It all turned out perfectly fine, but it felt so strange and it really got me wondering what is the "right" age to begin leaving kids home alone. I did some research and even conducted a very scientific Facebook survey by asking some other moms to share their points of view. If you are questioning this as well, here is some information that might help.
Some Things To Consider:
- Is it legal? I wondered if there were actually any laws that specified a particular age. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services (www.childwelfare.gov as of 11/12/14), there are only three states that have true laws about it. (Illinois law is age 14; Maryland says 8 years old; and Oregon says 10 years old.) Some other states offer guidelines ranging between 8-12 years old, but most don't address it at all.
- Can your child handle it? Although the other moms I asked on Facebook gave varying ages, the overwhelming consensus was that it is VERY dependent on the individual child. Some children may be able to handle it at age 9 and some will not be ready until they are a little older, like 12 (or 25?). Some children have special needs or other character traits that make it necessary to wait until they are older before leaving them alone. If children are more mature than average, they could be left alone at an earlier age. A couple moms said they had even left their own children alone for the first time at different ages due to differences in personality, abilities, and/or family situations. Ultimately, you are the person who knows your child best. As you are deciding if your child is ready, here are some things to consider:
- Is your child trustworthy? If you tell him/her not to open the door or not to go outside, can he/she be trusted to obey?
- How does your child react in emergency situations? If the worst case scenario came to fruition while you are away and there was a fire or a burglary, do you think your child would panic or maintain a relatively level head?
- Does your child want to stay home alone? Even though you feel he/she is ready, the child may disagree and be uncomfortable being left alone. Make sure you talk with him/her beforehand.
- Consider your neighborhood and surroundings. As I mentioned, my in-laws live right next door and we live on a quiet street with very little traffic. This definitely helped me to feel more at ease about leaving my daughter home alone. Another mom on Facebook mentioned they live in an apartment complex, so help is just a couple steps away if needed. If you live in a more "questionable" neighborhood or in a place where it is highly likely someone will come knocking while you're gone, you might need to wait a little longer.
- How long will you be gone? Although the majority of moms who shared their input said children could be left alone at age 10-11, they also specified that this was for short periods of time, around an hour or just long enough to run a quick errand. Nobody was leaving children home alone all day or overnight until they were significantly older. That doesn't seem to come until closer to 15 or 16.
Tips to help:
- Talk to your child! Make sure he/she feels ready to stay home alone. Talk about what to do in emergencies. Talk about what to do if someone calls or rings the doorbell when you are gone. Talk about responsibility and expectations.
- Set rules. Some kids may see this time without direct supervision as an opportunity to test the limits and do what is normally not allowed. Make sure you set some very specific rules and enforce consequences, if necessary.
- Write it down! Write down emergency numbers and alarm codes so kids can find them quickly and easily, if needed.
- Start small. Start by leaving your child for maybe just an hour and see how it goes. As children mature and prove themselves to be trustworthy, you will BOTH get more comfortable with the idea. Then, you can gradually increase the time and expectations.
One thing I have learned in my 12 years as a mom is to trust my gut. After taking in all this information and talking to other moms as well, I feel comfortable with my decision to leave my oldest daughter home alone for brief periods of time. She's ready and she can handle it. Me? I'm getting there.
In the end, this is a decision that must be made by each individual family. You know your child(ren) and your situation better than anyone else. Go with your instincts, use your common sense, and I'm sure you will make the right choice. (Unless you live in Illinois, Maryland, or Oregon. In that case, make sure you obey the law, too!)
**Big thanks to all the expert moms who share you input in HV, MOAM, and on my Facebook Page! I wish I could list you all, but there were just too many responses! :-)
Do you remember how old you were when you were allowed to stay home alone? Have you allowed your kids to stay home alone yet? At what age do you think it's acceptable?