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A mom went viral for not returning shopping carts. Experts have thoughts and advice.



A mom went viral for not returning shopping carts. Experts have thoughts and advice.

To safety experts, the priority is making sure kids remain supervised. But parents can still return their shopping cart – just bring the kids.


A California mother recently set off a social media firestorm with a video defending her choice to not return shopping carts to a corral when she shops with her kids, raising some troubling safety questions amid a debate about etiquette.

“I’m not getting my groceries into my car, getting my children into the car and then leaving them in the car to go return the cart,” said Leslie Dobson, a TikTok creator who often posts about parenting safety and crime, in the video. Some viewers expressed the opposite view: having kids in the car doesn’t excuse parents from the common courtesy of returning shopping carts to the right place.

Putting aside debates about the etiquette of shopping cart returns, Dobson raises an important point that child safety experts emphatically agree about: Parents should never leave kids alone in cars – even for a minute.

“It is not a safe environment for children,” said Amber Rollins, director of Kids for Car Safety. “Far too many children have been injured or killed after being left alone in a vehicle for just a minute.”

But that important safety advice doesn’t mean parents can’t safely return their cart after shopping with their children.

What should parents do with their cart when they’re done shopping?

To safety experts like Rollins, the priority is making sure kids remained supervised. But parents can still return their shopping cart – just bring the kids.

“When my son was little I would unload the groceries with him still in the cart, take him with me to return it, then carry him back to the car and buckle him in,” she said. “With a little forward thinking parents should never have to leave their children alone in the car.” 

Is leaving kids alone in a car for a short amount of time a legitimate risk? 

Parents should never leave their kids unattended in a car regardless of the child’s age, the temperature outside or the neighborhood they’re in, said Rollins.

This year, 44 children have been abducted from cars, according to the national nonprofit Kids for Car Safety. The group documents child abductions from vehicles each year – which are typically in the hundreds.

“Babies and small children are being abducted … when they’re left alone in the backseats of vehicles while their parents hop out for just a minute to pump gas, pick up take-out food or dash back into their homes for something,” reads a blog post from The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

‘You can judge me all you want’ California mom’s refusal to return shopping cart goes viral

Most car thefts happen when a parent or guardian turns a blind eye to their children even for a few minutes after leaving them in a car, Rollins said. Americans don’t think these incidents could happen to them or their children, she said, “but it really only takes a few seconds.”

And there are other legitimate ways kids can harm themselves or set themselves up for harm unwillingly when they are left alone in vehicles.

“We don’t want to play the parent shame game, but I think people truly don’t understand that kids can hurt themselves in cars,” Rollins said.

They can find objects in vehicles and choke themselves, find guns in vehicles and shoot them or get out of the car and risk being hit by a driver who doesn’t see them, she said.

Are there cases where a parent has left for short time and their children were abducted or hurt?

Yes. A few recent cases of child abductions include:

“People tend to think as isolated incidents,” Rollins said. “But these are things happening far more often than people deem to believe and to children of all ages.”

‘This is a great tragedy’: 24 children have died in hot cars nationwide in 2023

What else should parents know?

Hot days create extra risk. Dozens of kids died in hot cars last year. Two kids have died in hot cars this year, according to the Kids for Car Safety.

Parents can take extra precautions to keep their kids safe this summer and avoid a nightmare. Officials from Kids and Car Safety advise parents to:

  • Check the backs of their cars before walking away.
  • Place visual reminders of the child’s presence – such as the child’s diaper bags or sweater – in the front seat as reminders that a child is in the car with them.
  • Be mindful to set up agreements with their day care to notify them if the child doesn’t show up in case a child is accidentally left in the car.
  • Make sure children cannot sneak out of the house to get into cars by childproofing or adding alarms to doors leading to the outside.
  • Keep keys out of reach of children at all times and keep cars locked at all times.
  • Check floorboards and trunks of all cars immediately in case a child goes missing.

Contact Kayla Jimenez at kjimenez@usatoday.comFollow her on X at @kaylajjimenez.

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