Are We Allowed to “Abandon” Our Kids When We Get a Napkin or Ketchup? Or is 20 Feet Away Too Far?

I was told this was a “no-no.”

A recent letter to Let Grow:

My daughter and I were shopping at Costco, and we stopped to get a slice of pizza and a hot dog in the food court. I don’t have enough hands to get her food, my food, the cart, the drinks, the napkins, etc. all at once!

So I sat her down at a table, and I made perhaps two trips to get us drinks from the soda fountain, to get napkins, and to put ketchup and mustard on the hot dog. Each time I was gone maybe 30 seconds and was 20 feet away, able to see her the entire time. She’s four and behaved nicely and stayed put at the table.

When I sat down to eat with her, someone sitting behind me tapped me on the shoulder. He said something like, “You know that’s a no-no, right?” Then he let me know he works for Child Protective Services, and that what I’d done wasn’t acceptable. He tried to get me to acknowledge wrongdoing and say that I wouldn’t leave her sitting by herself again. I said something non-committal, as little as possible, and he left us alone.

If only I had told that busybody…

What I wish I had said — what I have said to many people since — was that not only was my daughter just fine by herself for 30 seconds, but that I actually sometimes leave her alone like that on purpose, for brief periods of time, in places I know are safe, where I can keep an eye on her.


Because I want her to start to learn that she can be in a public place and not glued to my leg and that she’s okay. Because I think that’s an appropriate way for a 4-year-old to learn independence. 

I’ll say, it did prompt me to have some useful conversations with her like, “What would you do if you couldn’t find me in a store?” to which the appropriate answer is “Ask a stranger for help. Preferably someone who works at the store.” Or, “What do you do if someone you don’t know (ahem, like this CPS worker) makes you uncomfortable? Or tries to take you somewhere?” to which the appropriate answer is something like, “Yell for help from me or your mother, or if we’re not around, from another stranger who isn’t being weird.”

Anyway, thanks for all your work! Please get California to pass a law!

Let Grow Responds: How our law could help

The dad here is referring to the “Reasonable Childhood Independence” laws Let Grow helped get passed in Oklahoma and Texas earlier this month. These state that everyday parenting decisions that do not put kids into immediate, likely and serious danger are NOT neglect.

If you’d like to find out the neglect laws in your state, here’s our handy map that shows them all.

And if you’d like to get involved in helping to pass a Let Grow law in your state, please fill out the form at the bottom of our Advocacy page, which you can find here.

This dad did NOTHING WRONG. It is abnormal to think that children are unsafe in a matter of seconds in a public place filled with people. The level of vigilance the onlooker demanded had nothing to do with real safety and everything to do with the new and draconian notion that parents must provide Secret Service-levels of protection to prove they care about their children’s safety.

But in fact, as this Washington Post article points out so deftly, crime-wise, “there has never been a safer time to be a child in America. ”