Teen Locked in Apartment; Parents Unconcerned

A reader sent me the following story:

Two days ago my daughter L’s 8th grade class returned from a field trip at 9:00 PM, so they let the girls come in late the next day. An hour or so before L had to leave, her friend M called her. M was locked in her house! (Most locks in Israel need to be opened with a key even from the inside). She had lent her brother her key, and her parents were at work. Her brother was already at school. L tried to talk M through finding solutions — getting help from her parents, grandmother, aunt, etc. L kept calling back to report no success. Her parents just told her to stay home and not worry about it, and her relatives, who did not have keys to the apartment, pooh-poohed her concerns and told her to enjoy her vacation day. M was scared, and L pointed out that if there was a fire or a gas leak — even in a neighbor’s apartment — she would have no way to get out. We suggested that the parents send a key to her by cab, if they didn’t want to interrupt their work day to go themselves. (We keep keys with neighbors, plus we always have a key in the door so we can get out immediately in case of emergency.) M’s parents refused to help her, and stopped answering their cellphones. [MiI: This part bothers me the most.]

L suggested to M that she try calling her father at the medical center where he works. I helped her find the number and called to find the right department. L didn’t want to go off to school and leave her friend stranded, so she decided to take a bus to M’s father, pick up the key, and return to let N out. I allowed her as she wouldn’t miss too much in school, since most of the classes happened not be academic. It was hard for L to find M’s father, but she managed it and released M. By that time it wasn’t worth going to school.

Here is what amazes me:
1. The parents don’t keep a key in the door in case of emergency.
2. The parents refuse to help their daughter when she is locked in her house!
3. The mother called M just before L left our house, and said she would call the father and let him know L was on her way. He was apparently in a meeting and only his wife could interrupt him, not his kids. In the end, he was surprised to see L and hadn’t realized she was coming. But why wasn’t the mother embarrassed that her daughter’s friend was missing school to take care of her daughter because her own parents wouldn’t?!

I have not yet heard from the parents, and haven’t asked L if she did. I suggested to L that she tell M to make two copies of her housekey, with her own money if necessary.

Kol hakavod (kudos) to L’s mother for taking care of her daughter’s abandoned friend, and teaching them both an important lesson.


  1. I’m horrified. Kol Hakavod to L and her mother. Poor M.

  2. Oh, dear. There’s out of touch with your teens, and there’s totally out of touch. Sad.

  3. Wow, that story made me sick to my stomach.
    I don’t know what I would do if I was in L’s mom’s situation, but I would hope I would have the guts to call them and tell them how dangerous that was.

  4. That is really scary for a kid, even an adult to be in such a situation. We keep keys with neighbors (as well as in a ‘secret’ place outside the house)and usually at least one key hanging near the door.
    I’m just thinking that this is because all our kids have lost keys one time or another. Maybe if they had a scare like that they would have been more careful:?)
    It’s bad enough being locked out, but of course you can always go over to a friend until someone comes home. But being locked IN is really scary!

  5. mother in israel says

    Thanks everyone, for the comments.
    I’m sure the fire department would have called the parents before breaking in.
    I think they would have learned their lesson, but they might have held it against their daughter.

  6. in agreement with everyone else – my own guts wanted to report those parents to social services (but guess social services have even worse stories) or to tell the girls to call the police – wonder if they would have received a sympathetic person or just cold bureaucracy. That’s a story worthy being printed in the newspaper!!!!!

  7. It’s illegal to leave your child unattended in a car, and if the doors are locked then MDA and the fire department are called immediately.
    In this case, the fire department could have been called to break open the door. I don’t think M’s parents would have been thrilled, but it would have worked as an emergency solution.
    Isnt there supposed to be a test you have pass to become a parent?
    OH, that’s a pregnancy test. Never mind.

  8. Last year there was a horrific fire in Tzfat in a 3rd or 4th floor apartment. The father had gone to shul in the morning, and locked the sleeping mother and children in the apartment. The windows were barred. A fire broke out and there was no way for the mother to open the door, as there wasn’t a key on the inside. I don’t remember how many children perished and how many, besides the mother, were injured.

  9. And this is exactly why we have refused to ‘upgrade’ our lock to the key-in-the-inside type. The locksmith thought we were crazy when we insisted that when we changed our lock, we continued to use the ‘less secure’ type.
    We figure if the thief got in, he’d get out key or not. But we would never want to risk having to search for a key in the middle of the night in case of a fire…. let alone someone get locked in, etc.
    And now your story just reminds me that we most definitely did the right thing.
    Good for the friend and her mom for helping out! Too bad it was needed however – I’m still amazed by the lack of concern by the parents.

  10. I leave a key in the lock all day and overnight, but take it out if expecting a delivery or if a stranger comes to the door. It’s easy to get distracted while a thief snatches the key, counting on your not noticing till much later.
    For the same reason, it’s best not to leave the house key by the door, but in a place all the family members know of, for example in the telephone table, or in a shelf close to the door.
    Yes, that fire in Tsfat was unbelievably horrible. It was so violent that the lock on the door melted, so it couldn’t be opened from the outside either. The father saw some of his children carried out lifeless, but managed to save the baby by yelling at his wife to put her inside the curve of the security bars and shut the window. No one should ever go through such things.
    I hope the parents of M. got the message.

  11. Totally mind boggling in all its aspects. Parents who are not concerned enough about a child’s possible safety issues to come up with an immediate solution. But I also have to wonder about locks that themselves can present a safety problem–keys are always getting removed and left somewhere. A little one, or even an older person, can take out such a key and might not remember where they put it for safe keeping. It would seem to me that some sort of safety override system should be built into those locks specifically for the type of situation you describe. Or some sort of touch pad system with the code known only to the members of the household.

  12. My eyes are bugging out.

  13. mother in israel says

    Mother of L,
    We all live with a certain level of risk. Driving, even with seatbelts and carseats, is a risky activity. But refusing to enter a car would severely limit our activities, so we choose to accept that level of risk. I put riding busses into the same category.
    Using a carseat and keeping an extra key in the house do not involve a sacrifice in the quality of life, and are an easy way to prevent unnecessary death.

  14. Mother of L says

    I sent Hannah this story. I am reassured to get confimation that L and I were not overreacting. I don’t know if I should try to approach M’s parents about this — and if so, how.
    I simply do not understand these parents, but I don’t think their attitude is so unusual. And many parents allow their children to be in “dangerous” situations. Parents routinely fail to use carseats for their kids, especially when the kids are in someone else’s car. I can’t see lecturing everyone who does this. By the same token, yesterday there was a terrorist attack at a Tel Aviv bus stop. Was I irresponsible for letting L take the bus to school today? I hope not.
    Tamiri, I would like to be able to forward L a link to an article about the fire you mentioned, so that she could forward it to M and she could share it with her parents. Unfortunately, the news reports didn’t include the part about the father locking the family in. If you know of a reliable source that does, please post it.
    MiI, thank you for giving me this forum to air this concern. I haven’t discussed it with anyone who might know or meet M, and it bothers me.

  15. I don’t feel safe being inside of a place that I can’t *easily* get out of. I’d be terrified for my child to be in that situation.
    As soon as I had an excuse to change the lock in my apt (a key stuck slightly in the old lock), I changed it to one that can always be opened from inside.
    This in addition to my sister (1/2 a block away) and my parents (3 blocks away) each having a spare key.
    It’s certainly neglectful for the parents to leave their child locked in the house with no means of escape.

  16. my experience in telling people they’re doing something not so wise – especially sorry to say Israeli’s – is that most people will tune you out – unless of course authorities come into the picture – and as someone earlier said, the parents may take it out on the daughter, and that would be worse. otoh it’s our jobs as Jews not to stand by and allow blood to be spilled – or possibly spilled – it’s all so tricky – need to be done delicately and often by someone they can respect – is there anyone like that?? a rabbi? a teacher?

  17. Mother of L says

    Actually, being strict about carseats has been quite inconvenient for me. It has prevented me from carpooling with people until my kids no longer need a carseat (9 or so). And I’ve driven my kids to many playdates to ensure they were in carseats.
    It would have been inconvenient for M’s parents to help M. It would have meant extra expense, time missed from work, or both. M’s parents are medical professionals, so it’s not so simple to just take off. Of course, they still should have helped her somehow. That’s just part of parenting.
    But my point is, they seem to have made a risk assessment for that day: the chances of something happening during that day were low and the inconvenience factor was high. So they tolerated the risk. For me, carpooling my daughter to school would be a huge inconvenience, so she takes the bus. I tolerate that risk. So who am I to tell M’s parents that they endangered their child? They did it one time. I do it every school day.
    Klara, I can’t think of anyone offhand who might speak to the parents about what happpened. But I will give it some thought. I do kind of feel that I would just be passing the buck.

  18. Then go with your instincts – maybe rather than going with guilt, go with solutionizing for future possibilties – then all can come out of this feeling better – your last post does sound like you understand them. I agree, all of us must take risks somewhere in life – alot of people in the States feel all of us living in Israel are taking risks. I know of a very sad story of an Israeli family who didn’t want to put their children through all what we go through here, so they moved to LA. There, their daughter got stuck on the freeway and did the worst thing, got help from a stranger and ended up killed – I was in shul on Yom Kippur when the mother was wailing – we never can be sure what’s the best thing, we just can all try.

  19. mother in israel says

    Mother of L, I agree that they made such a risk assessment. The reason it doesn’t work is that if something happened, they would be held liable and justifiably so. They knowingly allowed their daughter to be in a life-threatening situation. (Also, the daughter was in distress, but that’s a separate issue.) If G-d forbid there is an explosion on a bus, parents of children on the bus would not and should not be blamed. Death or injury from a terror attack is unpreventable–it could happen anywhere.

  20. I’m not a mom, but this story horrified me. I’d be really upset if I were locked into my house, and I’m 36, not 13!
    Even beyond the risks of fire or gas leak, there is the issue that these parents found their daughter’s DAY-LONG distress not to be a good enough reason to send a key over with a cab (which Israelis do all the time, in all sorts of situations).
    FYI, everyone, I recently had a lock changed, and for a little extra the locksmith put in a lock which has a “key” permanently installed on the inside, so that you can ALWAYS lock or unlock it from the inside, but a thief can’t steal the key from it. It gives me a lot of peace of mind and I recommend looking into it if you can.

  21. I know, I sound like I’m playing devil’s advocate here. I do feel that what they did was wrong, but I’m trying to figure out why it’s any more wrong than sending my daughter on a bus. M was *not* in a life-threatening situation. She was in a *potentially* life-threatening situation. Buses are common terrorist targets. Maybe that means that bus riding is a potentially life-threatening situation? Of course anything could be potentially life threatening …
    Maybe the difference is that there’s a good reason to place yourself in the potentially dangerous situation of riding a bus — so you can get where you want to go. But there really is no good reason for allowing your daughter to be trapped in her home. It doesn’t actually advance any positive purpose, except perhaps allowing parents to have a productive workday. I guess that was what you were getting at, Hannah, a few comments ago.

  22. Mother of L,
    When’s the last time a bus in your city exploded?
    During the time that there were many bus bombings in Jerusalem, a lot of Jerusalemites made an effort to keep their kids off of buses because it was too high a potential risk. When I used to visit Jerusalem in 2002, I used to take taxis. My mom would give me extra money so I wouldn’t take the buses. Obviously, not everyone can afford that, but it gave her peace of mind.
    My parents *always* made sure I had bus fare so that I wouldn’t hitchhike, because that was an unacceptable risk.
    Back to your particular case:
    Assuming both parents have important and reasonable-paying jobs, paying a taxi driver to take the keys to their daughter would have been a reasonable solution that wouldn’t have ruined their workday.
    Leaving their child locked in the house isn’t a reasonable solution.

  23. Trilcat, there was a terror attack at a Tel Aviv bus stop two days ago. There were the terror attacks using tractors here in Jerusalem over the summer. I do let my daughter take the bus and I also take the bus — but my husband and I don’t feel 100% about it, and neither does my daughter.
    I completely agree with you that the parents needed to find a reasonable solution. I think that sending the key by taxi would have been a reasonable solution that would have demanded little interruption to the parents’ workday, which is why I suggested it. I really do not understand how these parents’ minds work (plus M’s other relatives). It is a nuisance, but the situation demanded action.
    I need to talk with M’s parents soon about carpool for other children. I feel so awkward after what happened, and I don’t know if I’ll say anything or what I would say.

  24. That’s absolutely appalling. I feel sorry for this girl, having such self-absorbed, narcissistic parents that don’t want to be bothered by her problems. Like you, I’m especially bothered by the fact that they wouldn’t answer their cellphones. What if there had been a REAL emergency (because obviously their daughter being locked in all day wasn’t a real emergency)?
    I certainly wouldn’t be able to stand being locked in all day, and never, NEVER would I inflict that on my child.

  25. The tractor attacks weren’t specifically bus-related. Since you can’t lock yourself in the house all day… you have to figure out which precautions are reasonable.
    We’re all in danger every time we try to cross a street here in Israel. Just this week, 2 drivers in a row failed to stop for me at a crosswalk (both were on the phone, neither on a diburit).
    Would you stop crossing streets? Certainly not, but I’m sure that you do more than just walk into the crosswalk and hope for the best. You make an effort to gauge whether or not the driver will stop for you, and if you’re not sure, then you wait a bit longer.
    Point is, we assess risks and take whatever precautions we can reasonably take.

  26. Mother of L: If you’re feeling brave, you might want to take the “playing dumb tact” next time you speak to one of the parents. Pretend you’re a completely uninvolved parent (like them!) and you just heard about this vaguely from your daughter (if that’s possible, I’m not sure) and say something “Wow, I heard what happened the other day with M. That must of have been so scary for her and for you, you know, God forbid if there was a fire, that could have been really dangerous!” Go for the concerned yet matter of fact attitude, as if they’re normal parents that would have reacted normally.
    On a micro level, you might want to offer to keep an extra key for M, in case this situation ever arises again.

  27. I, an American, would have dropped everything to run home and free my child. My husband, an Israeli, would probably have been inclined to behave like these parents did. I don’t know if it’s a culture thing but that’s what I thought about when I was reading this entry.

  28. mother in israel says

    Rachel!!! Glad to hear from you.
    Mother of L, two words: Yihyeh beseder.

  29. Mother of L says

    Rachel, I agree that cultural differences probably come into play here. Typical Israelis may well take such situations less seriously than typical Americans would. But what do you think is the thought process behind this difference? Do the Israelis estimate that the risk is lower than Americans would estimate? Or when they do the risk/inconvenience calculation, it takes greater risk or less inconvenience to get them to act?

  30. mother in israel says

    Klara–I’m explaining how some Israelis view the situation.

  31. ah, mother in israel, I see you are a fully confirmed Israeli :>)
    Mother of L – guess you’ll have to live here to understand, tho got to admit, it’s hard

  32. Klara, I *do* live here! I recognize that cultural differences are very strong in situations like this. But I still don’t really understand the attitude.

  33. oops, my apologies, mother of L – this goes back to the post about being more comfortable with other Americans – yes, definitely a cultural difference. Thinking that aliya potential (from later post) doesn’t even realize half of it.

  34. I think the mistake was in not calling the police immediately. I understand the hesitation. I would not have expected the trapped girl to call, nor would I have expected L, her friend to call. I would prefer that Mother of L call the police. Chances are, this would greatly annoy the parents of M…I sincerely hope it would. This is not a cultural thing. This is abuse and the only way the parents would have learned this was by having the police show up at their work place. Chances are, from what I have seen of the Israeli justice system, no actual charges would have been filed but the parents would not likely push off the child’s fear again.
    There are many ways to avoid this from happening, but it was a simple mistake until the parents chose to ignore their child.

  35. mother in israel says

    ASM: THanks, I think you may be right. It takes the responsibility away from the children, which is how it should be.