Leaving Your Kid Home Alone

kid at home-1.jpgOne of the best things about kids getting bigger, older and more responsible, is that they can exercise some independence and responsibility for themselves. With my oldest son now 10, and the younger one 8, and having already drilled into their heads the importance of road safety, wearing helmets, stranger danger and so on, I can be quite happy reading a book in the garden or preparing dinner while they play on their bikes and scooters. I do, however, still check on them every ten minutes or so to make sure all is well.
But, at what age can one reasonably and confidently leave kids at home alone, for example, to go to the grocery store or post office?
Personally, I can’t wait till my kids are old enough to look after themselves for a few hours at a time. It would mean independence for both them and me, for one, and what a savings in babysitting costs!
There are cautionary tales, however. Like that of the NJ mom who traipsed off to Washington state to get married and left her 12-year-old daughter home alone for six days! She was, of course, arrested.

NY’s Office of Children and Family Services says:

All children develop at their own rate, and with their own special needs and abilities. Some children are responsible, intelligent, and independent enough to be left alone at 12 or 13 years of age. Likewise, there are some teenagers who are too irresponsible or who have special needs that limit their ability to be safe if they are left alone. Parents and guardians need to make intelligent, reasoned decisions regarding these matters.

Is your child ready to be left alone at home for a few hours at a time? Points to consider:

  • Is your child mature and comfortable with the idea? Is he/she happy to take on the responsibility of looking after himself/herself?
  • Does your child know what to do in an emergency and who to contact and how to contact them?
  • Can you child get food and drink if she/he needs to?
  • Is the home environment safe for the child (ie. no knives hanging about, no chainsaws, matches, adult videos, etc)
  • Your 12-year-old may be okay to stay home alone, but can she/he look after a younger sibling during that period of time?

Further considerations are laid out here.
When did you first leave your kids home alone, or when are you planning to do so? At what age do you think your children will be ready?
(Photo: Flickr/Cesara Studillo)

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  1. My parents stopped leaving us with a babysitter the summer I was 10.5 & my old brother was 11.5. All-in-all, I think it was an ok decision, but I grew up in a rural area and 4 of our 5 immediate neighbors did not work (3 were abusing social security disability and 1 was a retired farmer). That being said, my brother definitely took advantage of the lack of supervision and picked on me/hit me a lot. Typical kid stuff, which I’d rather have put up with than dealing with an overly entitled 17 year old babysitter.
    All that having been said, my kids won’t be home alone for the whole work day until they enter high school, but I think they are ok for a 1/2 hour grocery trip around age 8 or 9 and ready for an extended 3 hour or so period at age 10.

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