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Parents Leave Baby Unattended for 4 Minutes, But Is It Really That Big of a Deal?

Photograph by Getty Images

After Sandusky, Ohio, parents Chelsea Brummitt and Alex Vanscoy were recorded by a stranger leaving their baby unattended for four minutes at a buffet, they have become the targets of an incredible amount of criticism online.

In the video, which has since been removed, a baby is secured in his carseat in the seat of a booth, quietly sucking his pacifier and playing with a toy. Meanwhile, you hear the occasional comments of the stranger, Shannon Culley, and another woman sitting at the table with him as they record the baby alone at the table.

When I first watched this video, I'll admit, I was uncomfortable. I couldn’t see the parents anywhere in the video and wasn’t sure what I was watching until they returned to the table with plates in hand. Not surprisingly, the comment section on the video is ugly. I have come to expect that from the internet, but I was horrified to see that the comments had evolved from harsh and overcritical into a witch hunt. Local citizens of Sandusky were sharing the full names of these parents, along with the local CPS hotline number, encouraging strangers all over the world to call in these parents for child endangerment.

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I know full well that this is not going to be a popular opinion, but I don’t believe for a second that their child was in real danger. At least, from what I saw in the video, there was very little evidence that these parents were putting her in a dangerous situation. In fact, in an effort to defend herself, Brummitt posted a comment on the original video explaining that she was within eyesight the entire time. She has since deleted her account—I am assuming because the backlash has gotten so out of hand.

“I was 4 to 5 feet away from baby and was watching her the whole time,” Brummit said. “I would never leave her unattended with a bunch of strangers.”

I choose not to step away from children in most public places because I am afraid that some random vigilante will call the police on me or take matters into their own hands.

Whether she was 4 feet or 15 feet away, I don’t feel certain she has done anything wrong. I certainly don’t believe this single act is deserving of having her three children removed from her home, which is what the accountability warriors of the internet have chosen as her punishment.

Random child abductions are tragic and they are scary, but statistics show that they are among the most unlikely of tragedies to fall on children. Children are more likely to be harmed or taken by someone they know well, such as a family member or family friend than to be taken by someone they don’t know. In fact, non-family abductions only account for 1 percent of missing children each year, according to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

Even more interesting is comparing the risk of someone snatching her baby to other tragic events children die from every day. For instance, the leading cause of accidental death in children is automobile accidents, with 1 in 4 accidental deaths caused by a car accident. When we compared random child abductions to the chances of a child being injured or worse doing something most families do every day, a random abduction is practically a non-risk.

Here’s the thing, I probably wouldn’t leave my baby unattended at a table in a restaurant, even if I could see them nearby. Honestly, my decision has little to do with being afraid for their safety, because I don’t really believe the risk is real in that situation. I choose not to step away from children in most public places because I am afraid that some random vigilante will call the police on me or take matters into their own hands.

This has been on my mind a lot lately, as I navigate how I want to parent my kids. I have been thinking a lot about how much freedom I can safely give them or how closely I need to watch them at the park or when we play outside. I feel frustrated knowing my children won’t have the same childhood I had. Some of my favorite memories include hopping the fences in our neighborhood in first grade to visit my nearby friends. Today, that wouldn’t be possible for my girls, not because the world has gotten more dangerous (it hasn’t), but because parents are under a lot more pressure to be near their children and over-supervise their children based on perceived—not real—dangers.

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Even more frustrating is knowing that parents like Brummitt and Vanscoy can’t watch their child from nearby without enduring insults from thousands of strangers or having the people of the internet threatening to tear their family apart, which is far more damaging to their child than spending four minutes alone in a booth at a buffet.

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