Soapbox: Hot Cars and Free-Range Parenting

6 years ago
Free range peter the roosterMaking Choices

On one weekend morning last winter while getting ready to head out for errand running and romping at an indoor playground, Darling 1 insisted on wearing blue and green sweat pants, a blue turtle neck, a colorful short-sleeve t-shirt and a navy, green and purple v-neck sweater. He certainly didn't match, but he chose the items and put them on himself.

I was proud of him. DH was concerned. He didn't want him to wear the mismatched outfit out in public. I said it didn't matter; drop it. He didn't. I said it's clear he dressed himself, the clothes are clean and not worn out and who cares what anyone thinks. He rolled his eyes; he let out a big, "I know I won't win this battle" sigh; and he dropped it, letting Darling 1 go out in his colorful get-up. It was fine. No one laughed. No one noticed. No one cared.

This actually happens frequently. Sometimes he's mismatched; sometimes he's in costume; sometimes he's wearing his clothing backwards. I let it go. It's fine. This is a way he is asserting himself and taking control of his life and expressing himself. And it's one less thing I have to do when frantically, scurrying around to get us out the door {and yes, I'm always frantically scurrying from room to room, and frequently barking orders, when getting ready}.

If my kids can assert themselves in various ways that harms no one and doesn't put them at risk of injury or death, I'm all for it. I let them see how far they can go and how much they can do, as long as it's safe. Safety is the operative word here.

Not a Free-Range Parent

I'm not a free-range parent though. I hold my kids' hands in parking lots. I stand near enough to spot them should they fall from the towering playground equipment they love to scramble up on. I keep a constant visual on them at the crowded indoor play areas. They don't play in the front yard unattended. Clearly, not a free-range parent, but I'm also not a helicopter parent either.

The term free-range parenting basically means hands-off parenting; allowing your kids to do things on their own at a young age that others may or may not agree with. On the other hand, helicopter parenting is an extremely hands-on parenting style; never allowing your kids the freedom to make choices of their own, being right there to handle any problem or difficulty. I fall somewhere in the middle. For me, it depends on the situation and the location and how my kids feel about the situation and the location.

Children Unattended in Vehicles; OK or Not?

You may recall that in June of 2010, I wrote an article on the dangers of leaving kids unattended in vehicles and I reposted that article at the beginning of this summer too. Every year children die of hyperthermia after being left (intentionally and unintentionally) in vehicles or playing in vehicles. Within a matter of minutes a vehicle can become a big metal oven even when the temperatures aren't that high. Hypothermia can also be a concern in the winter.

This week I happened upon an article written by the queen of free-range parenting, Lenore Skenazy, entitled "Yes, You Can Leave Your Kids in the Car for a Few Minutes." This article was originally published August of 2010.

Lenore argues that parents should be able to leave their kids in the car while running quick errands. She states that people shouldn't call the police if they see a child left unattended in a vehicle. Lenore even goes as far as saying leaving a child in a vehicle all day is different from running a quick errand and running back to the car where your child is waiting.

I was saddened to read this article. I completely disagree with her. It's not OK. No, not even for a minute. How many times have you run an errand that should have taken only a few minutes and it turned into 15 to 20 minutes? Or how many times have you run into a store to get one item and then gotten distracted when you see a friend or neighbor and stop for a chat, then return to shopping and again spending at least 20 to 30 minutes inside? It happens.

Hot Cars

And, no, Lenore, leaving a child all day is not different from leaving a child unattended for a few minutes. In just 10 minutes the temperature in a car rises 19 degrees on average; in 20 minutes the temperature rises 29 degrees on average. So, on a mild 70 degree day, the inside of a vehicle could be 89 degrees in 10 minutes and 99 degree in 20 minutes. Think about a hot day, a 90 degree day; in 10 minutes it's 109 degrees; in 20 minutes it's a 119 degrees in the vehicle. It doesn't take leaving a child in a vehicle all day for it to become a life and death situation; it takes a matter of minutes.

Being a hands-off, carefree parent may seem less intrusive for the parents and the kids, better for preparing kids for the "real world" and cool, but being a negligent, uneducated parent can endanger your child's health and life; and perhaps others too.

So, maybe it will take you only 3 to 5 minutes to go in and pick up a prescription or buy a gallon of milk or drop off a payment, etc. But why even take a risk with your child's health; with your child's life? There is no point at all in taking such a risk. You can take a risk that the ice cream you just bought might melt or that your hot coffee might get cold or that a balloon might escape out a window or flowers might wilt when you leave them in the car while running an errand, but DO NOT RISK YOUR CHILD'S LIFE. PERIOD. THAT'S NOT OK.

Fast Facts:

  • A Child's thermoregulatory system is not as efficient as an adults and warms 3 to 5 times faster;
  • A core body temperature of 107 is lethal; cells are damaged and internal organs shut down;
  • Heatstroke (or hyperthermia) occurs when a person's temperature exceeds 104 degrees and the body's thermoregulatory mechanism becomes overwhelmed; and
  • 19 states have laws regarding leaving a child unattended in a vehicle (see updated post).

Source: Department of Geosciences, San Francisco State University

The Scoop

Have fun. Be relaxed. Be careful. Be smart. Never leave your child unattended in a vehicle; not even for a minute. Best intentions are not good enough when it comes to your child's life. At least 25 children have died so far in 2011 after being left in vehicles. In 2010, 49 children died; from 1998 to September 2011, 519 children died. These are preventable deaths.

A free-range egg? Sure. A free-range parent? Not so much. Over and out...


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