When Can Kids Stay Home-Alone?
When I picture my kids staying home by themselves, I literally picture the movie Home Alone. I imagine maximum amounts of mischief and arriving home to sheer mayhem.
My kids are getting older, and sometimes it’s just easier to make a quick run to the store for milk or to do a grocery pick-up without them. I never imagined myself to be a person who would love the solitude and escape of her vehicle, but, well, here we are. My oldest is 11, and her sisters are 8 and 7. I think my kids know how to properly behave when I leave them home… but will they?
More importantly, is it safe to leave them home alone? They know not to open the door to anyone if parents aren’t home, and they’re able to call my husband and me from their iPads if they need us while we’re gone. But I still wonder, just because it’s easier to leave them home when I know I won’t be gone long, is it legal? At what age can kids be left home alone?
“WebMD answers the question “When can kids stay home alone?” like this: Kids as young as 10 or 11 may be able to stay home alone; but they likely shouldn’t be left home with younger siblings or expected to babysit until at least the age of 12. Most often age 13 or older is better for babysitting.”
At What Age Can Kids Stay Home Alone?
Safekids Worldwide recommends that children younger than 12 years of age should not be left home alone, although discretion should be used here. The campaign suggests that slightly younger children who are responsible would probably be okay left on their own for a bit. I think my oldest, 11, falls into this category of children younger than 12 who are ‘reliable to trustworthy’.
WebMD answers the question “When can kids stay home alone?” like this: Kids as young as 10 or 11 may be able to stay home alone; but they likely shouldn’t be left home with younger siblings or expected to babysit until at least the age of 12. Most often age 13 or older is better for babysitting. But I’m still not entirely sure… when can my kids be left alone legally in my state? What does the law say?
What the Laws Say About the Age at Which Kids Can Stay Home Alone
What I found, after further research, is that laws vary per state. Generally speaking, most states don’t have an age at which a child can legally stay home alone. In Texas, for example, where my family and I live, there is no minimum age requirement to stay home alone. The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services does, however, lay out a list of guidelines to help parents determine whether or not their children should be left without adult supervision for any length of time.
Currently Illinois, Maryland and Oregon are the only three states that actually have minimum age requirements pertaining to when a child can be left home alone.
Illinois, whose laws on this topic are generally considered the strictest, says that children under 14 years of age should not be left home alone.
In Maryland, no child under the age of 8 may be left home alone.
Oregon doesn’t have a law that exactly stipulates when a child can or can’t be left home alone. However, it does have child neglect laws that suggest the child should be at least 10 years of age before she or he can be left home alone.
Find a comprehensive list of guidelines by state here.
Talking Points to Go Over with Kids before Letting Them Stay Home Alone
Although I didn’t come across a lot of clear directives in my research regarding when it was okay to leave kids home alone, I did discover lot of helpful guidelines from a variety of parenting sites and agencies that laid out excellent talking points and action items to use as parents navigate this path for the first time. Here are a few of the suggested guideline questions to ask yourself when considering whether or not your child is ready to stay home alone:
- Does your child know what to do in case of an emergency? Does your child have a way to contact you, and does he or she know your phone number? Does he know which neighbor to run to for immediate help? (I always leave my planner on my kitchen counter which includes phone numbers for myself, my husband, all the grandparents and local aunts and uncles – just in case!)
- Does your child know to not open the door for anyone? And does your child know not to tell anyone – such as someone who might call the house/landline/child’s cell phone – or someone who might knock on the door (such as a delivery person) that they are home alone?
- Is your child emotionally mature enough to be alone in your home? Honestly, the third question was the one that resonated the most with me. I have three siblings, so, most often as a child, when I was left home alone I wasn’t actually “home alone”. I was simply without adult supervision. But I can remember once, at about age 12, being left alone in my two-story childhood home while my parents visited my grandparents, and my siblings were at evening activities. Every creak and groan of my old house responding to the the wind spooked me. By the time my parents arrived back home I was reasonably sure there was a ghost in the house! It was some time before I volunteered to stay home alone again after that. I’ve kept this incident in mind when my oldest asks to stay home. I ask her if she feels okay in a big, two-story house all by herself, especially after dark.
When Can Kids Be Left Home Alone with Younger Siblings or Babysit Other Kids?
While I generally think my 11-year-old is too young to be able to stay at home with her younger sisters (ages 7 and 8), she is old enough, according to some, to start babysitting. According to KidSit, a babysitting resource for tweens and teens, mature preteens can start preparing to babysit by taking a class at the Red Cross as young as age 11. From there, he or she can determine – with the help of their parents – when to start looking after younger kids.
I didn’t start babysitting kids in my neighborhood until I was 12, but I was the oldest of four kids and was used to being around younger kids all the time. When determining if your tween or teen child is ready to babysit younger kids, I think the age of the younger kids is an important factor. While a 12–year–old might not have a problem babysitting her 8–year–old sibling, or 6–year–old neighbor, caring for a younger child who may need help with the restroom or not be able to communicate well may be better left with an older child who is more experienced.
Whatever you decide regarding when your child is able to stay home alone, just be sure he or she knows your phone number and how to contact you should the need arise. Your child likely won’t need to – but there is no maximum value you can assign to peace of mind!