I'm 'guilty' of leaving the kids (9 and 11) to read in the car if I know I'll only be in a store for less than ten minutes. But even lately I've limited that to things like a quick pop-in at the drug store, since it seem more likely people would overreact to seeing a child in a car at the grocery store, where the average time the child would be left along is much higher. That I even have to worry about that is just crazy.
The problem with bring authorities into a situation is that they are a very blunt instrument. They are not going to care that I actually am being mindful about evaluating (the usually miniscule to begin with) risks involved. For example:
- If it's too hot, they stay with me.
- If I think there's a chance I might get hung up past 5-10 minutes, they stay with me
- If it's both of them, I'll often apply stricter standards, since the biggest risk is them getting into fight. And the biggest risk with a fight is them causing undue attention to the fact that there are alone in the car.
Ironically, this sort of unnecessary heightened vigilance leads parents to make potentially riskier decisions, if that decision is less likely to come under public scrutiny. For example, if I'm the only parent covering after school, sometimes one or the other has to be picked up, or I have to run out for some other reason. If it's less than 30 minutes, and the child's time would be better spent finishing homework than being stuck in the car, then I'll consider leaving them home. Fortunately they have good judgement, as the hazards in the home far outweigh that of being in a car.
And even then, I'll almost never do that if it means leaving them both alone, as the sibling rivalry factor raises the other risks by several orders of magnitude.
So some stranger's knee-jerk reaction to something that has actually had some thought applied to it poses a greater risk to the welfare of the child than whatever it is they think they are saving them from.