What Could Happen to Your Kid in the Car While You Pay For Gas?

Hi Readers — Over at Parentdish I wrote a column saying that sometimes you CAN leave your child in the car for a few minutes while you run in to pick up a pizza or pay for gas. Yes, crack the windows. Yes, take out the keys. Yes, always keep your purse or wallet in the back seat so you have to open the back door to get it and be reminded that your child is back there, and make your decisions accordingly. No one wants to see kids forgotten in the car that could quickly heat up, etc., etc. But I’m talking about a four-minute errand in a place where you get something and leave. Anyway, here’s a typical response:

By making a conscious decision to leave your child in the car, even to pay for gas, you are putting your child in harm’s way. Car thieves and child abductors lurk; your child could unbuckle them self and get caught in the power window or move to the front and put the car into gear.

This is what I call “What if?” thinking.  Not thinking about will PROBABLY happen 99,999,999 out of 100,000,000 times. It’s the modern-day compulsion to think of the “worst first” and work one’s way back from it (the child COULD get kidnapped, so let’s never leave him there), giving no credit to the parent who HAS considered the real-world odds and, based on a reasonable risk assessment,  decided she can and will trust to fate and probability for a minute or two: “My kid’s asleep, it’ll take me 4 minutes to pay, I can see the car from here — seems fine.”

What’s really off, though, for folks like that letter writer, is the “probability” part. Many people have gotten to the point where they really BELIEVE the worst case scenario is very likely to happen in the very next minute to their very child.  And that’s why I harp on the way “the media” has changed us parents, for the worse. Nightly, the news will cull terrible stories from literally around the world (Maddie McCann, Natalee Holloway) and put these on TV. And if you are fed a steady diet of one tragedy after another, you DO become convinced these are happening “all the time,” because, on TV, they are. And Americans, on average, watch over 4 hours of TV a day — far more time than they spend in the “real world” that is their neighborhood, walking around and getting to know their actual neighbors.

And since TV never shows the millions and millions of non-events that happen every day — the children NOT snatched from the bus stop, the 29 year olds who never spent 18 years in captivity — and since people aren’t out seeing normal ol’ non-headline life for themselves, their perspective gets skewed. It’s like they LIVE in the world of  TV. And when you’re stuck in that world, everything looks like a potential disaster, including my brain, possibly about to explode, as I try to explain this over and over and then people say, “Fine.  But what if it was YOUR kid snatched from the car…” — Lenore

It's only recently we've decided leaving a child in the car for a few minutes is incredibly risky.