Would You Leave Your Kid Alone in a Car?

Written on July 10, 2014 at 2:01 pm , by

Imagine this scenario: You’re pulling into a parking space so you can pick up Chinese food for dinner. As you glance into the backseat, you can see that your adorable (but extremely energetic) 3-year-old twins are finally asleep and safely strapped into their snuggly car seats. And you wonder: Should you wake them up and bring them into the restaurant with you, or dash inside for just a minute, leaving the kids inside the car alone? You’re parked right in front of the restaurant’s door. What do you do?

The truth is, if we haven’t all made the dash inside, we’ve at least thought about it for more than a second. However, many parents don’t understand the cause for concern until it’s too late and they’ve received a reprimand from a concerned citizen, been handed a summons from an unforgiving police officer, or experienced a tragedy that will be hard to forgive themselves for.

While the specific laws and age limits for leaving a child alone vary from state to state, I imagine some parents are thinking: “I know my kid” or “No one can tell me what to do with my own children.” Actually, communities and institutions can and in my opinion should. Some parents need care instructions for their kids. Common sense and parenting skills are not a given. If legislation or consequences keep one child safer at the expense of another parent’s inconvenience, so be it.

Now here’s my confession: Years ago, I left the motor running and my twins strapped into the backseat of my cool minivan on a hot summer day. Pulling right up to the front door of a local Chinese restaurant, I quickly ran in to pick up my order. It took a minute for me to find out the food wasn’t ready. Then I pushed open the front door to see my now moving minivan rolling past me with one of my 3-year-olds at the wheel.

I panicked, crushing my shinbone as I swung open the door and put my foot on the brake. The car went from neutral to park. In shock, I said to my daughters, “Girls, what happened?” My level-headed, still-strapped-in daughter, Taylor, said, “Erin drive.” Erin, my sweet and funny aspiring daredevil, just smiled. I was dying inside but so grateful that a tragedy had been averted. And I have never left a child of mine in a car or unsupervised since.

While it’s true that parenting skills and styles are very individual, there is always one constant: the responsibility we have to protect our children and not expose them to potentially dangerous situations. You may believe that they’ll be just fine in your absence, but—speaking from personal experience—in lieu of a crystal ball, think safety instead.