This is a question that gives me fits.
My son is 11 ½. Is he old enough for me to run to the grocery store and be gone an hour? Is he old enough for me to go workout and be gone two hours?
Honestly, I don’t know. I have left Connor alone for brief periods. Some people, I’m sure, would think I’m a horrible, irresponsible parent. Others might say he’ll be fine, and I need the time away.
Let me say this: Connor has a cell phone, and I make sure it’s charged before I ever leave. We have good neighbors that Connor can contact. I wouldn’t abandon him for any length of time without forethought and planning.
Still, I worry that I’m outside the parenting mainstream, that I’m not following “best practices,” if you will.
So I researched the staying home alone question on the Internet. It’s easier than asking a person face to face and running the risk of condemnation.
After all, is there any more shameful feeling than to be labeled a bad parent? Or to even think of yourself as one?
Here’s a sampling of what I found from my online search:
This site offers a thorough, well-reasoned article on the issue.
“It can be difficult to know when kids are ready to handle being home alone,” it says. “Ultimately, it comes down to your judgment and what your child is ready for.”
This and other articles agree there’s no across-the-board answer about when staying home alone is all right. Depending on maturity, some 11-year-olds are responsible enough to be alone, while some 15-year-olds are not.
This site offers a checklist of questions such as: Does your child show signs of responsibility with things like homework, household chores and following directions? How does your child handle unexpected situations – how calm does he or she stay?
This site says few states or cities have laws on when a parent can legally leave a child home alone.
It offers these tips:
- Leave a phone number where you can be reached.
- Call home to check on your child.
- Post emergency contact numbers on the refrigerator, as well as numbers for trusted friends or family members.
- Role play with your child on how they would handle different situations – both emergencies and non-emergencies.
“Parents usually wonder if it is okay to have that lag time between the child returning home from school and the parent returning from work being unsupervised,” the site says.
It also offers a list of questions to ask yourself:
- Does your child want to be left home alone? Some children are afraid, even if they are considered old enough to stay home alone.
- Is your home in a safe neighborhood?
- Does your child know how to contact authorities or friends and family in case of an emergency?
If you decide your child is ready to be left alone, start small, the site recommends. For instance, leave them for 30 minutes while you walk the dog.
Children should always understand the house rules and your expectations, it says.
“This may include responsibility for young siblings, the notion that homework is to be started at a certain time, and that friends of the opposite sex may not visit in your absence.”
This is the official site of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
It reiterates much of the information on the sites above about kids staying home alone.
“Even a mature, responsible child shouldn’t be home alone too much,” it says. “Consider other options, such as programs offered by schools, community centers, youth organizations, or churches to help your child stay busy and involved.”
Deciding when to leave your child home alone is a big question. You want to be ready, and you want your child to be ready. Consider the advice of others, but trust your gut. No one knows your child better than you.