Leaving a Child Alone at Home: Legal Age, Tips and Expert Opinions
When can kids stay home alone? This is a question many parents ask. Maybe you have an important meeting that you can’t miss, or it’s school holidays and you have no one to look after your kids. You might be wondering whether it is safe to leave your teenager home alone or at what age your kid can legally stay home without adult supervision.
Don’t despair! Here is our comprehensive guide on how and when your child can be left at home alone.
Different states have their own laws or guidelines regarding the minimum age at which a child is allowed to be left at home alone such as in Michigan the age is 11 and in Colorado it is 12. There are, however, many states such as Texas and California, that do not state a minimum age.
Here follows a list of states that do specify a minimum age:
Minimum age requirement
At What Age Can Kids Stay Home Alone
Even though the law in some states does specify either a legal age or recommendation, there are many other factors to consider before leaving your child home alone.
Clinical Psychologist, Juazel de Villiers advises that generally, a child should not be left home alone before the age of 10. Also consider that your child might be legally old enough, or older than 10, but not mature enough to be left home alone yet. She says that there are many other factors to consider, when trying to decide at what point your child can be left at home alone.
Some factors to consider:
Neighborhood. One thing to consider is the prevalence of crime in your area. Does your child feel safe? Do you know your neighbors and are they willing to check in on your child?
What arrangements are in place to secure your child’s safety?
Emergency. What will your child do in an emergency situation? Do you have a backup adult to contact in case of an emergency? This should ideally be a nearby neighbor that can get to your house very quickly if need be.
How many children will be there? Will your child be responsible for him or herself only or are there siblings/other children that will also require care?
How long will the child need to stay alone? This is a major factor to consider as there is a big difference between leaving your child for an hour compared to the whole day.
How to Know If Your Child Is Ready?
Ask yourself the following questions to determine whether your child is ready to be left home alone.
Does your child feel safe and comfortable with staying home alone?
How responsible is your child? Do you need to remind them homework and chores or do they take responsibility for it and do it themselves?
Does your child listen and follow directions well?
Is your child mature enough to know what to do and take action in an emergency situation?
When your child is thrown into an unexpected situation, how do they react? Do they stay calm and use their initiative? Or, do they freeze or freak out and wait for an adult to intervene?
Does your child understand and follow rules?
Does your child understand and follow safety measures?
Does your child understand ‘stranger danger’ and follow the appropriate steps if a stranger approaches the house for access?
Does your child know basic first aid? It is important that your child can apply these skills if needed.
Does your child practice good judgment? Look at previous situations where they have had to use their own judgment. Did they make a good decision? These types of decisions depend a lot on their character.
For How Long Can a Child Be Left Alone?
If you do need to leave your child alone for a while it is important that you don’t leave them alone for longer than they can cope. Here is a good guide to how long they can be left:
10-year-olds: Can start with around 30 min while you are close to home;
11-12 year-olds: Up to 3 hours in the day. Not at night;
13-15 year-olds: Can be left alone for the day, but not overnight;
16-17 year-olds: Can be left for the day overnight for up to 2 days.
What Should a Child Know and Be Able To Do To Stay at Home Alone?
Other than the list on how to know whether your child is ready to stay at home alone, there are also some things that your child should know and be able to do to stay at home alone.
Firstly, your child should be able to lock and unlock all the necessary doors and know how to work the home security system if you have one. Knowing where the different lights are switched on and off and which one should be on at which times is also necessary.
Knowledge of basic first aid is also necessary. If your child gets hurt, or someone in their care does, they will know what to do and be able to administer the relevant care.
Make sure your child knows not to tell people that they are home alone as this poses a safety risk. Another thing your child will need to know is what to do if there is a stranger at the door.
Your child should know what to do in an emergency and who to contact. This will include the details of who the emergency contact person nearby is when you are away. They should also know how and when to call 911 and be able to convey the relevant details to the dispatcher. These details would include information such as the address and they should be able to explain whatever the situation is to the dispatcher.
Make sure to discuss various ‘What if’ scenarios with your child to ensure that they know what to do in these situations, such as ‘What if there is a fire?’
Leaving Teens at Home Alone: 10 Tips for Parents
Now that you have determined that your child is ready to be left home alone, let us help you prepare for the big day. Here are some great tips that you can follow, many are things that you can put into place before you leave:
Schedule talk time. By setting specific times of contact, your teenager will know what to expect, setting them at ease. You can include your schedule too so they will know when you are available and when you will be in a meeting.
Activities. Make a list of people your teen can call or things that they can do if they feel lonely.
Set rules. Make sure to put rules in place so everyone knows what is expected. These can include things like whether visitors are allowed. No going out at night as well as what chores need to be done.
Be prepared. Review basic safety guidelines to ensure that your child knows what to do in emergency situations. Also have your first aid kit in an easily accessible place and make sure your child knows where it is and how to use it. Also, include some emergency lights in case the lights go out.
Stock up. Ensure that you leave enough food and healthy snacks to eat. A great tip is to leave food that can be eaten fresh without needing to be cooked or something that can simply be warmed up in the microwave. For safety avoid needing to use a stove or oven.
Information list. Draw up a list of all the emergency contacts in case your child might need it. These could include your family doctor, police or a neighbor. This is also helpful if your teen will be looking after younger siblings. The list can also include reminders and a checklist of important information or things to remember.
Secure your home. Although your teen is not small, it is best to still pack any possibly dangerous items away securely. These items can include things like alcohol, medications, guns and lighters.
Practice run. Have a training run before the big day. Leave your child at home for a shorter period of time with you being nearby. This gives your child the chance to experience what it feels like to be left alone at home.
Talk. Talk to your teenager about how they feel staying home alone. Discuss and choose a designated safe house, ideally a close neighbor, to run to when in danger.
FindMyKids app. Use the FindMyKids app to help keep your children safe and secure. This app enables you to keep track of your child without having to constantly check in with them. It will send you a notification of your child’s whereabouts such as when they arrive at home or school. You have access to your child’s location history and can even listen in if needed.
Even if your children are still too young to stay at home alone, you can start teaching them some skills that will make it easier to leave them home alone when they are older. You can teach them how to lock and unlock the doors. Make sure they know who to contact in an emergency and when to call for help.
In the end, deciding to leave your children home alone can be daunting, but if they are mature and ready it can be a positive experience for both you and them. Imagine, being able to happily go on date night while your teenager stays at home.