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Grounded for Life

There is a rising school of thought in this country that decrees that once you have a kids, your life is basically over. I don’t mean “your life is over” in the sense that mine is in that’s it’s difficult to go out more than occasionally and I spend a lot of non-work time attending my kids. I mean “your life is over” in that you must spend every single second watching and guarding your kids; that you can not let them out of your sight for a single moment; that you must be constantly paranoid about anything and everything that could happen; that you can never ever leave them to their own devices.

Lately, this mentality has been trickling into public law. There was the Texas mom who was arrested because her 6- and 9-year old were playing in the street outside her house. And now this helicopter parent mentality is being codified into law:

In an appeals court decision last week, three judges ruled that a mother who left her toddler sleeping in his car seat while she went into a store for five to 10 minutes was indeed guilty of abuse or neglect for taking insufficient care to protect him from harm.

Not that the child came to any harm; he seems to have slept through the whole non-incident.

But when the mom emerged from the store, she was confronted by cops, who’d been summoned by a mall guard when he noticed the sleeping child.

She was arrested and placed on the child-abuse registry — even though a Division of Child Protection and Permanency agent visited her home that day and found the kids well cared for.

If this had been the law back when I was a kid, Rahelen Skenazy — the lady who loves me more than the stars — would be on that registry. And since she had me wait in the car more than once, the state might have even placed me in foster care. That’s the threat that looms over anyone found guilty of neglect.

Look, I don’t want to minimize the danger of children being left in cars. A few years ago, the WaPo ran an award-winning horrific story about parents who forgot their kids were asleep in the back seat and left them there to die in the heat. Every now and then, some mom leaves her kids deliberately in the car and they die. To this day, I always put my laptop bag, groceries or whatever in the back seat just to make sure this doesn’t happen.

But to go to the extreme of saying any parent who leaves a child in car for any length of time is an abuser? On a day when it wasn’t hot? In a safe neighborhood? When crime rates are at their lowest level in 50 years?

This is one of those times I think that CPS and similar authorities have too much time and money on their hands; that there must be too few cases of true horrific abuse if they are going after a woman who left her toddler in the car for five minutes. I understand the concern. I wouldn’t really have a problem if the cops had talked to her and said something like, “look, we can’t be babysitters of the parking lot and make sure that kids are only in there for a few minutes.” But arresting her? Placing her in a child abuse registry (oh, goodie, another registry!)?

Does that sound reasonable?

(H/T: Lenore Skenazy, whose Free Range Kids blog is a must-read.)

11 comments

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  1. Seattle Outcast says:

    I always thought it meant your life was over because for the next decade you volunteered to go to Chuck E Cheese and McDonald’s for dinner, and no vacations that didn’t involve driving there in a disgustingly cluttered minivan. Because, you know, nobody but you wants to put up with your kids.

    This sort of BS, though, is just stupid.

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  2. richtaylor365 says:

    Look, I don’t want to minimize the danger of children being left in cars.

    That’s great, the problem is that some people are too stupid or too lazy to factor in “the danger of children being left in cars”.

    From your link;

    ”No question that there are circumstances when leaving a child, even for 10 minutes, would create serious risk or danger for the child,” says law professor David Pimentel at Ohio Northern University.

    Exactly right, and how do you control dangerous behavior like this, you make it a crime to do it.

    95% of all the laws of the land exist because some people are incapable of doing the right thing, so dangerous actions have to be codified and criminalized.

    Your example says 5 to 10 minutes, lets see, how much time passed from her going in to the store and the security cop observes the sleeping baby, then how much time for the cops to be called (most cities it takes several minutes to get any live person on the line), then how much time for the beat cop to get there?

    Were the windows at least cracked? Who knows, but a sleeping child was left unattended in a hot car, who could expire in a matter of minutes (we all know how fast temperatures rise inside closed cars).

    We can agree that the state went over board. I would have preferred the cops to arrive, smash through the closed windows (she can pay for the damages), then once mom comes out, she gets cited for child endangerment, then sent on her way.

    Oh, and that example of the woman that got arrested for leaving her toddlers unattended to play in the streets, same thing, she should have been cited for child endangerment. If her kids would have been run over in the streets, she would be the first to sue the city for lack of signs warning that kids sired by idiot parents might be left unattended in the streets, so beware.

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  3. Seattle Outcast says:

    40 or 50 years ago, when a kid said “I’m going to go play with -insert name here-” you just left and walked down the street to that kids house and knocked. Preschoolers wandering the neighborhood during the day wasn’t unusual, and nobody ever needed more than a bandaid at the end of the day.

    This is just going to stupid extremes – we’ve become a nation of scared little girls.

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  4. Hal_10000 says:

    Exactly right, and how do you control dangerous behavior like this, you make it a crime to do it.

    But not in all circumstances. A hot day, yes. This was not a hot day.

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  5. richtaylor365 says:

    This was not a hot day.

    You don’t need a hot day on the outside for it to be unsafe on the inside;

    http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/116/1/e109.full

    Conclusions. Even at relatively cool ambient temperatures, the temperature rise in vehicles is significant on clear, sunny days and puts infants at risk for hyperthermia. Vehicles heat up rapidly, with the majority of the temperature rise occurring within the first 15 to 30 minutes. Leaving the windows opened slightly does not significantly slow the heating process or decrease the maximum temperature attained. Increased public awareness and parental education of heat rise in motor vehicles may reduce the incidence of hyperthermia death and improve child passenger safety.

    And do we really want child safety laws to be tied to a thermostat? “You’re in luck, lady, one more degree and you would be in violation, but as it is, no sweat, you got time to do your shopping, get your hair done, and get the dry cleaning”.

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  6. Seattle Outcast says:

    I don’t want to live in a country where we’ve decided the cops are there to enforce parenting when there isn’t a clear and present level of stupid going on with the parents.

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  7. hist_ed says:

    Jesus fucking Christ Rich. Was that some sort of parody? You think it should be a crime for a nine year old to play in front of their own house unsupervised? My 8 and 6 year old do so quite often. We have a nice little greenbelt with a creek behind our house. They even, gasp, wade up the creek out of my sight, sometimes for an hour or two. They know their limits in my neighborhood both on the street (don’t go past Mr Smith’s house) and up the creek-a certain tree. If they ever violate those limits there is hell to pay, but not hell that limits their outside time (this happens once every Spring-Two weeks without TV and cleaning out the very messy mini van SO mentioned tends to cure them).

    I’ve also left them in the car for as long as ten minutes. If it’s hot the windows are partly down. Haven’t killed them yet. The doors are locked but get this: Both of them know how to open a door if they get too hot. And they know not to open it to anyone but me. I suppose there is a chance that they overheat right as Ted Bundy strolls by, but hey what are the odds? My 5 siblings and I all survived the same treatment as kids (when crimes rates were a lot higher), except mom never locked the van doors.

    “And do we really want child safety laws to be tied to a thermostat?” No, it’s tied to the parents’ brains. I get to decide what’s good for my kids.

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  8. AlexInCT says:

    Jesus fucking Christ Rich.

    I think that you missed some words there hist_ed:

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  9. Santino says:

    Oh, and that example of the woman that got arrested for leaving her toddlers unattended to play in the streets, same thing, she should have been cited for child endangerment.

    Seriously? Man, I’m glad you weren’t a cop in my town growing up. The kids in our neighbourhood lived on the streets playing hockey, all year long!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N3lNfnvsFrY

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  10. richtaylor365 says:

    The standard MO on this blog is that someone will post on an egregious example of government/police overreach, the usual hue and cry condemning our totalitarian state, with the consensus being that nothing should have been done. Taking cases on their own merits, sometimes I agree, but many times (like in this instance) some action was needed, just not the over reach that was demonstrated, and from there we wrestle back and forth as to where I think we should meet in the middle.

    The fact that so many kids die every year from being left unattended in hot cars speaks to the fact that too many people, whether out of ignorance or laziness, are still doing it. Now maybe you think 40 some deaths a year from this is not worth bothering with. That middle ground I speak of would be getting her window knocked out, and maybe (depending the time involved) getting cited for the offense, I think that is perfectly reasonable and a good deterrent to future conduct. People say that it is just a few minutes, but looking at the sequence of events here and all the things that transpired, it appears to be way more than 10 minutes, long enough for harm to come to that baby.

    And regarding that woman in Texas that got arrested, it was not just for letting her kids play in the street unattended, they were zipping around at speeds unknown on mini bikes. A neighbor called because she was worried they might kill themselves. The cops get there, mom nowhere in sight. Did she need to be arrested? of course not, massive over kill, but I think if the kids were observed playing with matches with combustible materials around, or playing with dad’s Colt .45, no parent in sight, you would think it reasonable for something to be done. I would have preferred neighbor to go over to said parent and report the unsafe action herself. This is where I wish we had the full story because I am betting that this was not the first time the cops were called to this house for this type of behavior, arrests are usually made for repeat offenders.

    Being raised by a single mom I was left unattended at a very early age, and yes, I played in the streets all the time, but stuff that would have been common place not noteworthy back then is now cause for numerous calls to the cops by neighbors that should take up gardening. Me and my buddies had a mini bike that we rode around all the time, sure, I always had one eye out for the cops but that is what made it fun. But if I was caught, I would expect the consequences, and I won’t even go into the amount of times the authorities did have to call my mom. But just playing in the streets (as long as that activity is in itself safe) is not grounds for police intervention.

    Nope, I never arrested or even cited a parent for activities relevant here. I always found a face to face enumerating the dangers of said activity to suffice. And the two times that I do remember being called to grocery store parking lots for unattended infant, both times mom came out as I just pulled up (didn’t even get a chance to smash her window, although I knew of guys that did) a discussion ensued, she was then sent of her way.

    Santino, yes, the goal counts.

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  11. ilovecress says:

    The problem is that there are some terrible parents out there, and no one thinks that what they are doing is a problem until something happens.

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