As our children begin to grow, we may be wondering when it is okay to leave them alone. How old should they be when you allow them to be home alone from the time they get home from school until you get home from work? Is it okay to go out for a date night and leave a child home in the evening? What about a simple walk around the block? How old can your child be when you leave him in the car to run into the store?
Years ago, parents didn’t worry about such things, I think. I remember observing parents leave their baby strollers, with the babies still in them, outside of stores. Or think nothing of putting kids to bed and then going over to a neighbor’s house. There is that famous case of the little British girl disappearing after her parents tucked her into a hotel room and went across the street for dinner.
I admit that I tend to focus more on those negative stories than on the one where parents happily share about leaving children at home alone. Of course, my kids are still small, and it is hard for me to picture them as mature and responsible enough to be home alone.
There are some general legal guidelines, as well as common sense that can help you decide how young is too young to be left home alone.
First, don’t even think about it until your child reaches the age of 12. In most states, this is the legal age that a child can be left alone. There are some states that allow a child as young as 11 to be home alone, but you better check with your local law enforcement.
Is your child responsible? Will he calmly sit down and do his homework and chores without being asked?
Does your child haver good judgement? While it is good to cover some basic rules, such as never answer the door to a stranger or tell someone on the phone that no one else is there, your child may encounter other situations that require good reasoning.
Is your home safe? Are in a good neighborhood, do you have a security system, does your child knows how to call for help and are all windows and doors are secure? If you have gangs of teens looking for trouble, unsavory characters running around or poor security in your home, then you might want to think twice.
Finally, does your child want to be left home alone? Some children are afraid or uncomfortable being left alone, even if they are otherwise ready. Don’t force the issue. Give your child the time he needs until he is comfortable enough to be left home alone.