Friday, 17 June 2011

Is this child endangerment?

In an unexpected turn of events, yesterday morning we found ourselves having a mid-morning greasy snack in the play area of a local McDonald's. These sort of places pullulate with a variety of parents and children. This is at the same time interesting, as I do really enjoy people-watching, and frustrating, as I am often witness to questionable parenting choices.

Yesterday I was witness to what is indeed one of the most questionable behaviours I've seen.

Firstly I'll present only the Facts to you.
This is what I saw:
A mother with 2 kids, Boy around 3 1/2 years old, Baby Girl probably just turned 1. She's there with a friend with another 2 of her own.

Fast forward. I see said mother "rescuing" Boy from other room, scolding him for leaving the play area alone etc.

Fast forward. Scenario: there are a few kids playing on the climbing structure, lots of laughter lots of yelling. Dan and I and the kids are taking a break from the climbing, S just discovered Dan's hotcakes, L just discovered my hash brown...
Then cheeky L stands up and starts walking up and down the bench, because you know, he's 19 months and he's intrepid... So I stand up, ready to catch him if he falls. Because you know, I'm that sort of parent who doesn't stop exploration unless it's downright dangerous.

And from there, this is what I see:
Said mother is dragging her son by the arm towards her seat. Not in a "I'm going to beat the crap out of you way", but more in a "I am so sick and tired of this crap". I assume he did something to displease her. Then the two of them leave the area (Friend is looking after Baby Girl). I see them walk towards her car.

Because I was paying attention to L's antics, I didn't really notice whether they were merely holding hands towards the car or if she was dragging him.

Then I see Mother come back inside without Boy. So this is when I did a double-take and got really attentive. I look around. I can't see Boy anywhere. I'm shaking a little because I can't believe what I think has happened. Has she really left her son in the car and calmly walked back inside Maccas?

I look around. I look at the Mother and she appears very calm and relaxed. I can't see Boy. Mother starts chatting and laughing with her friend and sipping her coffee. I still can't see Boy. From where I am I have a clear view of the car outside but I can't see anybody in it. I tell Dan. I don't know what to do. See, to me that is outrageous: it seems so cruel locking a kid in a car alone.

I keep an eye on the time, keep an eye on the woman, have a look around for Boy, the woman doesn't seem to even throw a glance at the car, I'm already thinking about a course of action. Do I call the cops? Do I say something to her? Isn't this child abuse or at least child endangerment? I'm seeing the car wondering whether I'm wrong, maybe Boy is in another area of the restaurant with another adult? Maybe I should go check, it feels like it's been 10 minutes and this woman is acting like she only has eyes for her Baby Girl and has forgotten about Boy.

L is bored with his bench adventures and wants to be picked up, I take it as an excuse for a little walk outdoors... So L and I walk towards the footpath and "casually" glance in the said car.

And Boy is there. In his seat. In his mother's car. All alone. Quietly staring.

I don't know if Mother realised I went out to check or if it was a coincidence, but she went to go get him very shortly after I'd returned inside to tell Dan "yep the boy is there".

This is where the Facts end and my Opinion starts.

I truly am flabbergasted.

Many thoughts cross my mind.

I know that sometimes you've just had it, you've had a crappy day, a crappy night, a crappy week, a crappy month, the house is a mess, the kids are feral and you feel like you've got no support, something's gotta give, and you might say or do something out of character, just because you need 2 quiet minutes to calm down and find your inner balance. But see, the Boy was sitting quietly in there, like someone who is used to it. Like someone who is used to being locked in a car alone when he's being "naughty". If I locked any of my kids in the car alone "until you calm down and start behaving", they would FREAK OUT, because they're not used to it. This boy must've been used to it. He was so calm in that car, all alone.

So this is what my concern is: am I so upset just because that sort of disciplining is so far removed from our style of gentle discipline? I do get upset when I see kids spanked, told off, belittled when more respectful methods could've been used. Am I seeing too much into it? Does anyone of you use Time Out as a disciplining technique? Isn't it supposed to be done when safe for the child? Does the end of having a more subdued child justify the means of having to leave him unattended in a car for 10 minutes? Isn't that dangerous? Or was he really safe and I'm not seeing the forest for the trees?

Or are my concerns justified? If this is that Mother's disciplining technique when the son misbehaves in public, does she lock him in the car every time he misbehaves? Even on a hot day? Even when she can't see the car? That boy was in the car for a long time, as long as 10 MINUTES. I think we all know how hot a car can get in 10 minutes in this country. Hell, it gets hot and stuffy after 5 minutes.

I would've preferred seeing the Boy beside himself, screaming and crying. That would've meant that the Mother just had one of those days, just a lapse, just a momentary breakdown. It would've broken my heart seeing him in tears, but I wouldn't have been scared for him. I've been very disturbed by this episode.

Am I too paranoid? Or are my concerns justified? Is this just a case of a very different parenting style from mine that seems so abhorrent to me but is actually common in mainstream culture? Or is this a woman who regularly uses a cruel technique that could one day seriously endanger her child's life?

I presented you with the facts and my opinion. Jury's out.

What do you fellow bloggers think? Please share your wisdom.



  1. Oh my gosh. I have no words.

    Yes I think that is child endangerment. Not to mention cruel.

    Just wow. :s

  2. That's a shocker. Yes, totally a case of child endangerment. And clearly cruel and disconnecting and sad... so many words. Makes me feel so sad for the boy.

    I think the saddest thing is that this probably goes on quite a bit, with the veneer of acceptability with some people (like what you said, I suspect it could be quite common in mainstream culture).

    You totally didn't over-react. I think I would have been reporting the incident to McDonald's staff or police shortly after that 10 minute window. You did all the right things to observe the situation, keep the time and look out for the child.

    I can imagine it being very upsetting to have witnessed. :(

  3. Wow, wow! I have no words. I read this holding my breath. My heart breaks for the little boy. :(