuts at what they make their parents, that doesn't mean the four-year-old should be in charge.”

So, uh – when you called Metafilter "embarassing," you meant that we did not properly chastise this woman? I confess it was a little unclear to me what you meant.
posted by koeselitz at 6:24 PM on June 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


Giving birth [or impregnating for that matter] doesn't qualify you to be a parent.

Well...see, it does, though. That's what the words mean. If you're aiming for a more nuanced point, that's okay, but in that case you probably want to choose more nuanced language. Otherwise you end up with (voila!) a thread full of people who don't really understand what you are trying to say. In which case why bother posting any comment at all, y'know?
posted by cribcage at 8:46 AM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


From now on, if I need to steal a kid, I'm only going to steal kids while they are in the care of their parent - that way I make people not want to keep their kids with them in the long run. Not sure exactly when I'll need to do it next, but if the need arises, I'll ask the parent to fill out a survey regarding their experience and know whether it would have been more terrifying if I'd done it while their child was unsupervised.
posted by Nanukthedog at 8:51 AM on June 8, 2014


Stop helicopter-parenting other people's kids. We've reached the point where parenting "mistakes" are being reported to the cops.
posted by MonkeyToes at 10:09 AM on June 9, 2014 [6 favorites]


The only problem that I can see in her account is her willingness to believe she did something wrong at all.

Bingo.
posted by flabdablet at 10:13 AM on June 9, 2014


Slate's podcast discussion on the article: You See Two Kids Alone in a Car on a Hot Day. What Do You Do?
posted by viggorlijah at 6:34 PM on June 12, 2014


Well if you're this guy, you notice the engine is running (presumably to keep the aircon working on that 75° day), you go in the store to find the mother, you find her in the checkout line waiting her turn to leave the store, and then you call the cops.

Via freerangekids.
posted by flabdablet at 6:31 AM on June 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


This actually came up for me two days ago. It was a cool evening, and I parked next to the supermarket to get my baby some diapers. There was a kid in the car next to me, about four or five, playing on an iPhone, and a baby in the backseat. I glanced in and made sure that they were fine. They clearly were. So I went inside. When I got back about ten minutes later, the mom was there with them.

Damned if this thread wasn't playing through my head in the whole time though.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:20 AM on June 13, 2014 [8 favorites]


Those who are concerned with the legal issues of parenting "mistakes" might want to read "Fearing the Bogeyman: How the Legal System's Overreaction to Perceived Danger Threatens Families and Children." Snippet:
In the last generation, American parenting norms have shifted dramatically, reflecting a near obsession with child safety and especially the risk of stranger abduction. A growing body of literature shows, however, that the threats to children are more imagined than real, and that the effort to protect children from these “bogeymen” may be doing more harm than good. Advocates of “Free-Range” parenting argue that giving children a long leash can help them learn responsibility, explore the world outside, get physical exercise, and develop self- sufficiency. But the State, usually acting through Child Protective Services (CPS), is likely to second-guess parents’ judgments on such issues, and enforce the overprotective and arguably harmful norms.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:59 AM on June 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


And immediately after that snippet, the money quote:
Researchers and policymakers agree that CPS intervenes in far too many cases, traumatizing families by “removing” children and being slow to reunite such families even after a removal is found to have been unwarranted. Indeed, a child who is not being maltreated at home is far more likely—by multiple orders of magnitude—to be seized by CPS than by a kidnapper. Thus CPS, in the name of child safety, becomes the bogeyman, the child-snatcher parents should fear.
(emphasis mine)
posted by flabdablet at 10:34 AM on June 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


Or if you're black and you happen to trust somebody we think you shouldn't have, we'll skip the child seizure and just jail you. Bye Mom, see you on visitor day.
posted by flabdablet at 10:46 AM on June 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


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