So, how old IS old enough to leave a child unattended in the car? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 45 Old 10-03-2008, 05:06 PM - Thread Starter
 
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The answer isn't "NEVER," because eventually a child becomes old enough drive and sit in the car unattended all day....but when is it reasonable?

We were on a road trip last weekend, and I was putting gas in my car, with my 6-year-old SD in the back seat, and my partner had run in to get a drink.

I didn't go into the gas station store to use the bathroom until my partner got back...and in 2008 it never would have occurred to me to leave a 6-year-old alone in a car for those two minutes. But my parents left me alone in the car (with the engine running!) with my younger sister (preschool age), plenty when I was that age, when they ran in to pick up dry cleaning or sell a coat at the resale shop. The world isn't appreciably more dangerous these days, at least from a stranger abduction standpoint...so...why is it such a horrible idea these days? And how old is old enough? Why is sitting in a car necessarily different from, say, playing on the porch?

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#2 of 45 Old 10-03-2008, 05:10 PM
 
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I don't think it is an age thing so much as a maturity thing. When they understand how to take care of themselves if a stranger approaches the car, not to mess around with the controls, and how to take care of themselves if they get too hot or cold. So for some kids, maybe 8, some maybe 12.
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#3 of 45 Old 10-03-2008, 05:11 PM
 
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I just started leaving mine in the car at 8 and 9 for quick errands. If I'm running into a store to grab milk I'll leave them there, by the window where I can see them, with the doors locked. But they're together. I probably wouldn't leave just one in there for another year or two. And I wake them if they're sleeping. I wouldn't leave a sleeping child of any age.

Truthfully, I'm not worried about them being intentionally abducted or playing with the parking brake or anything like that. My big worry is someone trying to steal the car with them inside.

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#4 of 45 Old 10-03-2008, 05:16 PM
 
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I think there are two factors...

1). Safety and
2). The child

Safety...not necissarily other people but the car itself. Obvious heat reason here. Not as bid a deal for an older child I would assume. Roll down the window, have a sports bottle full of water for them, etc And I wouldnt expect a small child who has no impluse control yet (heck, I know some adults that struggle with that one still! lol) to understand something like that.

But...the child. Not sure I would leave a child alone in a car. It doesnt take much for them to release the handbrake for example.

So the answer isnt going to be one clear age for all children. Take all children into account individually I guess. It was when I was in my teens I was left in the car. It was the option...come in and doing boring shopping/picking up stuff with me or stay in the car with your book/magazine/toy, etc.

We shall see when we get there...but personally, I do not think it is something I would consider until the child is no longer in a car seat and if law serves me right...that wont happen until DS is roughtly 11 years old.

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#5 of 45 Old 10-03-2008, 05:26 PM
 
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depends on where you live. In CA it is AGAINST the law to leave a child under the age of 12. 4rkidssake.org/

Cristina - "If you find it in your heart to care for somebody else, you will have succeeded." Maya Angelou
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#6 of 45 Old 10-03-2008, 06:36 PM
 
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i agree..you look at the law, the situation and the child.
Here, we have no law which states a specific age.
Personally, we would leave a kid around 10 for something small, running some books up to the book drop, running in to pay for gas, etc.
Probably closer to 12 for anything longer.

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#7 of 45 Old 10-03-2008, 08:40 PM
 
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I would say when they're old enough to take care of themselves, but not old enough to drive off in the car.
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#8 of 45 Old 10-04-2008, 09:55 AM
 
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like pp's i agree that it's more of a decision to be made on maturity and circumstances. my babe is only 5 months old...but from working with kids I would say maybe 8 or 9.

in our area, i don't think i would leave my child younger than that. if we were in good friend/family's driveway, I might leave them for a moment (like, forgot my bag and know exactly where it is) at age 2? 3? I'm actually thinking specifically of my aunt's house which is in the boonies of NY State.

I'm not sure if I'd do that at my mom's house.

so yeah, circumstantial.

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#9 of 45 Old 10-04-2008, 10:06 AM
 
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It really depends. I will leave my 8 & 10 year old in the car for a quick stop (i.e. picking up dry cleaning) as long as I can see the car from inside.

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#10 of 45 Old 10-04-2008, 11:26 AM
 
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a mom who took my dd who is 5 on a playdate w/ her dd's who are 6 and 2 apparently left them all in the minivan while she went into the grocery store! when my dd told me this i about hit the roof. NOT COOL. and it was hot out (summertime) so either the windows were down or the a/c was on and car obviously running...
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#11 of 45 Old 10-04-2008, 11:47 AM
 
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I think I was left at 8 and left with my little brother around 10 (he was 5). About 2 years later I'd be given the choice to stay in the car for full grocery trips if I was willing to watch him too. If Lina's like me, and the state we're living in allows it, I think that 8's quite reasonable.
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#12 of 45 Old 10-04-2008, 11:56 AM
 
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I have left my 9 yo in the car, but didn't start until she was 8. Never more than 5 minutes. She's a very play by the rules kid. She stays seat belted in the back seat and reads a book. I don't do it often. I'm not usually in a situation where I'd need to. When I get gas, I pay at the pump. It usually happens when I pick her sister up from preschool.

I remember playing in my parents car when I was 5. I burnt myself on the car lighter. So, I've always been cautious about leaving them.

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#13 of 45 Old 10-04-2008, 12:02 PM
 
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At a gas station, probably not for a long time, at least not for anything more than to run in to pay w/ the car doors locked and everyone buckled into their seats. Many cars are stolen from gas stations, there was one here a few years back that had a little girl in the car! I LOVE my check card and always use it for gas so I don't have to go in.

I do leave the kids for a minute or 2 (generally in their seats and in a locked car) while I run into the apartment if I have forgotten something. We live on the bottom floor right by the front door to the building. I have several sets of keys so I can leave the car running if needed. I'm o.k. w/ this as we live a ways off a major road etc. There are parts of town where I would feel more comfortable leaving them as well, there's a lot of factors, but if we're talking going into a grocery store where I wouldn't be able to see them etc, it's illegal here before age 7. You can get ticketed, my friend's DH did, but thankfully all the charges were dropped b/c of the situation.

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#14 of 45 Old 10-04-2008, 12:15 PM
 
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My biggest fear in leaving kids in the car is not safety of the situation itself, but worrying more about some random stranger freaking out about it and calling the police. I think each situation is different...i would be more comfortable, for example, leaving an infant sleeping in his carseat, strapped into my locked car (not in the heat of summer of course) while i ran in to pay for gas for two minutes, than i would a toddler/preschooler who has a lack of impulse control and may get out of his seat and play with the car. My son was a pretty hyper/active kid when he was little (the kind that would leave the house when i was in the shower, or climb up onto the tv or into the fridge, etc) but he NEVER EVER tried to get out of his childseat.

Where i live, cars are not stolen from gas stations(ever)....there is ZERO risk to a child left in a car while mom runs into 7-11 and grabs a soda. Ok, yes, maybe there could be a freak accident and the car explodes or a crazed maniac chooses that particular car to take a baseball bat to or something. But i cant live my life in the "one percent" yknow?

But, these threads come up alot on this forum, and i dont think there can really be any kind of consensus about what is "ok"...i think you really need to look at what you are comfortable with and what is safe for your particular area. To me, it doesnt make any sense to unbuckle my child and run into the atm or something, when i could literally be in and back in the amount of time it would take me to unbuckle the baby, but thats me.


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#15 of 45 Old 10-04-2008, 12:21 PM
 
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Well, we do it now. Our older kids are 3 and 4.

Often, we will get the kids ready to go first when we're heading out somewhere. We'll buckle them into the car in the driveway. We leave the doors open. Give them a snack and a stack of books. Then DH and I will get ready ourselves and pack the car. The front door of the house is open too so at least one of us can hear them, and we're running in and out with stuff to put in the car.

We've also had one child in the car waiting in the driveway for up to ten minutes while another child was wrangled into getting ready to go. This happened a lot at the grandparents, and in that case doors (to house and car) were closed.

I think the next step from this will be errands where DH is within twenty feet of the car and can see the kids... like stopping at a bank machine or picking something up at a strip mall (I don't drive). Right now, the kids want to go in with him. We wouldn't consider it until they want to stay in the car which I don't think will be for at least a couple of years.

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#16 of 45 Old 10-04-2008, 12:24 PM
 
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I don't know what is right for any individual family here...so it is not like I have some sense of right & wrong for any of the other posters. They need to do what they feel is right for their kids.

For me though, there is no child of any age I would leave alone. It's not that I wouldn't trust them, and it's not that I think the world is more dangerous...I just cannot leave them on the chance that something would happen and then I had left them for my own convenience. It's just not worth it to me. They are so precious to me that I would rather inconvenience myself and know that they are with me.

I even like my adult daughter (20) to come in with me! And obviously she's had her license for years now.

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#17 of 45 Old 10-04-2008, 12:38 PM
 
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I am comfortable running in to the gas station and leaving my kids in the car. I have also run into our small health food store with my kids in the car with it parked out front where I could see it.

I don't do it when it's hot outside (unless we're talking about running in to pay at the gas station). And I'm not worried about things like the kids releasing the brake because anyone stupid enough to do that would be buckled into a car seat.

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#18 of 45 Old 10-04-2008, 12:38 PM
 
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I'm a long time from this decision but my impulse was if the child is old enough to be left at home alone, then they should be ok to be left in a car for xx time. I was a latch-key kid in the 70s and I walked home from the bus stop and let myself into our townhouse in the 2nd grade, so what's that, 8?
Nowadays, I agree with the above posters that busybodies and state laws might contribute to some anxiety of leaving kids that even LOOK young.
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#19 of 45 Old 10-04-2008, 01:14 PM
 
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I can't see a reason for a child to be in a car unattended. There's always going to be some better, safer alternative.

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#20 of 45 Old 10-04-2008, 01:17 PM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mama in the forest View Post
For me though, there is no child of any age I would leave alone. It's not that I wouldn't trust them, and it's not that I think the world is more dangerous...I just cannot leave them on the chance that something would happen and then I had left them for my own convenience. It's just not worth it to me. They are so precious to me that I would rather inconvenience myself and know that they are with me.
Darn right.

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#21 of 45 Old 10-04-2008, 01:38 PM
 
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I don't understand, never? You have to eventually allow your child to learn to drive, they will be without you when that happens. They can't sit in the car alone before they are sent to navigate the world by themselves? Weird.
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#22 of 45 Old 10-04-2008, 01:42 PM
 
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i do it occaisionally with my 7 and 7.5 year old kids. my DSS age 6 always wants to go where i am going so i dont leave him and the other two are more mature and less likely to try and do something dangerous. also i only leave them if my errand will be 5 minutes or less and if it is in an area i feel is "safe" and if the weather permits and the kids are ok with it. i honestly do not think it is the end of the world to leave your child in the car occaisionally, obviously it is crazy to leave an infant or to leave kids in the car with the keys in the ignition or to leave kids in the car in warm or cold weather but i dont think its a hard and fast never.

to pp who mentioned kiddo being in a car seat until age 11, is this the law where you live or just a personal safety preference? just curious as here in MN the law is age 4 or under must be in a car seat, otherwise, legally a seatbelt is fine.
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#23 of 45 Old 10-04-2008, 01:52 PM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mama in the forest View Post
For me though, there is no child of any age I would leave alone.
Did you really mean to write this?

Since you mentioned your adult dd, i assume you are including even older kids and teens in the term "child"...

Are your kids alone, ever? In the car, on the way to school, at home for a few minutes while you run an errand?

Obviously you should make whatever choices are comfortable for you and your family...but this is so strange to me. My 11 yr old routinely rides his bike around our city, in a couple mile radius (i like to give him my cell phone just in case he needs any help)...lots of kids walk to and from school...

I understand not leaving an infant alone in a car, esp with what could happen if someone reports you, but i get the sense from reading this thread that some people wouldnt even let their ten yr old sit in the car while they run and pay for gas...unless you live in an area where carjacking happens on a regular basis, i dont get this. Yes, "something" could happen, but "something" can happen no matter WHERE you are. Like i said, to each her own, but its strange to me. (and obviously, if the child isnt comfortable sitting in the car for two minutes, and WANTS to come in, thats a different story.)


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#24 of 45 Old 10-04-2008, 02:12 PM
 
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I bring my daughter in to pay for gas, but I don't bring her in to run to the video drop slot in the vestibule of the video rental store because I can see her the whole time and she's fine there. It depends on the circumstances. Also, I live in a quiet, small town with a very low crime rate. If I lived somewhere else that would influence it as well.
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#25 of 45 Old 10-04-2008, 02:13 PM
 
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Sometimes I leave my sleeping daughter in the car when I run in to check the mail. I live in a very small town where a car jacking has never occurred and I can see my car from the window. It just doesn't make any sense to me me to take her out when I can be in and out in less time than it would take get her out of the car. And yeah my biggest fear is someone freaking out, I've seen it happen to other people in my post office.

BTW, the way I read the California law is that "a child who is 6 years of age or younger" can be left alone without a child over the age 12 (1) Where there are conditions that present a significant risk to the child's health or safety. (2) When the vehicle’s engine is running or the vehicle's keys are in the ignition, or both.
I don't see what I do as presenting a significant risk to my dd's health or safety otherwise I would not do it! Not because of the law but because I would never expose my daughter to unnecessary risk. I'm sure that I'll get flamed for even writing this but it is how I feel.
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#26 of 45 Old 10-04-2008, 03:28 PM
 
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Did you really mean to write this?
Yes, I did.

Quote:
Since you mentioned your adult dd, i assume you are including even older kids and teens in the term "child"...

By child I meant any child of mine who is young enough not to have their drivers license. When my daughter decided to get her drivers license she was 16. She practiced a lot, and she always practiced with another adult in the car with her. Once she got her license she obviously drove alone all the time. Honestly, I still felt a little weird about it. My child old enough to be out on her own. I would never restrict her....it was just me feeling that way.

Quote:
Are your kids alone, ever? In the car, on the way to school, at home for a few minutes while you run an errand?

No, they're not. They are never alone in the car while I run in somewhere. I can't think of a reason to leave them alone in the car. They are wonderful kids and they love to come in with me whatever we're doing. I can't imagine how I would feel if I left them in the car just for a moment, and during that moment something happened that could have been avoided by my presence.

My kids don't go to school. I unschool them and so they do not have to do that. They are free to do what they want and make their own choices.

No, they are also not home alone while I leave to go drive somewhere. Why would I need to do that? If I need to do something alone I find someone who loves them to watch them while I'm gone.

Quote:
My 11 yr old routinely rides his bike around our city, in a couple mile radius (i like to give him my cell phone just in case he needs any help)...lots of kids walk to and from school...

My kids also ride their bikes & electric scooters around our farm. We live rurally so we have lots of acres for them to do this. This is a different situation to me than leaving them alone in the car in the city. We are home, I am home, I am right there should anything happen...and I know every adult around us.

Quote:
but this is so strange to me

I can't see why this would be strange to you. I frankly think it's strange to lack the instinct to keep your kids with you when you're in a city, surrounded by people you do not know.

Quote:
Yes, "something" could happen, but "something" can happen no matter WHERE you are.
Yes, something could happen wherever you are. I guarantee you though, that if something does happen, I will be right there to take care of the kids and help the situation if I can.

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#27 of 45 Old 10-04-2008, 03:39 PM
 
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I don't understand, never?
Maybe I can help you understand.

My instincts tell me to take my kids in with me when we're out driving around in the city in our vehicle. I always follow my instncts. It doesn't make sense to leave them alone in the car. Why would I? So things would be more convenient? I don't need things to be more convenient.

Quote:
You have to eventually allow your child to learn to drive, they will be without you when that happens
My kids make their own decisions about learning to drive. I've only had one kid old enough to do this, and it worked out such that she wanted to practice with me. I was also there when she took the test because she wanted that. After she got her license obviously she drove alone whenever she wanted. I don't see what this has to do with leaving kids alone in the car?

Quote:
They can't sit in the car alone before they are sent to navigate the world by themselves?
I do not see what sitting in the car alone has to do with navigating the world by themselves? As I mentioned in my previous post, my children are unschooled and so they live every moment of their lives in the real world. They are not in the classroom all day long, they are out living. They are learning to navigate the world with hands on experience. They learn MORE by coming in with me...to the gas station while we count out the money to pay...to the video store while we shop and discuss movies and things....to whatever errand or thing I am doing..they learn more by coming with me than they would by sitting in the car alone. And, they are safer.
Quote:

Weird.
Thanks. Maybe I am weird. You're certainly not the first person to think it and you won't be the last. I follow my instincts with my kids and that's that.

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#28 of 45 Old 10-04-2008, 05:27 PM
 
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By driving, they are literally navigating the world alone. If they are not safe at 15.5 sitting in the parking lot alone, how are they safe at 16 driving alone? That was my point.
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#29 of 45 Old 10-04-2008, 05:38 PM
 
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Maybe they're not safe. I don't know. Safe is arbitrary. We're all driving around in large metal machines trying to be as careful and safe as we can.

Are you being as careful and as safe as you can be when you leave little ones in the car alone?

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#30 of 45 Old 10-04-2008, 06:54 PM
 
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I have found lately that ds loves freedom in small doses. He finds an awesome amount of pride in it. Children need to be alone at some point. To explore on their own for one. They love to know that they are being trusted. So I think range and amount of time should depend on maturity level. Right now I would leave ds while I dropped movies or something that was within sight. Although I don't think I'd do a whole shopping trip for several years.

Homeschooling mom of two plus baby R born December 16 love.gif
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