Friday, July 31, 2009

Don't Leave Little Kids Alone... Even Just For A Minute!

Vos Iz Neias is reporting that a Boro Park couple was arrested in New Jersey for leaving their two year old daughter alone in a car while they went into the mini-mart there.

I would think that most rational people understand that it is simply wrong to leave little children alone in a car for any length of time. It doesn't matter if it's "only two minutes." It doesn't matter if the kid is sleeping and you don't want to wake him/her up. It doesn't matter how safe you think the area is. It's simply wrong... period.

What I find amazing is that there are commentators on VIN who seem to think that it's perfectly acceptable to leave your child in the car if a parent needs to go to the bathroom or run into the store to pay gas, etc.

It doesn't take very long for someone to break into the car and either kidnap a child or steal the entire car (kid and all). The same people who leave their kid in the car would never leave a computer, a wallet or an open bag of cash on the front seat, but think nothing of leaving a child strapped in.

One commentator on VIN tried to make the point that the analogy of a child to a valuable item or cash is flawed since a child (unlike the other items) has no value to a common thief. That may be true - but a child certainly has value to a child molester or a kidnapper. And the car itself has value to a car thief who may take the car not caring or even realizing that there is a child strapped in the back.

It never ceases to amaze me how irresponsible some people can be with regard to their children. Back in April 2006, I posted about a similar event that happened to me personally.

It was Chol HaMoed Pesach and I was at the Museum of Natural History with my kids. The kids had taken a bathroom break (my kids are older and can go to the bathroom by themselves) and I was waiting outside. While I was there, a frum man comes over to me, asks me to watch his four or five year old daughter, and goes into the bathroom. I did the guy the favor, but afterwards I thought about it -- how did he know that I wasn't a kidnapper? Just because I had a kippah on my head, was wearing a white shirt and had four days of beard growth didn't mean that I wasn't a danger to his daughter. While he was in the bathroom, I could have simply ran off with her and who knows what could have happened. Fortunately for him, I'm not that sort of person -- but he didn't know that. How could he be so irresponsible as to leave his kid with a total stranger?

The Wolf

(Image credit: Hat tip: Zach Kessin.)


G*3 said...

Take a wlak through the streets of Boro Park sometime. They're full of little kids playing themselves, without an adult in sight, and often without even an older shild to keep an eye on them. Is it surprising that people who routinely leave their children unsupervised don't find anything wrong with leaving a kid in the car "for two minutes?" Especially since all these kids are usually come back inside their homes just fine after playing unsupervised for hours.

Of course, all it takes is one time for someone to grab a kid.

TheAnswer said...

I strongly disagree. If you had a young girl with you and needed to use the bathroom, what would you do? Perhaps finding a woman to watch the child would be better, but some stranger has to do the guy a favor. It is not irresponsible to use cues, yarmulka etc., to pick out who is very likely not a danger. We do it all the time!

Also I don't see the problem with leaving a child in the car for a very short time. For example, when I drop off the baby at the sitter, I leave my 3 year old strapped in for < 60 seconds in a car parked in front of the sitter's house and the keys in my pocket. There is very little danger in this and is probably safer than actually driving.

There are certainly cases, such as the NJ couple going into the mini-mart, where it's not responsible. They had a choice - one goes in and the other stays. And they must have been there a long time to get arrested.

To me it is incorrect to make a blanket statement that leaving the child alone is always bad. It depends on the circumstances in every case.

BrooklynWolf said...


What would I do? I'm not sure... it would depend on the circumstances. But leaving the kid alone where they cannot be seen/heard by me is not one of them. And leaving them with a stranger (no matter how frum they look) is also not an option.

Perhaps I'd take her into the bathroom and have her wait by the sink area (at least then I can hear if she screams -- and even that's not ideal) or else take her further in and have her simply turn around (depending on the configuration of the place, of course). Perhaps I'd tell her to go into the empty stall next to mine, close the door and wait for me to call her out.

As for leaving a kid in the car, I think a simple rule could be made -- if you can get back in 60 seconds AND you can keep the car in sight, then it's probably okay (provided, of course, that you don't do something stupid like leave the keys in the car and the door unlocked).

I understand that there may be exceptional circumstances that may warrant an exception to the rule, but, as a *general* rule, I think it's highly irresponsible to leave a little kid alone for any length of time.

The Wolf

Mike S. said...

1) The number of kidnappings by strangers (as opposed to estranged relatives) in the US is quite small. you know if there is a disgruntalled noncustodial parent in your kid's life. You will drive yourself nuts for little benefit if you think you can never let a 10 year old out of your sight. Or even turn away from your 4 year old in the park to talk to another adult for a minute or two.

2) There is a real problem, especially in the summer with overheating cars. It doesn't take as long as you think for a car to reach dangerous temperatures. On the other hand, leaving a kid sleeping in the car while you go into the gas station cashier to pay for the gas you just pumped is not particularly risky.

3) I recall one busybody marching my then 10 year old over when we let him walk for a block on a parellel street (1 house, about 30 ft., from us) as we walked home from shul one Shabbos. Kids need to be able to develop some independance as they grow older. Another one came over with my 8 year old whom I had sent to ride a bicycle on the suburban cul de sac half a block from our house, complaining that she didn't want to take responsibility for her. I pointed out that it was a public street, bicycles are permitted on the public street, my daughter was capable of riding the bike without going in front of traffic, and no one had asked her to take responsibility for my daughter. It was only after she called the town police (who told her what I did, at least about what is and isn't allowed on a public street) that she desisted.

Anonymous said...

Wolf - To be fair, the vast majority of the comments on VIN agreed that the parents made a big mistake.
I do think that a young child can be taken to the restroom of the opposite gender. As a female, I've seen boys up to about 7 or 8 in a ladies room. By 7 or 8, a child can usually be trusted to wait outside if they are properly instructed, its daytime and its not a dangerous area, etc. The above commenter is correct, there are gradations on how closely you have to watch a child depending on the child's age and maturity.

the apple said...

Agreed that it is a very stupid thing to do, but sometimes people can literally forget that the child is in the car. If the kid is being very quiet and the parent is thinking about the shopping/errands/whatever on their mind, it *is* possible that they would forget that the child is sitting quietly in the backseat.

Staying Afloat said...

Hi- just found this blog, and it's given me a lot of food for thought.

As the apple said, parents really can forget. Also, especially when a kid is strapped into a car seat or asleep, there's a lot of temptation to leave them there if you can see them through the store window. (And I HAVE accidentally locked a kid in the car when I left him there for one minute while I walked 30 feet away to get another kid- now I leave a door or window open.)

I have a post on this that includes a practical way to avoid problems:

Lion of Zion said...


"And I HAVE accidentally locked a kid in the car"

i had the opposite experience. i was checking the oils in my car and my son (then about 2) locked me out of the car. (with the key in the ignition and the engine running.)

JRS said...

I think this is one of those things that, 25 years back, would not have raised many eyebrows. That does NOT make it OK, of course---people used to smoke in hospital rooms, too, and now we don't. Depending on the exact circumstances, these people ought to be more responsible---get with the %$#%# program, folks!---
----But I think many of the people who get caught in these situations are fairly good, caring parents. And the kind of hysterical outcry that today's robomoms, who pretty much think they invented parenting, raise over admittedly stupid choices like this (even when they did not end tragically), is often a little out of proportion. Certainly, they might reserve greater contempt for the 'brave' single mom who had five children with four boyfriends, two of whom are incarcerated, and one of whom is the mother's pimp.
By contrast, what an incident like this really highlights is the inherent obliviousness of so many heimishe types to changes in the society around us, including what is no longer considered safe or appropriate... (like wearing blackface on Purim).
Many (not all!) people in Boro Park---tho they thrill and shiver (and call teshuva-rallies and asifos) in response to the tittilating true-crime stories that occasionally occur around them---still live in a bubble, naive and blissfully uninformed, in which Boro Park, Lkwd. & select other heimishe outposts are unlike the rest of the world, kids can go anywhere alone, at night, etc.

I'm not excusing it. But it's stupidity, not evil. Still dangerous perhaps, but there's less indifference to a child's welfare here than is inherent in the very lifestyle of a lot of people out there.

I, too, have learned to never leave a kid alone (excepting the 60-second, eyes-on-the-car-while- paying-for-gas kinda thing), even tho I might once have been tempted.

Glad to see, tho, that a lot of people took a balanced view, saying more or less that it's not unimaginable, if still wrong.

JRS said...

Jewish Side of Babysitter said...

I've also seen Major Irresponsibility and couldn't believe it.

Interesting about your story, with the kids father asking you to watch the kid while he goes to the restroom. Now I'm seeing it through your angle. But earlier I hadn't thought of myself as being a Stranger.

OSM said...

Statistically speaking, it is much more dangerous for my child to be strapped into her carseat while I am driving her to preschool than for her to be alone in a parked and locked car while I run to use the bathroom at a gas station. Car accidents happen much more often than stranger kidnappings or carjackings.

Anonymous said...

JRS: I agree that it's obliviousness to society around them, but it's purposeful obliviousness, however oxymoronic that might sound. It's a conscious desire not to assimilate, and that includes accepting modern ideas about health and safety. Why they can accept modern ideas such as Lexuses and Bluetooths, I have no clue.