Saturday, July 17, 2010

Home Alone - At What Age?

At a recent family gathering, my sister-in-law recounted a story about the first time she left her son home alone. My adult nephew was 10 or 11 years old at the time. My sister-in-law needed to run a quick errand that would take less than an hour. She went through "the rules" with my nephew and left the house. She returned home to find a police car parked in front of her house. I can only imagine the worry she felt at that moment. My nephew heard a noise and thought there was an intruder. He called 911. This happened only a few minutes after my sister-in-law left the building.

I started wondering about my own daughter. She is 11 years old and we do not leave her home alone. At what age can a child be left home alone? Is this up to the parents discretion or is there a legal age. From

The National SAFEKIDS Campaign recommends that no child under the age of 12 be left at home alone.

However, consider a child's age and maturity level. For example, if a child is extremely impulsive, it might be best to wait until he or she is older than 12.

There appear to be very few states with specific regulations about the age of a child left at home alone. However, since the number of latchkey kids is growing significantly due to 2 income parents and single parents and guardians, there is a growing movement within state agencies to set guidelines.

In Illinois, the minimum age requirement for a child to be left home alone is fourteen. In Maryland and South Carolina, the minimum age is eight. There is no minimum age limit in the state of Pennsylvania. Click here to see the chart by state.

I was in high school (13 yrs) before my parents left me home alone. My sister and I would walk home together from the bus stop. We would be home a few hours before our parents came home from work. My parents were overprotective. I was only allowed to ride my bike on the sidewalk in front of the house. My Dad logged countless hours sitting on the park bench at the playground. I was not allowed to see R-Rated movies or go to Under 21 nights at the local dance clubs. My husband lived in a neighborhood where it was easy to bike to school, to the pool or to friends. He would leave early in the day on his bicycle and return by dark. He was the youngest of four brothers and had more freedom at an earlier age.

Now that I have my own daughter...I have become my parents. I still walk her to the bus stop. I wait at soccer practice.

I am not ready to leave her home alone.

What do you think? At what age would you leave your child home alone? And for how long? Was it different when you were young?


Becky G said...

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. It depends on the child and on the circumstances. Personally, I don't think there SHOULD be a legal age. It should be for the parents to decide when their children are ready to be left home alone. Yes, it was way different when I was young. I don't remember at what age I was first left home without a parent. I wouldn't have been alone, because I would have been in charge of my younger siblings. It was probably around 12, BUT I was walking home alone from school from 1st grade on.

I was leaving my own son home alone for short periods of time by the time he was 6. BUT, we live in a semi-rural area, and my cousin lives right next door. I always called her and made sure she was going to be home, and that she knew Cody was going to be home alone and that she would be able to keep an eye on him.
On the other hand, I knew a lady who still hired a babysitter for her 13 year old.

So, it's really up to you. Do you feel safe leaving her home? Do you think she's mature enough to stay home alone? Only you can answer these questions, and only you can make the decision to leave her home alone.

Steve said...

We've always thought that 12 was a good rule of thumb, but ultimately, I also think that there's no one answer to the question. My daughter's younger than my son, but she's much more mature and reliable.

This is really pretty much how I was raised, too.

Factors like whether the child is alone or with a sibling, maturity, whether you live in a rural, urban or suburban area, crime rates and all sorts of other things would enter the mix.

Perpetual Beginner said...

It's very individual. I've just started leaving Robbie alone for short periods of time (< 1 hr) - he's twelve. My college roommate's son is never left alone in the house at thirteen, and I think that's a wise decision. He's considerably more impulsive than Robbie is.

I started walking to school by myself in kindergarten, and was left alone for at least short periods from then forward. By twelve I was babysitting other people's kids. But I was a very "old" twelve-year-old, and a good deal more conscientious than a lot of older kids.

Frank said...

I think it depends on the maturity and independence of the child. My daughter has been staying home alone on summer vacation during the workday, since she was 10, but my wife and I usually come home for lunch, and we work from 8-3, and during summer break, our daughter usually sleeps very late, so it works out that she's never really alone for more than four-hour stretch on any given day.

Sue C said...

Hi Michele, there is no legal age limit in the UK either. I agree with what the other commentators have said - it depends on your own circumstances and your daughter's maturity level (and how she feels about being left alone as well).

I started to leave my two sons alone from about the age of 10/11 yrs but just whilst I fetched the other one from a friends's house or activity (20 - 30 mins). Initially I didn't like to leave them alone together, in case they argued, fought for stormed out of the house. So I would only leave one of them alone and the other would have to come with us. Once they showed they could be trustworthy I started leaving them together ( day time only). I first left them alone in the evening when the eldest was about 14 and youngest 12 - with strict rules about not answering the door to anyone and keeping all the doors locked. I usually provided them with some treats and a DVD to watch. I finally left my eldest son alone in the house for 36 hours at the age of 16. He had to manage the security of the house and cook for himself - he managed fine.

Don't worry, you'll know when the time is right for your daughter.

sandman said...

I don't remember at what ages my older sister and I first left at home alone, but I do remember being allowed to roam the country side by myself at a very young age. I grew up in a rural area - neighbors were few and far between, but we knew them very well. My parents no doubt had no worries about my wandering onto the farm down the road to pet the horses. Now raising my own kids in a suburban environment I wish I'd be able to give my kids the same freedom, but now we live near to so many people that I just don't know...

Michele said...

Thank you for your comments and insight!

I agree that many factors influence the decision. My daughter seems older than 11 most of the time. It is the other times that worry me. :) I would describe the area we live in as more rural than suburban. We live in a two street town. Many of the neighbors are older and home during the day. There is a fire company a few doors down that gets a lot of traffic when the bar is open.

I guess I need to trust that I will know when it is time.

Thanks again,

Anonymous said...

Like most issues concerning children, there is no simple one size answer that fits all situations. The decision is complicated because much depends upon the individual child and also the family dynamics. I always strive to be the best parent I can be. Sometimes that means a bit more freedom for the kids than I feel comfortable with. Check out this blog on how this woman deals with it: