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I posted this a little while ago:
And sometimes I forget that not everyone can read my mind. The people who really know me, if I said this in conversation, would know that I meant “Turn off the car! Lock the doors! Take your keys with you!”
But instead, between twitter and facebook, the comments ranged from “I would call the police if I saw that!” to “You’ve all been trained to be afraid of your own shadows. Leaving a four-year-old in a running, unlocked car is fine.” Not actual quotes, mind you. Just summaries.
A woman went into a gas station early in the morning to get coffee. She left her four-year-old son in her running, unlocked car. Getting kids in and out of cars is a pain in the ass. It might be the number one reason that I’m glad my kids are older. So I probably would have done the same thing if I were running in somewhere quickly, not going far from the car.
But there would have been some major differences: 1) I would be getting Diet Dr Pepper, not coffee; 2) I would turn off the car and lock the doors; 3) I would take the keys with me. And based on the comments, many people I know would have called the cops on me anyway, or at least waited by my car to give me a good talking to.
While I was talking about the stupidity of leaving a kid in a running car because the car could be stolen (with the kid in it), most people seemed to immediately jump to a child abduction scenario, in which it would never be OK to leave the child in the car, running or not. They assume that the child is the prize, not the car.
And therein lies the problem.
Child abductions are ridiculously rare. Small consolation if your child is one of the hundred or so abducted each year, but in a country with about 75 million kids, this is not a realistic thing to worry about too much.
But wait, you say, didn’t I read somewhere that a child goes missing every 40 seconds?
Yes, you probably did. That one statistic is probably the most repeated one whenever this topic comes up.
Here’s the problem: almost all of those are not “stranger abductions,” the stereotypical snatched-from-a-corner nightmares that get so much attention on TV and the internet. Nope, almost all of those kids are taken by a parent (often one who doesn’t have custody), or someone known to the family, or are kids who leave on their own, or hoaxes, or mistakes.
But still, that’s where our minds go.
When it was time for our kids to walk places on their own, we spent about ten minutes on the possibility of abduction: don’t talk to anyone your parents don’t know, don’t go near cars or vans, if you need help find someone with kids, scream, kick, windmill your arms, bite, go for the eyes or the groin, run, scream some more, etc. Because I want them to be prepared, even for the unlikely.
We spent weeks (months, years) on crossing streets.
Because that’s where the danger is. My daughter could stand on a street corner for days with a sign around her neck saying “abduct me” and she would likely be completely safe (although I’d probably get a visit from Child Services, and deservedly so). But an eight-year-old was killed by a car in our neighborhood a couple months ago. Several adults have been killed at intersections near her school.
Vehicle crashes are the number one cause of death for kids 2-14. More than 2,000 kids die as a result of vehicle crashes each year. And hundreds of thousands more are injured.
That’s what I worry about. That’s where my mind wanders to until my kids walk in the door, safe and sound.
How independent I let my children be has always been ruled by risk vs. reward, or sometimes more like risk vs. inconvenience. Tiny risk of getting abducted, slightly bigger risk of getting hit by a car, vs. reward of being able to go places and do things and build confidence and grow up to be a strong, independent person who can get around. (I swear, a few of the people I went to college with hadn’t so much as crossed a street before they got there.)
Or, tiny risk of a stranger breaking into your locked, non-running car and stealing your child vs. reward of not having to drag kids into a store that’s ten feet away for 90 seconds, then buckle them in again.
Or, low risk of your running car being stolen with your kid sleeping in the back seat, vs. the “reward” of not having to shut your engine off and turn it back on again a few minutes later. See, even though the risk isn’t that big, the reward is absolutely tiny by comparison. So you shut off your engine and lock the doors. It’s just logical.
I have no idea what my point is here. Maybe I just want people to be able to read my mind when I post something. Or maybe I just want people to take reasonable precautions against reasonable risks.