Remember the 1990 classic Home Alone where 8-year-old Kevin McAllister finds himself accidentally left behind as his entire family boards a plane for vacation without him? A funny family movie that comes to mind as the February vacation break is underway.
According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, “it is estimated that over 40-percent of children are left home at some time, though rarely overnight.” With the current economy demonstrating the need for dual working households, more and more of our kids are left home to care for themselves until Mom or Dad can get home.
Trying to decide when it's okay to leave our boys home without supervision has been a reason for deliberation for as long as I have been a parent. In the beginning it was, when should I leave the oldest with the younger ones? Now, I struggle with when can I leave my youngest one home alone?
Question: When is it okay to leave your child home alone?
Lindsay, Mom of Two Toddlers
Being a parent presents new challenges and feels different then when I grew up. We knew all of our neighbors and there was a sense of community that just seems missing in some ways today. I stayed home by myself early on, even started babysitting when I was pretty young, but there was a neighborhood there if I needed anything. With more moms in the workforce and many older people retiring later, neighborhoods are quiet until work ends. I think given that people seem to sit on their porches less, so to speak, I would really have to weigh the decision very carefully based on the maturity of my children before I could leave them alone. The support system isn't there to face the very real dangers that are present.
Lori, Mom of Two Girls, Ages 10 and 8
Although I’ve left my girls alone while I’ve raced out to for that much needed morning cup of Joe, I’m definitely not ready to leave them for much more than 10 minutes at this point. More importantly, THEY are not ready for me to leave them alone.
I expect when they feel they are ready, they’ll let me know. I think to determine the proper age, parents should probably assess whether or not their child is mature enough to make good decisions related to issues that may arise while home alone. That age will vary from child to child. Ultimately, the decision to leave my children without supervision and give them some responsibility, while protecting them at the same time, is going to be carefully considered when the time is right for our family.
Sarah, Mom of Two, Ages 2 and 4
It really isn't possible to pinpoint an age when it is OK to leave your children home alone. There are so many variables that come into play such as maturity level, how far a parent is going while they are out, type of neighborhood you live in, and so much more. That being said, I think that around age 10, if a child is mature enough and a parent is running out to do a quick errand or is at a neighbor's house that it would be OK. There are probably some 8-year-olds who would be fine, but I think that's a bit young, and there are probably some 16-year-olds who still aren't ready so what's most important is that parents really evaluate if their child is capable and talk to them to make sure they are comfortable with it and set a solid list of rules such as no opening the doors, no cooking, or whatever is appropriate for the child's capabilities.