TIME Parenting

Millennials Are Selfish and Entitled, and Helicopter Parents Are to Blame

Parent Child Climbing
Peter Lourenco—Flickr RF/Getty Images

There are more overprotective moms and dads at a time when children are actually safer than ever

It’s natural to resent younger Americans — they’re younger! — but we’re on the verge of a new generation gap that may make the nasty old fights between baby boomers and their “Greatest Generation” parents look like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting.

Seventy-one percent of American adults think of 18-to-29-year-olds — millennials, basically — as “selfish,” and 65% of us think of them as “entitled.” That’s according to the latest Reason-Rupe Poll, a quarterly survey of 1,000 representative adult Americans.

If millennials are self-absorbed little monsters who expect the world to come to them and for their parents to clean up their rooms well into their 20s, we’ve got no one to blame but ourselves — especially the moms and dads among us.

Indeed, the same poll documents the ridiculous level of kid-coddling that has now become the new normal. More than two-thirds of us think there ought to be a law that kids as old as 9 should be supervised while playing at a public park, which helps explain (though not justify) the arrest of a South Carolina mother who let her phone-enabled daughter play in a busy park while she worked at a nearby McDonald’s. We think on average that kids should be 10 years old before they “are allowed to play in the front yard unsupervised.” Unless you live on a traffic island or a war zone, that’s just nuts.

It gets worse: We think that our precious bundles of joy should be 12 before they can wait alone in a car for five minutes on a cool day or walk to school without an adult, and that they should be 13 before they can be trusted to stay home alone. You’d think that kids raised on Baby Einstein DVDs should be a little more advanced than that.

Curiously, this sort of ridiculous hyperprotectiveness is playing out against a backdrop in which children are safer than ever. Students reporting bullying is one-third of what it was 20 years ago, and according to a study in JAMA Pediatrics, the past decade has seen massive declines in exposure to violence for kids. Out of 50 trends studied, summarize the authors, “there were 27 significant declines and no significant increases between 2003 and 2011. Declines were particularly large for assault victimization, bullying, and sexual victimization. There were also significant declines in the perpetration of violence and property crime.”

There are surely many causes for the mainstreaming of helicopter parenting. Kids cost a hell of a lot to raise. The U.S. Department of Agriculture figures a child born in 2013 will set back middle-income parents about $245,000 up to age 17 (and that’s before college bills kick in). We’re having fewer children, so we’re putting fewer eggs in a smaller basket, so to speak. According to the Reason-Rupe poll, only 27% of adults thought the media were overestimating threats to the day-to-day safety of children, suggesting that 73% of us are suckers for sensationalistic news coverage that distorts reality (62% of us erroneously think that today’s youth face greater dangers than previous generations). More kids are in institutional settings — whether preschool or school itself — at earlier ages, so maybe parents just assume someone will always be on call.

But whatever the reasons for our insistence that we childproof the world around us, this way madness lies. From King Lear to Mildred Pierce, classic literature (and basic common sense) suggests that coddling kids is no way to raise thriving, much less grateful, offspring. Indeed, quite the opposite. And with 58% of millennials calling themselves “entitled” and more than 70% saying they are “selfish,” older Americans may soon be learning that lesson the hard way.

TIME Parenting

A Stay-at-Home Dad Reports on the Mommy Wars

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msderrick—Getty Images/Vetta

I can assure everyone that at-home parenting doesn't involve yoga pants and bonbons--or its male equivalent, whatever that might be

As a stay-at-home dad married to a working mom, I often have a front row seat at the unfortunately titled “Mommy Wars.” Strangely, I feel like a secret agent that identifies with both sides, though at different times.

Two scenes from the trenches illustrate my divide.

Scene One: My wife is talking to a new acquaintance, but the conversation turns ugly when the woman learns my wife is a working mother with a grueling schedule. With an air of maternal superiority, she declares, “Oh, I could never leave my kids to be raised by a stranger.” To which my wife replies, “Neither could I. That’s why my husband stays home with them.”

It is the perfect rebuttal for a smug stay-at-home mother ready to pillory a working mother. But later my wife regretted saying it because that isn’t how she really feels about other working mothers or parents. We recognize that for many, the financial ability to choose to stay home isn’t an option. We also know many dual-income (and single-parent) families that are raising happy, healthy children.

Scene Two: I’m at a party and start a conversation with a working father. Before he gets around to asking what I do for a living, he begins complaining about his stay-at-home wife: “I don’t know what the hell she does all day. It must be nice.” I cringe, awaiting the awkward question that comes next, “So what do you do?” I smile and say, “I’m a stay-at-home dad.” Before I can suggest an alternate view of at-home parenting, we are interrupted and go our separate ways.

That father articulated, however, what I hear or read some working moms say about stay-at-home moms, and it always makes me shake my head. I can assure everyone that at-home parenting does not equal sitting around in yoga pants eating bonbons (or its male equivalent, whatever that might be–sorry for the visual).

Part of the problem is what each side focuses on regarding the contradictory nature of at-home parenting. On one hand, it is an incredible sacrifice of one’s time, identity, career and retirement income. On the other hand, and in many cases, it has become a luxury, and fair or not, we often associate luxury with laziness. So some working parents focus on the perceived luxury and laziness of at-home parents, while other at-home parents focus on their own sacrifice and the perceived selfishness of working parents. But I would guess that a working mom being called “selfish” stings just as much as a stay-at-home mom being called “lazy.” After all, both are sacrificing for their families, but in different ways.

So how to make peace? One way is through more empathy. For example, at-home mothers ought to acknowledge the tremendous pressures on working mothers—not only the pressure of breadwinning, but of the enormous backdrop that centuries of sexism have put in place behind motherhood. The cumulative effect of all those “Super Mom” expectations—like the myth that even if a mom becomes the family’s breadwinner she should somehow remain its bread baker—is often a stew of wildly unfair feelings of guilt, self-doubt and stress for working mothers.

In addition, those Super Mom expectations continue to relieve men of the responsibility to increase their levels of involvement in childcare, a key cause of the Mommy Wars in the first place. In an ideal future for my two daughters, society’s expectations for mothers would decrease in direct proportion to their increase for fathers. While that process is sure to be long and arduous, an increasing number of men I know do understand that childcare is difficult, important and not just the purview of women anymore. This is good news for the caregiving front.

On the breadwinning front, however, many men—especially those in powerful positions—still seem to stand on the sidelines quietly observing the Mommy Wars. While I don’t want to start any Daddy Wars, I encourage all men—not just fathers—to join women in their quest for the usual range of desirable employment options: affordable, high-quality childcare, paid leave for all parents and more flexible schedules, to name a few. After all, even men and women without children have aging parents and other family problems such policies could alleviate.

For everyone’s benefit, let’s turn the Mommy Wars into a War on Family Obstacles. For women, that means striving for a more empathetic mindset. For men, that means less secrecy and more agency in the fight for more family-friendly workplaces.

Vincent O’Keefe is a writer and stay-at-home father with a Ph.D. in American literature. He is working on a memoir about gender and parenting. For more visit www.vincentokeefe.com.

TIME Parenting

7 Things More Offensive Than Breastfeeding in Restaurants

Smartphone photo before fine dining
Thomas Lai Yin Tang—Flickr/Getty Images

Plantiffs are flirting with near fatal levels of hypocrisy, as patrons can commit some truly outrageous sins during their meals

I have a confession to make. Before I had kids, I was uncomfortable with moms breastfeeding their babies in public. Specifically, I thought it was offensive when they did it in restaurants.

My narrow view at the time saw it as women exposing themselves at tables populated by men, women and children simply trying to enjoy a meal. Why couldn’t they do that out in the car or in the bathroom? At the very least they could cover up and sit off in the corner. It’s just common decency, right?

Naturally, once I became a father and gained some perspective, I realized how ridiculous I was being. Breastfeeding is the healthiest way to nurture a baby and one of the most natural and instinctive things a mother can do for her child. It isn’t something that should be hidden away or made out as shameful. If anything, it should be celebrated and encouraged.

But when restaurants make news for shaming breastfeeding moms, it’s particularly grating.

Any restaurant employees or patrons upset at breastfeeding moms are flirting with near fatal levels of hypocrisy, as there are some truly annoying things that happen during meals that are far more offensive than a woman breastfeeding her child. So in observance of World Breastfeeding Week, here are my top seven.

7. Personal Cell Phone Conversations

So, you think breastfeeding moms are revealing too much? Then I hope you’re not one of the dozens of people who go out to dinner and inevitably have awkwardly personal cell phone conversations within earshot of everyone. A mother feeding her child isn’t nearly as offensive and inappropriate as a room full of strangers knowing intricate details of your most recent colonoscopy.

6. Splitting the Check

As someone who worked in restaurants, I can say without a shadow of a doubt I’d rather wait on an army of breastfeeding moms than deal with one large group who hands over 10 different credit cards and asks to split the bill evenly. If anyone should go to the bathroom and feel shame for a few minutes, it’s check-splitters.

5. The Sound of Your Eating

Misophonia: a neurological disorder in which negative experiences are triggered by specific sounds. While some people claim they need bleach for their eyes after seeing the “horror” of a woman’s partially exposed breast giving the milk of life to her baby, that same person could be horrifying nearby diners with lip-smacking, open-mouthed, wet chewing noises that easily drown out any sound of suckling from the baby.

4. Bad Tipping

Too many people complain about seeing gratuitous flesh when moms are feeding their babies, and not paying enough attention to leaving the waiter or waitress an adequate gratuity. It’s ironic these people are full of generous suggestions for mothers regarding how, when and where to feed their children, yet their generosity is nowhere to be found when it’s time to leave a tip.

3. Taking Pictures of Food

Stop. Instagramming. Your. Dinner. People complain about nursing mothers in restaurants being exhibitionists, yet they’re taking 27 pictures of the food they’re about to consume so they can post it on various social media platforms for the world to see. At least breastfeeding is productive.

2. Hitting on the Wait Staff

Women baring their breasts in restaurants are inappropriate and unbecoming? That’s funny, since I’ve seen moron after moron staring at the breasts (and other parts) of their waitress, and then engage in a pathetic attempt to hit on her. For people so quick to be the moral arbiters of breastfeeding in public, decorum quickly disintegrates when it comes to their delusions of grandeur regarding their waitress’s nonexistent romantic interest.

1. Drunk People

We get it, you think breastfeeding in public is gross. Do you know how we know you think that? It’s because your “drunk whisper” is actually a sonic boom reaching even the far corners of the restaurant. While these people lament the lack of common decency amongst breastfeeding moms, they seem to have no care in the world when it comes to screaming, being belligerent and making drunken asses of themselves while mothers quietly feed their kids.

If we’re going to encourage mothers to breastfeed, then we need to get over ourselves and stop sexualizing breastfeeding. We also need to stop making mothers feel ashamed and self-conscious for it, while attempting to relegate them to the bathroom during feedings. And if common sense isn’t enough to make this a reality, then we need more laws on the books protecting the rights of moms to feed their kids not just in restaurants, but anywhere out in public.

Aaron Gouveia is a husband, father of two boys, and writes for his site, The Daddy Files.

TIME Family

When Couples Fight, It Affects Fathers More

Markus Haefke—Getty Images

Husbands and fathers, take note

Men, it is frequently said, are very good at compartmentalizing—usually when they’ve done something wrong. But new research suggests women can compartmentalize too, especially around family.

A study published in the Journal of Family Psychology looked at the effect marital squabbling had on parents’ relationships with kids. The researchers found, not surprisingly, that when a couple fights, that spills over to the relationship each parent has with his or her offspring. But, interestingly, this effect does not last very long for moms.

By the next day, most mother-child relationships were back on an even keel, while the fathers still reported things were tense. “In fact, in that situation, moms appeared to compensate for their marital tension,” said the study’s lead author, assistant psychology professor at Southern Methodist University Chrystyna D. Kouros. “Poor marital quality actually predicted an improvement in the relationship between the mom and the child.”

Are the moms compensating for their lousy relationship with dad by looking for human bonds elsewhere? Are they making a pre-emptive strike, even subconsciously, in case there’s a custody battle? Do they not care so much about fights with their spouses? Or do they just need someone to talk to? Kouros says it’s not clear why the women are more able to isolate the relationship with their kids from the tension they feel toward their spouse, but there are several theories.

It could be that because women’s parenting role is more clearly defined, they don’t allow their marital woes to negatively affect other relationships in the family. Or it could be that the women are compensating and seeking support from their kids that they would normally get from their husband. “If the first theory is true, then the fact that moms don’t show the same “spillover” between their marital relationship and relationship with their child is a good thing, ” says Kouros. “However, if the second theory is true, then leaning on your child for support is not a good thing for the long-term.” In psychology this is called “parentification,” and has been linked to depression and other mental health problems in kids.

The data was gathered by asking more than 200 families to make daily diary entries for about two weeks, in which they rated how the marriage was going and how the relationship with their kids was going at the end of each day. It’s possible that what was causing the marital tension and the grumpiness with the kids was something that only affected the fathers. A bad day for a guy at work, for example, might be the source of stress in all his relationships. Kouros admits this third variable is possible, but says the study has some specific data that suggests that’s not always the cause.

“The findings of our study show that it’s men who have marital tension and their wife shows symptoms of depression that are the ones that carry over that marital tension to their relationship with their child on the next day, whereas all men appear to do this on the same day,” she says. “This is consistent with some other studies showing that when men have marital stress and some other stress, like work stress, that’s when they are more likely to compromise their relationship with their child.” The wife’s depression points to the marital tension as being the source of the man’s inability to communicate effectively with his kids.

In other words, if you have to fight with your spouse, keep it quick and fair. For the children.

TIME Parenting

Katherine Heigl on Being a Working Mom: ‘My Priorities Were Messed Up’

"The Nut Job" - Los Angeles Premiere - Arrivals
Actress Katherine Heigl and daughter Naleigh arrive at the Los Angeles premiere of "The Nut Job" at Regal Cinemas L.A. Live on January 11, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. Gregg DeGuire—WireImage

The actress explains why she quit Grey's Anatomy to spend time with her family

Katherine Heigl vented some of her frustrations about being a working mom in an interview in the September issue of Good Housekeeping.

“I felt like my priorities were messed up,” Heigl said of the period when she was shooting movies, the ABC show Grey’s Anatomy and trying to raise her young daughter all at once. “I was putting so much time and energy into just my work, but I was raised [to believe] that family comes first.”

Heigl and her husband, musician Josh Kelley, adopted their daughter Naleigh from South Korea in 2009. The adoption process can be long and complicated, and Naleigh arrived earlier than the couple expected, just as Katherine was beginning to shoot a movie for three months in Atlanta.

“I would come home angry and frustrated that I’d missed everything with my kid that day,” she says. “I didn’t get to wake her up from her nap, or do bath time or bedtime. I’d have to sneak into her room and kiss her when she was sleeping, hoping not to wake her up.”

Heigl decided to take a leave from Grey’s and then soon after permanently quit the show. She and her husband adopted another daughter, Adalaide, from Louisiana in 2012, at which point Heigl was staying at home in Utah full-time with the exception of a few short movie shoots.

“We had big dreams of expanding our family, moving to the mountains and having a quieter life,” Heigl says.

Heigl is now back at work: she will return to TV this fall as the star of NBC’s State of Affairs.

[Good Housekeeping]

TIME Parenting

I’m a Male CEO and I Decided to Lean Out

I realized that the only way to balance fatherhood and my job was to step back from the role as head of my company.

Earlier this summer, Matt Lauer asked Mary Barra, the CEO of GM, whether she could balance the demands of being a mom and being a CEO. The Atlantic asked similar questions of PepsiCo’s female CEO Indra Nooyi. As a male CEO, I have been asked what kind of car I drive and what type of music I like, but never how I balance the demands of being both a dad and a CEO.

While the press haven’t asked me, it is a question that I often ask myself. Here is my situation:

● I have three wonderful kids at home, aged 14, 12 and 9, and I love spending time with them: skiing, cooking, playing backgammon, swimming, watching movies or Warriors or Giants games, talking, whatever.

● I am on pace to fly 300,000 miles this year, all the normal CEO travel plus commuting between Palo Alto and New York every two to three weeks. During that travel, I have missed a lot of family fun, perhaps more importantly, I was not with my kids when our puppy was hit by a car, or when my son had (minor and successful, and of course unexpected) emergency surgery.

● I have an amazing wife who also has an important career; she is a doctor and professor at Stanford, where, in addition to her clinical duties, she runs their training program for high-risk obstetricians and conducts research on on prematurity, surgical techniques and other topics. She is a fantastic mom, brilliant, beautiful and infinitely patient with me. I love her; I am forever in her debt for finding a way to keep the family working despite my crazy travel. I should not continue abusing that patience.

Friends and colleagues often ask my wife how she balances her job and motherhood. Somehow, the same people don’t ask me.

A few months ago, I decided the only way to balance was by stepping back from my job. MongoDB is a special company. In my nearly four years at the company, we have raised $220 million, grown the team 15-fold and grown sales 30-fold. We have amazing customers, a great product that gets better with every release, the strongest team I have ever worked with and incredible momentum in the market. The future is bright, and MongoDB deserves a leader who can be “all-in” and make the most of the opportunity.

Unfortunately, I cannot be that leader given that the majority of the company is in New York and my family is in California.

I recognize that by writing this I may be disqualifying myself from some future CEO role. Will that cost me tens of millions of dollars someday? Maybe. Life is about choices. Right now, I choose to spend more time with my family and am confident that I can continue to have a meaningful and rewarding work life while doing so. At first, it seemed like a hard choice, but the more I have sat with the choice, the more certain I am that it is the right choice.

In one month, I will hand the CEO role to an incredibly capable leader, Dev Ittycheria. He will have the task of leading the company through its next phase of growth (though thankfully not of commuting across the country while doing it!). I know the company will be in great hands; his skills fit our next phase of growth better than mine do. And I will be there to help (full time, but “normal full time” and not “crazy full time”) in whatever areas he needs help. More about the announcement can be found in today’s press release.

I hope I will be able to find a way to craft a role at MongoDB that is engaging, impactful and compatible with the most important responsibilities in my life. As great as this job has been, I look forward to creating one that is even better.

Max Schireson is currently CEO of MongoDB, Inc., transitioning into the Vice Chairman role in early September. This piece originally appeared at Max Schireson’s blog.

TIME Television

Watch Jimmy Kimmel Challenge Kim Kardashian to a Diaper-Changing Contest

"Cue the western showdown music"

Keeping up with the Kardashians star Kim Kardashian appeared as a guest Monday on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and revealed an unlikely obsession: changing diapers. The natural response? A diaper changing contest, of course.

Kardashian, the recent mother of the famed baby North West, and Kimmel, a father of three, faced off with diapers and dolls in a race against time to see who could change the most diapers. See who took home the trophy—the results may surprise you.

TIME Opinion

You’ve Come a Long Way Daddy

Girl playing outside in the summer
Brian Braiker

A new book asks whether fathers matter. And this dad wonders why we're still asking that question.

Do fathers matter? On the face of it the question is a preposterous one. You might as well be asking “Are friends important?” or “Who needs trees, anyway?”

But Do Fathers Matter? happens to be the title of a new book by author and award-winning science journalist Paul Raeburn. And while the title seems to indulge in a bit of trolling, it turns out the book does a nice job of filling in a few gaps no one completely realized were gaping.

Science has historically focused only on the mother’s role in child-rearing. Raising children, after all, is women’s work, right? It’s a cliche that has taken root in modern society but biologically, this is simply not the case.

Raeburn points us to the titi monkey as an example: “Titi monkey fathers provide food for their offspring and follow mothers around all day, so that whenever the babies are not nursing the fathers can carry them on their backs,” Raeburn writes. “The father carries his infant 90 percent of the time.”

The baby monkeys, in return, are very attached to their fathers. Human fathers, while maybe not quite as dedicated, remain the most committed mammalian fathers of any species on Earth, Raeburn goes on to tell us (tantalizingly leaving open the prospect of some kind of reptilian Superdad.)

Look no further than the latest ad by Cheerios, which comes with its own hashtag: #HowToDad. In it a father of four gives his only mildly-grating manifesto for manly parenting — which lives in the Venn diagram sweet spot between being “awesome” and “responsible.” We’ve come a long way from Mr. Mom.

But science hasn’t been keeping up. The result is a body of knowledge that fails to take into account half of the child-rearing populace. I personally can’t fault science for spending an inordinate amount of time looking at ladies, but it’s not very scientific at the end of the day: A 2005 survey of 514 studies on adolescent and child psychology, for example, revealed that almost half of the research ignored fathers. Only 11 percent made fathers the exclusive focus, Raeburn tells us.

To be fair, there’s been some progress: Before 1970 less than a fifth of scientific studies about parental bonding took dad’s role into account. And minor though it is, Raeburn mines the progress well. One takeaway is that we dads have an impact on our babies before they’re even born.

A bit of context. Here is what progressive fatherhood looked like in 1986: “We were well prepared for natural childbirth, which means that no drugs can be given to the female during delivery. The father, however, can have all he wants,” joked Bill Cosby in his book “Fatherhood.” If only that were true.

“Research is showing that a father’s environment, his behavior and even his appearance can have a substantial effect on fetal health,” Raeburn writes. “And on the health of his grandchildren.”

Good lord. Even my appearance? Let me now use this public forum to apologize now to my grandkids for last year’s mustache and afro combination that I rocked for a solid six months.

Fortunately for my kids I also do the dishes on the regular. A recent study published in the journal Psychological Science, found that fathers who perform household chores are more likely to bring up daughters who aspire to careers in business, legal and other professions. I am dying for a corollary study to conclude that mothers who shout at the TV during football games and spend a lot of time in the tool shed raise boys that are more likely to go into ballet instruction.

But the research, conducted at the University of British Columbia in Canada, does dovetail with other findings that suggest girls who grow up in the presence of warm, supportive fathers tend to begin puberty later and are less inclined to engage in high-risk sexual behavior than daughters of absentee dads.

This “absentee” word hits home for me. I have been separated from the mother of my kids for nearly five years, a significant chunk of their lives. As a single father with joint custody I see my girls every day, including days when they don’t stay at mine, and am incredibly grateful for it. But I worry all the time about the impact of the breakup on my kids. So I am hyper vigilant.

I take heart in much of Raeburn’s book, not just because I like to cook and find doing dishes therapeutic. He points to one study that found that, while both parents play with children the same amount of time, Dad is — for lack of a better word — the fun parent. Father’s play is “more physical and idiosyncratic,” and babies tend to like it.

“Physical and idiosyncratic” is a diplomatic way, at best, to describe the dance parties I instigate at the breakfast table. Babies (and 6-year-olds) may like it, but the day is coming when my daughters become teenagers and “idiosyncratic” becomes “idiotic.” Oh how I will delight in embarrassing them, though.

It turns out Dad’s play is important when it comes to learning too, providing a critical boost to language development. Premature infants from disadvantaged families had higher IQs if fathers played with them and helped care for them, Raeburn writes. Studies have found that fathers are more likely to stretch their young children’s vocabularies. I can certainly boast that I’ve introduced a few four letter words into my girls’ verbal arsenal.

I’ve interviewed my daughters in this space before, so I thought it might be interesting to see what they had to say about the very question posed in Raeburn’s title: Do fathers matter?

Unfortunately, today got away from us. We woke up early and cuddled while we watched “Little Shop of Horrors” together — not entirely age-appropriate, but hey!, I’m idiosyncratic. Then it was time for breakfast (Waffles! Bacon! Plums! No screens!), then showers. I took them to get a birthday present before a friend’s party. After that it was playground time and swings and a water balloon fight and more swings followed by tears over a lost earring and much consoling and hugs and, finally, dinner.

I guess in the middle of all that I forgot to ask them if their father mattered.

TIME Parenting

If Cars Can Monitor Left-On Headlights and Rear Obstructions, They Should Be Able To Save Trapped Kids’ Lives

Today, technology saves your car battery—tomorrow, it could save your child

Thursday is National Heatstroke Prevention Day, so here is a little fact for your awareness: In the past 20 years more than 670 U.S. children have died of heatstroke in hot cars. To date this year KidsAndCars.org has recorded 18 such fatalities, including the death last week of a 10-month-old girl in Wichita, Kansas, who was unknowingly left in a vehicle on a 90-degree day.

Our national advocacy nonprofit works year-round to educate parents and caregivers about these dangers, including a nationwide “Look before you lock” program. But education is not enough when all it takes is a simple change in a daily routine to cause a parent to drive past their childcare center and forget their child in the back seat. Current state laws require putting your baby in a rear-facing child safety seat, which has saved the lives of thousands of children in car crashes. An unintended consequence of this shift is that when out of sight, quiet little unobtrusive passengers can slip out of mind.

How can we prevent this failure of memory? The auto industry obviously recognizes that we’re human and our memories often fail us: our cars are able to warn us if we leave our headlights on, our keys are in the ignition, a door is open, we’re low on fuel, if our seatbelt isn’t buckled… If we can monitor our headlights or gas levels, we should be able to get a signal that a child has been forgotten.

Some of the technology options currently on the market include car seat monitors and alert systems, key fobs connected to car seats that sound a reminder and weight-sensitive mats. One system activates when the driver has opened the back door to strap in the car seat, and then sounds a reminder chime when the driver leaves the vehicle. Mobile apps have hit the market, such as Cars-n-Kids Carseat Monitor, which connects with the carseat via a sensor, or the Amber Alert GPS, which tracks your child in or out of the car.

These after-market systems may be useful reminders to some people, but they have not all been tested, and they are not the failsafe solution we need in every vehicle. Furthermore, a 2012 study on “Evaluation of Reminder Technology” sponsored by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and conducted by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia found that a few of these systems were not always reliable.

Safety is something every family deserves. It shouldn’t be optional, like 4WD or leather seats. And it shouldn’t be political. The federal government and automakers along with safety advocates have the ability to solve this problem.

KidsAndCars.org recently launched a petition to push the Obama Administration to authorize the U.S. Department of Transportation to provide funding for research and development of innovative technologies to detect a child left alone in the rear seat of a vehicle, such as infrared breathing sensors (a technology that already exists in certain baby monitors for the home). We also spearheaded an initiative to adopt federal safety standards that require all vehicles to be equipped with trunk release latches to prevent trunk entrapment, safer power window switches to prevent strangulation, and brake transmission shift interlock systems so children cannot inadvertently knock a vehicle into gear. In March, the DOT issued a rule requiring rear visibility systems, such as cameras, as standard equipment on all new passenger vehicles by May 2018.

Today, technology saves your car battery. Tomorrow, it could save your child.

Susan Pepperdine is the public relations director of KidsAndCars.org, a national nonprofit group dedicated to preventing injuries and deaths of children in and around motor vehicles.

TIME Parenting

A Tale of Two Summers for Parents

lustration by serge bloch for time
lustration by Serge Bloch for TIME

It’s not just the heat that makes this season frustrating. It’s the scheduling

I am bad at being a summer mom. I’m always the one Googling “help last minute camp” the day after school gets out. One summer, I got my babysitter to take my kids each day to my gym, which had a pool, and pretend she was me. (Finally, an upside to wearing a skintight latex cap and goggles: anonymity.) Another summer, I managed to sign one of my kids up for an advanced-skills soccer camp, even though he didn’t really play soccer. It’s not surprising that the emergency child-care center at my workplace cottoned on fairly quickly to the fact that my emergencies occurred for a week or two every August.

For many parents, summer is oppressive not mostly because of the heat but because of the scheduling. The lengthening days are a hint of the specter of more than 50 million school-age children with six more hours of free time than usual. It’s a child-care chasm that I usually end up crossing by building an emergency bridge made of cash: for more babysitting, more late fees, more hastily put-together sort of fun-ish activities.

But no matter how unprepared I am, I’ll never be arrested for my choices. That’s what happened to Deborah Harrell, who was taken into custody earlier this month, officially for unlawful conduct toward a child, also known as leaving her 9-year-old daughter in a park in North Augusta, S.C., for several hours while she was at work. Her kid had a cell phone, and the McDonald’s Harrell works at was close by, but the girl was there without any adult supervision for much of the day, a witness said.

The mom’s arrest led to a round of national hair pulling (our own and one another’s) about How a Person Could Even Do That or How a Person Could Even Report That. In fact, about 40% of parents leave their kids on their own, at least for a while, estimates the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Three states have even established a minimum age for being home alone, ranging from 8 years old in Maryland to 14 in Illinois.

Kids have raced around outside by themselves since the dawn of time. That’s why those on the free-range end of the child-raising spectrum blamed the busybody who reported Harrell. Yet she was doing exactly what child-protective-service agencies have asked citizens to do, especially since data indicates that child-abuse reports tend to go down over summer but child-abuse incidents do not.

So, once we get past the finger-pointing, it might be worth having a different conversation: one about the gap between what we expect and what we’re willing to pay for. If, by way of analogy, we go to Harrell’s place of work for our luncheon needs, we cannot order McTruffles. McDonald’s can’t make the numbers work on that. Similarly, we cannot expect somebody to fund enriching child-centric summer activities on minimum wage. She can’t make the numbers work on that.

Age is a factor here. More than 45% of hourly workers whose income falls at or below minimum wage are older than 40, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and more than half are women. Harrell is 46. Parents in that type of job are caught in a double bind. The lower their earnings, the more inflexible their job. I could be writing this essay from home, in case my teenage kids suddenly needed help or to accuse someone of ruining their lives. Fast-food workers have to be where the food is. “High-wage jobs are associated with hard-to-replace skills,” says Kenneth Matos, senior director of research at the Families and Work Institute. “[Corporations] need to do something to keep those individuals. Low-wage jobs are generally associated with highly replaceable people, so it’s not worth investing in flexibility.”

Harrell can’t do that job without child care, but at the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, she can’t get child care doing that job. End result: she cobbles together something ad hoc, just like I do. The difference is that my bad choices are cushioned by cash and society’s false assumption that people who have it don’t abuse their kids. When I make a mistake, my kids don’t get taken away by social services.

Harrell may get lucky. On July 21, child-abuse charges against 35-year-old Shanesha Taylor, who left two toddlers in a hot Arizona car for more than an hour, were dropped. Taylor left the kids there because she had a job interview and nowhere else to take them. Both women’s plights have touched a nerve; Harrell and Taylor have been given support and thousands of dollars in donations via social media.

As for me, I’m not sure where my 13-year-old daughter is at this moment. I left her some money this morning and told her to have a nice day. If anyone wants to arrest me, I’ll probably be at McDonald’s, getting her some dinner.

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