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Is It Ever Safe to Leave Your Child Alone?

by Lenore Skenazy

Lenore Skenazy

Lenore Skenazy is a public speaker and author of Free-Range Kids. Read more »

Sorry, Lenore Skenazy is no longer taking questions.

Can you ever leave your child alone, even for a minute? It's certainly a subject of great debate, as you can see from these stories:

1. A mom had just gotten her three pre-school aged sons seated in a surprisingly uncrowded Ikea cafeteria when she realized: she forgot to pack lunch! So she told the boys to stay put and left them at the table, watching a movie on a nearby screen, while she got them food. A few minutes later she was back - and pounced upon by an older woman. "I've been watching your kids," the woman announced. "Several people passed by looking at them. They could have been gone just like that."

2. Another mom was in the children's room of the local library with her 5-year-old daughter. They only had a few minutes before they had to leave, so the mom said, "I have to go upstairs to check out a book in the adult room. Do you want to stay here or come with me?" The girl, busy with a felt board, said, "Stay here." The mom told the librarian -- the only other person in the room -- "I'll be back in three minutes." To which the librarian replied: "Fine. But the dangers of the world do not stop at the library door." Slightly unnerved, the mom nonetheless sprinted upstairs. When she returned, right on schedule, the girl was still at her felt board. (The librarian was still alive, too.)

Final story: A mom in the supermarket parking lot loaded her kids into the car, and the groceries, then went to return the cart. When she got back to her car, another shopper yelled at her for putting her children in "danger" by leaving them.

Welcome to the world we're living in today. A world where any time an adult leaves a child, even for a few minutes--even for a few seconds (how long does it take to return a cart?)--someone just may accuse them of placing their children in mortal peril.

The thing is: Those accusers are wrong.

Oh, they're right that the world is not a perfect place. Criminals do exist. But to operate as if predators are prowling behind every plate of Swedish meatballs, ready to pounce on a table full of children, in public, in broad daylight, is the stuff of bad Bruce Willis movies. Why didn't the older lady who was watching the kids so intently think about the fact that she was watching them so intently? If nothing else, her own concern for those kids was keeping them safe!

Then there's the mom who let her kid wait in the children's room at the library for three minutes. WHAT could possibly have happened? A pervert lurking outside the window, peering in for hours and hours, or even weeks and weeks on end, finally sees his chance and bursts in -- without the librarian noticing? He grabs the child without the slightest scuffle? He does this all in the 90 seconds between the time the mom is walking out and walking in?

Can anyone seriously think this is probable? Not whether it is POSSIBLE. Anything is possible. Hey, the library could be firebombed by someone with an overdue book! It's possible. Maybe no one should risk going there!

There's a big difference between possible and probable -- a difference that parents are being encouraged, by busybodies and sensationalist media, to ignore. That's what is making parents so fearful these days: We are "What if?"ing ourselves to death.

Finally, there's the mom in the parking lot, getting yelled at for "leaving" her kids in the car. As if there is no difference between truly leaving your kids for a while, and having them wait for you while you finish a brief task. To not take that into account means thinking of every event in terms of the absolutes: It is NEVER safe to leave your children, no matter what. Leaving them for a single minute is as bad as leaving them for a day.

Thinking that way is driving us nuts. It is making us not trust our neighbors, our kids, our own rationality. Indulge in constant worst-case thinking and every situation begins to look like the Titanic. Every parenting decision becomes fraught with sadness: "This could be the end for my child!" And meanwhile, every busybody feels free to yell at those of us who trust the odds. As if THEY love our kids more than WE do.

Thank God, the world we live in is not a Bruce Willis movie. It's a lot less dramatic (and, for the record, it has a lot more hair). Moreover, it has always afforded parents the chance to grab some grub, check out a book and return a cart. No matter what the busybodies say, these are not life and death decisions. They're just plain ol' life.

Sorry, Lenore Skenazy is no longer taking questions. Feel free to comment on the article and let us know what you think about the topic.


James writes...

I wish the world were a safe place where I could leave my children unattended without constantly worrying about their safety. My own childhood was fairly free-range and incident free.

But just two weeks ago I was thinking of taking my own kids to a splashpad at a local park. We ended up not going. Later that day I heard that a pervert was lurking in the bushes at that park that afternoon and "touched" a 6-year-old girl while her parent wasn't watching.

When it strikes that close to home, you realize it's not crazy to think that someone could be lurking at the library waiting for an opportunity.

I can't imagine having to deal with the guilt if something ever happened to my kids that I could have prevented.

Jessica writes...

I am a mother of a 3 year old and a 9 month old. I, myself, would never leave them alone in a public place or out in the front yard without parental supervision. I do, however, feel comfortable leaving the children in the next room over alone in our house for a minute or two, or even in our backyard with the door open - but ALWAYS within earshot of a cry or need for help.
I am a confident woman and mother but even in the above situations, I still feel a certain level of uncertainty that I'm doing the right thing - and this the media and society has done to me.
I want my children to grow up in a trusting but safe world. It certainly is a catch 22.

Lenore? writes...

Hi Jessica -- We all worry! That IS what, as you say, "media and society" have done to us. They have made us think that even leaving our children in the next room for a few minutes is a radical, dangerous thing.

What an incredible and NEW burden this puts on moms -- the idea that our kids are in danger EVERY SINGLE SECOND and if we so much as zip to th bathroom, we may well long live to regret it. It's a tough, crazy standard and yet -- it sells! It sells TV shows and safety products -- and probably a whole lot of Valium. Good luck to us all! -- Lenore

Elie writes...

I agree with the author -- we need to make judgments on what is probable. I am like these mothers -- willing to leave their children alone for a couple (or few!) minutes. The world is not out to get them or to get me.

Yes, we don't dump them in a situation and leave them for 30 minutes. But let's get realistic -- chances are, they'll be ok if you're gone for a few minutes. In my experience, the worst that happens is that they start arguing and say something mean or pinch the other child. (It happens -- even when they are in the next room.)

I'm so happy that I live somewhere that I can let my kids run outdoors. They check in with me, and I know that they're safe from the street and that members of my community are also watching out for them. Were they younger, I'd be watching them more closely. (I did watch them much more closely when they are younger.) But they are safe, and as long as they're together and nearby, I'm not concerned.

Kids need to run. They need to not be hovered over. They need to learn that they are capable of being by themselves (preferably with someone else -- I ask them to go in two's or more) for periods of time.

Susan writes...

The issue here is exactly as the author states - the woman at IKEA was watching the kids. The sad thing is - "alone" means that Mom (and yes, it is always almost Mom...) is on 24/7 without a break - when in fact if there was more of a community of help we would all be better off. "Alone" means without a parent - for more than 10 seconds...sorry - but if you had my kids you would quickly realize you would do very little if there were not the unusual instances where circumstance conspires to force this to happen. Too bad we feel we cannot engage others - yes "strangers" - to help - because our society has gotten so impersonal. Its tougher being a parent than anything - if other folks would step in and help ...instead of criticizing we'd all be better off.

James - really??? Without another adult noticing, helping, intervening??? Was it really a pervert (a term I hate since it can mean anything and nothing) or a misunderstanding?

As a mother I seek to give my children roots and wings, confidence to be along and to be safe whilst alone - I do not hover continually because they need to understand how to engage in their environment and yes, accidents happen but they learn and develop and each step is taken in a framework I am comfortable with.

Alone doesn't mean unsupervised and doesn't mean in danger

Pamela Berkman writes...

Yes, Susan. (Full disclosure here -- Susan is a colleague.) What is fascinating about these three stories is that they all involve a mom left entirely on her own to manage small children plus errands, and every other adult in the situation being critical and resentful that she could not magically split herself into two people. Perhaps if their concern extended to offering to help her pay for a mother's helper so that she would not be left in such a predicament, there would be less cause for their righteous indignation. Re: the 6-yr-old girl who was molested in James's comment, that is, of course, sickening. I don't know that situation, if both parents were at the park, how long she was left on her own, if she wandered outside its grounds, what the park's security measures were. I do know that the vast majority of children who are molested are, unfortunately, molested by family members or family friends, or others in a position of trust.

Vinnie Bartilucci writes...

We have been (mis)educated by the media that the world is a non-stop living nightmare where criminals and perverts (usually of an intimidating ethnicity) lurk around every corner to attack YOU, personally. And people don't seem to notice that following each of these anecdotes are immediate suggestions for assistance - watch this show, buy this product, enroll in this program, etc.

I was left in the car, occasionally a RUNNING car, by my mother on numerous occasions. I did not die. Very few people did. People don't let their kids play outside anymore, they plan and document their kids' lives, and we wonder why our kids are so fragile.

My daughter is autistic, and I am constantly riding the razor's edge between overprotection and preparation for a world that will eventually stop having special needs meetings for her and ask her to cope on her own. So when She asks to go to the next store over at the mall and I say "OK, go ahead, I'll be right here", some people blanch at the thought. But the look of pride on her face when she comes back five minutes later, whole and unsullied, is worth the microscopic amount of worry I may have had as she trotted off.

When we spend 100% of our day trying to prevent something that happens .00012% of the time, we are wasting our most precious resource...time.

When we moved from the "Big City" to a small town I was thrilled to be able to finally let the kids (2.5 and 4) have free range fun in the yard. I am not a fan of hovering. My kids are well mannered and secure despite being left alone for a few minutes here and there:)

Almost all of the windows on the main floor look out over the yard and I thought this could not be more perfect! But within a week of being here I realized there is a BEAR issue here in Rossland, and while the bears are weary of dogs they are aggressive towards small children. So that was the end of that, go figure!

Brooke writes...

If any of you know someone who works in the human trafficing and slave trade industry...yes here in would know that it takes LESS than a minute for a trader to steal your child. It is more prominant than you would like to believe! And we don't know who they are or what they look like. Sad but true.

Carrie writes...

My issue with two of the above scenarios is not the potential for perverts or slave traffickers to grab the children. It is the probability that the children will need something. This is especially true with the kid in the library. Should the very real probability that child needs to go to the bathroom or requires a drink, it is not the librarians job to assist her. Nor is it her job to watch and make sure she doesn't wander off somewhere else in the library. Now, I realize that neither of those things are life threatening, but I also know, that in the case of my kids (especially the youngest) they often believe that needing to go to the bathroom is an emergency of epic proportions and will whine and cry about it until they get to go. Will it hurt them to wait a minute? No. Will it irritate the librarian to death? Probably. It irritates me and I love them. That lady doesn't even know them.

The same with the IKEA lady. What happens when the kids start fighting? One of them can't see the screen so they hit the other one. Now you have at least one kids crying (and maybe two if the other hit back) and possibly one who has decided that Mom is the only person who can dispense justice and leaves to find her. Siblings fighting? Now we have moved from possible, past probable and into almost guaranteed.

Gena writes...

We let our 8 and 10 year old daughters play outside without supervision. In fact on these summer afternoons they are often told to go find a friend to play with... which usually means ending up at a friend's house with a pool. They are told to be home by 4 or 5.

My 8yr old's best friend lives a block or two over and she was never allowed to play outside without supervision until she started playing with my kids. A funny thing happened the other day, my 8 yr old was out finding someone to play with and went to this best friends house. The friend has a sitter during the day. The girls decided to go to another friends house together to go swimming. (we know that if our kids leave with swim suits they might go swimming, no big deal). The funny thing is, my husband gets a phone call from my daughter's best friend's mom (who is at work) wanting to know if our daughter called to tell him that she was going swimming.

My kids have stayed in the car for a couple minutes while I run in and pay for fuel. They REALLY like it when I stay in the car and THEY run into the store alone with a list and some money.

My kids go off to the restroom or the toy dept or wherever by themselves while we're shopping.

My kids enjoy the freedom, and they have been taught TO speak to strangers. They have been given the information they need (not fear mongering) and I trust them. Right now they are at the park they rode to together... they were told to be home by dark. They have lights on their bikes, know the rules of the road, they will be fine.

Mallory writes...

And common sense saves the day! Thank you.

Louise writes...

I want to point out that there's a difference between "free range" parenting and lazy parenting. For example, my kids are very young. One can swim somewhat and one can't swim at all. When we're at the pool, I sit on the edge, dangle my feet in the water (hey, I'm hot too!), and watch my kids. I don't think I'm hovering--my kids are too young to be in 3-to-4 feet of water w/o close supervision. However, one mom at our neighborhood pool puts a life preserver on her 2-year-old son, then goes off somewhere to sunbathe. What does this mean for me and the other poolside moms? We have to entertain this child. A 2-year-old can't be left alone for an hour in 3 feet of water. Not because he's going to be snatched by some sort of predator, but because he's going to become bored or lonely and begin to demand attention from nearby adults. I need to watch my own kids and don't have time to babysit a 2-year-old while his mom--a total stranger who has never said "boo" to me--relaxes somewhere. I do not consider this a "free range" child, I consider this a neglected child with a rude mother.

Now, leaving the kids in the car for 15 seconds while I return a shopping cart is nothing. I can't believe anyone would gripe about that. As long as my kids know how to behave (i.e., don't annoy anybody!) and are in a safe enough environment, they can be left alone for a minute here and there. When I was a kid, my dad used to make ME return the shopping cart. Little me running through the parking lot with the cart, then dashing back to the car. Ha!

Natasha writes...

I'm sorry but I think a lot of people are in denial about the world we live in. No one thinks anything bad will happen to their child, yet the fact is, there are bad people out there, as I personally have known child molesters that looked like the nicest person you've ever met. Needless to say, you don't know what they are until after something terrible happens. What do you think a predator looks like? A "scary" looking person? Not usually. Yet, I agree with the other lady that said wouldn't it be nice if we could help look out for each other more instead of being nasty.

Janet writes...

I and my family are recent expats living in Denmark. I was having a conversation on this very topic this morning with other expat moms from various countries including the U.S. Having our children more independent is very much a cultural thing. Children here in Denmark ride the bus and train to school and back home, all on their own, starting at a very young age. Many go home to houses without parents as early as 7-8 yrs old. They are expected to do their homework before their parents get home. And I've seen many sleeping babies in their strollers parked outside the store or restaurant that their mom has gone into. Yes, Denmark is a much safer country than the U.S. but it isn't without crime. It's just that everyone here leaves their children to their own accord much younger than I am even comfortable with. I guess I'm just still more of an American than an international expat.

Could it be possible that children that are given more responsibility at a younger age grow up to be more responsible because they learn from their mistakes?

Great post. I love the book Protecting The Gift, and we also have the Adam Walsh Safety Girl video... I hate that "stranger danger" mentality. I was accosted by my father and the truth is most kids are hurt by people they know. Declan knows that if we lose each other in a crowded place, that he should go ask a mom with kids for help, because statistically most predators are heterosexual men (he doesn't know that last part, ha!). So, yes we're careful but moreso by empowering my kid to handle the situation rather than worrying about the implausible boogie man.

Laura writes...

I am not normally a fan of debates or posting on boards like this, however....

This subject really hits close to home. I will admit that I may be somewhat over-protective. I only have one child so I have parent-of-only-one-child syndrome. :) He is 7 and I do not let him play outside by himself yet, though some neighbors allow their kids. I do not let him out of my sight in stores, church, etc. unless he is under the direct supervision of another adult.

I understand AND appreciate this article because I feel that sometimes I DO need the reminder to give him his freedom and a sense of responsibility. However....

Just a reminder, Adam Walshe (John Walsh from America's Most Wanted's son) was with his mother (i believe) ONE aisle over from her in Sears playing a video game when he was kidnapped and later found brutally murdered. Whether it was a "lurker" or happened, and it's scary, and sad, and it's reality. So....give them freedom, but please be wise about when, where, and how much!

Melissa writes...

Lenore is my hero! I mean it, too. She brings a voice of reason to the table! I first heard her on NPR one day, and have been a fan ever since.
In my opinion, Louise's comment hit the nail right on the head - there is a HUGE difference between "free-range" and "lazy" parenting. We live in a pretty safe neighborhood, and my 2 year old is allowed to go in the back yard and play as long as she is within eyesight of my deck or kitchen windows, and my whole (fenced in) back yard is within earshot of my house and my deck so I can always hear if she needs me. I leave her in the car to return a shopping cart (though, for the sake of convenience, I usually try to park as close to a carriage corral as I can). I don't worry about someone snatching her from my yard or from my car, and I think my child is more secure because of it. She likes people and is social which is nice, and she is starting to make friends quickly because of it. My husband and I both grew up in "free range" houses, and I think we're both the better for it!

Matt writes...

Last year my wife was had a similar experience to the grocery store scenario, only instead of leaving our son, she asked a stranger (another mom with her child) to watch him while she ran to get the car. When I heard the story, I thought my wife was crazy! But since then we've actually become good friends with this woman and her family (turns out they live in our neighborhood and we run into them all the time). I was really inspired that this act of trust led to a new friendship. I'm not advocating leaving one's children with random strangers in order to make friends, but I think there are opportunities all around us to connect with and strengthen our community through our roles as parents.

Beth writes...

But Laura, your story basically proves that parents can't prevent every bad thing from happening, even if they're with the child. Mom didn't drop Adam off at the store by himself, she didn't (god forbid) run to the restroom...she was one aisle over, and yet she still couldn't prevent what happened.

Peter writes...

I must admit, when I saw the title of the article, I was certain that it was a lecture on how careless we are as parents if we take our eyes off of our kids for even one moment. What a pleasant surprise to be wrong!

As the father of two beautiful little girls, I am very proactive about my children's safety. Yet much of what I do to secure my children is not plainly visible. I like it that way. And, at times, I have been scrutinized by people who thought they knew what they were talking about.

The bottom line is that everything we do exposes our children to some risk. Just putting them in the car exposes them to the risk of a car accident. (Been there, done that) Good parents weigh the risks of their actions. "Do I leave them in the car for 30 seconds, or do I drag them with me across the parking lot?" Both present different risks. I appreciate that the author points out the "big difference between possible and probable."

Kudos on a great article! Enjoy your children and teach them to be good, wise, and courageous adults!

Leah writes...

I live in a world where my son was lured to our gate and then snatched by a teen who lives in our neighborhood. (he's found and fine, btw) One where people constantly asked me to watch their kids playing in the toy department of the store where I was a cashier as a college student.

So here's my spiel. There are most certainly creeps in the world and they are everywhere and in every place. They prey on the weak. You have to be alert and teach your children to be so, as well. There's no better way to teach a child that than to let them be on their own sometimes.

If you feel your kid is fine being left alone on a bus, in the library, in the car, etc., leave them. Don't tell the librarian (or cashier, in my case). She's not there to watch your child; even if she works in the children's section. If you think your child needs supervision, put your books/groceries/whatever down, go without and leave. Or tell your kid to stop what they are doing and take them with you.

And as for people butting in when you do decide it is appropriate to leave your child? Well, that's the side effect of this whole "village" mentality perpetuated in situations like the library example given here. Not one judgmental type knows your child like you do. So it washes out that not one of their opinions actually matter. It also stands to reason that the very person you are asking to "keep an eye out" might be the previously mentioned creep. Be smart.

I personally don't think any of the situations mentioned above are outlandish or irresponsible. But then again, when I leave my 8 year old son in the toy section of a store to peruse Star Wars action figures, I know I've taught him how to behave. I also have every confidence he'll run like mad from someone who sets off his "alarm", as we like to call it. That's as safe as I figure he can ever possibly be.

Christina writes...

A world where people are afraid to allow children age appropriate independence are raising an entire generation of emotionally stunted, insecure people who will eventually need the government to provide all of their needs once mommy and daddy are unable to do so. Sad.

Jenna writes...

Seriously, are you stalking me....I've done all those things to my kids, omg the trauma they are put through, lol.

Jenn writes...

I am the mom to a 4 year old ("4 and a HALF year old, Mommy!") and an 11-month-old. I agree with almost everything in this article.
Do children get snatched by strangers? Do they get molested by "perverts" in the park? Sure. It happens. And although I surely don't want my kid to be the small percentage of kids this happens to, we cannot live our life based on "what-ifs," especially one that is so small.
As another commenter pointed out, what if we did that for all situations? Unintentional injury (car accidents, falls, drowning, etc) is the leading cause of death & injury in children - yet people still have backyard pools, they still put their kids in cars, they still let them learn to walk/climb/etc. If we teach our children to spend their lives preparing for the horrible "what-ifs," they won't have any opportunity to actually live!

The media has done an excellent job of indoctrinating us about "stranger danger." I propose we need to find some way to teach our kids how to recognize when they are feeling iffy about a person or situation, rather than making them terrified of everyone they don't know yet.
The one thing in the article I don't agree with - leaving your kid in the library under the librarian's eye. That is *not* their job. In fact, at our library, if you leave your young child unattended for ANY length of time, they'll ask both you and your child to leave.

Michael writes...

Try telling this to Adam Walsh's parents or my friend's sister... Mother of a 14 y.o. girl who took her dog for a quick walk around the block and was never seen again (that was 6 years ago). I make no apologies for sticking close to my kids. While I don't lay my worries about the world on my children, I am realistic and I do teach them to watch out... All the time! And one more point... I take exception to Susan's comment. It is not always the mother. I'm an extremely active and dedicated father.

Joe Young writes...

I absolutely agree. People think the world is a more dangerous place for children than it was 30 years ago. Newsflash, it isn't. You have all been scared by the media machine.

Dan writes...

Of course, there's a tiny risk if you leave your children alone for a few minutes. However, the actual chances that something bad will happen are really insignificant, unless you leave them alone someplace they really shouldn't be, like in the middle of a crack house...

While there are risks, you really need to be sensible about what the real risks are. Giving in to fear of what might happen is letting the bad guys win.

Let's look at the three scenarios:

In the first one, do you really think that someone could grab one of THREE boys and not have the other two make enough of a commotion and not attract enough attention to make it obvious that something bad was happening??? Seriously, most children I know would scream, shout, scratch, hit, kick or otherwise make it pretty clear that something was wrong. Also, most stores have a fair amount of video surveillance on top of that.

The second scenario has the librarian fear-mongering... but seriously, if she was paying enough attention to know the mother was leaving the child alone for a few minutes, I'm pretty sure that she was paying enough attention to know if someone other than the mother was approaching the child. Do you really think she would have just stood by and let someone abduct the child without doing something??

The final story... the kids are seated in the mother's car with the doors locked in a parking space in a public parking lot. There really isn't much danger there. Yes, the car could get hit, or someone could break into the car and steal it...or kidnap the children...they could also get hit by a meteorite or lightning...

If the children are properly taught how to react in a dangerous situation, you'll do them far more good than if you shelter them and prevent them from ever seeing anything that might even pose a remote risk.

Children grow up...and those that have never had to be alone, or make a decision about what was risky or not safe, generally fare far worse than ones who have some experience and some independence.

I'd point out that some children are so ill-behaved that leaving them alone in a public place is asking for a disaster to occur. However, with well-behaved and polite children that know how to react in the case of an emergency, like being approached by a stranger, leaving them for a few minutes isn't going to be a problem.

Jeff writes...

Statistically, your children are most likely to be harmed by a neighbor, relative, teacher, priest, or other trusted figure.

The fear of strangers, though understandable, is largely unwarranted.

You want to protect your kids? Always make them wear seat belts. Make them wear their bike helmets. Teach them that it is ok to fight back. Stomp on an instep or bite a hand. That should distract their attacker long enough for them to RUN! Tell them to go somewhere public, and get someone, anyone to help them. Especially a police officer.

Speaking of police officers, don't tell your kids when they act up in public that the police will arrest them and take them away. Police are public servants with high stress jobs, making your children fear them is a bad idea. Besides, one of the things that makes a cop's day is when he can help a child.

And before I forget, make sure your kids have your phone number memorized! Not programmed into the bloody cell phone, MEMORIZED! A cell phone can be lost or its battery give out. If they have your number memorized they can call you from any phone.

sarah writes...

i am a mother of 4 children and i had this happen to me...i was in a store to drop off one of those heavy reantal vaccums and rather than my kids running around i made them stay in the car...i could see the car parked right in front of the window and the next thing i know a lady is yelling at me at the top of her lungs to watch my kids...i was embaressed and left the store...the store later called me to say sorry for the way that lady yelled
i trust my two girls(4&6) to play around the houseand my 11 year old is allowed to bike around town
i keep a watch full eye but i like to let them feel a little independence
communcation is key

Barbara writes...

I am struck by how judgmental so many people are. There are two different sides to this story and the middle ground. Everyone should follow their own conscience and not tell each other how to raise their children as long as the left alone children are not being hurt or harming others. I have felt obligated to monitor someone else's child left alone before, became distracted and my own son got away from me on a dark street at a neighborhood party. He was fairly quickly found, but I now watch my children and let others fend for theirs. But everyone has their own comfort level and their own right and wrong.

Linda writes...

"It takes a village"
The older woman in the Ikea should not have been scolding, she should have assured the woman that she was there to help and that she understood how difficult it is to raise children. I have been there a hundred times, needing to decide whether to leave a kid for a second or unstrap them and lug them somewhere for a half a minute. When I was a kid, my mom would leave us in the car for the whole shopping trip. Things have gone to the opposite extreme. Somewhere in the middle would be nice.

Adrienne writes...

It is heartening to see so many comments supporting Ms. Skenazy's article. I am currently in the middle of reading "Free Range Kids" and loving it! I think we need to remember that this is an age-appropriate concept. I don't leave my two year old alone in the children's section of the library like I do my 5 year old. I saw one comment that suggested that it's not the librarian's responsibility to watch my kid. ABSOLUTELY IT ISN"T! That is why my son knows where the bathroom is, the security guard is and where I am. He's FIVE. He can handle the bathroom by himself, especially since it is directly connected to the childrens' room so there is little chance that some lurking creep is wandering around.

My other concern is that we tend to treat our kids as so frail that once broken, they will never be whole. I am terribly sorry for the 6 year old who was "touched" by a stranger. But if the parents and other adults in her life handle it correctly, she will learn to be resilient and will recover. She doesn't have to be a broken, fearful, hurting person for the rest of her life. Entire nations of people are able to recover and move on from the most horrific tragedies (Rwanda, Cambodia), and if they can do it, so can we. Instead of treating a tragedy like that child's experience by throwing up our hands and wailing, we need to get down to the business of helping her heal. It can be done.

Lenore? writes...

Totally agree. And while I also totally believe in therapy -- and went through plenty of it myself! -- I also agree that we tend to forget that people CAN and DO recover from all sorts of difficulties in life. It's a tribute to the human spirit to not assume EVERY bad or sad incident cripples a person for life.

Emily writes...

This is a very personal subject, one of those subjects that one person certainly can't decipher for another. I, personally have had my moments of both over-protectiveness and have had a meddling woman scold me for "neglectful" parenting. When my kids were little, at the lake I watched my kids like a hawk. Nothing is scarier to me than for my child to fall in and for me to not be able to find them under the murky brown water. This is one of those protective mothering instincts that I act on. However, we live in a small town and my kids (13, 10, 7) run free and have been for a while now. They are to be home when the streetlights come on. They get into trouble, make up games, solve mysteries, build forts, fight the evil forces of mosquito attacks, disagree, have to be creative, work through problems and learn how to think critically. If I had been hovering over them their whole life, they would not be growing into the brilliant, creative, and self-reliant people they are. I agree with most of you that kids need to be left alone to work through things, but I also didn't leave them alone when they were babies because of what they may need.
The fact is that crime across the board is 1/3 of what it was in 1980, and it is also true that most kids are hurt by someone they trust. Because I believe that most people are good, I believe that even overprotective parents are only doing what they feel is right. No one is going to know and love their kids like they are, so even though I think the over-protective mother is putting her kids at a disadvantage in the real world, I believe that it is her instinct that she is acting on, and I respect that. No matter how perfect we try to be as parents, there will always be guilt in hindsight. My hope is that the media will have less hold on people as time goes on, and fear-mongering will lose its grip, so that we can all just get back to trusting and helping each other. That doesn't mean agreeing all the time, but really, even as adults, we are still getting into trouble, making up games, solving mysteries, building forts, fighting the evil forces of mosquito attacks, disagreeing, having to be creative, working through problems and learning how to think critically.

Holly writes...

While the danger of our children is an important issue, I think the bigger question is whether or not it is everyone else's responsibility to babysit another person's kids in public, and the answer to that question is "no."

In each of the scenarios, a mother had the audacity to assume a complete stranger would take responsibility for her children. Had something bad happened, or attempted to happen, the headlines would have gone something like, "Abduction Witnessed/Prevented by Librarian/Bystander/Shopper/Etc." Strangers getting credit for a doing a parent's job.

How hard is it to take your kids with you to get food? Why couldn't lady #2 take her daughter and her book upstairs with her? How important is a shopping cart compared to the safety of your children (not that I don't appreciate her returning the cart)?

If you're not concerned about the dangers that are clearly out there, fine, but take the time to consider that the people you are depending on to watch your children while you run to the bathroom, or go get the car, or pick up your grande skinny latte with no foam, are almost always occupied by their own agendas and might not be paying attention.

Dawn writes...

I was in the library, looking for a book near the young readers section. I kept having the feeling a person was standing to close to me, absorbed in my search I would move a bit away until I noticed I had moved 3 times. I looked at the person whom was a grown man, 40ish, masturbating. No joke. I yelled "how dare you!" He stopped and ran out and I filed a police report, I don't know if he was later caught.

Halushki writes...

I have really mixed feelings about this.

It's not a just about predators. As a retail employee, I can count many instances when parents step away "just for a moment" and within that moment the child does wander off, or has an "accident" or begins crying because he/she is scared or - frustratingly - turns into a demon.

It also is unnerving how many lost kids - and not just pre-schoolers, but 6 and 7 year old - who clam-up entirely when they get lost and upset in a store because mom said, "Wait right here" but the child followed a figurative "rabbit", turned once, turned twice and was lost. The parents get angry - "But they know their phone number, they knew not to move, they know their name!" as if it's suddenly my fault that their kid is lost and doesn't remember the lessons of what to do. Being lost is an instant panic for some kids; once or twice practice "what to do" isn't enough by far.

And sadly, it can be a liability issue. Store employees or even librarians shouldn't be asked to babysit, even for five minutes. They are paid employees with a job to do, and yes, I can tell you that as soon as I acknowledge a parent's request and am given even temporary charge over another person's child, that is my sole focus. At the same time, I waver...if the child does try to leave the store or talk to another adult or starts beating his I step in? Can I bodily move the child?

These seem a bit far-fetched and are rare instances for weeks at a time...and yet, they happen often enough that I shake my head.

At the same time, it's not for other people to reprimand or freak out (unless, as I've also seen, the kid is being a nuisance while mom or dad are off doing their thing for "just 5 seconds") or give dire warnings. There's just another side to this story that I don't think people always consider as they are letting out their child's leash.

Anne writes...

As a mother of 4, 2, and 1 y/o children, I appreciate this article. I certainly have been in all three of these situations. I am actually more concerned with police harassment, however, than with anything happening to my children. I live in a large metropolitan area, and there have been several high-profile news stories on police arresting mothers who make sensible judgments. I once put my kids in the car in front of our house, forgot something, and dashed back in for 5 seconds. When I returned, there was a police officer in his car idling next to mine who was relieved when he saw me. I really appreciate law enforcement's concern, but I'm paranoid now! I still leave my children in sensible situations, but in my experience, my family is more likely to have an encounter with the police than "stranger danger."

janet writes...

Every parent has a level of comfort, unfortunately the parents that have a lower level believe that nothing will happen. When something happens they acted surprised that it could happen to them. The worst is that it is not the parent who gets hurt, it is the child. Sad to say it could be the last big mistake of that child life. There is really no reason your child should be without. You are the one who decided to have your child. If you are going into a place they do not need to be maybe you should skip that stop, too. If you need time away find a baby sitter or family member to help, someone you know.

Jennifer writes...

I would love to have a free-range kid. My son is 9, and he can walk around the grocery ahead of me, wander around the library, and other situations like that where there are lots of people around. He knows how to protect himself, scream if anyone bothers him, and not to go off with other people.
However, I cannot let him go around the neighborhood alone. In my pleasant, upper-middle-class,quiet suburban neighborhood, there are THREE registered sex offenders with crimes against children. Less than a mile away is a fourth one with a "predator" designation of repeat offenses.
So, in my neighborhood, the "pervert in the bushes" is definitely, really there. In fact, there are pictures of all of them on the fridge and my son has been taught to recognize them.
There are few children his age in the neighborhood - most of my neighbors are older people with teens or adult children, so my son isn't much interested in roaming around anyway.
Thankfully, his best friend lives across town in a neighborhood with lots of kids and everyone (including adults) is outside all the time. It's a busy, open, much safer neighborhood, so he gets some "roam around" time in with his friend.

Amy writes...

As a criminologist, I will tell you that the vast majority of child kidnappings (over 98%) are by *non-custodial family members*, not strangers. In a custody battle with an ex? Don't leave your children alone. Pretty sure your relatives aren't out to get you? You're probably safe. The chances that your kids will be injured on the drive TO the library is much higher than them being injured AT the library. The danger of them being left in the car is much more likely to be that they will overheat, not that they will be kidnapped. Use common sense, understand your child's maturity level, responsibility, etc. Teaching "stranger danger" in all situations makes use paranoid, not safer. Be vigilant, don't be crazy.

Lenore? writes...

This is so spot on! "Stranger danger" has been emphasized so much by TV and the rest of the media that we forget that strangers are, for the most part, decent people. And in a pinch, most of them would HELP us. Sort of like the lady who was watching -- benignly -- the kids at Ikea!

Halushki writes...

I recommend parents read Gavin de Becker's book Protecting The Gift.

It is a very down-to-earth and non-hysterical look at child safety, the real facts and statistics, and what to do in a possibly unsafe situation.

For instance, if your child is lost, s/he will have to approach a "stranger" for help. Blanket warnings that all unknown people are a potential threat aren't helpful to any child.

Jeff writes...

On the other side, friendly neighbors, those who believe in community, can't be kind in gesture or word without being held in suspicion; teachers (I'm one) can't correct, discipline, or show appropriate affection to young people without criticism or suspicion.

Erica writes...

These children (ages 6,4,2, and due in February) are the most precious, valuable gifts I will ever be given. I wouldn't leave my money on a table in McDonald's and walk away from it. I wouldn't leave a diamond necklace in the trust of the librarian for three minutes. Why on earth would I do those things with my children?

CJ writes...

I've read through most of the comments here and found them to be very thoughtful and thought provoking.

Perhaps the woman in the parking lot could have offered to return the mother's cart for her? We don't know all of the details of the situation, but if she was alone, without kids of her own and watched the whole thing go down, couldn't she offer to help?

Alone beyond the backyard and public places:
Soon after we moved in July, I learned that the headmaster of my daughter's school was arrested for possessing and disseminating child porn. Yes, you never know where pedophiles will show up and as parents we have to ask a lot of questions, but we simply can't know everything and have to extend a certain degree of trust. This is a very well-respected school and our interactions with the other staff were always positive. I met the headmaster only once but knew that he had 40 years of experience (imagine...). Nonetheless, my daughter attends a new school here in the small town where we moved. While she's not "alone," I'm not there and I have to trust (after doing some research on the school) that her teachers and the administrators are all on the level. Because it's a smaller school community, I've gotten to know the headmaster and his wife and children and feel comfortable with the situation. It's always a little scary to put your child in the care of someone else.

Cari writes...

I am a stay at home mom taking care of three children ages 5 and under, and the stories that Lenore shared really hit home. I make these same sorts of choices every day. When I drop off my oldest at preschool, do I need to undo all the car seats, carry the baby with one arm and wrestle my three year old back out of the classroom in tears, or can I leave the younger two in the car for a minute? Every time I pick up a library book that's being held at the front desk where my car is visible through a window, is it necessary to navigate how many books and movies the kids can pick up and lecture them about library voices (and yes, I do take them to the library at appropriate story times so they are not being deprived of library experiences)? And, as is highlighted in this article, what are other people thinking about the choices I make?

The story from Lenore's piece about the librarian seems particularly mean-spirited. I understand that in this litigious era, the librarian could not officially take responsibility for this child, but doesn't human kindness compel us to at least keep some awareness of the children around us and make sure they aren't unwillingly dragged out of a room by someone they obviously don't know? The comments made by the strangers in this article are unkind. Though they are said by people who would describe themselves as "well-meaning," they are actually people who are demonstrating a lack of empathy and who have lost all sense of it taking a village to raise a child.

Ryan writes...

I agree with Erica. My child is certainly the most precious gift I have ever been given and I take that gift with a great deal of responsibility, both for protecting my child AND educating him on how to be an independent responsible adult.

The author condemns these "judgemental scolders" but then implies judgement on those who "watch to closely".

If you chose to be a parent (and I did) then take responsibility and yes, it really does only take a few seconds for your child to be gone.

To me, the author comes across more like she needs "me" time and less like she cares about her children. She also comes across as pretentious and probably thinks of herself as "progressive", lol. Sad.

JoAnna writes...

I bet that if the librarian had told the truth and said "Do you know how many times a day parents say I'll be right back but then take 10 or 15 minutes or go do their grocery shopping while their kids tear apart the room? Sorry, but I have a job to do. Ask another parent or hire a babysitter to run errands with you", she would have gotten chewed out worse.

Or how many times a police officer sees kids in hot cars and has to wonder "will mom be back in five seconds, five minutes, at all...well, let me wait around again and see."

Yes, people over react. But I'm also reading a lot of self-centered parents who aren't doing what the rest of us are doing - hiring a baby sitter, not making assumptions about other people's time and responsibilities, parenting through annoying situations like tantrums and tired kids.

I have three young kids. After the first time taking them all out by myself, I had a pretty firm understanding of just how challenging it could be. If you're a parent getting continually caught needing to ask store employees or librarians to watch your kids, then you need to plan ahead better. If cops are wondering why your kids are in the car alone, maybe they've intuitively seen or know something about the situation that you don't. Cops have more important work to do. I'm not sure that badgering parents for the heck of it is high on their list of priorities.

Halushki writes...

Even when stranger abductions do happen, they usually happen very quietly and without a lot of notice.

Video has shown that young kids and even pre-teens are sort of "pre-programmed" to walk with a person who does something as simple as hold their hand. It's a sort of subliminal comfort signal to them.

And plenty of video has shown kids who supposedly "knew what to do", just walking out of the store with a stranger. Rare as it is, when it happens, it's not always a snatch and grab with a lot of fanfare. If someone is out to abduct a child, chances are they know how to "groom" the encounter so that the child won't recognize all or any of the warning signs. And neither will the store employee or librarian.

Again, I think people get hysterical about the possibilities of it happening. But kids need to really practice what to do in as many real life venues. Especially telling a kid to scream in a library when for five years they've been told to be quiet. I'd bet on Pavlov's dog.

JoAnna writes...

I bet that if the librarian had told the truth and said "Do you know how many times a day parents say I'll be right back but then take 10 or 15 minutes or go do their grocery shopping while their kids tear apart the room? Sorry, but I have a job to do. Ask another parent or hire a babysitter to run errands with you", she would have gotten chewed out worse.

Or how many times a police officer sees kids in hot cars and has to wonder "will mom be back in five seconds, five minutes, at all...well, let me wait around again and see."

Yes, people over react. But I'm also reading a lot of self-centered parents who aren't doing what the rest of us are doing - hiring a baby sitter, not making assumptions about other people's time and responsibilities, parenting through annoying situations like tantrums and tired kids.

I have three young kids. After the first time taking them all out by myself, I had a pretty firm understanding of just how challenging it could be. If you're a parent getting continually caught needing to ask store employees or librarians to watch your kids, then you need to plan ahead better. If cops are wondering why your kids are in the car alone, maybe they've intuitively seen or know something about the situation that you don't. Cops have more important work to do. I'm not sure that badgering parents for the heck of it is high on their list of priorities.

Kathleen writes...

People are so busy "protecting" their children from the big bad world they don't realize that they are actually hurting their children. Kids today are supervised by adults at home school and at play, they don't learn how to make decisions for themselves. Young people in their 20's are living at home with their parents in record numbers because they don't know how to function on their own. Parents need to relax and give themselves and their children permission to be on their own for a few minutes.

Kirsten writes...

Here in Portland my friend is an attorney who prosecutes child sex offenders and guess what? 90 percent of the time it is someone the child knows. And very often it is a "trusted" family member or parent. Some kids are never safe and probably be better off alone.

I would also like to point our it is much safer to put your kids in the car and then return your cart. Why would you walk kids through a busy parking lot when they could be sitting in a car. My experience is that my kids are much better behaved when I'm not hovering over them.

CJ writes...

I've read through most of the comments here and found them to be very thoughtful and thought provoking.

Perhaps the woman in the parking lot could have offered to return the mother's cart for her? We don't know all of the details of the situation, but if she was alone, without kids of her own and watched the whole thing go down, couldn't she offer to help?

Alone beyond the backyard and public places:
Soon after we moved in July, I learned that the headmaster of my daughter's school was arrested for possessing and disseminating child porn. Yes, you never know where pedophiles will show up and as parents we have to ask a lot of questions, but we simply can't know everything and have to extend a certain degree of trust. This is a very well-respected school and our interactions with the other staff were always positive. I met the headmaster only once but knew that he had 40 years of experience (imagine...). Nonetheless, my daughter attends a new school here in the small town where we moved. While she's not "alone," I'm not there and I have to trust (after doing some research on the school) that her teachers and the administrators are all on the level. Because it's a smaller school community, I've gotten to know the headmaster and his wife and children and feel comfortable with the situation. It's always a little scary to put your child in the care of someone else.

Elena Perez writes...

Everyone blithely tossing out the words, "You should hire a babysitter/parent's helper/nanny/etc." needs to check their economic privilege.

I am a single mom, recently separated, and barely getting by financially. In this recession, many are even worse off than I am. I cannot afford to hire a babysitter to watch my daughter, because that would mean we don't eat, or pay a utility bill.

Does this mean that our paranoid and judgmental society needs to team up to make my life even harder by insisting that I can't leave my daughter in the car within eyesight while I run up to drop off a library book, or grab our mail, or return a shopping cart?

I wish I had friends and neighbors I could leave her with while I ran a week's-worth of errands, but we are geographically isolated, and by the time I got her to someone's house I wouldn't be able to afford the gas to get things done and get back home.

Some have pointed to examples of children being stolen or harmed while their parents were within earshot or eyesight. What's your solution then, chain your child to your wrist until they're an adult?

I'm not willing to limit my daughter's life in the ways some commenters seem to be suggesting. She should be allowed to walk ahead of me down the block, or run off with a friend to the other side of the playground or other age-appropriate expressions of independence and self-reliance. It gives her the experiences that will allow her to make smart choices as a teen and a young adult.

Rebecca writes...

I have a 10 month old. I lean more toward the over-protective side, I constantly worry about her being kidnapped, hurt, etc. But I have to remind myself that my job is to prepare her for when she leaves the home after high school and doesn't have mom and dad watching over her.
I let her play in the living room while I do housework and she has received a couple bumps (she was an early walker). But I have also come to learn that the worst bumps she has gotten have been when I am within arm reach. I also remind myself that she has to have little falls to teach her that being careless hurts. If I am there to catch every little fall, she will get a false sense of security.
Fast forward 18 years, if I am constantly hovering over her, not giving her a little bit of independent time, she won't know how to handle herself when she goes to college, she won't have mom and dad there to be her "alarm" if a creepy guy offers her a ride to class. I believe the probablity of her getting hurt is going to be much higher if I don't give her at least a little independence while teaching her how to pay attention to her own "alarm" and what to do when that alarm goes off.

Crystal writes...

I am a single mom. I have a almost 3 yr old and 5 1/2 yr old. I do not have a choice but to leave my kids unattended at times. When i take a shower i throw a movie in and all doors and windows are locked and blinds are closed. Sometimes after loading the kids in the truck i realize i forgot to grab something so i run in quickly and grab it, I lock the doors and take my truck keys with me it takes me all of 30 far as returning carts i usually load the kids in the vehicle and my vehicle is always in my sight, if its not then i wind up being one of the annoying people that just leave my cart in the parking lot. At the store my youngest sits in the seat of the cart and my 5 yr old has to keep her hands on the cart. As parents we need to take into account the age of our children and their maturity to decide what situations warrant complete supervision, little supervison or no supervision. At the age of 11 i would walk 20 minutes home then 5 min to the elementary to pick up my sibiling then walk over an hr to our babysitters. Eventually i became the babysitter. I was responsible at age 11 for children 6,5, and 1 yrs younger than i. I did the chores, helped with homework and cooked the meals. I was also responsible for getting them around in the mornings. The world is a dangerous place but we cant protect our kids 24/7 all their lives. Maybe if parents were aloud to raise their kids without fear of getting in trbl for abuse if they spank or wash mouths out with soap then so many kids wouldnt be growing up spoiled rotten dangerous brats then we wouldnt have as much crime as we do to where we have to worry constantly about something dangerous happening.

Katie writes...

As a children's librarian, I felt I needed to comment on this one. Our policy states that any child under 9 must be accompanied at all times. As someone who has often been asked to watch children "just for a minute," I ALWAYS say no. The children's department may look quiet now, but any minute, a daycare of 13 children could walk in, or I could be called to another department to handle an issue. And if I'm busy doing my job, I can't guarantee that I can "watch" your child, along with whatever other children are left with me. For that child's safety, the parent MUST stay with them.

Ryan writes...

Why does everyone keep using the "eyesight" example, this is NOT what Lenore is suggesting, she is suggesting that you leave your kid, at 9, to travel far away from home and back using public transportation or dropping your kid at a park and leaving them there. There is a HUGE difference, so please, stop using the "eyesight" example.

I doubt anyone has a problem with "eyesight", I certainly don't. I do think it's irresponsible to let your 9 year old travel on the NYC subway alone.

I'm sure the counter argument is "and yet nothing happened".. and to that I say sure, this time and maybe 999 out of 1000 times or even 99999 out of 100000 times.

There are a ton of examples I can think of where just because something happened and was "ok" doesn't mean you should do it again or that it was responsible.

Linda writes...

About "stranger danger".

I am a preschool teacher, and invariably, every year when we talk about "strangers" and what to do, the kids have a preconceived notion, (probably put there by parents) that "strangers are bad people who take you".

That's a sad statement about our society, I believe.

Marie writes...

I agree with Kirsten. I would be more concerned about the children of the mother returning the shopping cart being struck by a car (if she took them with her rather than putting them safely inside the car) than I would about someone snatching them from the car in the minute or two or it takes to put the cart back.

Jessica writes...

I really appreciate the article. For those people who feel that it is "Sad" or "Progressive" for parents to have a need to rely on others (unpaid) for a very short time, do you understand the idea of community and the fact that humans need community in order to survive? Do you realize that parents are not perfect and cannot anticipate everything?

What is truly dangerous in my mind is for a person to expect parents and children to be perfect, quiet (not cry), well behaved, mindless slaves 100% of the time for the sake of his own enjoyment of the world. This mentality leads to everything from eating disorders, baby blues (Texas mom), depression, agoraphobia, obesity, a less safe society, etc. It is also the reason why there are many examples of people being stabbed, while an entire community of witnesses around them did nothing. ("I don't have to call 911 because somebody else probably already did), which many of us remember learning about in High school or college level Psychology classes.

Therefore, not only do I teach my children how to bike to the libraray in pairs (starting at ages 7 & 10), I teach them how to be aware of their surroundings, and how to appropriately offer help (if she is able) to anyone (adult or child) who may have a need. I could tell you tales of how my kids have calmed scared toddlers on the playground who lost mommy for a second and returned them to their mothers, just as other wonderful children returned them when they were that age, but that would probably make me seem self-righteous. But seriously, how does one learn how to be a helper?

Obviously, help is not always wanted and they (for the most part) have learned by other's reactions that if someone declines assistance to let it be. For us it this not just a religious calling ("when I was thirsty you gave me something to drink"), it is how we prefer to contribute and impact our society to a point (and yes it has it's limits).

If that is "Progressive", then I am happy to report that it makes us, and many people around us, happier and safer (which is what we all want, right?).

The "sad" thing to me is that setting aside seconds or minutes of time to help someone we do not know, tell a couple of kids to "knock it off", or listen to a child's cry even if the mother is right there, is thought of as a huge inconvenience in our current society - and it is always the parent's fault. - NOT IN MY BOOK!

JoAnna writes...

Finding a baby sitter or Mother's Helper to help you can be as easy as calling your local scouts, church group, homeschooling association, YMCA, etc. and saying "I'm in dire straits and need help twice a week in the form of a 10-12 year old kid to run errands with me and my young children." Some kids could use the volunteer hours or add you to their babysitting reference sheet. There is free help out there who will come to people, but you have to keep asking.

Every parent I know complains about the problem of having to drag kids along on every errand. I've put up signs at libraries, in school, on the Internet, started a once a week playgroup that turned into a babysitting group. None of us were well off, and most were struggling financially and could never afford a private babysitter.

Jess writes...

Brooke, if you know someone in the slave industry, you should turn them in, not ask about how long it would take them to steal someone's child.

Less tongue in cheek, kids should have some freedom, otherwise they will become nervous wrecks. Would I ever leave my kid by himself in the library to run upstairs? Heck no. But do I let him get himself into the car seat while I drop off the cart? Absolutely.

There's a "10 feet away" vs "I wouldn't even be able to hear if they called me" difference there that is, in my mind, a pretty important one.

Jon - a dad writes...

As a dad that has a job outside of the home, I have the utmost respect for the responsibility that a mother has, especially during these summer months.

I won't insult anyone here by casting judgment or even my opinion. What I do know is that parenting is a learning process and I learn every day from my friends, my parents, and most importantly, my 9 and 6 year old. Their behavior and their common sense drives how we care for them.

My best friend has a saying that although simple, I say to myself frequently if I witness parenting that may not be in line with how I parent. "Folks are folks" And most folks are good and they care. What we perceive as neglect, carelessness, and/or ignorance should not be confused with intent. No parent wants to see harm come to their children.

I'm in the camp of reserving judgment let alone verbalizing my thoughts to a parent if I witness something that I feel is wrong. Like others have commented, I choose to be a silent protector because in the end, folks are folks. Every parent in my book has 100% credibility and my respect until they truly show me other wise that they don't deserve it.

Great thoughts everyone!

Ryan writes...


I think you entirely missed my point. So you think it's "progressive" or even good to let your 9 year old child ride around on the subway totally unsupervised? You would do that? Seriuosly?

You are probably also the type of person who would yell at some adult for telling your kids to "knock it off".

The only person expecting their child to be "quiet" 100% of the time are parents who would rather not be bothered (aka "free range" kids' parents) who are so unconcerned with their child's safety that they let them ride around on the subway unattended.

I don't think ignoring your kids and wanting them around only when it suits you is "progressive". In fact, it's down right irresponsible.

But if that's how you choose to raise your children, all I can really do about it is deal with them when they are total brats or criminals when they grow up.

Ryan writes...

I think A LOT OF YOU didn't read ANYTHING about this woman. You agree with her and then say things like "but I wouldn't let them out of my sight" or "just down the block" or "right next door".

She's talking about free roaming (free range).

She let's her 9 year old son ride the subway alone in NYC! You would do that?

No one is seriously saying you should be on your child 24/7, that'd be insane. Again, the author is talking about FREE RANGE (aka unsupervised travel of far distances).

Louise writes...


This is the first generation of kids who are NOT allowed to do that kind of thing. My best friend's mother grew up in Jersey City, and as a young child she regularly rode the train alone into NYC to shop for the family. Back then, with no cell phones, no 911, etc, things were actually pretty dangerous. If you think things were cleaner, safer, or "better" in the "olden days," I highly recommend the book "The Good Old Days--They Were Terrible!"

When I was 6 (in 1972) I had a job. A farmer would drop dozens of eggs at our house and I would load them in a Radio Flyer and go door-to-door, delivering them to people in the neighborhood who had placed orders. I was 6 and I was alone, working. It was not considered a big deal!

Remember the squeaky clean TV show Leave it to Beaver? In one episode, called Train Trip, Wally and Beaver, who were probably about 8 and 6, took the train by themselves to visit Aunt Martha. That was 1958, and this was such a normal experience that there was a sitcom episode about it.

How did we get to the point where kids are not allowed to do things on their own? I assume it's all about the 24-hour news cycle. Parents are terrified because they hear every detail of every bad thing that happens in the world. This exaggerates the risk. If every car accident with an injury or fatality from around the world was reported on TV in detail day after day, I guarantee many, many people would stop taking their kids anywhere in a car.

Jon writes...

Anyone who thinks it's ok to leave your children and expect a stranger to just step in and help out if something should go wrong, should not be parents. Unfortunately, it doesn't take common sense to become pregnant, even though some of you think simply being a parent makes you an expert. The woman who wrote this article needs therapy and I feel sorry for kids who have to grow up with a mother like that, if they even make it past 5. It's not fear, it's called being responsible. I'm ashamed of PBS for sponsoring this ridiculous tripe.

Johanna writes...

If you do it one way you are wrong and if you do it the other you wrong. People are far to intolerant. I say to each his own. Almost every time I fill up I leave my kids in the car to pay for gas or grab soda. I let my son ride his bike around the neighborhood. But, just today I decided to bring all three boys (and one in my belly) into the gas station to let them pick out a treat. I got two of them their slurpees and had them hold it themselves while I held a rambunctious 1 year old by the hand while trying to get myself a drink. It proved to much for my 4 year old and he dropped his slurpee on the ground. It splashed onto a gals shoes and she gave me the look of death. I apologized and went through the process of getting it cleaned up, getting my child another slurpee and getting my drink. all the while listening to the girl make derogatory comments like, "you should be the adult and hold the slurpee's for them", and "Its not like I didn't have any where to go, now I'm a mess" I would have made the girl in the gas station happier if I just left them in the car, but would have gotten yelled at by a grandma in the parking lot for leaving them in the car!?! Just leave me alone and let me parent the way I want and with the Lords help maybe we'll all make it through this life in one piece!

Kristi writes...

What I am going to say may have already been said and if not, may offend some. The 3 yr. old should never have been left in the library. From what the author said, it seems as though she believes "BAD PEOPLE" are obvious about their crimes. NO, they are very friendly and know every trick in the book to lure children. Some examples.... (do I really need to go here?) candy, "your mommy told me to come get you", "I have a dog in the car, you want to see him?" How important would that book have really been had the mom come back to find her child was gone? The mom with the autistic child enjoyed giving her daughter freedom and coming back with a smile on her face because her mom let her go. What if the daughter had not returned? How would the mom have felt then? I agree that there are times like in the locked car while you return a shopping cart or pay for gas as long as you can still see them. But the minute they are out of your site (in public)they are vulnerable and can not defend themselves against danger. I do agree with one post that said age is also a factor. Had it been a ten year old alone in the library, that would have been a different story. We have to use better judgement. We are the parents and our kids will do anything WE let them do. They will not say "oh no mommy, I better go with you because it is not safe for me to be here alone." It seems there are some that have gotten the roles reversed. One minute or one hour, when it comes to OUR children, in the times we live in, we better buck up and make wiser choices. It is not a possession that can just be replaced. And remember, the day will come when we will have to answer to God for how we have parented the precious children that He has given us.

Gloria writes...

I have three under three that were all premature and I know how it feels to almost loose a child I can't imagine the pain of not seeing them again or having one of them be hurt becuase of my lack of responsability. It only takes one sec for you to turn your back and have them gone. Call me over protective but you won't see me in the news looking for my kid thell be safe without anyone hurting them next to me. There not just items you can buy. Come on even my three year old has better sense then that she will tell you when a parents left there kid in danger

sylvie writes...

I am sick of parents with small children who bring them to stores and libraries and the like and expect complete strangers to watch them. They let these kids grab and rummmage.Playgrounds are even worse because parents get on cell phones and chat with other parents and pay no attention to the kids and I haVE had to watch and guilt other parents into watching their toddlers when the equip[ment is too challanging and even when they get hurt. TV and cellphones and too many people taking your advice. If you want free range buy a house in the country don't engage the public to watch your child

james writes...

Muddling Along Mummy...

Really... here's the article.

Yes, we need to give our kids room to breathe and explore, along with their age and level of maturity.

We also need to be sensible parents. It's not only about abducters and pedophiles lurking around the corner. It's also about making sure our kids aren't putting themselves in danger or annoying and inconveniencing others.

We can't start to neglect our kids, just because we're too busy checking twitter on our smart phones or just plain lazy.

I my kids are being supervised and yours aren't. Guess whose are more vulnerable. My kids' odds just got a whole lot better than yours.

Jemma writes...

I have not read ALL the comments, but enough. I watch my 8 yo boy like a hawk. I also "watch" other peoples kids (strangers to me) when they are "left" for a moment (like the Ikea/Library story) and I have NEVER approached the mother/father/whoever about their "neglect" when they came back around. I just consider it part of being a good person to make sure children are Ok. Like so many others have said, one person cannot be in 2 places and a few moments is no big deal. Also, if adult doesn't come back I am aware and can call authorities. People also abandon their kids regularly but that doesn't get as much press as an abduction. In the case of the 2 yo being left in the pool, I would say something to whoever manages the pool and/or call the police next time, that IS neglect.

Lately I have noticed my son's need for some independence so I do give him some space to go to the next aisle etc and he knows our "code" and to yell and scream etc if approached by some creep. He is also benefiting from the freedom and getting out of his shell more. I am sad my baby is growing up but will be sadder if he is 30 and still needs mommy to look out for him!

Lastly, if someone did have the nerve to berate me for leaving my son alone at the lunch table while I get the food, or go to the adult room for a book, or put the cart away they will be in for a shock cuz I YELL BACK! AND I cuss like a sailor too. So all you 'do gooders' be careful who you approach to repremand!

Liz Henry writes...

As far as I'm concerned, you're definitely preaching to the choir. I do not watch my child like a hawk and I let her go to the bathroom by herself at the grocery store and I go to the fiction section in the library while she browses through the children's books. No one has to watch out for my daughter, she is well-behaved and polite. My daughter needs her space just as much as I do. I *gasp* let her outside without me. She's earned that space by a gradual process that started at six. Now, she's almost 8 and I'm confident in our balance. I worry less about what might happen or what might be said and more what's right for us, right now.

Cynthia S. writes...

That sounds just wonderful--if you have a time machine that can transport your kids back to the relative safety of the '50s! Look, we would all like to not have take so many extra precautions with our children, but who wants to be the next anguished parent on the 6 o'clock news trying to explain, "But I just left little Johnny for a moment!"

And as for the parent who stated that she allows her 2 yr old to play unsupervised in the backyard, remember that predators don't always walk on two legs. A neighbor's "friendly" pit bull, a poisonous snake hiding under the brush, or any rabid animal are all very real dangers. Most parents would probably agree that 2 is too young to be trusted to his or her own devices.

Also, we seem to recall our own childhoods as danger-free. I'm only in my 30's, but the U.S. population has increased by over 80 million since I was a kindergartener. That's 80 million more people I don't know. This means more predators, more careless people, more drug pushers, more opportunities for danger. As the parents of three young, school-aged children, my husband and I view protection of our kids as one of our primary responsibilities. They are too precious to us to intentionally leave their safety up to chance.

Maddy writes...

you are the reason that people are afraid to speak to people. A well meaning person tells you something and you scream and cuss at them. Well, next time, you may miss out on vital information that affects your child's safety.

We want community and independence at the same time. We want people to watch our children when we want it and to stop watching them the minute we think it is enough. They are supposed to read our minds to know exactly what we want when we want it, and if they don't know, then they get cussed out. Jemma, you are the reason that people have witnessed what later turned out to abductions or even abuse and said nothing at the time, fearing repurcussions, a scene, even violence. Jemma, you expect grownups who are with your children when you are not there to make sure they are safe. But if they make a mistake, you reserve the right to abuse them. Perhaps you should wear a sign, Don't tell me anything about my kids or else!

if you were in Russia or Syria or China, you would be used to strangers especially older women telling you, button his sweater, it's cold, or cut his hair, don't scold him like that. You would take it in good part.

Paula writes...

Thanks! I really needed that! A little genuine concern and watchfulness is OK, but it is getting ridiculous! And people really do feel as if they have the right to verbally abuse and berate you in front of the children. This is not conducive and just hurts parents who are doing their best in this crazy old world. All the horrors on the evening news are making everyone totally paranoid. You just cannot live your life in horror and fear of the unknown. Sure, the librarian could be firebombed. But how likely is that really? Being watchful and letting them play and explore their world is much more conducive to a healthy child than paranoia and fear.

Alex writes...

You have to have a balance. We let out 6 year old son play out front with the other kids in the neighborhood and don't watch him every sinlge second. On the other hand, when we're outside our comfort zone; traveling, etc, I am very careful about leaving him alone.

Lovern writes...

Even when my now 9yr old daughter was younger, I was guilty of running in and out but leaving her in the car. I would park the car in clear view to where I was going and get in there and get out just as fast.
Now I gage it on whether/not she tells me if she wants to come in with me and if the answer is NO, I ask myself if it's safe enough then go from there...

Heather writes...

I am a mother of four. Two of my kids are autistic, one is a sensory child, and one is w/o disablities. I vary rarely leave them alone and for various reasons. While the world may not be safe/trustworthy I know my children require certain limitations. I will not leave my children alone in public because they have no fear of danger, traffic or strangers. For my autistic children (one doesn't speak) and the other thrives off attention, you are just another person (they would understand if you were a threat or not). My husband works 6 days a week leaving me to do groceries and errands alone with the kids. So when I go shopping I never park close to the store I always park next to the buggy return. When I'm finished shopping and the kids are buckled in their carseats, with groceries loaded; depending on weather (I crack the windows for summer) lock the doors (thanks to electric keychains)explain what I'm doing and walk the few steps to return my cart. However, When we go out to eat at a buffet style setting I would never walk away from my kids. Two of them have sensory issues with food and cram their mouth which can cause them to choke. But as a parent we make decisions for our children based on our own judgement, which in return reflects ourself as a parent. An although my situation is very unusual than most I want my children and parenting to be represented as thoughtful and responsible because my children are my life and their will come a time when I can't leave them alone so for now I say don't leave them alone whether it's a safety issue or a personal issue.

dont wanna say my real name "OREO" writes...

Well i say its alright to leave your child unattended for as long as going upstairs or putting a cart back when i was a kid my mom used to always leave me in the car alone when she went in the store (my dad didn't though.)Nothing bad ever happened to me.I was actually was a very lucky child in my life but it was just once in my life that i got lost in an amusement park (Its happens to almost every body right?) I'm making moo noises right now and so is my 2 year old son its funny you should be here.

Patrick writes...

The most dangerous thing you can do to a child is put them in a car and drive somewhere. Statistically the chances of someone stealing your child is a miniscule of the chances of them being seriously hurt in a car accident. As Lenore said, it's about probabilities.

Mosher writes...

I don't spend my life worrying about my kids, but I would never leave them unattended in a library, car, car park, park or any other place for that matter. That is just plain neglect.

" if predators are prowling behind every plate of Swedish meatballs...". Predators are predators for exactly that reason. Whilst the chances of a child being snatched are small, nevertheless, there is still a chance, and THAT is precisely what predators do - wait for opportunities. You don't have to be paranoid or constantly worrying about your children to be responsible about their safety. Wise up for goodness sake - there are VERY bad people in the world - don't make their job any easier.

I don't leave my appliances plugged in overnight, and I always double check that candles are well extinguished before I go to bed. None of that makes me paranoid, nor does it leave me feeling worried or nervous - it just makes me aware. Talk to the police or fire services and see what their opinion is. How many times have you read a newspaper report where the parents of a snatched child, or a child involved in an accident said "I just turned my back for 5 minutes". That's life - don't be a victim, especially if you can help it!

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