There comes a time when every child feels they are old enough to be left home alone.
But is your child really old enough to be on their own safely, or do they still need a sitter?
What about those hours between when the child gets home from school, and when the parents return from work? What about leaving the child alone for several hours while the parents go out?
While there are legal definitions that establish a minimum age that does nothing to help the parent who is trying to make a decision that they are comfortable with and develop some objective criteria.
Here are some things you should think about when you are trying to determine whether or not your child is old enough to be left home alone or still needs some supervision from an older teen or an adult.
First, most states require that your child be at least 12 years old before you can leave your child at home alone for any period of time. However, different states and cities have different laws. Check with your local law enforcement office to find out what the legal minimum is in your area.
Readiness varies from child to child and is also independent of legal age. Some children are more anxious about being left at home alone than others. You should always consider your child’s comfort level, and not force your child to stay home alone until he or she is ready to do so.
Is your child responsible? Responsibility has little to do with a specific age. Your child should be responsible enough to know that he needs to do his homework before playing video games, for example, and you should be able to rely on him to do so.
Is your home safe? While having a home in a safe neighborhood is no guarantee of safety, you know whether there is a threat of violence in your neighborhood, or whether there are unsafe people in the area.
Your home should have doors and windows that are in good repair and should lock properly. You should also have a properly functioning smoke detector or fire alarm, and your child should know when and how to call 9-1-1- or other emergency services.
If you worry about the threat of violence in your neighborhood, or if unsafe characters frequent the area, your child will be safer if supervised by an adult.
Does your child know how to respond if the smoke detector or fire alarm sounds? Would they know what to do if they were cooking and a fire broke out? What about an attempted break-in, or severe weather? Your child should know how to handle all of these situations.
Does your child have any medical or physical conditions which could cause problems in an emergency situation? Your child should be able to respond appropriately to an unexpected phone call, e.g. not letting the caller know he is home alone, and to not answer the door.
If there are siblings in the home, that is an additional consideration, especially if there is a great deal of sibling rivalry. If the siblings fight physically, then they should not be left home alone. If they generally get along, but only bicker, then your judgment should prevail.
If you are comfortable that your child meets the above criteria, then it may be time to begin with a small trial of independence.