Eventually the quandary of letting a child stay home alone becomes a topic of conversation. It often starts by wondering if a quick trip to the grocery store, leaving the kids contentedly playing games, is the right choice. Tweens and teens often exert pressure to shun supervision, with the conversation going something like “But mom, seriously, everyone else stays alone. I’ll be fine!”
Often the decision to try it alone is based on whether a parent feels the child is "old enough” to take care of themselves. A better gauge is maturity and circumstances. Questions to consider include:
- Is the house a safe environment?
- Can the child use the phone, know who to call and recite their address?
- Is the child alone or supervising siblings?
- How far away will parents be?
- Are helpful neighbors close by?
- How long will they be alone?
- Is my child comfortable being home alone?
Some states impose laws about how old a child needs to be when left alone, as well as how old they need to be to care for younger children. Research your state laws before making a final decision.
College Nannies, the nation’s largest legal employers of nannies, has compiled the following guidelines:
- Children under age 10 should never be left alone for any period of time.
- Children ages 10 to 12 may be left alone for traditional latch-key hours (before and after school), depending on maturity level of children and safety of environment.
- Children 12 to 14 may baby-sit with the expectation that an adult will return later in day, but no more than 4 to 5 hours at a time.
- Children under 16 should never be left alone over 24 hours.
- Children 16 and older may babysit for more than 24 hours
These are guidelines and in all cases the individual family situation must be considered. There is a wide range of capabilities and maturity among children of all ages and no one knows their children’s abilities better than their parents. To err on the side of safety is always the best choice. Even if children pout and deem you ridiculous, take pride in knowing you have their best interest in mind.
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