Would You Leave Your Kids Alone in a Parked Car?
As temperatures heat up across the United States, experts are once again worried about hyperthermia, an increase in body temperature well above normal in infants and young children left alone in parked cars.
This ends in tragedy often enough and clearly, parents should take steps to ensure they never leave a young child alone in a parked car in hot weather.
How about a 5, 6, 7, or 8 year old...in mild weather..for ten minutes?
Lenore Skenazy, author of "Free Range Kids," believes that laws to criminalize leaving children under 6, 7, 8, or even 9 (in Utah), alone in parked cars are examples of the nanny state run amok. In some states, repeat offenses can even result in prison time.
Skenazy points out that the risk of kidnapping is infinitesimal--far smaller than the risk of children becoming injured in a car accident driving to the store. Addressing issues of hyperthermia, she points out that most victims of this tragic accident were either accidentally left in the car for hours or climbed into a vehicle without their caretakers realizing it, 54% and 31% according to kidsandcars.org.
I am conflicted on the topic. Skenazy gets a lot of support in the comments on the Wall Street Journal article. I do agree that the risks of leaving a school aged child in a car are statistically very small and parents need leeway to base decisions on their own values and the maturity level of their children.
However, many of the commenters were not describing situations where a seven year old just wanted to sit in the car and read. They, and even one of the examples in Skenazy's article, were talking about not wanting to wake a napping infant or toddler when dropping an older child off at school or running into a store. I've been there, and it is, indeed frustrating to wake your baby for a five minute drop-off. However, I have a hard time ever justifying leaving a child in the car who is not able to unbuckle himself and open a door in an emergency...or know when not to do so.
And if we are talking about an older child, is it really such an inconvenience to bring them into the supermarket with you to pick up milk?
Generally, I agree with Skenazy that we shouldn't let fears of extremely unlikely tragedies to stop our children from being kids--walking across the street to play with neighbors or biking to the park. In this case, however, the risk seems to be more about the parent's convenience.
I think these borderline cases are judgment calls and should be left to the parents, rather than criminalized. At the same time, I cannot imagine leaving my rather mature six year old in the car. Frankly, I do not think she would be comfortable with that, either. Maybe I will by the time she is eight, the age set by the law in New York State.
At what age would you leave a child alone in a parked car? Do you think there should be laws criminalizing this?